THE remains of a Catholic priest were moved from Fawley Court to the Fair Mile cemetery in Henley secretly at night.
The exhumation of the grave of Father Jozef Jarzebowski took place late on Thursday last week following a court ruling approving the move.
The remains were reburied in plot number 19 in a section of the council-run cemetery dedicated to the Marian Fathers, the congregation of Polish Catholic priests who used to own Fawley Court.
The move has upset members of the Polish émigré community who claim they had been told that it would happen on Friday morning and expected to witness it.
The work was carried out by staff from funeral directors Tomalin & Son and was overseen by about 15 people, including senior members of the congregation, which is now based in London.
A service was held at the mansion house before the exhumation of the grave, where Fr Jarzebowski was buried in 1964.
His new resting place is marked by a layer of stones and a mound of grass and earth while a small plaque indicates who is buried there. A cross has not been erected on the grave.
This is the latest twist in a saga involving the Marian Fathers, who sold Fawley Court to Aida Hersham for £13 million two years ago.
Fr Jarzebowski founded the Divine Mercy College for the sons of Polish exiles at Fawley Court after the Second World War and is a candidate for beatification.
The Polish émigré community obtained a High Court injunction to stop the exhumation being carried out in 2010 after the Marian Fathers proposed to move the remains following the sale.
The priests initially planned to send Fr Jarzebowski’s remains back to Poland but changed their mind following protests A clause in the Fawley Court sale agreement included a condition that meant the Marian Fathers could lose us to £3.5million off the sale price if the remains of Fr Jarzebowski and Prince Radziwill, a Polish prince who is buried in the crypt at a church in the grounds, were not removed.
A lump sum of £600,000 was deducted in October 2010 as the remains had not been removed and a further £100,000 has been deducted every month since.
Last year, Elzbieta Rudewicz, the priest’s cousin once removed, made an unsuccessful bid in the High Court to overturn former Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s decision to grant a licence for the exhumation because Fawley Court had been sold.
Lady Justice Hallett ruled the priest should be reunited in death with other members of the congregation at the Fair Mile cemetery and that members of the public should have access to his grave.
She rejected accusations that the Marian Fathers were seeking to remove the remains for improper “mercenary” reasons.
In July, Mrs Rudewicz lost an appeal.
Krzysztof Jastrzembski, the secretary of the Fawley Court Old Boys’ Association, claimed the exhumation could affect Fr Jarzebowski’s chances of being beatified.
He said: “It is very serious and has upset a lot of people.”
He claimed Mrs Rudewicz had not been notified until after the exhumation had taken place and was distraught.
Mr Jastrzembski travelled from London to Henley with a group of four others on Friday expecting to see the exhumation take place.
He said: “We went there in good faith but it seems there was a fly-by-night exhumation.
“I don’t know whether the coffin had survived, whether he was buried in a new coffin or whether there were witnesses or a bishop present — I know nothing.”
Mr Jastrzembski was taught by Fr Jarzebowski in the late Fifties and said he had been a “great Pole and a great teacher” who united the Polish community.
A spokesman for the owners of Fawley Court said they had restored and maintained Fr Jarzebowski’s grave and allowed access to the Polish community who wanted to pay their respects.
He added: “Members of the Polish community will be able to continue to pay their respects to Fr Jarzebowski at the Henley cemetery.”
A solicitor representing the Marian Fathers declined to comment.
The move of Fr Jarzebowski’s remains has echoes of the case of a 14-year-old Polish boy whose bones were moved by Father Wojciech Jasinski, a member of the Marian Fathers, from a convent in Herefordshire to the Fair Mile cemetery in 2009.
Fr Jasinski was accused of digging up and moving the boy’s remains but the charges were dropped during his crown court trial when the judge decided there was insufficient evidence to convict him.