Father Marian Zelazek was born in Poland in 1918. In 1940, he was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained imprisoned until the camp was liberated by American forces in April 1945.
After his release from Nazi internment, he traveled to Rome to study theology, and was ordained as a priest in 1949.
In 1950, Father Marian was sent as a missionary to the Indian state of Orissa (now called Odisha). He worked for 25 years in the Rourkela district before moving to the coastal city of Puri in 1975.
In Puri, he was moved by the plight of a large number of people afflicted with leprosy. They were completely ostracized from the community. Even the otherwise healthy children of lepers were not allowed to associate with the children of healthy parents. His experience in the concentration camp gave him an insight into the suffering and poor treatment of those afflicted with the disease.
Inspired by the work of Father Damien of Moloka'i, Father Marian organized the leper colony and saw to the treatment of over 600 lepers. He provided them with shelter, medical care, and a chance to earn a living (at that time, lepers were considered by many to be cursed by God and had to survive by begging).
He later founded the Beatrix School, which gave the children of the leper colony their first opportunity at an education and a chance for a brighter future. The school was not limited to the children of the leper colony, and soon many children of non-lepers were also attending. This integration has played a very big role in removing the stigma surrounding leprosy. Father Marian strove to diminish that stigma further by introducing the lepers to the community and showing that they were not to be feared or reviled.
For his tireless work in the leper colony in Puri, Father Marian was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He passed away in 2006.