Blessed Raphael Kalinowski of St. Joseph, a Polish Discalced Carmelite, was canonized November 17 1991 by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica. He is held by many to be the precursor of and model for the modern lay apostolate and as an architect of peace, culture and unity among Christians. We celebrate St. Raphael Kalinowski’s feast day on November 19th.
Who is this Carmelite priest who has been honored for years in his native Poland but who is generally unknown to the rest of the world? Research uncovers a “stranger than fiction” tale of an adventurous and complex life which covered many contrasting careers.
Father Raphael was a student technician, engineer, fervent patriot, exile, tutor and finally at the age of 42 years, a Carmelite priest.
II. HIS YOUTH AND EDUCATION
Joseph Kalinowski was born at Vilna in the present Lithuania on September 1, 1835. His home on Holy Spirit Street disappeared in World War II. He was educated at home by his parents, Andrew and Josephine, receiving a deeply religious instruction. He was devoted to Our Lady, and her picture under the title of Our Lady of Ostra Brama (Gate of Defense) was carried by him throughout his adventurous life. The sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy still stands over the gate of the city wall at Vilna – hence, the above title The Kalinowskis prayed fervently for the union of the Eastern Church with Rome. This union and the conversion of Russia were constant petitions of Joseph throughout his life.
Joseph’s father was a professor of mathematics at the Institute of Nobles in Vilna which had been founded by the Russian government but was later closed by the Czar. He later become its Rector also but resigned for reasons of conscience. Joseph attended the Institute for seven years, excelling academically and becoming grounded in a fervently religious Polish patriotism. While he was still at school, the Czar began his persecution of Poles, Lithuanians and the Catholic Church. Many Poles were deported to Siberia, executions in the town square were common.
In 1850, Joseph completed his studies at the Institute with brilliance. As higher education was not permitted in either Poland or Lithuania, he had the choice of either going abroad (which was practically impossible) or attending a Russian University. One saving factor of choosing the latter was that many young Poles left their fatherland for higher studies, so Polish colonies mushroomed in the Russian cities.
Initially, Joseph attended the famous school of Agronomy (the art and science of managing crops and land) at Hory-Horki. He studied here for two years but became dissatisfied with this course of study. Together with his cousin, Lucian Polonski, He enrolled in the School of Engineering at the city of St. Petersberg.
Then, as now, St. Petersberg was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Today, its population numbers 4,000,000. It extends over one hundred islands on the Neva River and is called the Venice of the North. The influence of the Italian architects who originally planned this city is apparent in the broad streets, large piazzas and magnificent buildings and churches. Today, many of the churches are museums only.
Joseph enrolled at the Military School of Engineering in 1853. He preferred Bridge and Road Engineering, but this school was filled. Three years later, he finished with the rank of Lieutenant engineer. He also was named Assistant of Mathematics at the Academy itself. However, these were sad years for him due to being an expatriate who endured heavy military discipline and ruthlessness from upperclassmen and the Russians. He faced this with his natural mildness and tolerance for both his fellow students and his professors.
There are many grand structures in St. Petersberg. One is the old Winter Palace of the Czars which is now the magnificent Hermitage Museum. Joseph drilled at a military fortress near the island of Kronstadt, the former summer residence of the Czars. This grandeur must have been somewhat overwhelming to a Polish student in a foreign land.
III. MILITARY ENGINEER
Commissioned as an Engineer Superintendent for Maintenance and Fortification in 1860, Joseph was appointed to the fortress at Brest-Litowski, a city on the Polish frontier. One of his works here was the powder magazine. He was later promoted to Captain of the General Staff. The fortress became known as the “heroic fortress” because of the fierce resistance of 8,000 Russian soldiers to invading German troops in 1942 during World War II. Only a few hundred of the 8,000 men survived. The fortress was completely demolished. Its ruins were left intact by Russia after the war with the whole complex becoming a monument to the defenders.
With Joseph’s promotion, came the added obligation of trips to the Office of the General Staff in St. Petersberg.
Throughout this period Joseph’s spiritual life was growing in intensity. He was drawn to an apostolate to the poor, especially the young, and he opened a Sunday School for poor youths. His longing for the union of the Eastern Church with Rome grew stronger.
The Polish insurrection against Russia erupted in 1863. As is true to this day, the Poles’ great love of their country could not be reconciled with Russia’s tyranny. Being extremely aware of the military power of the Czar, Joseph advised against the revolt, saying:
“Poland needed to work, not to shed blood.” He added, “It was too obvious to the mind’s eye what would be the struggle of the people without arms against the force of the Russian government which possessed an enormous and strong army.”
