Among the titles of the Mother of God is the title of Queen of All Saints — those who, through their life, work and suffering reached the unfading crown of glory. To emphasise the protection and intercession of the saints, it is fitting that in the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace, we have displayed the relics held in the parish.
The Relics of the Holy Cross
In 313, the Edict of Milan was signed by the Emperor Constantine I. The Edict granted religious freedom in the Roman Empire, making Christianity no longer illegal. In the year 326, the Empress Helena – mother of Constantine – travelled to Holy Land, where she stayed for two years, visiting the holy places of the Gospel, such as Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Mount Sinai and Jesus’s tomb near Golgotha (Calvary). It is said that during this journey, she discovered the True Cross along with two other crosses, in a cistern which had been dug at the base of Golgotha. On the site of the discovery, Emperor Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a site of pilgrimage to this day.
Saint Helena deposited the largest part of the True Cross in the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre; another part was sent to Constantinople (today Istanbul) and the third part was taken to Rome, along with other relics of the Passion (such as nails from the Cross) and soil from Golgotha. The relics can still be viewed in Rome; tradition says that the soil was spread on the site of the Vatican gardens.
St Francis (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) was born in Assisi in 1182. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis was a sensitive young man, who loved poetry and music, but also high-spirited, enjoying the worldly life typical of well-off young men of his time, even taking part in an armed conflict between Assisi and Perugia, during which he was captured. He spent almost a year in prison, and his health was seriously strained. When he returned to Assisi, he experienced a dramatic reorientation of his life. On 24 February, 1208, while reading the Gospel of Matthew, he was struck by the words of Christ: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff….” Francis had found his way of life.
Francis founded the Orders of Friars Minor (commonly called the Franciscans) in 1209. The brothers were peripatetic preachers, calling people to faith and repentance. They were a mendicant order, meaning that they did not own property, but relied on the charity of those they met.
In the summer of 1224, Francis went to the mountain retreat called La Verna (Alvernia), near Assisi to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (August 15). In preparation for Saint Michael’s day on September 29th, he undertook a 40-day fast. He prayed to know how to be pleasing to God. When he opened the Gospels for inspiration, three times he came upon the Passion of Christ. On the morning of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), he experienced a vision that appeared to be both a man and a seraph, fixed to a Cross. The sight brought Francis both joy and sorrow, as he gazed at the beautiful face of the figure, and pondered its suffering. He understood that he could be made like Christ through conformity to him in mind and heart. When the vision disappeared, Francis was left with a great feeling of love in his heart, and was marked with the stigmata in his body.
Francis died in Assisi on October 3, 1226, at the age of 45. As he lay dying, he recited the words of Psalm 142: “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name….” On 14 August, 1228, Francis he was canonised by Pope Gregory IX.
The relic of Saint Francis is reserved in a TAU-shaped reliquary. TAU is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is first mentioned in Scripture in Ezekiel 9:4: “Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a TAU on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” On November 11, 1214, Pope Innocent spoke about the TAU at the Fourth Lateran Council, noting that it is the same shape as the Cross of Christ, and declaring that those marked with that sign will obtain mercy if they have mortified their flesh and conformed their lives to that of the Crucified Savior. For Francis, the TAU was like his own coat of arms. He used the TAU in his writings and as his signature on documents. He also painted it on the walls and doors of places where he stayed, and he traced the TAU on himself at the beginning of each of his actions. Because of Francis’s devotion to the TAU, it is associated with Franciscans around the world, uniting as it does the symbolism of the Cross with Francis’s ideal of the life he shared with his followers.
Anthony of Padua was born in Lisbon in 1195 and baptized Ferdinand. Not much is known about his parents, except that they must certainly have been noble, powerful and God-fearing people who lived near the cathedral of Lisbon. Ferdinand was educated in the Cathedral School. When he was 15 years old, he joined the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine in the convent of St. Vincent, just outside the city walls. His family and friends frequently came to visit him; to escape these distractions, he asked for and was granted permission to go to the Convent of Santa Croce in Coimbra, where he remained in study and prayer for eight years. He had an excellent memory and a fine mind, and soon became very knowledgeable in theology.
