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Saint of the Day – St. Albert Chmielowski

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Feast Day: June 17
Patronage: Painters, Servants of the Poor, Sisters Servants of the Poor, Franciscan tertiaries, Soldiers, Volunteers, Harvests, Travellers, Puławy, Diocese of Sosnowiec
Birth: 20 August 1845 Igołomia, Małopolskie, Congress Poland
Death: 25 December 1916 (aged 71) Kraków, Kingdom of Poland
Beatified: 22 June 1983, Kraków, Poland by Pope John Paul II
Canonized: 12 November 1989, Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Attributes: Priest’s attire

Life: Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski was born in Igołomia – on the outskirts of Kraków – on 20 August 1845 to rich aristocrats as the eldest of four children to Adelbert Chmielowski (1811 – 25 August 1853) and Josephine Borzyslawska (1821 – 28 August 1859). His two brothers were Stanisław Teodor (1848-???) and Marian Antoni (1852-1903) and his sister was Jadwiga Modesta Szaniawska (1850-???). He was to be baptized on 26 August but the turbulent nature of that period saw no priest present, thus it had to be rescheduled; the formal baptism took place on 17 June 1847.

He and his siblings lost their parents during his childhood, which prompted their paternal aunt Petronela to take care of them and raise them. Chmielowski began his initial education in agriculture at the Polytechnical Institute at Puławy in order to prepare himself for managing his late parents’ estate. He became involved in politics to a significant degree though later lost a leg while taking part in the Polish nationalist uprising. Chmielowski participated in a battle on 1 October 1863 in which a Russian grenade killed his horse and damaged his leg to the extent that it had to be amputated; he was fitted with a wooden leg and offered up his dismemberment for God and the cause of Polish independence. The injured Chmielowski was carried to a woodsman’s cabin where Finnish soldiers allied with Russia found him. The captain recognized him for rumors persisted that Chmielowski avoided all gunfire and was invulnerable but told him the leg had to be removed, to which Chmielowski said: “Give me a cigar – that will help me pass the time”. The successful operation went ahead, though without anesthesia, but he offered his suffering to God and endured the great pain the operation bought. The recovering Chmielowski was taken to a hospital for a doctor to assess him – the soldiers then needed to decide what to do with their captive – but accomplices aided him in escaping the hospital hidden in a coffin.

The severe response of the Czarist authorities to this insurrection forced Chmielowski to leave Poland. He settled in Ghent in Belgium where he began his studies in engineering. During this period he discovered he also had a talent for painting which he began to develop. He even traveled to Paris and Munich in order to further his training in art and made numerous friends in the process but attempted to shield his handicap from them as much as possible. He was able to return to his homeland in 1874 where he became a well-known and popular artist in Kraków and served as a painter through 1885; he produced a total of 61 paintings. But he first went back to Munich from Paris before returning to his homeland where he published an article asserting that art was to be “the friend of man”. He lived in Warsaw for a time before settling in Kraków. But he did not like the fame his works bought him and he was even hospitalized on one occasion for depression. His strong political convictions inspired his interest in the human condition and he developed a gentle and compassionate spirit which also made him aware of the suffering of the poor in the area. He felt compelled to help those in need and served in the homeless shelters in Kraków. He also devoted his artistic talents to this awareness and painted one of his best-known works, known as the “Ecce Homo”, which depicted the thorn-crowned Jesus Christ. Years of deep reflection caused Chmielowski to abandon his career in order to live among the poor and to accept a beggar’s life. In 1879 he spent a brief period of time in Lvov with a friend.

On 24 September 1880 he entered the novitiate of the Jesuits at Stara Wies but faced a terrible trial at a retreat where he became anxious about his decision, and he soon fell ill. His brother Stanisław came to retrieve him and take him to his home to recuperate, where he decided not to return to the Jesuits because that path was not for him. But he soon discovered the Rule of Saint Francis of Assisi which dazzled him and prompted him to seek them out with the intention of joining their order. It was around this time that his spiritual director was a Lazarist priest.

On 25 August 1887 he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and was given the habit of that order, at which time he began to call himself “Albert”; he made his vows into the hands of the Cardinal Archbishop of Kraków Albin Dunajewski. He took up residence in the public shelter where he had been serving. In 1888 he professed his religious vows and on 25 August 1888 founded the Servants of the Poor and on 15 January 1891 – alongside Blessed Maria Jabłońska – founded a parallel women’s congregation known as the Albertine Sisters who organized food and shelter for the poor and homeless. Chmielowski even spent a brief period of time at a Carmelite convent and there became familiar with the published works of Saint John of the Cross who soon became his favorite author. He also came to know the convent’s superior Saint Raphael Kalinowski who suggested he become a Carmelite, though he declined this offer and affirmed his place as a Franciscan.

He died at noon on 25 December 1916 – on Christmas – due to stomach cancer in the shelter that he himself had established; he had received the Anointing of the Sick on the previous 23 December when his condition began to deteriorate. His remains were exhumed on 15 September 1932 and placed in a metallic coffin, and exhumed once again on 31 May 1949 and placed in a Discalced Carmelite church.

– Christi Simus Non Nostri

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