Cardinal, Stefan Wyszynski delivering a homily during Millennium Celebrations in front of the Cathedral in Poznan.


cardinal Stefan Wyszyński


Stefan Wyszynski was born on August 3, 1901, in Zuzela, as the second of five children of Stanislaw Wyszynski and Julianna Karp. He was brought up in an atmosphere of love, but also one of discipline. In Stefan Wyszynski’s writings, we find the following expression: „I remember that once a piece of bread fell on the floor, and my father ordered me to pick it up and kiss it. I did not like to do that, but I had to. I remember that after this, I learned to respect bread.” In 1910, when he was only nine years old, he lost his mother. One year later, his father married Eugenia Podlewska, who had been a good friend of his first wife. Although Stefan’s stepmother was very good to him and his siblings, he missed his own mother very much.Stefan Wyszynski took an introductory examination to the state high school in Warsaw in 1912, but he was not accepted because of the Russification policy of the Russian tsar. Wyszynski’s family did not belong to the social elite, nor were they rich, so he was not admitted. Therefore, Stefan began his studies in W. Gorski’s private high school in Warsaw, which he left because of the outbreak of World War I, and then moved to Lomza.

Wyszynski started his studies in 1917 at the Wloclawek Seminary, and he was ordained by Bishop Owczarek on August 3, 1924. After one year of parish work, he went to the Catholic University of Lublin for additional studies. He studied canon law and Catholic social teaching. During his studies, he developed an interest in the social ideas which had been put forth by the president of the Catholic University of Lublin, Antoni Szymanski. He was also engaged in social work at the university, especially in student’s organizations such as „Brothers Help” (Bratnia Pomoc) and the „Catholic Youth Association” (Odrodzenie). At the end of his studies in Lublin, he went to Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany to learn about Catholic social teaching there.After returning to Poland, Wyszynski served in various capacities. He worked as a parochial vicar, secretary of the monthly periodical for the clergy (Ateneum Kaplanskie), and as a professor in the Seminary at Wloclawek. There, he organized the Christian „University of Workers”, where he taught Catholic social teaching. He was also one of the co-founders of the Catholic Trade Union there. The Church’s authorities called Wy-szynski in 1937 to work at the Social Council in the Primate’s Office in Warsaw. From that time on, he extended the scale of his social work. He initiated sociological research by the Catholic institutes and universities, and he also suggested increasing the number of hours Catholic social teaching was taught in the seminaries in Poland. He also disseminated Catholic social teaching through his publications. When he debated written controversial issues with some Polish or foreign authors, he usually used the pseudonym „Zuzelski”.Wyszynski was encouraged by Bishop Kozal to undertake negotiations with the Nazis about opening the Seminary in Wloclawek after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, but his efforts were fruitless. Shortly after that, Bishop Kozal ordered Wyszynskki to leave Wloclawek to avoid arrest by the Nazis. He went at first to Worciszewo, where he stayed with his cousins, and next he went to Kozlowka near Lubartow. In this small town, Wyszynski organized underground teaching. From 1942, Wyszynski was the chaplain at the Institute for the Blind in Laski, near Warsaw.

