Biographies of 4 Poles Beatified Sunday

An Archbishop, 2 Priests and a Religious Sister

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KRAKOW, Poland, AUG. 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican has published these biographies of the four people beatified Sunday by John Paul II at the Mass in Blonie Park.

The newly beatified are Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, Jan Balicki, Jan Beyzym and Sancja Szymkowiak.

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Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski (1822-1895)

Blessed Sigmund Felix Felinski (1822-1895), archbishop of Warsaw and founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. He was born on Nov. 1, 1822, to Gerard Felinski and Eva Wendorff, in Wojutyn in Volinia (present-day Ukraine), in what was then Russian territory. He was Archbishop of Warsaw for 16 months, spent 20 years in exile in Siberia, spent 12 years in semi-exile as titular archbishop of Tarsus and parish priest in the country. He died in Krakow, which then belonged to Austria, on Sept. 17, 1895. Indeed, he spent 58 of his 73 years in territory that belonged to the Russian Empire.

Spiritual and national figure

He is venerated as Shepherd in exile, an apostle of national harmony and unity in the spirit of the Gospel, a model of priestly dedication. As archbishop of Warsaw and founder of a religious congregation, he exercised his duties and role as “good Shepherd” with great strength, love and courage, always keeping careful watch over himself. “I am convinced that by keeping my heart uncontaminated, living in faith, and in fraternal love toward my neighbor, I will not go off the path. These are my only treasures and are without price,” he wrote.

Family

The third of six children, of whom two died at an early age, he was brought up with faith and trust in Divine Providence, and love for the Church and Polish culture. When Sigmund was 11 years old his father died. Five years later, in 1838, his mother was arrested by the Russians and sent into exile in Siberia for her involvement in patriotic activity. Her patriotic activity was working for the improvement of the social and economic conditions of farmers.

Education and background

Sigmund was well educated. After completing high school, he studied mathematics at the University of Moscow from 1840-1844. In 1847 he went to Paris, where he studied French literature at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France. He knew all the important figures of the Polish emigration, e.g. Adam Mickiewicz. He was a friend of the nationalist poet Juliusz Slowacki who died after the revolt of Poznan. In 1848, he took part in the revolt of Poznan, which failed. From 1848-50 he was tutor to the sons of Eliza and Zenon Brzozowski in Munich and Paris. In 1851 he returned to Poland and entered the diocesan seminary of Zytomierz. He studied at the Catholic Academy of St. Petersburg. On Sept. 8, 1855, Archbishop Ignacy Holowinski of Mohilev ordained him. He was assigned to the Dominican Fathers’ Parish of St Catherine of Siena in St. Petersburg until 1857, when the bishop appointed him spiritual director of the Ecclesiastical Academy and professor of philosophy. In 1856 he founded the charitable organization “Recovery for the Poor,” and in 1857 he founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary.

Archbishop of Warsaw

On Jan. 6, 1862, Pope Pius IX appointed Sigmund Felinski archbishop of Warsaw. On Jan. 26, 1862, Archbishop Zylinski consecrated him in St. Petersburg. On Jan. 31 he left for Warsaw where he arrived on Feb. 9, 1862. The Russians, brutally suppressed the Polish uprising against Russia in Warsaw in 1861 creating a state of siege. In response to the harsh measures of the Russians, the ecclesial authorities closed all the churches for four months. On Feb. 13, 1862, the new archbishop reconsecrated the Cathedral of Warsaw; the Russian Army had profaned it on Oct. 15, 1861. On Feb. 16, he opened all of the churches in the city with the solemn celebration of the Forty Hours Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sigmund Felinski was archbishop of Warsaw for 16 months, from Feb. 9, 1862, to June 14, 1863. Times were difficult since there were daily clashes between the occupying Russian power and the Nationalist Party. Unfortunately, he was met by an atmosphere of distrust on the part of some citizens and even clergy, since the Russian government deceived them into thinking that he was secretly collaborating with the government.

