Deacon Witold Engel, age 90, died peacefully surrounded by loved ones on October 19, 2023, in his home in Littleton, Colorado of natural causes.
We lost a very special man who was strong in his faith and love, who touched many lives in a profound way, and served our Lord and country. Witold carried multiple crosses throughout his life, while never giving up on his faith. He often quoted “Footprints” because he related so much to the verses… “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,” the Lord said, “it was then that I carried you.”
Witold was born in Stryj, a city in southeastern Poland, about 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian-Russian border on April 1, 1933, to Wilhelm and Boleslawa Engel. In 1936, Witold, his mother, father, and sister, were taken by Russian Soldiers to Siberia, where they were considered political prisoners. During their time there, his younger brother was born, and they lived there until 1940. On a moonless night, with the help of a kind man, they escaped. Their journey back to the border took a year where they endured below zero temperatures, eating raw fish and birds, hiding during the day, and walking at night. They reached Kiev and met a kind Ukrainian family who gave them a wagon and horse to get them back home to Stryj to find their home still intact.
About six months later, now nine, German SS soldiers knocked at their door and were instructed to leave with them. Taking their warmest clothing in the 30 minutes they had, this Polish Catholic Engel family boarded cattle cars. They were considered enemies of the Third Reich and embarked on a 13-hour trek in heavy snow to Auschwitz. When they arrived at the concentration camp, Witold and his father were taken to the men’s side of the camp, while his mother, sister and toddler brother were sent to the side with women and children. While in Auschwitz, he was assigned the job of removing clothing from the deceased. He had so much hate in his heart. His father would say to him, “Don’t hate them so much, my son. Remember, Jesus died on the cross for all of us and he didn’t complain.” Witold witnessed horror and tragedy on a daily basis. One day, he observed a Catholic priest beaten to death in front of him.
Then during the winter of 1944, prisoners’ names were called out to board a train. First, Witold heard his name, then his father’s, mother’s, brother’s, and sister’s. He was stunned to know they were alive and felt joy for the first time in a long time. Despite their hopes for freedom, the train led them to yet another death camp, Dachau. With each day from the winter of 1944 to the spring of 1945, they all became weaker and malnourished with their hope dwindling. Then on one sunny day, they heard gunshots and thought their fate would be sealed at that moment. However, through the grace of God, it wasn’t. American soldiers had accidentally found the concentration camp just in the nick of time, as thirteen-year-old, Witold, was only hours or days away from dying of starvation. At that moment, the Engel family was freed and taken to displaced person camps in Germany where they were nursed back to life, schooled, and received First Communion and Confirmation. Fast forward nearly 62 years later (2007), he met an American soldier, Dick Bayles, with the Army 42nd Rainbow Division who was at Dachau on April 29, 1945, to liberate the prisoners. Amazing!
Witold immigrated to the U.S. (New York) at the age of 18 with his now 4 siblings, as his younger sister and brother were born in Germany after the war. Overwhelmed with faith, he tried to enter the priesthood and was told he was too old and didn’t speak enough English. So, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for six years. He was so proud to be an American. Following his service in the Army, the Engel family decided to move to Los Angeles, California.
Little did Witold know that in 1968 he would meet his wife from Guatemala, Carmen, who he lovingly called “Carmencita,” through a dating correspondence service. After a few months of phone conversations, this humble gentleman stood at her door in Los Angeles, holding a dozen yellow roses to give to his future wife. It was love at first sight. At three months, he wrote Carmen’s father in Guatemala asking for her hand in marriage, tying the knot on September 21,1968. Two years later, they were blessed with a daughter that he affectionately called “Jenusia.” They purchased a home in Long Beach where he planted over 40 rose bushes for his Carmencita. Being the hopeless romantic and so in love, each year, he cut the first rose for her.
Over the years, Witold and Carmen traveled around the world and supported multiple charities and ministries for the poor. They became involved in Marriage Encounter where they facilitated numerous Enrichment Evenings with participating couples. They helped to distribute donated items to the poor of Long Beach at St. Francis Center, Lomas Taurinas and the Mother Teresa orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.
In 1995, Witold answered his calling and embarked on a spiritual journey through Diaconate Formation within the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Diocese. This experience brought them closer than ever to their faith and gave them the opportunity to continue to serve their ministries, including prison ministry. Deacon Witold was ordained on June 12, 1999.
In 2004, they flew to Colorado to welcome their grandson, Dylan, into the world. And on Mother’s Day, Deacon Witold baptized his grandson with Carmen by his side. He described this as one of the greatest honors of his life. Within a year, in 2005, they decided to move to Colorado to be with their grandson, their daughter and son-in-law, Tim. Deacon Witold transferred to the Denver Diocese and served at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church in Littleton.
Since then, Deacon Witold served the church in so many ways through his Parish, serving in masses, visiting nursing homes and prisons, leading funeral vigil Rosary services, baptizing and leading Eucharistic prayer services. He was by Carmen’s side as she survived multiple ailments which led to her passing on August 11, 2021, after nearly 53 years of marriage. This loss left him heart broken.
Throughout it all, he had such inner strength and a strong will for life and survival. Deacon Witold believed “God carried all of us. I know God was always with us.” He was known for his profound faith, generosity, authenticity, love, and sense of humor.
He is survived by his daughter: Jennifer (Jeni Engel) Mosholder, son-in-law: Tim Mosholder, grandson: Dylan (19), puppy: Katsu (1.5-year-old canine grandson), brother: Richard Engel, sister: Viktoria Tyer Engel, and sister-in-law: Maria Estela Velarde.
To read more about his life: https://denvercatholic.org/denver-deacon-recounts-miraculous-story-of-surviving-the-holocaust/
Vigil Service will begin at 5:30 pm with a viewing at 5:00 pm on Sunday, October 29, 2023 at Horan and McConaty: 5303 E. County Line Rd, Centennial, CO 80122.
Funeral Mass will begin at 9:30 am with viewing at 8:30 am at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception 1530 Logan St, Denver, CO 80203 on Monday, October 30, 2023. For parking information: denvercathedral.org/#mass.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Ukraine Crisis (redcross.org).
Prayer for Deacons written by Pope John Paul II: Strengthen your servants, God, to do what they have been called to do as deacons. Grant them courage and perseverance to carry out their ministry in the face of adversity. May they be ever faithful to the example of your son, who came not to be served but to serve, and who came among us as one who serves. May they always be attentive to the needs of others, and may they always be filled with your grace and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. – Amen.