After the Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944, he was the chaplain at a temporary hospital, which was located in a retreat house in Laski. When Wyszynski returned to Wloclawek after the end of war, there was a severe shortage of clergy. Because of this, Wyszynski worked in the seminary at Wloclawek as a rector, professor, spiritual father and steward.On March 25,1946, Stefan Wyszynski was appointed by Pope Pius XII as Bishop of Lublin. He was consecrated Bishop by Primate Hlond at the Jasna Gora Shrine in Czestochowa on May 12,1946. On his coat of arms, Wyszynski placed an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Czestochowa and the motto: „Soli Deo” (Only God).As Bishop of Lublin, Wyszynski simultaneously became the chancellor of the Catholic University of Lublin. He organized a Department of Christian Philosophy at the University and was very active in the newly-created Institute of Social-Economic and Rural Problems. Moreover, he organized the Institute of Higher Religious Culture, which was a study program for adults. Wyszynski’s social sermons were as popular in Lublin as in Wloclawek. He taught about the socio-religious and moral problems of believers in the context of the new Communist ideology, which was alien to the Poles.After two years of work in the Lublin diocese, Wyszynski was called, on November 16, 1948, to Warsaw as Archbishop of the Warsaw-Gniezno Archdiocese and as Primate of Poland. (The post of Primate is held by one of the bishops of the Polish hierarchy. This custom has continued through centuries of Polish tradition). Primate Wyszynski was very sensitive to the social threats of Communism. At the beginning of 1949, the Communist Prime Minister, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, threatened to severely punish anyone speaking out against Communism.The authorities of the Communist regime often circulated false information about the Church in Poland. They said that, not only did the Holy See cooperate with Nazi policy during the World War II, but also that some Polish bishops were conspirators.The Communist allegations were especially directed against Czeslaw Kaczmarek, Bishop of Kielce and Stanislaw Adamski, Bishop of Katowice. Primate Wyszynski categorically objected to these Communist actions and wrote two pastoral letters to the faithful in which he explained the true social situation in Poland. In the first (1949), Wyszynski defended Bishop Kaczmarek, and in the second (1950), he described the groundless allegations of the Communists against the Church. The Communist authorities were unhappy with Wyszynski’s letters. The Primate was concerned primarily with keeping unity among the priests, and next, between the priests and laity. He also wanted to stop the disruptive work of the „patriot priests”, who were „bought” by Communism and who supported the new Soviet regime.The Communist regime intended to eliminate social activities in the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, but could not because of Wyszyns-ki’s courageous attitude and his wise religious policy.In 1951, Primate Wyszynski visited the Vatican for the first time as a bishop, His previous requests to do so were turned down by the Communists. On that trip, Wyszynski took a small package of Polish soil that included some blood. Also included was another sign of Polish martyrdom during World War II, a rosary, which was made with bread by prisoners of war. These symbolic items were given to the pope by Wyszynski.The situation of the Church, especially in the western fraction of Poland, was a little better after Wyszynski returned from the Vatican. The Apostolic Administrators in the western fraction received nominations for nominal bishops from the Vatican. Despite that fact, the Communist Premier, Boleslaw Bierut, did not approve the Vatican nominations, and said the Church’s situation in the western fraction of Poland would not be stabilized until the Vatican had assigned the real administrative bishops there. Bierut’s statements were contradictory to Vatican rules. The Vatican could not appoint new bishops as long as the German bishops were still alive.Primate Wyszynski visited many parishes in the western fraction and personally explained to the people the real situation of the Church. Through personal contact, he strengthened the people in their faith and in their unity with their priests. The Communist authorities were angry with the Primate because of his work, and the Moscow newspaper Pravda wrote that Wyszynski „undermines the general interests of Poland.” Shortly after, the Communists imprisoned the Bishop of Kielce, Czeslaw Ka-czmarek, and many priests who were troublesome to them. One year later, the Communists began liquidating the junior seminaries and religious novitiates. They also established many obstacles in ranting the Church permission to build new churches.When Primate Wyszynski became cardinal on November 29, 1952, the Communist regime increased its hostile attacks on the Church. It issued a harsh decree on February 9, 1953, which effectively placed the Church under Communist control. After that, the government took another radical step against the Church: it required an oath of loyalty to the Communist government. The authorities expected every Roman Catholic priest in Poland to sign this Communist declaration as a symbol of his loyalty to Communism. The „patriot priests” were, according to the Communists, the best examples for others.Primate Wyszynski firmly resisted this action and said: „What belongs to the emperor should be returned to him and what belongs to God should be returned to God, If the emperor sits on the altar, we say: he must not!” The Communists did not stop their fight against the Church. At that time, the Military Court of Justice in Warsaw sentenced Bishop Kaczmarek to twelve years in prison. His conviction was based on accusations that the bishop cooperated with the Nazis during World War II, and also that he wanted to subvert the Communist government. By these actions, the Communist authorities expected to influence other Polish bishops.Primate Wyszynski did not change his attitude, and on September 25,1953, he said in public, during a sermon at the Church of St. Anne in Warsaw, that the Church in Poland would always fight for truth and freedom. He also publicly expressed his categorical objection to the imprisonment of Bishop Kaczmarek by the Communists. A few hours after Wyszynski’s speech, a group of armed policemen, (UB: Police Security), invaded Wyszynski’s residence on Miodowa Street, and took him to Rywald prison. Shortly after that, the Communist regime imprisoned five other Bishops: S. Adamski, A. Baraniak, H. Bednorz, J. Bieniek and L. Biernacki.

The time in prison was a period of very intensive work for Primate Wyszynski. He prepared a special program for renewing the Polish nation under the Blessed Virgin Mary. During his prison meditations, he reminded himself of the many events in Polish history which had persuaded him to choose Mary’s way as a program for pastoral ministry in Poland’s future. One of them was the great Polish victory against the Russian Bolsheviks in August, 1920. At the beginning of that year, the Polish bishops entrusted the entire nation to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s protection. Therefore, the August victory on the battlefield was called „The Miracle on the Vistula”, because people believed it had occurred through Mary’s help.In Komancza, the last place of his imprisonment, the Primate finished his text of the „Jasna Gora Oath”, which was to be the cornerstone of Poland’s moral and spiritual renewal. This was in preparation for the celebration of the Polish Millennium, the thousandth anniversary of Poland’s conversion to Christianity. Over a million people gathered together on Jasna Gora in Czestochowa on the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, August 26, 1956. All of the Polish bishops surrounded an empty armchair on which Primate Wyszynski should have sat. Next, Bishop Michal Klepacz read the text of the Primate Wyszynski’s Oath and the people repeated, „We promise to be faithful to God, to the Church and to the Gospel.”After the solemn celebrations in Czestochowa and the workers, protest in Poznan in 1956, the Communist authorities decided to release Wyszynski from prison on September 26, 1956. They also freed the other imprisoned bishops. From that time, Communist authorities expected support from the Church because of the social crisis. They annulled the decree of 1953 concerning approval of Church positions by the Communists. Next, they announced the resumption of religious classes in schools, the return of monks and nuns to their social work, the recognition of titular bishops in western Poland, and the cancellation of Bishop Kaczmarek’s remaining prison sentence.Subsequently, Primate Wyszynski set into practice his Program of the Great Novena for the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Poland. That program initiated a nine-year program of renewal of faith and morality. Based on the preaching of biblical and moral truths, as well as reflections on the sacraments, it took place in every parish and Church community. The miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa went on pilgrimages throughout the country and was received in parishes everywhere in Poland. At the presence of this miraculous icon, every believer and every Catholic family in Poland committed to renewing their faith and moral life. By receiving the holy icon, this external sign of faith, they promised to be faithful to the Gospel and to the Church. These actions helped save the Polish nation from complete demoralization and secularization.The Communist regime did not like Wyszynski’s idea and his program of renewal. Despite „warm” assertions about the Church’s freedoms, the Communists began treating members of the Church with renewed hostility. In mid-July 1958, a group of about two hundred armed policemen invaded the Jasna Gora Institute which had been established by Wyszynski. They took many valuable books and Church documents. A few months later, they started a new phase, a persecution of the faithful. New obstacles were put into place for permission to build churches, high taxes were inflicted on the Church, and the display of crucifixes in schools was prohibited. Shortly after that, the Communists began to conscript seminarians into the regular army, thus interrupting their studies. The most radical act of aggression against the Church, based on the rules established in 1959, was the control of seminaries by Communist authorities. Primate Wyszynski expressed his strenuous objections to these unjust actions, and after that, they stopped.In 1960, the Polish Episcopate wrote two pastoral letters about this Communist aggression against the Church and about the breaking of the 1956 agreement between the Church and state. The Communists then began to fight in other ways. They organized special training on how to destroy Church members in their place of work and also in schools. Communist teachers unjustly treated children whose parents did not belong to the party. When the Second Vatican Council started in 1962, Communists derided the Church in Poland by spreading false information about its traditionalism and conservatism.In the meantime, Wyszynski began the eighth year of the Great Millennium Novena, which was concerned with the elimination of the moral weaknesses in Polish society and the establishment of Christian virtues. In 1964, the Primate invited Pope Paul VI to participate in the Polish Millennium, but the Communists did not give him permission to enter the country. At the end of 1965, the Polish Episcopate invited bishops from fifty-six countries for the Millennium celebrations. At that time the Polish bishops sent a special proclamation with Christian appeal to the German bishops. They wrote, „We ask you for your forgiveness, because we forgive you first.” Their motivation was the following: „If you can take our hands in a feeling of brotherhood, then we will celebrate our Millennium with a peaceful conscience.”In January 1966, Wyszynski could not go to the Vatican to participate in the opening of the celebration of the Polish Millennium because the Communists would not give him a passport. In the same month, the First Secretary of the Communist Party, Wladyslaw Gomulka, announced a secular celebration of Poland’s one thousand years as a nation. Despite the Communists’ expectations, most Poles ignored the secular celebration and joined the Church program. Religious festivities began in Gniezno, exactly on the thousandth anniversary of Poland’s conversion, on April 14,1966. At six o’clock in the evening, believers in every church in Poland sang a solemn hymn: „Te Deum” (Hymn of Thanksgiving to God). After Wyszynski’s homily, all of the bishops gathered together around the tomb of Prince Mieszko 1, and confessed their faith by proclaiming the creed. (The first person who had been baptized in Poland was Prince Mieszko 1). Many celebrations of the Millennium were held in Czestochowa, on May 3, 1966, the day on which Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski started the ceremonies on behalf of Pope Paul VI. In Cracow, celebrations were held on the feast of the martyr, Bishop Stanislaw Szczepanowski, May 8,1966.