The keen intellect of the mathematician and the engineer must have been having a great struggle with the soul of the patriot. The spark of rebellion, however, would not die in the hearts of the Polish people.
Joseph resigned his rank and commissions and left Brest for Warsaw. He intended to retire to Vilna and keep out of politics. However, at Warsaw, he was asked by the National Council directing the insurrection to serve the Fatherland and become Minister of the war against Russia for the region of Vilna. Joseph knew what the outcome of this rebellion was destined to be, but his love for his country would not allow him to refuse. He accepted on the condition that he would never have to pronounce a death sentence against anyone.
After accepting this appointment, he left for Vilna, establishing the headquarters of the rebellion in his own home, unknown even to his own relatives. Interiorly, he grew stronger, visiting the Vilna churches, especially that of Our Lady of Ostra Brama, every day. This served a dual purpose. He fulfilled his duty as Minister of War by encouraging, counseling and above all, trying to prevent the worst for his fellow countrymen, and he became closer to God and Our Lady.
As he had forecast, one by one the leaders of the revolt were apprehended by the Russians, tried and hanged in the market place. Trains containing deported Lithuanians and Poles left frequently for Russia and Siberia. The Dominican Convent, located almost directly in front of his home, became a prison. Constantine Kalinowski, the head of the rebellion at Vilna, was imprisoned there and later condemned to death.
Joseph was the only director left unapprehended. However, as he tells in his Memoirs:
“At midnight, between the 12th and 13th of March, 1864, a voice awakened me; it was the head of the city police; he asked: ‘Does the retired civil engineer. Captain Kalinowski live here?’ – ‘Yes, he lives here,’ I replied. ‘Please, get dressed.’ He asked me to open the writing desk and was satisfied with just the first paper that came to his hand…After that first examination, he said to me with a certain difficulty: ‘I’m sorry, I have to arrest you.’ I bowed without saying a word. The Lord God in His goodness, did not deprive me of tranquillity of mind.”
He was then locked up in the Dominican prison.
There is no record that Joseph showed any outward feelings during his imprisonment. He organized his life on the model of the religious. He notes in his Memoirs:
“I made myself an horarium for the whole day; I got up at 5:00 in the morning. My first thought was that of prayer, then meditation, and when I obtained books of meditation I had great consolation. I could hear Mass every day, but from a distance, although distinctly enough. The window of my cell opened on the courtyard which was in the form of a quadrangle, and at one side of which was the Church of the Holy Spirit, where Mass was sung early in the morning. I opened a little wicket of the window and thus could enjoy Holy Mass from beginning to end.”
Joseph was condemned to death on June 2, 1864. However, for many reasons, chief among them the high moral esteem in which even the Russians held him, the Governor of Vilna commuted his death sentence to exile, so he would not become a martyr to the people. The death penalty was changed to ten years of forced labor in Siberia.
Before leaving for Siberia, Joseph was allowed to see close friends who gave him a copy of the Gospels, the “Imitation of Christ” and a Crucifix. He also was permitted to see his spiritual director, Father Antoniewicz, with whom he corresponded throughout his exile.
The date of his deportation was July 29, 1864. He describes it in his Memoirs as follows:
“It looked like a funeral, and many similar convoys had preceded us from the beginning of the insurrection! Among us there were persons of all states and conditions of life: proprietors, doctors, contractors, workers, peasants, married women, young girls; it was like a flood that poured its water toward the far East. No priest accompanied us. We took a place in the railway cars, where we were piled one on top of the other. When the train left, moving alongside the heights that overlooked the station, flowers were dropped down on it, as at the cemetery on the tombs of the dead.”
The troop train traveled through St. Petersberg and Moscow to Nizni-Novgorod where the prisoners boarded boats on the Volga River for the clearing center of Perm. At Perm, Joseph discovered his brother Gabriel among the deportees. In September, they crossed the Ural Mountains, either on foot or in a kibitka (a cart drawn by horses). The Siberian winter was beginning. Many died, exhausted and frozen. They were buried by the roadside or in the snow. Joseph’s Memoirs describe this exodus:
“….The city of Perm was a gathering point, and then from there the condemned were dispersed eastward. Including Perm and as far as the distant east, the immense plains below the Urals and behind the Urals became a limitless cemetery of tens of thousands of victims thrown out of the Motherland… The very city of Perm was in truth, in the non-figurative sense of the word, a real cemetery. In the prison a terrible typhus raged; without the aid of proper medication, without the salvation of the sacraments, piled up in the hospitals, our companions departed from the world.”
