Long journey reaches conclusion

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Former Polish national Iwona Dorabiala of Altoona is congratulated by Blair County judges Honorable Wade A. Kagarise (left) and Honorable Timothy M. Sullivan following her Naturalization Ceremony at the Blair County Courthouse on Friday morning.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Iwona Dorabiala, a native of Poland, sat in the jury box of Blair County’s most ornate courtroom Friday expecting a rather quick administration of the oath of citizenship.

She had no idea that her becoming a citizen of the United States would cause so much fuss.

The courtroom included more than 40 onlookers, including State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and Commissioner Bruce Erb as well as other county officials and five county judges who fit rather uncomfortably into the small space behind the judge’s bench, normally the seat of President Judge Elizabeth Doyle.

Doyle said each of the judges expressed a desire to be present.

Dorabiala was given gifts by the Women’s Club of Hollidaysburg, and there was a ceremony that included the singing of the nation anthem and “God Bless America” by Bob Hench, an employee in the county prothonotary’s office.

During the ceremony, Prothonotary Carol Newman presented a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that Dorabiala be administered the oath of citizenship, and so Judge Doyle asked her to stand.

She repeated the oath word by word as it came from the judge, and then applause rang out.

Just prior to the swearing-in ceremony, the wife, mother of two and history professor was asked her feelings about becoming a citizen. She replied, “I am happy.”

“It’s been a long journey,” she recounted.

Her journey began in northern Poland, in the city of Stargard, which had been heavily damaged in World War II.

“I was born in communism. I was raised under communism. It wasn’t easy,” she said.

Her oath of citizenship was being administered just a day after President Donald Trump visited Poland and referenced the “We Want God” speech by former Pope — and now Saint — John Paul II that provided the inspiration for the Polish people to unshackle themselves from the Soviet Union and communism and to become the leader of a free Eastern Europe.

The Polish revolution took a long time, but, Dorabiala said, “I think the people wanted change.”

She credited Pope John Paul II and the first president of Poland, Lech Walesa, the leader of the non-communist labor union, Solidarity, with bringing about the freedom Poland knows today.

While she didn’t participate in the quest for freedom, Dorabiala said she was a witness to those times and events.

She was married and had a child, Thomas, when her husband, Wojciech, came to the United States to work on his doctorate in mathematics. In 1993, she joined him at Notre Dame University.

After eight years in South Bend, the family moved to Lafayette, Ind., where he taught mathematics at Purdue University.

In 2002, he was offered a professorship at Penn State Altoona, and the family has been here ever since.

She teaches history at Penn State.

The couple have two children, Thomas, who was with her in the courtroom Friday, and Olga, who is a senior at Penn State.

Wojciech Dorabiala took the oath of citizenship a month ago in Johnstown. Thomas will take the oath next week.

Each of the judges offered congratulations, with Wade Kagarise addressing the new citizen by pointing out the courtroom on Friday included many people be with many titles, but, he offered, “You leave the courtroom with the best title. … That is, ‘American citizen.'”