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Polish Saints

  • St. Maximilian Kolbe

    Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan. He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life. Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Immaculata Movement devoted to Our Lady. After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine entitled “The Knight of the Immaculata” and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.

    Maximilian went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement. In 1936 he returned home because of ill health. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time. But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

    On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast day is August 14th.

  • St. Casimir

    Casimir grew up in a world where his life was not his own. As a prince of Poland, the second son of King Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Austria, his life was scheduled to cement his father’s authority and increase Poland’s power.

    Casimir realized from an early age that his life belonged to someone else, but to a much higher King than his father. Despite pressure, humiliation, and rejection, he stood by that loyalty through his whole life.

    Born the third of thirteen children in 1461, Casimir was committed to God from childhood. Some of that commitment was the result of a tutor, John Dlugosz, whose holiness encouraged Casimir on his own journey.

    It may be hard for us to imagine royal luxury as a pressure. But for Casimir, the riches around him were temptations to forget his true loyalties. Rebelling against the rich, fashionable clothes he was expected to enjoy, he wore the plainest of clothes.

    Rejecting even ordinary comforts, he slept little, spending his nights in prayer. And when he did sleep, he lay on the floor not on a royal bed. Even though he was a prince, many of those around him must have laughed and joked at his choices. Yet, in the face of any pressure, Casimir was always friendly and calm.

    Though his father must have wondered about him, he must have seen and admired Casimir’s strength. He showed that he misunderstood this strength when he sent Casimir as head of an army to take over the throne of Hungary at the request of some nobles there. Casimir felt the whole expedition was wrong but was convinced to go out of obedience to his father. He could not help but feel at every step that it was disobedient to his other Father. So when soldiers started deserting, he was only too glad to listen to the advice of his officers and turn back home. His feelings were confirmed when he discovered that Pope Sixtus IV had opposed the move.

    His father, however, was furious at being deterred from his plans and banished Casimir to a castle in Dobzki, hoping that imprisonment would change Casimir’s mind. Casimir’s commitment to what he believed was right only grew stronger in his exile and he refused to cooperate with his father’s plans any more despite the pressure to give in. He even rejected a marriage alliance his father tried to form. He participated in his true King’s plans wholeheartedly by praying, studying, and helping the poor.

    He died at the age of 23 in 1484 from lung disease. He was buried with his favorite song, a Latin hymn to Mary called “Omni die dic Mariae” which we know as “Daily, Daily Sing to Mary.” Because of his love for the song, it is known as the Hymn of St. Casimir though he didn’t write it.

    Casimir is patron saint of Poland and Lithuania.

  • St. Faustina

    Saint Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village west of Lodz, Poland on August 25, 1905. She was the third of ten children. When she was almost twenty, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, whose members devote themselves to the care and education of troubled young women. The following year she received her religious habit and was given the name Sister Maria Faustina, to which she added, “of the Most Blessed Sacrament”, as was permitted by her congregation’s custom. In the 1930’s, Sister Faustina received from the Lord a message of mercy that she was told to spread throughout the world. She was asked to become the apostle and secretary of God’s mercy, a model of how to be merciful to others, and an instrument for reemphasizing God’s plan of mercy for the world. It was not a glamorous prospect.

    Her entire life, in imitation of Christ’s, was to be a sacrifice – a life lived for others. At the Divine Lord’s request, she willingly offered her personal sufferings in union with Him to atone for the sins of others; in her daily life she was to become a doer of mercy, bringing joy and peace to others, and by writing about God’s mercy, she was to encourage others to trust in Him and thus prepare the world for His coming again. Her special devotion to Mary Immaculate and to the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation gave her the strength to bear all her sufferings as an offering to God on behalf of the Church and those in special need, especially great sinners and the dying.

    She wrote and suffered in secret, with only her spiritual director and some of her superiors aware that anything special was taking place in her life. After her death from tuberculosis in 1938, even her closest associates were amazed as they began to discover what great sufferings and deep mystical experiences had been given to this Sister of theirs, who had always been so cheerful and humble. She had taken deeply into her heart, God’s gospel command to “be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful” as well as her confessor’s directive that she should act in such a way that everyone who came in contact with her would go away joyful. The message of mercy that Sister Faustina received is now being spread throughout the world; her diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul, has become the handbook for devotion to the Divine Mercy.

  • St. John Cantius

    Patron saint of Poland and Lithuania, also called John of Kanti or John of Kenty. He was born in Kanti, Poland, and was ordained after studies at the University of Cracow. John was ap­pointed a lecturer on Scriptures and was a popular preacher and parish priest for a few years before retaming to his university position. Attacks had been made by jealous associates about his abilities. Famous for his austerities and care for the poor, he was canonized in 1767 and was declared a patron of Poland and Lithuania by Pope Clement XII in 1737.

  • St. Hedwig

    On the 16th of November, 1384, Hedwig was crowned Queen of Poland. She would become Saint Hedwig; patron saint of Queens. Even though Hedwig was only beautifed in 1980 she treated by many as saint from the time of death.

    Known as Jadwiga in Polish the Queen was known as Hedwig in both English and German.

    During her life Jadwiga took care of a number of monasteries and hermits – viting them and bringing them clothes and food. A number of miracles are associated with her.

    Christ is said to have spoken to her from the the large black crucifix in the north aisle of Wawel Cathedral where she often prayed. The crucifix, now known as ‘Saint Jadwiga’s cross’ is still there.

    Jadwiga is supposed to have given a praying stonemason some jewelery from her foot. Even though the plaster of the altar floor had hardened, it is said that her footprint was left behind when she left the church. The print, known as ‘Jadwiga’s foot’ is still visible in the church at Krakow.

    Jadwiga died in June 22, 1399. She and her daughter were both dead within a month of a complicated childbirth.

  • St. Stanislaus

    Stanislaus was born of noble parents on July 26th at Szczepanow near Cracow, Poland. He was educated at Gnesen and was ordained there. He was given a canonry by Bishop Lampert Zula of Cracow, who made him his preacher, and soon he became noted for his preaching. He became a much sought after spiritual adviser. He was successful in his reforming efforts, and in 1072 was named Bishop of Cracow. He incurred the enmity of King Boleslaus the Bold when he denounced the King’s cruelties and injustices and especially his kidnapping of the beautiful wife of a nobleman. When Stanislaus excommunicated the King and stopped services at the Cathedral when Boleslaus entered, Boleslaus himself killed Stanislaus while the Bishop was saying Mass in a chapel outside the city on April 11. Stanislaus has long been the symbol of Polish nationhood. He was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1253 and is the principle patron of Cracow. His feast day is April 11th.