In 1220 Ferdinand saw the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs, who had died in Morocco, conveyed into the church of Santa Croce. This experienced inspired in Ferdinand a desire for martyrdom, and he resolved to become a Friar Minor, and received the Franciscan habit in the convent of Santa Croce. In this way Ferdinand left the Canons Regular of St. Augustine to join the Order of Friars Minor, taking at the same time the new name of Anthony.
After his attempt to go as a missionary to Morocco was thwarted, he attempted to sail for Portugal, but this journey was also cut short. In 1221 he went to Assisi to take part in the Franciscan general chapter (meeting). No one particularly noticed Anthony, and he did not tell anyone about his studies, the duties he had performed. His only desire was to follow Jesus Christ. He wanted to live in solitude and penitence and enter more deeply into the spirit and discipline of the Franciscan life. His desire was granted, and he was able to live a retired life at Montepaolo. During this period, he travelled with the Provincial to an ordination ceremony. When the time for the ordination arrived, however, it was discovered that no one had been appointed as preacher. Everyone who was approached declined on the grounds that they were not prepared. With no one else to turn to, Anthony was asked to preach whatever the spirit of God put into his mouth. They had no suspicion of his great learning, and were struck with astonishment at what the profound wisdom and sublime doctrine that came from his mouth.
St Francis heard of Anthony’s great wisdom and directed him by letter to teach theology to the brothers. Anthony proved to be a most impressive orator. He attacked heresy with zeal and erudition, gaining the title ‘Hammer of the Heretics.’ He spoke with authority and discretion, but was not afraid to preach conversion even to a bishop who was in need of the message.
Eventually Anthony was made Custos Provincial in the Franciscan province of Limousin, where several miracles were attributed to him. Saint Anthony of Padua is often depicted playing with the infant Jesus, reference to an apparition that Anthony experienced while serving in the province of Limousin.
After the death of Saint Francis on 3 October 1226, Anthony returned to Italy, where he was elected Minister Provincial of Emilia, however he resigned these duties in May, 1230 and retired to the Convent of Padua, which he himself had founded. At this time, crowds of people numbering 30,000 or more came to hear him preach. He preached at this time against hatred and enmity and wonderful reconciliations among people were effected as a result. More miracles were attributed to Anthony at this time. At the end of Lent 1231, Anthony retired to Camposanpiero near Padua, and shortly became quite ill. He was moved to Vercilli, where he was strengthened by an apparition of Christ before dying at the age of 36 on 13 June 1231. He was immediately publicly acclaimed as a saint. Pope Gregory IX was persuaded of his sanctity, and inscribed Anthony in the calendar of the saints of the Cathedral of Spoleto within a year of Anthony’s death. He became known throughout the world as Anthony of Padua, where his relics were transferred in 1263 in the presence of the future Saint Bonaventure, Minister General of the Franciscans at this time.
Maximilian Kolbe (born Raymond) was a highly intelligent boy, and boisterous, but rather obstinate and self-willed. Shortly after his First Holy Communion, he was praying before a statue of Our Lady and Mary appeared to him holding two crowns: a white crown for purity, and a red crown for martyrdom. She asked him if he would accept one of the crowns. Maximilian accepted both (see the statue of St. Maximilian to the left of the altar, near the sacristy of our church). After this apparition his mother, Maria, noticed a sudden and profound change in her son: he was meditative, solemn, and often found praying before a statue of Our Lady in their home.
As a teenager Maximilian was a highly gifted student and excelled in science and math. At sixteen, encouraged by his mother, he chose to enter the Conventual Franciscan Friars. His superiors sent him to Rome for studies in 1912, where he earned doctorates in both philosophy and theology.
During his time as a student in Rome, Maximilian Kolbe witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV during an anniversary celebration of the Freemasons. According to St. Maximilian,
They placed the black standard of the ‘Giordano Brunisti’ under the windows of the Vatican. On this standard the archangel, St. Michael, was depicted lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer. At the same time, countless pamphlets were distributed to the people in which the Holy Father was attacked shamefully.
