Father Kulawy Jan Wilhelm OMI was born on May 15, 1872 in Leśnica near Strzelce Opolskie to the family of saddler Józef Kulawy and wife Franciszka née Grzonka. After graduating from the local primary school together with his brother Wojciech, in 1886 Father Jan Kulawy joined the Carolinum College, in Dutch Valkenburg, belonging to the Congregation of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In 1892 he finished juniorate and on August 14, 1892 he joined the novitiate St. Gerlach in Houthem belonging to the Northern French Province. He made his perpetual religious vows on August 15, 1894. Then, together with his brother and five German confreres, they came to the scholasticism of St. Joseph in Ottawa, Canada. He was ordained a priest on June 4th, 1898, in Ottawa by the hands of Archbishop Thomas Duhamel. On May 8, 1899, he joined his brother Wojciech who had been pastor of Polish emigres in the Winnipeg region for a year.
On June 30, 1900, the parish of the Holy Spirit in Winnipeg was established and Father Jan Kulawy became the parish’s priest. When the Polish province of Oblates was established in 1925, Father Jan Kulawy was the first consultant and admonitor. In January 1933, he became the director of the house of the priests of pensioners in Lubieszów in the diocese of Pińsk. In 1934 he returned to Poznań as a popular missionary and in 1936, he began living in the Holy Cross monastery in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. Father Jan Kulawy was arrested on July 8, 1941, and imprisoned in Kielce. He was then placed into the Auschwitz concentration camp (starting July 30, 1941, camp number 19060). Later that year, on September 10, 1941, Father Jan Kulawy died. According to the account of one of the inmates, the body of Father Jan Wilhelm Kulawy, despite several repeated attempts, did not want to burn, so instead it was buried.
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are a steadfast mainstay of the religion and culture of the Polish Diaspora in Canada. From the beginning of their work in Canada, the Oblate fathers created pastoral centers and parishes, and at the same time traveled constantly – by various means of transport – to serve people spread out on the sides of roads, on the farms and in the prairies. Some had spent time far from settlements, living alone in humble huts like their poor immigrant community with equally poor churches. Today, hundreds of churches scattered throughout Canada, usually deserted, are testimonies of this service. A group of people’s missionaries operated for some time, but it also has passed away. The most extensive influence the Oblate fathers had was a retreat house in Mississauga, Ontario, called the Queen of Apostles Renuel Center (Queen’s Restoration Center). Closest to the simple man are the parishes: wide open, often many thousands, being usually the first support for new immigrants. Parishes which play such a role include: St. Kazimierz in Toronto, St. Mary Maximilian Kolbe in Mississauga, St. Jack in Ottawa, Ontario, Holy Spirit in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Częstochowska in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Holy Rosary in Edmonton, Alberta, St. Kazimierz in Vancouver, B.C, and some of all others, which all together make up 18 parishes. Some parishes held parish schools and to this, one must add pastoral work in old-age homes (examples include Copernicus Lodge in Toronto, Kopernik Lodge in Vancouver) and in hospitals. In addition, one can not ignore the special work of Polish Oblates in Canada out of concern for the poor through the Credit Union. Modestly begun in 1945 by the initiative of Father Stanisław Puchniak at the church of St. Stanisława Kostka in Toronto, the contribution of twenty members necessary to obtain a “card”, now has its branches and a fund of over one hundred million dollars.