Conquering the Bad through the Good

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

More than a century ago, in his collection of lectures titled Life and Destiny, professor and ethicist Felix Adler reflected on what the lives of the deceased can teach the living:

Let us live truly while we live, live for what is true and good and lasting. And let the memory of our dead help us to do this. For they are not wholly separated from us, if we remain loyal to them. In spirit they are with us. And we may think of them as silent and invisible, but real presences in our households.

All across Poland, more than 30 years since his murder by the secret police of the communist dictatorship that then ruled the country, the life and words of Father Jerzy Popieluszko still resonate strongly in millions of households, as it does thousands of miles away in mine.

Readers may wonder if Poles are a little overrepresented in this series on heroes. I’ve written about Stanislaw Lem and Witold Pilecki. Elsewhere on, I’ve written of my time with the Polish anti-communist underground in 1986, and of my appreciation of the crucial role that Poles played in the unraveling of the Soviet empire. I admit that I’ve had a 30-year love affair with the Polish people, especially with the seemingly endless roster of courageous opponents of tyranny they have produced.

I first visited Father Popieluszko’s St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw on a chilly Sunday in November 1986, just two years af…