The archbishop always made it clear that he was only at the service of the Church. He also worked for the systematic elimination of governmental interference in the internal affairs of the Church. He reformed the diocese by making regular visits to the parishes and to the charitable organizations within the diocese so that he could better understand and meet their needs. He reformed the programs of study at the Ecclesiastical Academy of Warsaw and in the diocesan seminaries, giving new impetus to the spiritual and intellectual development of the clergy.

He made every effort to free imprisoned priests. He encouraged them to proclaim the Gospel openly, to catechize their parishioners, to begin parochial schools, and to take care that they raise a new generation that would be sober, devout and honest. He looked after the poor and orphans, starting an orphanage in Warsaw, which he entrusted to the Sisters of the Family of Mary.

In political action he tried to prevent the nation from rushing headlong into a rash and inconsiderate position. As a sign of his own protest against the bloody repression by the Russians of the “January Revolt” of 1863, Archbishop Felinski resigned from the Council of State and on March 15, 1863, wrote a letter to the Emperor Alexander II, urging him to put an end to the violence. He likewise protested against the hanging of the Capuchin Father Agrypin Konarski, chaplain of the “rebels.” His courage and interventions quickly brought about his exile by Alexander II.

Exile in Siberia for 20 years

In fact, on June 14, 1863, he was deported from Warsaw to Jaroslavl, in Siberia, where he spent the next 20 years deprived by the czar of any contact with Warsaw. He found a way to organize works of mercy to help his fellow prisoners and especially the priests. Despite the restrictions of the Russian police, he managed to collect funds to build a Catholic church which later became a parish. The people were struck by his spiritual attitude and eventually began calling him the “holy Polish bishop.”

Semi-exile in Krakow region

In 1883, following negotiations between the Holy See and Russia, Archbishop Felinski was freed and on March 15, 1883, Pope Leo XIII transferred him from the See of Warsaw to the titular See of Tarsus. For the last 12 years of his life he lived in semi-exile, in southeastern Galizia at Dzwiniaczka, among the crop-farmers of Polish and Ukrainian background. As chaplain of the public chapel of the manor house of the Counts Keszycki and Koziebrodzki, he launched an intense pastoral activity. Out of his own pocket, he set up in the village the first school and a kindergarten. He built a church and convent for the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary.

Writings

In his leisure, he prepared for publication the works he had written during his exile in Jaroslavl. Here are some of them: Spiritual Conferences, Faith and Atheism in the Search for Happiness, Conferences on Vocation, Under the Guidance of Providence, Social Commitments in View of Christian Wisdom and Atheism; Memories (three editions).

Remains in Warsaw

He died in Krakow on Sept. 17, 1895, and was buried in Krakow on Sept. 20. Later he was buried at Dzwiniacza (Oct. 10, 1895). In 1920 his remains were translated to Warsaw where, on April 14, 1921, they were solemnly interred in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. John where they are now venerated.

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Jan Balicki (1869-1948)

Blessed John Adalbert Balicki was born on Jan. 25, 1869, in Staromiescie, Poland (today the district of Rzeszow). He died of pneumonia and TB in Przemysl on March 15, 1948.

Education< br>
John Adalbert was raised in a deeply religious family and, although materially poor, they were a family rich in honesty and virtue. From 1876-1888 he attended the schools of Rzeszow under the guidance of high level educators imbued with a love for Polish culture. In September 1888 he entered the diocesan seminary of Przemysl. After four years of study and spiritual preparation, he was ordained on July 20, 1892.

The bishop sent him to be assistant pastor in the parish of Polna. He was appreciated as a man of prayer, a patient confessor, and a gifted preacher. After about a year, he was sent to Rome to pursue his formation at the Pontifical Gregorian University. During his four years of study (1893-1897), he was aware of a dual responsibility: as a priest, to continue to make progress in Christian perfection, and as a student, to complete his studies.

His spiritual approach to theology bore fruit later on in his teaching. He listened to the lectures in the morning. In the afternoon he read the authors referred to and, above all, St. Thomas Aquinas. Then he went to the chapel to pray over what he studied. He spent his free time in Rome visiting the shrines of the apostles and the rooms of the saints. It was a concrete way of learning about the faith.

Professor of theology, prefect of studies

In the summer of 1897, he returned to Przemysl of the Latins, where he was appointed professor of Dogmatic Theology in the diocesan seminary. He was convinced that theology is not only the science that regards God, but the science that can turn man to reach God. His lessons were meditations on the mysteries of God and had a good influence on the moral formation of his students. Up till 1900, Father Balicki was also Prefect of Studies.

Rector of the seminary

In 1927, in a spirit of obedience, he accepted the post of vice rector of the seminary and a year later he was appointed rector. He was concerned about the spiritual formation of the priests. Before he presented the candidates to the bishop, he studied the reports and prayed for light to make the proper decision.

Spiritual direction and confession

In 1934 he was forced to resign as rector and professor of theology due to poor health, but he continued to live at the seminary. From 1934-1939 he could only hear confessions and give spiritual direction. Many of his penitents testified that he had an extraordinary gift of penetrating the profundity of their soul.

As confessor he had an open heart for everyone who approached him with sincerity. He was always available for confession despite poor health. He was not just a judge or giver of absolution, but he did all he could to motivate his penitents to grow spiritually. He regularly gave direction through letters.

World War II: restrictions, worsened health

In September 1939, Poland was plunged into the tragedy of the Second World War. Right away the city of Przemysl was divided into two parts: the old section occupied by Soviet troops, and the rest of the city occupied by the Germans. Although the priests and the bishop and his collaborators thought it safer to move to the German side, Father Balicki remained in the Soviet zone hoping to start again the activity of formation in the seminary. In the end, he was forced to move into a room in the bishop’s temporary housing.

In October 1941, the fighting in the area stopped and the artificial barrier that divided the city was abolished. Father Balicki stayed there in his temporary room with the bishop.

In the second half of February 1948, he became gravely ill and was diagnosed as having bilateral pneumonia and tuberculosis in its advanced stage. He was admitted to the hospital where he died on March 15, 1948. He was considered by all to be a “holy priest” and “humility in person.”

Teaching and example

After his death, the fame of his holiness spread throughout Poland and beyond Poland by means of the Polish emigrants. Eventually the people began to report to the authorities the answers to their prayers in which they begged John Adalbert to intercede for them.

Those who knew him report that his whole life was motivated by the desire to be the least among his brothers. His humility was simple, natural, authentic. There was no room for pride or vanity. He was gentle and careful in his dealings with others. He never desired to call attention to his own pains or sufferings.

What stood out as the fruit of humility was his great love of God and neighbor. Love was the dominant attitude. Humility allowed him to tend constantly toward God. He said that the life of grace was revealed in the dominion of the spirit over the flesh and its disordered inclinations. He stressed the role of the virtues in the growth of the spiritual life, especially mortification, patience, and humility. Mortification submits nature to grace, patience, inseparable from love, makes man capable of sacrifice for God, humility dethrones the ego to place the Lord at the center of his heart.

He held up prayer as the indispensable nourishment for the growth of the interior life and for final perseverance. Prayer is the elevation of the mind and heart to God so that we can live for him and we love God with the love that he infuses into our hearts.

He did a study of mystical prayer in which he emphasized four degrees: prayer of quiet, prayer of simple union, ecstatic union and perfect union.

He also gave a list of the seven steps for progress in the spiritual life. They are a serious approach to life, readiness to be critical of self, unshakable confidence in prayer, joy of spirit, love for suffering, praise of divine mercy, and continuous self amendment.

Model for diocesan priests

On Dec. 22, 1975, the then Cardinal Wojtyla wrote to Paul VI to hold him up as a model for priests in our time.

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Jan Beyzym (1850-1912)

Blessed John (Jan) Beyzym was born in what is now Ukraine, at Beyzymy Wielkie on May 15, 1850, and died on Oct. 2, 1912, in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, the apostle of the lepers of Madagascar.

Father Beyzym was the first priest to live among the victims of Hansen’s disease in the entire history of the mission of Madagascar.

Teaching apostolate

After his secondary school studies, he entered the Jesuit novitiate on Dec. 10, 1872, at Stara Wies. On July 26, 1881, he was ordained in Krakow.

For 17 years, Father Beyzym worked as an educator among young people in the Jesuit Colleges at Tarnopol and Chyrow. During this time he was also discerning the second call he received from God which was to serve in the difficult mission among the lepers in Madagascar. In 1898, when he was 48, he left for Madagascar to begin the apostolate. “I know very well,” he wrote to the Father General Louis Martin in Rome in 1897, “what leprosy is and what I must expect, but all this does not frighten me, on the contrary, it attracts me.”

Mission among the lepers in Madagascar

On arriving in the Red Island (Madagascar) he was posted to the leprosarium of Ambahivoraka near Antananarivo, where 150 sick people lived in almost total abandonment in the desert, far from healthy people. They lived in crumbling shacks which were divided into small windowless rooms without flooring or furniture. They received no medication and lived, day by day, without any help. They often died of hunger rather than of sickness.

After two weeks in the hospice, Father Beyzym wrote a letter in 1899 to Rodolphe de Scorraille, head of the Province of Champagne and its missions, to present the indescribable conditions he found, admitting that he asked the good Lord to help him bring relief to this misery and that he wept in private at the sufferings of these unhappy people.

However, he did not shrink from the reality. He devoted all his strength, his talents as an organizer and, above all, his heart to the sick. He lived among them to bear witness to the fact that they were human beings and tha
t they must be saved.

He collected money and tried helping them in any way he could. At the time there was no effective medication for Hansen’s disease. However, Father Beyzym noticed that healthy food and adequate hygiene limited the contagion and that these two conditions together prevented the disease from progressing.

An eyewitness, Father P. Sau, wrote of Father Beyzym that during his life, “painfully surprised at the sight of the extreme poverty of Ambahivoraka, he called on the charity of his Polish compatriots and soon was able to increase his children’s ration of rice. The improvement of the diet reduced the number of burials from 57 a week to 5 a year” (La Mission de Madagascar a vol d’oiseau, pp. 62-63).

Another eyewitness, Father A. Niobey, wrote about Father Beyzym’s devotion to the body and soul of the sick: “His devotion to his lepers was unequalled. He possessed nothing but he gave the little he could dispose of unhesitatingly. His answer to every objection was always: ‘What you do for the least of my creatures, that you do unto me. We must be like the merchants of this earth: we must always aim at a greater gain'” (Letter, June 3, 1913).

He answered the provincial who asked him about working conditions among the sick: “One must be in constant union with God and pray without respite. One must get used little by little to the stench, for here we don’t breathe the scent of flowers but the putrefaction of bodies generated by leprosy” (Letter, April 18, 1901).

However, this “ease” did not come at once. Father Beyzym admitted that at first he felt repulsion at the sight of the victims. Several times he even fainted.

His burning goal was to build a hospital where the lepers would be taken care of and protected from the moral permissiveness that prevailed in the state-run hospices. In 1903 he left Ambahivoraka to go to build a hospital at Marana near Fianarantsoa. Speaking of the inauguration of the hospital on Aug. 16, 1911, Father J. Lielet, a medical doctor, said “Father Beyzym’s leprosarium had finally been opened. … The construction and equipping of this vast hospital in a country where everything is lacking was a colossal undertaking, but he completed the task. Arriving there penniless, he found ways of collecting thousands of francs in Europe (principally in Poland, Austria, and Germany) for such a distant project, his trust in God’s help was unshakeable. Providence has almost performed miracles for him” (Chine, Ceylan, Madagascar, 1912, p. 94). He hoped that it would provide more human conditions of life for the victims of Hansen’s disease.

The hospital still exists today and radiates love, hope and justice — the virtues which made its construction possible. Since 1964 new little houses very close to the hospital have been built for the families of the sick people.

Inner life, soul of his apostolate

Father Beyzym’s inner life was marked by a profound bond with Christ and the Eucharist. The Mass was the center of his life; he deplored the fact that the little church near the mission did not even have a permanent tabernacle and that during the rainy season the water dripped down onto the altar during Mass. He was greatly devoted to Mary and attributed his successes to Mary, seeing himself as her instrument. He was a man of action and an untiring worker, but also a man of prayer. He attributed to prayer an essential role in the apostolic life, underlining its importance to achieve sanctity.