This event inspired Kolbe to organize the Militia Immaculatae (Army or Knights of the Immaculate Mary) on 16 October 1917, to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church, specifically the Freemasons, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. So serious was St. Maximilian about this goal that he added a special intention to the Miraculous Medal prayer:
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee, and for all those who do not have recourse to thee, especially the Masons and all those recommended to thee.
In 1918, Kolbe was ordained a priest. In 1919, he returned to Poland, where he promoted the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. In Kraków in 1922, he founded the monthly periodical Rycerz Niepokalanej (Knights of the Immaculata). In 1927 Kolbe founded Niepokalanów, the ‘City of the Immaculata,’ which served as a centre for his publishing efforts. By 1937 Rycerz Niepokalanej had a circulation of 780,000, and in 1939 Niepokalanów was the largest friary in the world, with 619 religious and 120 seminarians. It is still a center of Catholic publishing today.
Between 1930 and 1936, Maximilian went on a series of missions to Japan. He founded a friary near Nagasaki, a seminary and a newspaper. Maximilian decided to build his friary on a mountainside that was considered not to be in harmony with nature, according to Shinto beliefs. However, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the other side of the mountain took the main force of the blast and Kolbe’s friary was saved. The friary is still an important place for Roman Catholics in Japan.
Back in Poland at the start of World War II, Maximilian provided shelter for refugees, including 2,000 Jews who were hidden at Niepokalanów. Inevitably, the community came under Nazi suspicion, and was shut down. Maximilian and four companions were arrested by the Gestapo on 17 February 1941, imprisoned. Maximilian was subsequently transferred to Auschwitz on 28 May, where he was given the number 16670 (visible on the statue of Maximilian in our church). He was able to write one letter to his mother: Dear Mama, At the end of the month of May I was transferred to the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love. It would be well that you do not write to me until you will have received other news from me, because I do not know how I will stay here. Heartfelt greetings and kisses. Affectionately, Raymond
As a Catholic priest, Maximilian was singled out for abuse by a particular SS officer, who personally loaded his back with heavy wooden planks and then ordered Maximilian to run. When Maximilian fell under the load of wood, the officer kicked him in the stomach and face and ordered his men to give him fifty lashes. Maximilian lost consciousness and was left for dead, but others managed to take him to the camp infirmary, where he recovered. The doctor later recalled, ‘I can say with certainty that during my four years at Auschwitz, I never saw such a sublime example of the love of God and of one’s neighbor.’
Prisoners at Auschwitz were slowly starved on a cup of imitation coffee in the morning, weak soup and half a loaf of bread at the end of a day’s work. Survivors who were with Maximilian in the camp recalled how he waited until last to go forward for his ration, so others could go first, and consequently often went without any food at all, and that he sometimes shared his rations with others. A doctor in his block at Auschwitz noted that Maximilian would also wait for others to get treatment from the doctor before asking for help for himself. In his weakened condition, he would not lie down to rest as soon as possible after work, but would go from bunk to bunk saying to his fellow prisoners: ‘I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything for you?’ One prisoner remembered how several people often crawled across the floor at night to be near Fr Kolbe’s bunk, make their confessions and take consolation and strength from him. Fr. Kolbe pleaded with his fellow prisoners – his ‘parishioners,’ now – to forgive their enemies and return good for evil. When he was beaten himself, Maximilian did not cry out, but prayed for those who were hurting him.
To discourage escapes, the death camp authorities had a rule that for every one prisoner who escaped, ten would die. In July, 1941, it was reported that a man from Kolbe’s block had escaped, though ironically, it was later discovered that the man had in fact drowned in the camp latrine. Since the guards could not find the ‘escaped’ man, the remaining men in the block were led out to face the consequences. Ten men would be locked into the starvation bunker and left to die. Among the ten selected was Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had been found guilty of helping the Polish Resistance. He cried out in anguish, ‘My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?’ At this, Fr Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, and presented himself to the camp commandant: ‘I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.’ The commandant asked, ‘What does this Polish pig want?‘ Fr Kolbe repeated his request. Pointing to Gajowniczek, he repeated, ‘I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.‘ Only God knows what went through the mind of the commandant as he considered this request. In any event, he accepted the exchange. Franciszek Gajowniczek returned to the ranks of men, and Fr Kolbe took his place.
