January 12, 2017
Graduate Student Kristina Kwacz Published in Peer-reviewed Journal Confluence
“Pilgrimage, Partitions, and Patriarchy: Polish Women and the Virgin Mary,” by Kristina Kwacz, a student in SUNY Empire State College’s School for Graduate Studies’ Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program, was published in Confluence, The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies.
Her research on how and why Poles came to revere the Virgin Mary so deeply, and what impact this has had on Polish women, was inspired by her mother, Katherine Kwacz.
As a teenager living in Poland, Katherine, then known as Katarzyna Kolenda, undertook two 80 kilometer pilgrimages, in 1937 and 1938, on foot, to view the sacred icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ostrobrama in Wilno, Poland.
She prayed for fulfillment of a special intention, to return to her birth country, the United States, and the opportunity for a better life.
An arranged marriage in 1939 provided the opportunity for Kolenda – now Kwacz – to return to the U.S.
The outbreak of WWII stymied her husband's departure and post-war regime changes prohibited his emigration from Poland until 1959.
Seeking to learn what factors may have influenced her mother's decision to remain married while waiting for a reunion that ultimately took two decades, Kristina undertook an independent study in Polish Catholicism as part of her MALS program.
"Pilgrimage, Partitions and Patriarchy" is the result of that 2014 independent study, written under the guidance of Leah Perry, an assistant professor of Cultural Studies with the college’s School for Graduate Studies.
In 2015, Kristina presented the paper at the East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium at Stockton University.
“The ability to customize my master’s program, which reflects my individual interests, and ultimately produce a unique, creative project as a capstone, is extraordinary and exhilarating,” Kristina said. “I began my program with an eye toward producing an exhibit or publication of my documentary photographs of Eastern Europe. Thanks to thoughtful counsel from my mentor, it evolved to become an exploration of my identity within and outside of my parents' dramatic story.”
Her primary mentor is Anastasia Pratt, assistant professor of Historical Studies and a 2016 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service.
Kristina anticipates completion of her final project, an exhibition combining family photographs, narrative and artifacts, and her master's degree this spring.
She said that she views completing her project and degree as a beginning and not an end, as she plans to continue to conduct research on pre- and post-WWII Poland and emigration, expand her exhibition, present her work and seek new venues for its installation.