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Artist to be Arraigned Today in $300,000 Monastery Fire

October 08, 1986|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE — A sculptor described as an artistic genius is scheduled to be arraigned today on charges that he set fires that caused more than $300,000 damage to several buildings and his own artwork at Prince of Peace Abbey.

Tadeusz (Ted) Lukjanczyk, 53, faces four counts of arson and one count of malicious mischief in connection with the blazes that roared through a carpentry shed and other structures at the isolated Benedictine monastery early Thursday.

Among the smoldering ruins left by the three fires was the artist's nearly completed wooden carving of Christ, which was to be installed in a chapel that is still under construction at the monastery.

Oceanside police on Friday arrested Lukjanczyk, who has done several sculptures for the abbey during the past decade, at a trailer he occupied in Twentynine Palms when not at work in Oceanside. Authorities said the artist confessed to setting the fires.

Police said Lukjanczyk drove in his pickup truck to his desert home after he apparently went berserk upon seeing the charred remains of the mahogany sculpture of Christ on the morning after the blazes.

The fires broke out in a wood shop and small metal storage shed about 1 a.m. Thursday, according to Fire Marshal Ted Wackerman. When firefighters arrived, the woodworking shop had collapsed under the flames and the shed, which was used to store paint, was fully ablaze.

A third fire was discovered at the still-unfinished chapel a few minutes later by a monk who was fetching a pipe fitting so firefighters could tie into the abbey's water system, Wackerman said. That blaze was quickly extinguished, but the building still suffered about $10,000 damage.

Wackerman said most of the damage was caused to the woodworking shop, where the sculpture of Christ, a band saw and more than $70,000 in rare Samoan teak were stored.

The blazes and subsequent arrest of Lukjanczyk left the monks at the Prince of Peach Abbey bewildered and upset.

Abbott Claude Ehringer described Lukjanczyk as "a lovable person," an artistic genius who had led a troubled life.

Authorities said Lukjanczyk, who was being paid $10,000 by the abbey in monthly payments of $300 plus room and board for his sculpture of Christ, complained during interrogation that the Benedictine monks were not compensating him sufficiently for the work.

Ehringer, however, said he felt that Lukjanczyk was "just out of his mind right now" and did not truly feel spiteful.

"He looked at us as very good friends," the abbott said. "He got more from us than he got from anyone else in the last 50 years."

A native of Poland, Lukjanczyk came to the United States in 1949 with his family. They settled in Detroit, where his father, a jeweler, found work.

Lukjanczyk later attended college, receiving degrees in sculpture and metalcraft before going to work as a commercial and fine artist. In the late 1960s, Lukjanczyk suffered an emotional breakdown and turned to Synanon, a controversial San Francisco Bay Area-based group, for help, he told The Times in a 1981 interview.

Lukjanczyk, a large man with rough-hewn features, fled Synanon seven years later and was taken in by the monks at the hilltop abbey, which overlooks the San Luis Rey River in Oceanside.

For the next decade Lukjanczyk completed several works for the abbey, among them a sculpture of St. Benedict. In 1980, the artist completed a 38-inch-high bust of Pope John Paul II. With Ehringer's help, Lukjanczyk was able to deliver the bust in person to the Pope that September.

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