She was a refugee in Germany at the end of the Second World War. On Aug. 25, 1945, her 12th birthday, she remembers asking a passing British soldier for chocolate. Although she could not speak English, she had well practised her line: 'It is my birthday. Give me chocolate.' The soldier held up three fingers, pointed to his watch and she understood he would return at 3 p.m. No one else believed he would, but Maria did. And the man returned with chocolate. The young girl savoured it, for, at that time, chocolate was a luxury.
The story was the first she read to the Manitoba Christian Writers Association. The group encouraged her, and it was the first piece she would publish, winning a writing contest in 1983 in the Winnipeg Free Press. Ten years later, the British Broadcasting Corporation would fly her to Wales to meet her 'chocolate soldier' -- Cornelius O'Sullivan -- on Remembrance Day. To find him, she had written to Queen Elizabeth II, and as a result, her story had been picked up by London's Daily Mirror, where O'Sullivan's grandchildren recognized his story.
Today, the Charleswood resident is president of the Manitoba Christian Writers Association. The group meets on the first Saturday of each month from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at St. James Gospel Chapel, 337 Inglewood St. They welcome all levels of writers, from beginners to those that have been published. The next meeting is on Sept. 6.
At meetings, members begin with a devotional thought and announcements. Then two or three members are scheduled to read from their work, after which they are offered constructive criticism and support from their peers.
"This is a close-knit and supportive group," says Rogalski, who moved to Canada in 1950. "It's inspiring and motivating and you learn something every time. We are writers who are Christians who come to write positive, good, uplifting and encouraging pieces. We think of the good and the beautiful. I write from experience, to help and comfort others, to encourage them to hang in there."
While Rogalski has been published in religious magazines and the Manitoba Cooperator newspaper, members write a variety of material including fiction and poetry. Founding member Alma Barkman has published a series of devotional books, including her latest, called Sunny Side Up. Another founding member, Ed Hughes, recently released a book called Night Duty.
The association starts a new program each January. Monthly meetings are set, with different members chairing and reading at each one. Sometimes, such as on Nov. 1, a guest speaker is scheduled. The editor of Esprit magazine will visit that day.
Rogalski joined the Manitoba Christian Writers Association in 1976 after meeting up with Barkman and Hughes at a Billy Graham School for Christian Writing Event held in Winnipeg.
"I always felt I had writing in me," says Rogalski. "I felt I had ideas to communicate but I had no practice. So I joined. And the benefits have been trememdous."
Rogalski once worked with her husband Hans, a goldsmith. But now the pair, who have four children and 10 grandchildren, are retired.
"Writing takes courage. We encourage writers to submit their work. Everyone is welcome," says Rogalski.
There is an annual membership fee, but everyone is invited to check out the group before they sign up.
Author Lynn Austin, who writes Christian historical novels like her latest, Candle in the Darkness, now lives in the United States. But Rogalski says Austin remembers the early support from her peers in the association in the 1980s.
"She was always grateful for being a part of our group," says Rogalski. "Here you can learn from the experience of others. We have coffee, network. It's a very nice afternoon."
For further information on the association, call Rogalski at 832-2846
PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS