Henry the Pious; by Jan Matejko, picture: Wiki Commons

Jan Matejko’s 19th-century painting of Henry the Pious

No later than 1236, ten years after the death of Saint Francis, his spiritual sons came to Wrocław and established a friary in what is now known as Plac Nankiera. Prince Henry the Pious (d. 1241) is considered the founder of the friary. (Click on pictures to see originals.)

Originally the church was dedicated to St. James the Apostle. During the Tatar attack in 1241, both the as yet unfinished church and friary were destroyed. They were rebuilt in 1256, thanks to the considerable help of Princess Anne, widow of Henry the Pious. In this church, which was one of the biggest in Wrocław, the Franciscans lived and worked until 1529, when the city council transferred the church to the control of the Norbertines, who previously had a monastery on Ołbin Island in Wrocław.

The Church of St Vincent in Plac Nankiera today

The Norbertines changed the patronage of the church from Saint James to Saint Vincent (Wincenty) and lived in community there until 1810, when their community was dissolved. After that, the monastery was used as a court of law.

St Vincent Church and the Franciscan Friary
before World War II

During the Second World War, the church and former monastery were largely destroyed, and the government took control of it. Nowadays, the monastery is used by the Polish Studies Department of the University of Wrocław. The church was only returned to control of the Archdiocese of Wroclaw in the 1990s. It was used temporarily as a military chaplaincy (now in the church of Saint Elizabeth near the Rynek), and is currently the Cathedral of the Greek Catholic Church.

Emperor Charles IV

As for the Franciscans, the city council gave them the Church of Saints Dorothy and Stanisław, which was built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1351 and had been used by Augustian hermits. The friars arrived in January 1530 and lived there for four years, until there was only one friar left. He became a Protestant and turned the church over to the city council. After 1569 the friary was turned into a brewery and the church was allowed to fall into disuse and decay.

Holy Roman Emperor Matthias I

In 1612, thanks to the support of the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias I, the church was returned to the Conventual Friars, who came to Wrocław from what is now the Czech Republic. The church was reconsecrated on 7 June 1618. In July 1686 there was a fire that destroyed the organ in the church, while the friary and its outbuildings burnt to the ground. The friars quickly rebuilt everything.

Outbuildings, friary and Church of Sts Dorothy and Stanisław, ca. 1750
Currently Hotel Monopol occupies the outbuilding area, and the Opera would be further down the street to the left, where this picture shows what was then the Świdnicka gate entrance to the city.

Frederick the Great

In 1741, when the Prussian King Frederick II annexed the region of Śląsk, the area was heavily Protestant, and the conditions in the parish deteriorated. After an explosion of a nearby munitions magazine during the Seven-Year War, the church was partially damaged, and the government took over the church for use as a prison between 1760-1762.

King Wilhelm III

Finally, on 30 October 1810, Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm III published an edict dissolving religious houses in order to seize their property to pay war debts. Thus the Franciscans (and other religious communities) were expelled from their houses and dispersed. In the process, 12,000 printed books and 178 manuscripts from the parish school were confiscated and placed in the government’s archives. The last Franciscan friars left Wrocław in the beginning of June, 1811. Subsequently, the friary was used as a prison and the church was under diocesan control. Today, the friary buildings no longer exist; the Hotel Monopol was built over their grounds (including the former cemetery) in 1892.

The Franciscans Return to Wrocław

The damaged church and surrounding buildings in 1945

After World War II, St. Dorothy’s Church was a pro-cathedral because the cathedral itself was in ruins, so the Franciscans were not able to return to their historic home in Wrocław. In 1947, the Franciscan provincial, Fr. Wojciech Zmarz, asked the diocesan administrator, Fr. Karol Milik, for permission to take over a church in Wrocław. Unfortunately, all of the churches which were still fit for use were already occupied. On the advice of a Redemptorist priest, the Franciscans agreed to occupy and restore the ruined church of Saint Charles Borromeo. On 3 November 1947, the Krakow Province agreed to take over the restoration of the church, paying for the rebuilding from their own resources.

St Elizabeth Church before World War II

St Elizabeth Church today

A few months later, however, in January 1948, the Diocesan Administrator asked the Franciscans to take over pastoral leadership of the parish church of St. Elizabeth in Grabiszynska Street. The Franciscans agreed, and the first Franciscan administrator of the parish was Fr. Wincenty Stanisław Paryna. In 1951, the Franciscans concluded their pastoral care of the parish of St. Elizabeth, and focused exclusively on their work restoring the church of St. Charles Borromeo and serving the parish.

The Parish Church of Saint Charles Borromeo

The origins of the parish go back to 1892, when the Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo, from Trzebnica, built a convent chapel under the patronage of St. Charles Borromeo for the service of Catholics in the neighborhood. Because of the rapid growth of the Catholic population, the chapel attained the status of a parish in March 1900, and the parishioners decided to build a church and priests’ house. The new Church of St. Charles Borromeo was built between 1910 and 1913, in the Neo-Romanesque style with Gothic elements. It was first designed by Joseph Maas.

Blessing the cornerstone

On 23 April 1911, the new church’s cornerstone was laid in a ceremony presided over by the archpriest of the deanery, Fr. Anthony Bergel, while the city was represented by Mayor Jerzy Bender.

The church was consecrated on 3 November 1913. In subsequent years, funds were raised for the interior decoration and furnishing of the church. In the siege of Breslau in 1945, the church was used as a fortress, and the tower was a lookout point. Consequently, several bombs were dropped on the building. The vaults collapsed, the roof burnt, and the southern wall and organ loft were utterly demolished. The upper part of the main tower and its staircase and cupola were destroyed. There was significant damage to the small towers near the sanctuary. The decorative tracery on the walls and the tracery in the windows were smashed; the portal over the main doors, the cornices, pillars, marble floors, the organ and bells were beyond salvaging. In total, about 70% of the building was in ruins.

The destruction on Krucza Street, 1945
St Charles Borromeo Church is at the end of the street

After the War the church underwent further devastation. It fell prey to thieves who removed various items that survived the bombing, including statues, oil paintings and benches, which were used for firewood. The military briefly took an interest in the building, and for a few days some soldiers removed rubble from it. Jesuits from the neighboring parish of St. Ignatius Loyola were commissioned by the diocese to take pastoral care of the parish of St. Charles Borromeo, but it was generally felt that attempting to restore the building was pointless, and that it should be demolished. The diocesan authorities allowed the transference of any remaining decorations from the devastated church to other parishes in Wrocław. (In later years, some of these were returned.) Thus we can see that when the Franciscans arrived, they came to a building that had been given up as a hopeless ruin.

On 7 November 1947, the Franciscan provincial, Fr. Wojciech Zmarz, sent Fr. Mikołaj Tokarski and Br. Mikołaj Paluch to Wrocław. Br. Mikołaj was a craftsman greatly and variously skilled in construction. He lived with lay people at first, and worked to rebuild the house of God under very difficult conditions.

Br. Mikołaj receiving the Cross of Honor
for his work rebuilding the church

Along with his expertise in building projects, Brother Mikołaj invested great effort and much physical labor into the restoration of the church. (From 1954, Br. Mikołaj was joined in his efforts by Franciszek Sobański, M.Eng.) In recognition of Br. Mikołaj’s efforts, the Pope awarded him the medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (“For the Church and the Pope,” also known as the “Cross of Honor”), which was personally conferred on him by Bolesław Cardinal Kominek in a solemn celebration attended by grateful parishioners in 1973. In 1978, on the fifth anniversary of Br. Mikołaj’s death, the Franciscan provincial Fr. Albin Dudek unveiled and dedicated a memorial plaque in Br. Mikołaj Paluch’s honor in the church. It is can be found on the wall of the Chapel of our Lady.