The survivors marched for ten months, finally arriving at Ussole, near Lake Bahkel. Joseph describes the last stretch of the way thus:
“The weather was rainy, the road muddy and full of holes. A good part of the way we went on foot, going along the bank and on the ice, which was already thawing and breaking into pieces; starved, weary and frozen, we arrived at the barracks of the Ussole prison.” Memoirs
Ussole was a village on the banks of the Angora. The prisoners lived on an islet in one huge barracks where everything was done in common. The Siberian winter reached 30o-45o below zero. there was much illness. Joseph served his fellow prisoners as well as he could during his many years at Ussole. Through his charity and especially by his prayer life, he became dear to them and was thought to be holy. The prisoners even added to their prayers, “Through the prayers of Joseph Kalinowski, deliver us, O Lord!”
In July, 1868, Joseph was transferred to Irkutsk where he remained until 1874. Apparently, difficulties were not as great here, as the numerous letters give ethnic, religious, geological and climatic data. He apparently was able to continue his scientific studies as well as to begin to study theology. Together with another deportee, Father Szwermicki, he worked at educating the children, morally and intellectually. He also accompanied the famous professor, Benedict Dybowski, on exploratory trips in these immense and unknown regions.
After nine and a half years of exile, Joseph was repatriated. The year was 1874. However, he was forbidden to settle in Lithuania. On April 10, 1874, he saw his family in Vilna, then left them for the last time.
Joseph then went to Warsaw, living near his brother Gabriel. From his window he could see the church and convent of the Discalced Carmelite Friars.
Through the help of Alessandro Oskierko, a friend in his exile, Joseph was offered the position of tutor to the young prince, Augustus Czartoryski. For three years, Joseph tutored “Gucio,” as young Augustus was called in Paris. He discovered that his pupil possessed great interior richness but was of fragile health. As well as teacher, Joseph was friend, spiritual director and nurse to “Gucio.”
During his years with Augustus in Paris, Joseph was surrounded by political and social activities. He was also involved in work for the Polish refugees. Music was cultivated, and Joseph met the Discalced Carmelite, Father Augustine Mary of the Blessed Sacrament (Hermann Cohen, the celebrated Jewish pianist and convert). Joseph admired his great musical talent but, above all, his profound spirituality.
Throughout this time, Joseph’s thirst for God grew. He felt as if he did not belong in his surroundings. Finally, his last tie with Augustus was broken, as the young prince was due to be introduced into society and above all, entrusted to the care of a priest. Augustus also was feeling the call to spiritual perfection.
As a last retreat among the mountains of Davos in Switzerland, both teacher and pupil were touched by the Lord. Joseph writes in his Memoirs:
“The Life of St. Aloysius Gonzaga by Father Cepari, sent to me from Italy, had a decisive effectiveness on the spiritual progress of Augustus, and opened the way for him to a more simple union with God.”
Meanwhile, Joseph had been thoroughly reading the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. At Davos, he decided to enter Carmel.
Joseph and Augustus parted in July of 1877. Some years later, the young prince met St. John Bosco in Paris. In 1887, St. John Bosco enrolled Augustus as a novice in the Salesians. Augustus was a humble and heroic Salesian. After his premature death in 1893, the Cause of his Beatification was initiated by the Church.
VII. CARMELITE AND PRIEST
In July of 1877, Joseph left for the Carmel of Linz. In a letter to an aunt of Augustus, Joseph said he was urged on by one desire – to do penance. On July 15, he left for the convent of Graz. The Chronicles of that community state, “Joseph Kalinowski, a Pole, tutor of the son of Prince Czartoryski, arrived at our convent; he is a tall man with a beard and is 42 years old.”
Joseph made his solemn profession on November 27, 1881 before the Father General of the Order. He had chosen the name of Raphael of St. Joseph.
He was then transferred to Poland to the only Carmelite convent of friars the Order had succeeded in keeping alive in the ancient hermitage of Czerna. There, he received the various Sacred Orders. He was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Cracow. Soon, he was appointed Vice-Master of Novices and, in 1883, Prior of the convent of Czerna which office he occupied almost continually, alternating with that of Provincial Councilor.
Due to Father Raphael’s zeal, the Polish Carmel began to thrive. Monasteries were founded at Premislia in 1884 and at Leopoli in 1888 in the Ukraine. The Monastery of Premislia was a center for devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague.
