While currently serving the parishioners of Our Lady of the Assumption, Akabane (Japan), Our Lady of the Angels Province Friar, Fr. Nicholas Swiatek, OFM Conv., was able to visit the Church of St. Mary’s in Naze City, Amami Oshima, Japan, on the Feast Day of the Assumption. It was there that he visited the memorial for +Fr. Jerome Lukaszewski, OFM Conv., also of our province, along with Fr. Luke Dyjak, OFM Conv. – the first American Conventual Franciscan Friars in mission on the islands of Amami Oshima Japan. St. Maximilian Kolbe went to Japan in 1930.
Fr. Luke went on to study Japanese in Tokyo, so Fr. Jerome was our only friar to continue the mission, when the American Capuchins ended their work there. Since Fr. Jerome had only a few months of Japanese study, he learned “on the job” in Amami and therefore learned the dialect which was spoken by most of the people. Fr. Nicholas was blessed to hear many stories of the missionary life of Fr. Jerome while they lived in the same house for 6 years and every week, traveled to Naze city (1.5 hours) together.
On March 20, 2006, three years after his death at age 80, a book was published commemorating +Fr. Jerome’s 51 years of work on the island. Printed in Japanese, in 2006, the 230-page book Ugaminshoran: Memories of Fr. Jerome, Apostle of Amami Oshima was made available for 2,300 yen. (“Ugaminshoran”is the Amami Oshima dialect word for hello.) If you are interested in a copy, the Japanese contact at the time for the publication committee was Tel: 0997-52-1107 or Fax: 0997-52-1197.
Affectionately known as the “Walking Missionary,” +Fr. Jerome spoke the local Amami Oshima dialect and loved the people (and food) of the island, spending much time visiting hospitalized sick. When he found out that the government was forcing mothers infected with Hansen’s disease (Leprosy) to abort their babies, he founded a safe home for them. He was the first foreigner to be named by Naze City, now Amami City, as an honorary citizen. At the time of his funeral, the city paid for the Nze City Cultural Center to be used as there were too many people to fit inside of the church, and there were many dignitaries present. The Furutacho Church in Amami Oshima displays many items the priest left behind in a small museum, naming the church hall in his honor, “Jerome Hall.”