During the secular events, Gomulka did not say anything about Prince Mieszko’s baptism, tacitly continuing Communism’s confrontation with the Church. When Primate Wyszynski celebrated a religious ceremony during the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ in Warsaw in 1966, the regime’s members roughly dispersed the worshippers under the pretext of seeking a copy of the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The Communists confiscated the icon to stop its pilgrimage to particular parishes and families. However, Wyszynski’s program to renew the nation was not halted. Instead, the believers displayed an empty frame and candle in their homes.In September, 1967, Primate Wyszynski wanted to go to the Vatican for a Bishops’ Synod, but again he did not receive a passport. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla expressed solidarity with Wyszynski, and did not go to the Vatican although he had a passport.After a social disturbance which occurred at the University of Warsaw in March, 1968, Wy-szynski, on behalf of the Church, categorically asked the Communists for release of the students who had been arrested. Shortly after that, the Polish Episcopate again wrote a letter to believers, in which it explained the problems of Christian morality in the new social order and in the context of Communism after World War II.When Polish workers demanded just wages from the Communists in 1970, the regime members shot defenseless people. Ten dozen were killed and a few hundred were wounded. Finding themselves in a very difficult situation, the Communists decided to temporarily diminish their persecution of the Church. Primate Wyszynski knew this Communist weakness was a good opportunity for the Church to do some important things. Pope Paul VI approved the structures of parishes and dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in western Poland, by a special Vatican document, dated June 28, 1972.The Communist authorities did not fully stop their aggression against the Church, but proceeded in a different way. They issued a special decree concerning the socialist, (meaning Communist), program of education of children and youth. When this program was approved by the Communist legislature, it was introduced at each level in all schools.Primate Wyszynski expressed his strong objections to this unjust program. During his homily at Holy Cross Parish in Warsaw in January, 1974, he said that education should be independent of any political party. He also strongly underlined that, under natural law, every man was entitled to fundamental human rights, social justice, and human dignity. Moreover, Wyszynski openly talked about the great economic waste in Polish society because of Communism.The election of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla as Pope on October 16, 1978, was a great triumph for the Church in Poland. As successor to Saint Peter, Pope John Paul II said: „A Polish pope would never sit at the throne of the Holy See, if not for Primate Wyszynski’s sacrifice and attitude.”When Pope John Paul II stood under a great cross on the Victory Place in Warsaw during his first pilgrimage to Poland, on June 2,1979, tears of joy and happiness flowed from the eyes of Poles. The Pope reminded them of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This gave the Polish people the strength and courage to struggle for their rights and human dignity. The unification of the Polish people in God’s Spirit helped them to establish the movement of „Solidarity”. After the Pope’s visit, the Communists continuously lost „gro-und” under their feet.Primate Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski was an all-important person in Poland. Thanks to him, Poland began moving from Moscow’s control. When Primate Wyszynski defended human rights, he always based his arguments on international laws such as the Declaration of Human Law of the United Nations. By doing so, Wyszynski’s placed the Communist authorities in a difficult position; if they criticized Wyszyn-ski, they would be ridiculed by international authorities.Primate Wyszynski died in Warsaw on May 28, 1981. Because of his great faith and his outstanding role in the Church and in the Polish nation, he deserves the title Primate of the Millennium.

Rev. Zbigniew Tyburski


Part of the statue of Mieszko I and Boleslaw Chrobry in the Golden Chapel in the Cathedral of Poznan.



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