Gajowniczek later gave his version of what happened:
I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it! I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream?
I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident took place in the whole history of Auschwitz.
For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understand that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact, he was with them to the last.
Bruno Borgowiec was one of a few Poles who was assigned to work in the starvation bunker. Before he died in 1947, he told his parish priest about Fr Kolbe’s last days:
The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. From the underground cell in which they were shut up there continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. The man in charge of emptying the buckets of urine found them always empty. Thirst drove the prisoners to drink the contents. Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.
Father Kolbe never asked for anything and did not complain, rather he encouraged the others, saying that the fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed. One of the SS guards remarked: This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him.
Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Father Kolbe was left. This the authorities felt was too long. The cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sick-quarters, a German named Bock, who gave Father Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Father Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men had left I returned to the cell, where I found Father Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head drooping sideways. His face was calm and radiant.
It was August 14, 1941. Camp records give the time of death as 12:30. Fr. Maximilian Kobel, OFM Conv., was 47 years old. Like so many others, his body was removed to the crematorium, and without dignity or ceremony, it was burned. (Relics of St. Maximilian are clippings of his hair, saved by the brothers before he was sent to the death camp.)
The cell where Father Kolbe died is now a shrine. Maximilian Kolbe was beatified as Confessor by Paul VI in 1970. He was canonised as a Martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Franciszek Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz. He returned to his hometown after the war only to learn that while his wife had survived, his two sons had been killed. He lived another 53 years after Fr Kolbe had saved his life. Every year on August 14 he returned to Auschwitz to pay homage to Maximilian. He died on 13 March 1995, in Brzeg, aged 95.
Gianna Francesca Beretta was born in Magenta Italy, the tenth of thirteen children, of whom nine survived to adulthood. Her parents were Third-Order Franciscans, and by happy coincidence, their daughter was born on the Feast of Saint Francis, 4 October 1922.
In 1928 when she was five-and-a-half years old, Gianna made her First Holy Communion, and from that day forward, she received communion every day of her life. She was confirmed in 1930. At the age of 15, during a course of spiritual exercises at her Catholic secondary school, Gianna experienced a deepening of her commitment to Christ and a deep desire to avoid sin. As the years went by, she became more devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and she devoted herself to volunteer activities like Catholic Action and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
Gianna was growing into a young woman of wide-ranging interests, which she developed to a great degree. She enjoyed the outdoors and sport, especially hiking; she painted pictures, played the piano, and followed fashion, balancing these pleasures with helping the poor and sick, being a leader among other Catholic youth, and maintaining a deep prayer life, as well as being closely involved with and devoted to her family.
In 1942, Gianna began her medical studies in Milan, finishing in 1949 and opening her medical practice in her hometown of Magenta, where she was a specialist in pediatrics. She had contemplated going to Brazil to help her brother, who was a Franciscan missionary and medical doctor there, but eventually realized that that was not her vocation. Shortly after she made this realization, she had a significant meeting with engineer Pietro Molla, and realized that she was not only called to marriage, but that Pietro was her future husband. The couple married in September 1955. In short order, they had three children: Pierluigi, in 1956; Maria Zita in 1957; and Laura, born in 1959. After safely delivering three children (born at home), Gianna suffered two miscarriages before becoming pregnant again in 1961.