Father Beyzym was a contemplative in action in the style of St. Ignatius. He had daily problems and battled against a thousand worries and sufferings, but was above all a man of prayer. Prayer was the source of his strength. Not having much time for quiet prayer, he prayed everywhere all the time. He often repeated that his prayer was not worth much and that he had trouble praying. This was why he asked the Carmelite nuns to pray for him.

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Sancja Szymkowiak (1910-1942)

Blessed Santia Szymkowiak, was born on July 11, 1910, in Mozdzanow (Ostrow Wielkopolski), Poland, to Augustine and Mary Duchalska. She was the youngest of five children, her parents’ only girl. She was baptized “Giannina.” On Aug. 29, 1942, she died of tuberculosis of the pharynx, brought on by the hardships of the war. Throughout her life, she desired to become a saint in a “hidden way,” and wanted only to do God’s will, living a profound union with him in every event.

Her motto was “God’s will is my will. Whatever he wants I want.” By abandoning herself into the arms of a loving Father, she offered a wonderful example of serene acceptance of her sufferings.

Education

Giannina was born into a believing and well-to-do family who gave her a wonderful education. In 1929, after her high school studies, she studied Languages and Foreign Literature at the University of Poznan. During her school years, she was an attractive person because she was a happy and joyful person who thought of those around her and was generous in reaching out to them in any need. Throughout her school years, she was a member of the Sodality of Mary, and was remembered for a discrete and effective apostolate of trying to share her happiness with those around her.

Giannina also went beyond her own circles and showed a special attention to the needs of the poor of the city. She was interested in everyone, was open to others, and had a “spirit of holiness” that struck those around her.

Call to religious life

While still young, Giannina felt called to the religious life. During the summer of 1934, she went on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Lourdes, France, and here offered herself to the Blessed Virgin, wanting to put her life entirely and without reserve into the hands of the Mother of God. In June 1936, at Poznan, after spending a year with the Congregation of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Montluçon, she returned to Poland and entered the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrows, better known as the “Seraphic Sisters.” It was then that she received the name Mary Santia.

From the beginning, she was zealous in observing the rules of the congregation and in performing every kind of service. Her life, which apparently had nothing extraordinary about it, hid a profound union with God with a total readiness to embrace his will in everything. She desired to become a great saint and all her life tended to communion with Jesus, ready to bear any sacrifice and humiliation to console his heart and make reparation for sin.

First vows and apostolate

On July 30, 1938, she made her first vows. She once wrote in her diary: “Jesus wants me to be a holy religious, and he will not be happy with me until I use all my strength for him and become a saint. God is everything, I am nothing. I have to become a saint at all costs. This is my constant preoccupation.”

After her first vows, Sister Santia worked for a year in the nursery school of Poznan-Naramowice and also began a course of studies in pharmacology. However, she was unable to continue her studies, because in September 1939 the war broke out.

World War II

Poznan was occupied by the Germans, and the Sisters were put under house arrest. They were forced to look after a hundred German soldiers who were housed there and English and French prisoners of war, who were lodged in and around the convent. She was able to translate for the foreign prisoners. The forced labor was very difficult, but she was willing to serve everyone as she would Christ himself.

In February 1940, the religious persecution worsened and Sister Santia was given permission to return to her family for safety. However, she stayed in the convent and submitted to the hard labor imposed by the occupying forces. She believed it was God’s will that she remain, that she be a “mother” to those around her: the prisoners, the soldiers, and her own Sisters. Sister Santia was an instrument of God’s love and peace, and became a sign of hope to those aroun
d her. The English and French prisoners called her the “angel of goodness” and “Saint Santia.”

The constant fatigue and difficult conditions took their toll on Sister Santia, and she began showing symptoms of tuberculosis. She continued with the same spirit of abandonment and serenity, and accepted her sufferings as a “preparation” for her solemn vows, which she professed on July 6, 1942. She died a little more than a month later, on Aug. 29, 1942, when she was 32 years old.

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