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Saturday, 29 July 2023 12:21

Fr Anton Bulla SVD remembered as compassionate, joy-filled missionary priest

Fr Anton Bulla SVD horizontal 550Fr Anton Bulla SVD has been remembered as a faith-filled and joy-filled person, a committed priest and missionary, both during his years in Papua New Guinea and later in his ministry of healing through the marriage tribunal in Sydney.

Fr Anton died at Marsfield on July 11, just shy of his 89th birthday. His requiem Mass was held in the St Arnold Janssen Chapel and was attended by confreres, friends and fellow members of the canon law community of which he had been an active member. Members of his family overseas were able to watch by video.

Delivering the homily was the recently retired Bishop of Toowoomba and canon lawyer and friend of Fr Anton, Bishop Robert McGuckin.

“Anton was a faith-filled and joy-filled person and he touched the lives of the people he met,” Bishop McGuckin said.

“Today we pray for Anton and acknowledge the goodness of Anton and the goodness of the Lord to each of us. We are all a pilgrim people. We follow Jesus who says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.”

Fr Janusz Skotniczny SVD, who recently arrived in the Australia Province after 30-plus years in PNG delivered the eulogy, in which he recounted how Fr Anton had grown up around the Divine Word Missionaries and felt called to join them at a young age.

Fr Anton was born in Silesia on July 28, 1934, in the German town Hindenburg, which in 1945 became part of Poland as the town of Zabrze.

His parents, Maximilian Filip and Lucia Bulla were working class people. He had three siblings: two sisters – Gertruda and Agnes still living, respectively 92 and 86 years old, and one brother Johannes (already deceased).

“His family was very mission oriented and friends of Divine Word Missionaries, and part of St Arnold Janssens’s family,” said Fr Janusz.

As Fr Anton said in the Australian Province’s mission magazine, “Society Matters”, his father was a soldier in World War I, when “one day, on the Russian front, he came across an SVD brother who was mortally wounded, crying out in distress, ‘who will take my job if I die?’ My father asked him: what his job was, and he said, he was in charge of distributing an SVD magazine,”. So, my father said, ‘I can do that for you’. Hearing this, the brother said, ‘Thanks be to God’, and died.

“As a result, the home of Fr Anton Bulla become very familiar with SVD Missions. There were mission magazines and books, which took his interest and somehow directed his future to follow a missionary vocation,” Fr Janusz said.

Fr Anton Bulla SVD with kids in PNG 550At age 15, he entered the SVD Minor Seminary at Holy Cross in Nysa.

As Poland was under the Communist regime, the beginning of his study for the priesthood was difficult. The government closed all minor seminaries, confiscating Church run educational institutions. Fr Anton, with his classmates, was left without a completed secondary education.

But the SVD gave a chance for all “left on the street” boys to enter the Novitiate and finish their schooling there. Fr Anton entered the SVD on September 8, 1952 in St Adalbert Mission House in Poland (saved from confiscation for being Dutch Property) and continued his study of Philosophy and Theology. He took his first religious vows on the September 8, 1954 and final vows on the same date in 1960.

In 1961, in St Adalbert Mission House in Pieniezno, on January 29, Anton Bulla was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Joseph Drzazga. However, the gate to the Missions was closed. The communist government did not issue passports for Polish Priests, Brothers, Sisters, not to mention lay missionaries. And so, waiting for his chance, he was appointed as Provincial Secretary and later as Rector of the chapel in Bruczkow.

It was a few years later, that Missionaries were allowed to leave Poland and Fr Anton received his first missionary assignment to the Territory of New Guinea.

After six months learning English in Australia, he finally arrived on May 10, 1967 in the Territory, which in 1975 become the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

“Now Fr Anton Bulla become a traditional multi-task bush missionary taking care of parishes and schools in Kerowagi, Denglagu, Chuawe, Wangoi in Chimbu Province, Kamaliki in Goroka Province and teaching catechesis in High School. From 1971-74 he was in charge of a Catechist School,” Fr Janusz said.

“In the early 1980s, Fr Anton was asked by Bishop William Kurtz SVD to go to Canada to study Canon Law with the view to setting up the marriage tribunal in his diocese. He studied at St Paul University in Ottawa from 1982 to 1984, receiving a Licentiate in Canon Law.

“Coming back to Papua New Guinea Fr Anton worked in the marriage tribunal and continued to help with parish work. At that time, he became famous among Papua New Guineans (in pidgin English) as “pater bilong brukim marit”. In direct translation the father who breaks marriages, a phrase which can be understood ambiguously for pidgin speaking people.”

“Unfortunately, Fr Anton’s health deteriorated, his heart was giving up in the difficult climate and conditions of PNG.

“Doctors strongly advised a change of country. He was considering Poland and Australia, and, discerning his own experience in Canon Law and his fluent knowledge of languages - German, Polish, English and Melanesian Pidgin English - he chose Australia which become his country of citizenship and home.”

Fr Anton Bulla SVD PNG in crowd 550Invited by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy, Fr Anton started his work in the marriage tribunal, what he described as: “The tribunal of healing wounded and broken relationships”. Adding: “We do not judge people. We just want the people to tell us the truth of the situation, because Jesus told us the truth will set you free, and that is the basis of our work”.

“At the same time, he helped with pastoral work whenever and wherever he was called to. He was active in the parishes and in chaplaincy of immigration communities from Germany and Slovakia,” Fr Janusz said.

“Fr Anton continued this work, until his retirement in 2019. He retired in his SVD Marsfied community, trying to be as useful as possible. Despite his age, he was the most active confrere in physical exercise, often being present in the gym and swimming pool. He was also very active in the spiritual activities of the community, and was working, studying, exercising and praying until his last morning of July 11, 2023 when, preparing himself for the morning Eucharist with the community, Fr Anton Bulla SVD was called by the Lord to Eternal Rest.”

In commending Fr Anton to the Lord, Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD said Fr Anton had lived a rich and full missionary life.

“I hope we will continue to treasure the memories we have of Anton and to celebrate the God who created him,” he said.



TOP RIGHT: Fr Anton Bulla SVD.

MIDDLE AND BOTTOM: Fr Anton during his mission years in Papua New Guinea. (Supplied, Bulla family via YouTube)