In the second month of her last pregnancy, doctors discovered a fibroid tumor on Gianna’s uterus. There were three medical options for this condition: an abortion, which would save Gianna’s life and enable her to have more children later; a complete hysterectomy, which would not only destroy the child, but also Gianna’s hope of having any more children; and the removal of the fibroma while saving the child’s life at the same time. According to Catholic teaching, the first option – straightforward abortion – was out of the question. The second option was morally possible, because of what is called the ‘principle of the double effect.’ The direct purpose of the hysterectomy would be to save the mother’s life, not kill the child. Since the aim was to preserve a life, this option was not morally illicit. Gianna understood all of this, but her deepest desire was to do everything to save the child’s life. She opted for removing the fibroma. The operation was successful, but the entire pregnancy was precarious. Nevertheless, throughout, Gianna made it clear to her family that if at any point they had to choose between her life and the child’s life, they should choose to save the life of her baby.
On Good Friday 1962, Gianna went to hospital to deliver her fourth child, who would be named Gianna Emmanuela. But there were serious and painful complications for Gianna, who survived only seven days after the birth of her daughter, before dying at home.
Immediately after her death, local people expressed their conviction that Gianna had been an especially holy woman. Her reputation spread throughout her diocese, Italy and even the world, especially after Pope Paul VI spoke about her in an Angelus message in 1973.
Gianna’s process for canonization has a striking family intimacy about it. Both of the miracles that led to her beatification and canonization took place in 1977 in Brazil, the country where Gianna’s Franciscan brother was a missionary; indeed, the first miracle took place in the very hospital that Gianna’s brother helped to establish. A young mother had given birth and been sent home in good health. After a short time, however, she developed serious complications, and was rushed to the St Francis of Assisi hospital, which was not equipped to do the required surgery. The woman would have to be transported to a distant hospital, and there was no hope of her surviving the journey. A Franciscan sister, nurse in the hospital, prayed to the holy sister of the hospital’s founder, begging her to help, so that the young mother would not have to be transported. The desperately ill woman said later that at the same time she felt an immediate cessation of her pain – and her medical problem simply disappeared.
As a result of this miracle, Gianna was beatified in 1994, by Pope John Paul II.
The second miracle, only three years later, again occurred in Brazil, and involved a pregnant woman. This time, the mother suffered a haemorrhage without losing her baby. There were further problems. In her 16th week of pregnancy, she lost all the amniotic fluid that cushioned and supported her developing child. All of medical science concurred: the baby would die in utero. But the baby did not die; the baby continued to grow and grow, as the mother was surrounded and supported with prayers, especially prayers to the holy doctor and mother, Blessed Gianna. At thirty-two weeks of gestation, the baby – Gianna Maria – was safely delivered, a normal, healthy, lively child.
Subsequent to careful examination of this miracle for authenticity, Gianna Beretta Molla was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II on 16 May 2004. Gianna’s husband Pietro and their last child, Gianna Emmanuela, were present at the canonization.
Blessed Angela Salawa came from the village of Siepraw near Krakow. Her father Bartlomiej was a blacksmith. Her mother raised twelve children and step-children; Angela was the eleventh. She was born 9 September 1881 and was baptized four days later. Her family was quite poor, and Angela was a weak, sickly child, who could not do the same work as her more robust brothers and sisters. Consequently, she felt a bit undervalued by her family, like a piece of broken furniture that had been pushed into a corner. Despite her feelings, she strove to be useful and obedient and her willing spirit was appreciated greatly by her family and neighbors. From an early age, Angela felt Christ placing a call on her heart and her life.
When Angela was 16, she rejected the possibility of marriage, left home and went to Krakow to work as a maid. She felt the presence of Christ in this life-change, that He was revealing to her that she was to live a life of service. However, once in Krakow, her religious fervor faded and she became interested in fine clothes and dances. Her older sister, Teresa, reproved Angela for her vanity, to no avail. Teresa was seriously ill with tuberculosis, and when she died in 1899, Angela was much affected. She began to reflect on the shallowness of her pursuits. Once while at a wedding reception, during the dancing she had a vision of Christ standing nearby; He asked her how it was that she preferred dancing to following Him. It was a decisive moment in Angela’s life. She immediately left the party, running to the nearest church to pray. From that moment, she devoted herself to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Being close to Christ was the desire of her heart from that moment.
