From Peace Corp to Missionary Life

Written by Theresa Carson, Techny

SVD working in Africa at a coordinators meeting in 2015Fr. Paul Nadolny:
From Peace Corp to Missionary Life

Divine Word Father Paul Nadolny devoted his life to advocating for the poor, especially those in Mozambique and Mexico.

“Paul was a quiet man, but when he needed to speak out, he didn’t hesitate,” said Father Ed Peklo SVD. “He was committed to the Scriptures and was willing to take on any challenge to serve the people.”

Born in Wisconsin in 1954, Paul Nadolny graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1977 and worked in forestry before joining the Peace Corps.

While stationed in Guatemala, he served the Quiche, descendants for the Mayans, and realized his called to be a missionary priest.

Paul-Nadolny-Early Missionary.jpgWhen his commitment with the Peace Corps ended in 1983, he entered the Divine Word Associates Program. While studying, he volunteered at St. Procopius parish in Pilsen, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago before being ordained in 1989.

Father Nadolny’s first assignment was in Chiapas, Mexico, where he served indigenous people. As associate pastor of San Fernando de Guadalupe parish in mountainous Salto de Agua, he ministered to 20,000 people in about 70 small villages.

Many of his parishioners were of Mayan descent and economically disenfranchised. Through the parish, he helped to organize a food cooperative, a fund for prescription medicine and student scholarships made possible by American donors.

Missionary driving truck through rough terrainFather Nadolny also campaigned to raised awareness of the Mexican government’s unjust treatment of indigenous people in the southeastern state of Chiapas. At the time, indigenous farmers rose in rebellion against wealthy landowners. Government officials believed that Catholic priests encouraged the revolt. Although an avowed pacifist, Father Nadolny was one of the priests who received death threats.

In 1994, Most Rev. Samuel Ruiz Garcia, bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, asked Father Nadolny to represent him on a speaking tour in the United States. While in the United States the following year, Father Nadolny learned that the Mexican government refused to renew his visa. He then led a letter-writing campaign to Congress, asking that American politicians support the peace process in Chiapas and acknowledge the poor living conditions of the Mayan people.

SVD-missionaries-meeting-in-Mozambique.jpgAfter a year of hoping to return to Mexico, Father Nadolny’s superiors encouraged him to learn Portuguese in preparation for his next assignment—a new mission. In 1999, he became one of the first Divine Word Missionaries to serve in Mozambique and worked among the Zulu, Makua and Bantu peoples.

During his 20 years in Africa, Father Nadolny served as mission superior for two three-year terms. He emphasized family and youth ministries, as well as improving health facilities and educational opportunities in the nation where only 50 percent of the population is literate.

In 2019, he moved back to Techny for cancer treatment. Even when facing grave illness, he remained peaceful and cheerful. He died at Techny in June of 2022.

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