MAN OF FAITH AND PRAYER
Fr. STANISŁAW WILK SDB
‘When days of exile have passed, when satan power aiming at ruling the world have been defeated – we will renew the vows at Jasna Góra, and these exile vows want Poland to be better, ours, holy, beaming with blessing from Heaven’
The promise about renewing the vows, given to compatriots in England on 28 April 1940, was realized by the primate of Poland Cardinal August Hlond (1881 – 1948) at Jasna Góra, together with the Polish Episcopate and a crowd of believers on the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Mary the Virgin, on 8 September 1946, entrusting the Polish nation to Her Immaculate Heart. Through the solemn act of entrustment, he showed the nation, tormented by war crimes, hope of a better future under the care of the Immaculate Lady, as he believed that ‘She would take Christianity under her care, at the time of the biggest fights and she would give it a victory’.
On two granite columns
The future primate of Poland cardinal Hlond brought a deep faith and religious service to Blessed Mary from his home which he left at the age of 12, setting off to Salesian plants in Italy with his brother older than him by two years. He stayed there under the impression of lively memory of the great educator – St. Jan Bosko (1858 – 88) and saintly blessed Pole today – Salesian prince August Czartoryski (1858-93). He took the spirit of faith from them, based somehow on two granite columns from the vision of St. Jan Bosko: at a religious service to Eucharist and to the Immaculate Lady the Helper of Belivers. These two religious services were domineering in his life. In 1896 August joined the novitiate of the Salesian Society in Foglizzo where he made his perpetual vows the following year. Next, he started his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome which he finished with gaining the PhD degree in philosophy in 1900.
In September in the same year, the cleric August Hlond, to the order of superiors, he stopped further studies and arrived at a Salesian plant in Oświęciim, as an educator and a teacher of peasants. He taught history, geography and mathematics, he conducted a choir and orchestra, which in 1902 welcomed Wojciech Korfanty with the mazurka ‘Poland has not perished yet’. In the years 1901- 05, with small breaks, he edited ‘Salesian News’, and he also studied theology, taking exams in the Cracovian Bishopric Curia. On 23 September he was ordained a priest by the auxiliary bishop of the Cracow diocese Anatol Nowak.
In the years 1905 – 07 he was a chaplain of a Hospice named Prince Aleksander Lubomirski in Cracow, and later a director of a Salesian Plant in Przemyśl. In 1909 he was nominated a director of the Salesian Plant in Vienna. There, during the First World War he devoted much time to caring about the so-called street children and he served as a chaplain in a military hospital. He also developed pastoral work among Poles. He celebrated Holy Masses for them and divine services, he gave lectures and retreats and he ran the Polish Marian Sodality of girls.
An administrator, bishop and primate
In December 1919 Fr. August Hlond was nominated an inspector (provincial) of inspector of Austrian-Hungarian-German province. During three years, he initiated opening of houses in Bavaria and in Hungary. He showed his special care to formation houses, initiating enthusiasm and love to ideals of Fr. Bosko, among young Salesians.
In 1922 the Holy See established the Apostolic Administration of Polish Silesia with the headquarters in Katowice and it entrusted her management to Fr. Hlond, who preparing its transformation into a new diocese, he organised central offices and institutions. In order to integrate the Catholic social action, he established a Catholic League, Publishing House of St. Jacek and established a weekly for Catholic families ‘Sunday Guest’. It was his inspiration due to which Catholic Meetings were organised in Królewska Huta (1923) and in Katowice ( 1924).He initiated a solemn coronation of the miraculous image of Our Lady in Piekary Śląskie (15 August 1925). In December 1925 Pius XI nominated him the first bishop of the newly established diocese of Katowice.
On 13 February 1926 the metropolitan of Gniezno and Poznań, the primate of Poland cardinal Edmund Dalbor died. After a few months (24 June 1926) the Holy Father nominated bishop August Hlond an archbishop of Gniezno and Poznań, raising him to the dignity of the cardinal the following year (20 June 1027).
Cardinal Hlond re-organised the management of both archdioceses and he enlivened and made Catholic life dynamic in them, especially in the sphere ofthe Catholic Social Action. He paid a special attention to the development of charity activity. Through radio speeches on the occasion of the Week of Mercifulness and Christmas, he was making the society sensitive to the fate of the poorest, especially poor children. His pastoral letters were read and commented in whole Poland, and even abroad.
As the primate of Poland, he organised the Catholic Action in Poland, for which he personally edited statutes and regulations. In 1933 he established the Social Council whose aim was to discuss social issues in the light of the Catholic teaching. Thanks to his personal engagement, in August 1936 the first Plenary Synod was prepared and convened in Poland. Since then, as a proxy of the Holy See, he had led negotiations with Polish authorities about realization of concordat provisions. In the Primate Office he edited a separate document about emigration. He re-organised Polish pastoral ministry in France and England. In 1929 he organised a Foreign Seminary in Gniezno, and three years later he established Christ’s Society for Emigrants. In 1931 pope Pius XI nominated him a protector of Polish emigration.
In the years of the war, cardinal Hlond was in Rome, Lourdes and Hautecombe, where on 3 February 1944 he was arrested. He spent 2 months in the custody gestapo in Paris, and then he was interned in Barle-Duc and in Wedenbruck (diocese of Paderborn).After his freeing, on 1 April 1945, in IX American army, he set off to Rome through Paris, from where he set off to Poland on 11 July. He arrived at Poznań on 20 July 1945.
From the beginning of his stay in Rome, he was trying to unmask a lie and hypocrisy of the Nazis propaganda and make the public opinion aware of what Hitler was aiming at and what his plans were. He was very impressed by speeches to microphones of the Vatican Radio, in which he helped his compatriots be aware of the moral power of the Polish nation, he called for moral revival and warned against foreign propaganda and denationalization. In articles and speeches, and also in private letters, the Primate informed his compatriots about the situation in the country, he strengthened their spirit of faithfulness and care about Poland. Thinking about the future, he showed moral and social values, on which the revival of Homeland had to be based.
The Primate of Poland returned to the country, being equipped with extraordinary rights by the Holy See. In their basis, he established a Polish ecclesiastical organization in Western and Northern Lands. Establishing Polish apostolic administrators on 15 August 1945, he started a long process of stabilization which was ended with the bulla of pope Paul VI ‘Episcoporum Poloniaecoetus’ of 28 June 1972. This historical decision of cardinal Hlond must be included to the most important post-war histories of the Catholic Church in Poland.
Under the decrees of the Holy See of 4 and 30 March 1946 the archdiocese of Gniezno was joined with the archdiocese of Warsaw via the personal union, and cardinal August Hlond became their ordinary. One of his first undertakings was establishing the Primate Council for rebuilding destroyed churches of Warsaw. The fervent pastoral activity of the Primate was interrupted by his sudden illness and death on 22 October 1948.
He was realizing a program of renewal
Cardinal August Hlond lived with the spirit of faith, based on the divine service to Eucharist and to the Immaculate Helper of Believers. In his pastoral letters he called for frequent taking the Holy Communion and taking care of Eucharist life: ‘Eucharist must become a frequent everyday food for our souls’ – he wrote. In the rosary prayer he paid tribute and glory to Our Lady, whom he trusted completely. He was an apostle of the rosary prayer. ‘He was faithful in serving to God, he was heroic! A man of a prayer, from which he took power of action’(archbishop Antoni Baraniak).
Authors of remembrances devoted to the primate Hlond emphasize that during meetings, in the cardinal purple colour, one could see a straightforward and humble and friendly man. His whole life was an example of what real humanity should be like. He was an exemplary Salesian. He treated convent vows as the holiest commitments towards God and one’s conscience. Taking an example of St. Jan Bosko, he loved the youth and through his educational activity, he wanted to lead young people to holiness. As a bishop and cardinal, he was a man of the Church, devoted and faithful servant and defender of the Holy See. He joined love of Homeland with love of God and the Church. He did not support any political party. He warned his compatriots against chauvinism and anti-Semitism. He predicted a ‘bright future’ for Poland, if it rejected defects and national sins and remained Catholic and became the kingdom of Christ’s truth and love.
The pastoral program, the program of religious renewal of the nation was realized by his successor – the Millennium Primate cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, who stated in 1964: ‘Today we are leading the Nation into ‘Faith of the New Millennium’, with the help of Our Lady of Jasna Góra. But, do not think that while doing that – me and all polish bishops – are fulfilling only our intentions. I read words of the dying cardinal who said: ‘I will pass away, others will come. They are going to carry on my work’. I declare to You, my Dearest Children, that I always think, me, the unworthy successor of the Primate Holy See, that I am carry on not mine but his work. I am fulfilling his programs and plans. I consider myself an executor of his spiritual testament. Surely in changed conditions! Maybe something will have to be changed or wait, but leading thoughts of the work preparing the Nation for the Millennium of Baptism, are taken from the heart of the dying cardinal August Hlond’.