In 1899, Father Raphael was named Visitator and Vicar Provincial of all of these monasteries. He also made a great contribution to the Order by his research of the convents’ archives which had been dispersed during the suppressions. He found many documents on the history of individual Polish Carmelite convents; with the help of the Carmelite nuns, he published the Carmelite Chronicles of the monasteries and convents of Vilna, Warsaw, Leopoli and Cracow. He arranged for the first translation into Polish of The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He also wrote the biography of his friend from his Paris days, the musically gifted Hermann Cohen.
VIII. THE LAST YEARS
The principal achievement of Father Raphael was a junior college or vocational seminary for young men which he built in Wadowice. He began most humbly and with great difficulties, but vocations soon began to flow. Seven years after completing his first building, Father Raphael built a larger college in Wadowice and a beautiful church of St. Joseph.
The last years of Father Raphael were spent at this seminary where he dedicated himself to the education and formation of young men to religious life. He became noted as a confessor and spiritual director. He constantly prayed for the conversion of Russia and the union of the Eastern and Western Churches, offering his suffering and mortifications for this and inviting others to imitate him. In 1904, by order of his superiors, he began to write his Memoirs.
In 1906, he was reelected prior of Wadowice. But, on November 15, 1907, Our Lord took him to Himself. His reputation for sanctity continued to spread, and pilgrims came to pray at his tomb.
The Processes of Beatification for Father Raphael began in 1934. The heroicity of his virtues was approved on October 7, 1982, the medical panel discussed the miracle attributed to his intercession. The commission of theologians met and approved this miracle unanimously.
Finally, on June 22, 1983, during his trip to Poland, Pope John Paul II performed the solemn rite of Beatification of Father Raphael Kalinowski in Blonie, Poland. During his homily, Pope John Paul said:
“It had been my ardent desire that my pilgrimage to the homeland, in conjunction with the jubilee of Jasna Gora, should also become an opportune occasion to raise to the altars certain Servants of God whose path to sanctity is linked with this land and this nation, over which reigns Our Lady of Jasna Gora. Their beatification is a special feast day for the Church in Poland: for the whole People of God that forms that Church. As the second Vatican Council has stated, in fact, the Church must constantly remind everyone of the vocation to holiness, and must also lead her sons and daughters to that holiness – ….Holiness, in fact, consists in love. It is based on the commandment of love….Holiness, therefore, is a particular likeness to Christ. A likeness through love. We abide in Christ through love, just as He abides in his Father through love. Holiness is likeness to Christ that touches the mystery of his union with the Father in the Holy Spirit; his union with the Father through love….From their earliest years. Father Raphael and Brother Albert understood this truth: that love consists of giving one’s soul; that in love one has to give one’s self; in fact, as Christ said to the Apostles, one must ‘give one’s life’….Father Raphael wrote to his sister: ‘God gave Himself completely for us, and we must sacrifice ourselves to God.'”
To try and comprehend the core of Father Raphael’s sanctity throughout his varied life in the world, in the hard Siberian years and in the Carmelite Order, we have some quotations in his own words. He continually reminded his religious: “In Carmel our principal duty is to converse with God in all our actions.” He stressed continual communion with God. Another facet of his spirituality which he emphasized to the friars and nuns was intimacy with Our Lady whom he loved as “mother and foundress of the Order; whom one always needs to keep in mind. For Carmelite friars and nuns, it is of capital importance to honor the Most Blessed Virgin. And we love her if we endeavor to imitate her virtue, especially humility and recollection in prayer. Our gaze ought to be constantly turned to her, our affections directed to her, ever keeping in mind the remembrance of her benefits and trying always to be faithful to her.” He wrote several booklets on Our Lady: Mary Always and in Everything, Cracow 1901; and The Cult of the Mother of God in the Polish Carmel, Leopoli-Warsaw 1905.
What a rich and varied life – a role model for people living in the world as well as those who have embraced the religious life. Father Raphael was a student, soldier engineer, tutor and priest. He was prisoner, exile and a shining patriot. In truth, he also could be called a martyr because of his acceptance of leadership in a Polish rebellion he knew was doomed to failure, and his almost certain death sentence for participating. His late vocation is an example and inspiration to souls who have found their worldly careers empty and unsatisfying for their inner needs.
Throughout his adventurous career runs the constant theme of increasing spiritual hunger accompanied by feelings of restlessness and isolation in whatever vocation he was pursuing. The blazing patriotism and deep faith of the Polish people is paramount in his soul which finally found its home in Carmel where he displayed his great love of Our Lady, his keen intellect and his organizational abilities to the fullest.
One wonders at Father Raphael’s strength of soul especially during the terrible years of his exile followed by a totally different environment – the luxurious surroundings befitting the tutor of a young prince in Paris. Temptations also must have been many and acute for him as a young intellectual student in St. Petersberg.