Nineteen years in the Eastern Canadian Arctic (the territory of Nunavut) has rooted Tony Krotki in his Oblate identify. The Arctic not only has Tony as one of its citizens, it flows through his very veins.
His vocation emerged as part of a puzzle that was fitted together over the years. The desire to work with the Inuit peoples first surfaced at the age of fourteen. “This has been my dream since 1978.” During the years at the minor seminary the desire developed quite strongly. “I read all the articles I could find. I read the book, Inuk three times.”
“In 1979 a Polish Oblate who worked in the MacKenzie Delta for forty-five years, Fr. Leon Mokwa, came and spoke to us. He told us how hard it was to live and work among the First Nations peoples. He told us of the difficulties of travelling. I also remember that he told us of people who lived further north of his missions but he did not know them. In my young mind I remember that he told us that life for these people is very hard and there is nothing but snow!”
“Already I had a desire to go to Greenland or Alaska but it was here that the fire exploded in my heart. This was the first time I had heard of the Inuit in Canada.”
“Nine years went by and I was very quiet about my passion to go north. When I told my desires to the Provincial, he informed me that I did not have an Oblate vocation! Nothing more was said until 1987 when Jacque Johnson, OMI visited our Scholasticate. He talked about the First Nations and the need of missionaries for the First Nation Peoples in the Mackenzie. As he was folding up the map of Canada he remembered to say one more thing. ‘I went to Rome where the Superior General asked me to look for two men in the Scholasticate who would be willing to go to live and work with the Inuit in Hudson Bay.’”
“All the scholastics knew about me. I hesitated to stand up when Jacque asked but my confreres pushed me up. I stood up, alone, and Jacque Johnson said, ‘Sorry. The Superior General will never send one man. There has to be two.’ The case was closed. I sat down!”
“I prayed! Then I became a missionary for the Arctic. I found Adolf Filas who would accompany me. Later we received a letter from the Provincial of the Manitoba Province. He wanted us to join the Manitoba Province.”
“My Provincial insisted that I finish my studies in Poland, be ordained in Poland and spend the first two years in parish ministry. I was also informed that it would take two years to obtain a passport … but God had different plans.”
“We applied for a passport. It arrived one week later. We went to the Canadian consulate and within one hour had a visa for Canada. We then went to the Provincial and told him we were ready to move to Canada. We purchased the airline ticket, said good-bye to our families and on October 28, 1990, left for Canada. This all happened three months after ordination.”
“On May 10, 1991, we were sent on an exploratory mission to Arviat, Nunavut and spent one week with Fr. Rivoire; one week at Baker Lake and four days at Chesterfield Inlet.”
Would this be a suitable mission and living conditions for these two young Oblates? They flew back to Winnipeg and purchased the proper clothing and supplies for the North.
“On July 12, 1991, we flew to Igloolik. This was a learning time of two and one half years with Fr. Jusipi Meeùs, OMI and Fr. Robert LeChat, OMI as my mentors. After two years I moved to Gjoa Haven, with the missions of Pelly Bay and Taloyoak. This was a ministry that lasted eight years.” During this time he learned to hunt, to travel over land and to become part of the community. “I could travel alone and would go to Repulse Bay, which is seven hundred kilometers, one way, to visit Fr. Fournier, OMI. This trip would happen two to three times a year.”
Every week of the eight months of winter there was travel with the snowmobile. “I probably travelled the most miles of anyone. I learned all the skills to survive, hunt and at times I would become a guide. The people would ask me to lead when the weather was bad.” With a smile he added, “I became a brother to them.”
How is the North part of your blood?
Without hesitation the answer came forth. “It’s the Founder. We are meant for the most difficult missions. In my understanding these are the most difficult missions. Sacred Scripture sends us to the ends of the earth. These peoples are at the end of the earth. This feeling has stuck in my heart since that age of fourteen.”
“I accepted this mission. I never regretted it. This is God’s place for me. Things in my life have gone His way.”
What have your received from the Inuit people?
Thoughtfully, he replied, “They taught me humility and they taught me to be respectful, to be patient and caring. They taught me to be sensitive to the pain of their past, their sufferings and their life. They also taught me to be courageous and never give up!”
His eyes moved around the northern community. “When you lose your own family, you look for family. They became my family. I am very close to these people. Their pain is my pain. Their joy is my joy.”
Sitting at the renewal program in Texas seems a very far distance from the Canadian north but Tony affirmed that when the semester ends, “I know I must go back. My time is not done. This is the place where I fit best. This is where I feel most comfortable.
“I am open to the new if I am called to do new things. With the experiences of life behind me I am ready to meet new challenges and I am ready to do it with passion.”
Summarizing his missionary life Tony framed it with:
“When you become a person of passion, the passion becomes your life. I pray that I will always recognize the will of God.”