Angela’s devotion to Jesus increased under the spiritual guidance of the Jesuit priests at St Barbara’s Church. She began to discern whether she had a religious vocation, but because of her weak health, she was not accepted in a religious order. With the encouragement of some Carmelite nuns and her confessor, Angela decided to remain in the world, but still offer herself to God, taking vows of purity and virtue in St Barbara’s Church in 1900. After this step, she experienced a great sense of interior peace which was to last for the next eleven years. Her interior peace was not matched by an easy life, however. In embracing Christ, she had embraced the Cross.
On 15 September 1911, Angela’s employer died, and while she was arranging the funeral, her own mother died. She was unable to attend her mother’s funeral. She further discovered that her mother had disinherited her, and this resulted in a breach between Angela and her family, whom she loved very much. Meanwhile, her employer’s husband brought two new women into the household after his wife’s death. These women falsely accused Angela of some things – accusations that were even believed by her own confessor, the most painful experience of her life. Later her confessor realized his mistake. Nevertheless, the false accusation followed Angela for years afterward.
In May 1912, Angela enrolled in the Third Order of Saint Francis (a Franciscan association for lay people). Although Angela had only had a couple of years of schooling – just enough to learn to read – at this time she was avidly reading spiritual works. She discovered that Saint Francis had also been disinherited and cut off from his family, a connection that increased her devotion to Saint Francis and inspired greater devotion to Franciscan spirituality.
In 1914 when the First World War broke out, Krakow was evacuated, but Angela opted to stay in the city to serve the poor, injured and suffering people who needed her help. She helped as she could, and shared her bread ration with those who had even less than she had. Most of her time was spent nursing soldiers in the hospitals, bringing them the healing warmth of her kindness and spiritual comfort. Although she was suffering from stomach pains and the effects of many tumors, no one notice that her health was deteriorating, as she always appeared to be healthy and well.
In 1916, her employer accused her of stealing, so after many years of service she had to leave her position as maid, and found herself homeless, penniless and ill. She went from job to job, becoming increasingly ill, until she had to walk with the aid of a cane. Her friends urged her to go into the hospital, but she was soon discharged because she appeared to be healthy. She was now reduced to extreme poverty, living in a small basement room. Her friends and neighbors had deserted her; she was alone with Christ on the Cross.
On 8 March 1922 Angela received Holy Communion. She was then driven to the hospital again where she died on 12 March. Because of her life of prayer, service and humble acceptance of the Cross of pain and suffering, many people felt that she should be raised to the altar as a saint.
In March 1990, in the city of Nowy Targ about 75km from Krakow, a young boy was playing in the park with friends when he was struck on the head and suffered a severe brain injury. Doctors thought he would not survive. His parents had a Mass said for their son’s recovery and began a novena to the Servant of God Angela Salawa. After six days, the boy began to react to physical stimuli. His condition steadily improved. On 17 April, he began to speak; on 23 April he was discharged from the hospital in good health.
On 13 August 1991, Pope John Paul II beatified Angela Salawa in Krakow.
In 2001 the boy who was miraculously healed through the intercession of Angela Salawa was enrolled as a law student at Jagellonian University. (From a text by G. Bartoszewski, OFMCap, et al.)
St Charles was born in an aristocratic family in the castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, on October 2, 1538. His father was Count Gilbert Borromeo, a talented and saintly man. His mother, Margaret, was a Medici; her younger brother became Pope Pius IV. Gilbert and Margaret had six children; Charles was the second of their two sons. From his earliest years he had a serious disposition and a spirit of devotion to God. When he was twelve, he was already entered on the path toward the priesthood, being placed in the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Gratinian and Felinus in Arona.
Charles was sent to the university of Pavia, but because he had a speech impediment, he was considered slow, and not a particularly brilliant student. Nevertheless, he made good progress and took his doctorate degree when he was 22 years old. He then moved to Milan, and shortly after that learned that his uncle had been elected Pope Pius IV.
Early in 1561 Pope Pius nominated Charles to be Bishop of Milan, but then kept Charles in Rome and entrusted him with many duties and responsibilities, despite his youth (he was only 23) and the fact that he was only in minor orders (i.e., not yet ordained a priest). Charles was a patron of learning and instituted in the Vatican a literary academy of clergy and laymen. He did his best to care for the diocese of Milan through a vicar, despite the fact that Pope Pius continued to keep him in Rome.