After the dedication of the church in 1953 by Archdiocesan protonotary Fr. Kazimierz Lagosz, further work was done inside and outside to make the church more convenient for the liturgy and comfortable for the faithful. In 1959, they bought a forty-voice organ from a demolished Protestant church in Strzegom. (This organ was completely renovated in 1987, and is still in use today.) Three bells were purchased, installed in the tower and blessed in 1966. In 1977, redecoration of the sanctuary end of the church began, and the last four stained-glass windows were installed.

Friary and new wing with parish rooms
in the lower, right-hand corner

In the 1980s, the friars’ residence was expanded. The parish café/meeting room and classrooms as well as rooms for the priests were added to the original older building. The new additions were consecrated on November 6, 1983.

Because of its architectural beauty, in 1985 the church was entered on the register of monuments in the city of Wrocław.

On 14 December 1986, Henryk Cardinal Gulbinowicz, Archbishop of Wrocław, solemnly consecrated the main altar of the church. The Cardinal Archbishop thanked all those who helped with the rebuilding of the church — the faithful and the Franciscan fathers — for their contributions and care for the house of God. Funding for the renovation and modernization of the church came from the contributions of the faithful, the Krakow Franciscan province and the budget of the friars working in the parish. However, by a decision of the Provincial Council, St. Charles Borromeo church and the area surrounding it are owned by the parish, rather than by the Franciscan order.

Repairing the roof on the main steeple, 1986

In the late 1980s, the tile roof of the church was replaced with a more durable copper roof.

In 1998-1999, the church was repainted, and a new floor and some new pews were installed. Between 2010 and 2011, thanks to the generosity of parishioners and other donors, more old pews were replaced. In 2011, work began on the cleaning and restoration of the church façade. The first phase – renovation of the southern façade – is complete. The entire renovation is expected to take 5 years.

Chapel of Our Lady of Grace

In the apse of the church there is a chapel with a much-venerated image of Our Lady of Grace. For this reason, on 3 May 1993, by a decree of Heryk Cardinal Gulbinowicz, a shrine was established to Our Lady of Grace, Patroness and Protector of Marriages and Families.

On April 1, 2007, Archbishop Marian Gołębiewski, in cooperation with the Franciscan Order of the Province of St Anthony and blessed Jakub Strzemię, established the Pastoral Centre for English Speakers in the parish of St. Charles Borromeo. The inaugural Mass of the Pastoral Centre was held on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 15, 2007. The Mass was concelebrated by the first rector of the Pastoral Centre, Fr. Piotr Tymko, OFM Conv. and the parish priest, Fr. Bronisław Staworowski, OFM Conv. The homilist was His Excellency Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski.

The Parish priests and superiors of the Franciscan house in the postwar years have been:

  • Fr. Benedykt Porzycki – 1951
  • Fr. Emanuel Muzyka – (1951 – 1953)
  • Fr. Ernest Białek – (1953 – 1957)
  • Fr. Ryszard Musiał – (1957 – 1962)
  • Fr. Karol Pałęga – (1962 – 1966)
  • Fr. Alan Chrząstek – (1966 – 1968)
  • Fr. Albin Dudek – (1968 – 1972)
  • Fr. Kazimierz Bar – (1972 – 1980)
  • Fr. Bonifacy Józef Złydach – (1980 – 1983)
  • Fr. Dominik Jan Barcik – (1983 – 1989)
  • Fr. Włodzimierz Pado – (1989 – 1996)
  • Fr. Roman Pałaszewski – (1996 – 2000)
  • Fr. Bronisław Staworowski – (2000 – 2008)
  • Fr. Marek Augustyn – (2008 – present)

Information from the “Conventual Franciscans in Wrocław”, Fr. Roman Pałaszewski, OFM Conv.; “Activity of Franciscans from St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 1947-2010”, Zdzisław Gogola, OFM Conv.