Soon after his election, Pope Pius IV had announced his intention of reconvening the Council of Trent, which had been suspended in 1552. Charles was very energetic in bringing this about, and in January 1562 the Council was reopened. There were many difficulties in carrying out the work of the Council, and Charles’s unfailing attention and support of the papal legates were largely instrumental in keeping the Council on track. Charles can be called the mastermind and ruling spirit of the Council of Trent.
During the Council, Count Frederick Borromeo died, leaving Charles as the head of the noble family. Many thought that Charles would abandon the clerical state and marry. But Charles resigned the position of head of the family in favor of his uncle, and was ordained a priest in 1563. Two months later, he was consecrated bishop.
Still Charles was not free to go to his diocese, however. Instead, he was put to work drawing up the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and reforming liturgical books and church music.
Meanwhile, Milan had not had a resident bishop in eighty years, and the diocese was in a deplorable state, which greatly troubled Charles. Charles’s vicar had done his best, but eventually it was necessary for Charles to get the pope’s permission to hold a provincial council and make a visitation to his diocese. The Holy Father was greatly pleased with Charles’s excellent work in Milan, but then Charles had to leave his diocese and assist Pope Pius IV on his death-bed (it was at this point that he met the future St Philip Neri). The new pope, Pius V, wanted to keep Charles in Rome, but Charles was zealous in pleading his case to return to his people in Milan, and the Holy Father dismissed him with his blessing.
When Charles arrived in Milan in April 1566, he went about reforming his diocese with his usual vigor. His first act was to reform his own household, selling silver vessels and other luxurious items and applying the whole sum raised from the sale to the relief of poor families. He arranged retreats for his clergy and took retreats himself twice per year. He made it a rule to confess himself before celebrating Mass every morning. He had great respect for the liturgy, and never prayed or carried out any religious rite with haste or inattention.
St Charles’s rules for the reform of the clergy and people are still consulted as worthwhile models. He directed that children in particular should be carefully instructed in Christian doctrine. He thought it was not enough that priests give public catechesis to the faithful on Sundays and Holy Days, and so he established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which provides religious education and formation to children in Catholic parishes to this day.
Charles’s reforms were not popular with everyone, and at one point a plot was hatched to assassinate the reforming and pious Bishop of Milan. On October 26, 1569, a hired assassin posted himself at the door of Charles’s personal chapel, while Charles was at evening prayers with his household. Charles was on his knees before the altar during the singing of a hymn. When the words ‘It is time therefore that I return to Him that sent me,’ were sung, the would-be assassin discharged a gun at Charles. The assassin ran away, and Charles, thinking himself mortally wounded, commended his soul to God. However it was discovered that the bullet had not penetrated his body, but only struck his back, raising a bruise, and fallen harmlessly to the floor. After making a solemn thanksgiving for the preservation of his life, Charles retreated for several days to a Carthusian monastery, where he renewed the consecration of his life to God.
In the ensuing year, we see again Charles’s compassion for the poor, when a great famine afflicted the region of Milan. Charles was able to raise money for the relief of the poor, and personally oversaw the feeding of 3000 people per day for three months. For the 18 years that he was bishop of Milan, Charles was tireless in visiting his parishes. Thanks to Charles, the archdiocese of Milan had three seminaries, and Charles was zealous in making sure that the Tridentine directions for the training of priests be put into effect. In 1575 he went to Rome to gain the indulgence for the great jubilee, which he published the following year in Milan. Crowds of penitents flocked to the city, and brought with them the plague, which spread rapidly. The secular leaders fled the city, but Charles remained and devoted himself to the care of those struck by the plague. He didn’t have enough priests to take care of the sick, so he appealed for help to the heads of religious communities, who responded generously, and were lodged in Charles’s own house. He was able to induce the magistrates and governor to return to the city and try to cope with the crisis. But still there was not enough help or resources to cope with the sixty to seventy thousand people who daily needed food. Charles exhausted himself and went deep into debt in his attempts to alleviate the suffering in his diocese. He used the draperies provided for processions to have clothing made for the poor. He had altars set up in the streets so that the sick could participate in Mass from the windows of their homes. But Charles not only prayed and did penance, organized and paid for the relief of the poor and suffering, he personally ministered to the dying throughout the crisis, which endured from the summer of 1576 until the beginning of 1578.
Between 1580 and 1584, Charles remained as busy as ever, travelling much in the fulfillment of his duties, while not getting enough sleep. Pope Gregory had to personally warn Charles not to ruin his health by overdoing his Lenten fasting. In 1584, Charles’s health was deteriorating. In October he went on his annual retreat, having mentioned to several people that he would not remain long in this world. On October 24th, he was taken ill. On the 29th, he set out for Milan, arriving on All Souls’ Day, having celebrated Mass for the last time on the previous day in his birthplace, Arona. Once returned home to Milan he went straight to bed and asked for the last sacraments. After receiving them, he died quietly in the night between November 3rd and 4th. Charles was 46 years old.
Popular devotion to Charles Borromeo as a saint arose quickly after his death, and there were calls for his canonization almost immediately. In 1602, he was beatified by Pope Paul V, and on November 1, 1610, he was canonized a saint. In 1613, St Charles was added to the calendar of saints, with his feast day being celebrated on November 4. Saint Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of bishops, catechists, catechumens, seminarians, spiritual directors and starch makers. His intercession is invoked against stomach disorders.
Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, a small town about 50km from Krakow, on 18 May, 1920. He was the youngest child of Karol and Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla. His sister Olga died before Karol was born; his mother died in 1929; his older brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932; and his last close relative, his father, an army officer, died when Karol was twenty-one years old.
Karol Wojtyla was baptized by Fr. Franciszek Zak on 20 June 1920 in the parish church just across the alley from his family’s flat. He made his First Holy Communion at age nine and was confirmed at age 18, all in the same church. In 1938, when he had graduated from the local secondary school, Karol Wojtyla enrolled in Krakow’s Jagiellonian University drama school. However with the Naze occupation of Poland, the university was closed in 1939, and Karol was forced to work as a laborer in a quarry from 1940-1944, and then in the Solvay chimical factory.
By 1942, Karol, who had always been devout, discerned a call to the priesthood. The seminaries had been closed by the war, but Krakow Archbishop Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha had set up a clandestine seminary in which Karol Wojtyla was enrolled. At the same time, he continued to pursue his interest in drama, being a pioneer of the clandestine “Rhapsodic Theatre.”
After the war ended, Karol continued his studies at the reopened major seminary in Krakow and in the theology faculty of the Jagiellonian University. On 1 Novemb er 1946, Karol Wojtyla was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha.
Very soon after his ordination, Cardinal Sapieha sent Karol to Rome to work on his doctorate in theology. In 1948 he finished his degree on the subject of faith in the works of Saint John of the Cross. In vacations from his academic work, he exercised his pastoral ministry among Poles in France, Belgium and Holland.
Upon the completion of his degree, Fr. Karol returned to Poland and worked as parochial vicar in various churches in Krakow as well as being chaplain to university students. In 1951 he resumed his theological and philosophical studies and in 1953 he defended a habilitation thesis on the “evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler” at Lublin Catholic University. He then went on to be a professor of moral theology and social ethics at the major seminary in Krakow and the theology faculty at the university in Lublin.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII appointed Fr. Karol to be auxiliary bishop of Krakow and he was consecrated bishop on 28 September in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow by Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. He took part in the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965, in which he made important contributions to the Constitution Gaudium et spes. In 1964 Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Krakow and three years later he was made a cardinal.
After the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, the College of Cardinals elected Karol Cardinal Wojtyla to be the 263rd successor of St Peter. He took the name John Paul II. His pontificate lasted nearly twenty-seven years. (Adapted from a text published by the Vatican: His Holiness John Paul II Short Biography.)