Polish Papal Ecclesiastical Institute in Rome is one the most important institutions of the Polish Church outside the borders of the Polish Republic

In October 1978 cardinal Stefan Wyszyński arrived in Rome similarly as other cardinals from all over the world. The Polish Primate, as usually, stayed in the Polish Papal Ecclesiastical Institute in Rome at Via Pietro Cavallini 38. It was here where on 13 October there was a solemn supper which was also attended by cardinal Karol Wojtyła. Although the Primate was making short speeches at the table as usually, this time he was speaking very long. Whereas cardinal Wojtyła seemed to be somewhere far in his thoughts, as if he was absent.

Priests who were at the supper then, were asking both Polish cardinals about what the next Pope would be like. The Primate Wyszyński was saying that the new pope had to be John Paul II, because the pontificate of John Paul I had not been finished. Whereas, cardinal Wojtyła said only: When John Paul II is elected, please, pray for him. Two days later the author of these words was elected the head of the universal Church.

It was how a memorable supper in the Institute was mentioned by Fr. Prof. Waldemar Chrostowski, a participant of that meeting on the day before the conclave – prelate priest Albert Warso, an inhabitant of the Institute and an employee of Faith Teaching Congregation explains to ‘Sunday’.

John Paul II returned to the Institute 2 years later, on 5 November 1980. – I am glad that I am returning to what is part of my life and what is also a part of the history of Church work and my Nation. And I would like to thank today for all these historical merits of the Polish Institute in Rome – said the Pope at that time.

Residence of the Primate of Millennium

There used to be leaders here, as well as politicians, Generals and cardinals. In this building there were debates of bishops with representatives of emigration. General Władysław Anders and General Stanisław Maczek used to be here. And during the war and soon after its end, the sight of soldiers in this place was something natural as the Institute gave a shelter to those who had difficulties with their return to Homeland. What is interesting, soon after the Second World War, till 1947, in the Institute there was a seminary for former soldiers of the Polish Army in the West, whom the war disrupted their priestly formation or those who had felt their vocation already in the times of peace. The first students from Poland arrived at the Institute not earlier than after the death of Bierut and after the political thaw.

After liberation of the Primate of Millennium from internment, the house at Via Pietro Cavallini 38 became his Roman residence. The Cardinal had a flat there, and he hosted his guests in the living room. It was there where he met with priests, politicians and social activists who were prohibited from arriving in the homeland occupied by the communists. The Institute became a place for meetings of the Primate with the free world and activists in the Polish diaspora. So, no wonder that Jan Nowak-Jeziorański – a director of the Polish section of the Radio Free Europe – defined the Institute as ‘Redoubt of the Polish Church on the Tiber’.

The basic task of the Institute is, however, serving to the Church in Poland. During the Second Vatican Council all bishops from our country, present at other sessions of the Council, met regularly in this place, in order to elaborate the common attitudes in various issues, share their competences, mark representations for particular meetings. – Hierarchs of different nationalities approved of the unity of our Episcopate. Debates of Polish bishops took place regularly – emphasizes Fr. Warso. – Inside this building in 1965 the famous historical letter of Polish bishops to German bishops was signed, with the request for the mutual forgiveness.

Also now bishops live and meet together in the Institute, for example, during visits ‘ad limina Apostolorum’ and on the occasions of their other stays in Rome. The Institute is also inhabited by a few priests – employees of the dicastery of the Holy See. The everyday task of the Institute is, however, taking care of Polish clergy and educating priests. So far, nearly 800 priests have been educated in the Institute, among whom nearly 500 gained academic degrees at papal universities, and nearly 50 became bishops later. Among them there are the Polish primate cardinal Józef Glemp, the chairperson of the Polish Episcopal Conference archbishop Stanisław Gądecki or the senior primate archbishop Józef Kowalczyk.

The Institute also organized very important academic symposia crowned with valuable publications – says prelate priest Ryszard Selejdak, a resident of the Institute working in the Congregation for Clergy.

Polish Raison d’etat

The history of the Institute reaches back to the beginnings of XX century, and even XIX century, when in Rome Fr. Józef Sebastian Pelczar was studying, the later bishop of Przemyśl and the Saint of the Catholic Church. The idea of establishing the home for Polish priests – students and employees of the Holy See – appeared in the second half of XIX century, when Poland did not exist on the political map of the world. Authorities of invasive countries, for fear of losing control over educating clergy, forbade sending clerics or priests for studies outside the borders of partitions. So, the Institute was to be a home for priests seeking academic learning in Rome. Priests staying in this place were to learn the universal Church, but also take care of the Polish Raison d’etat.

The second half of XIX century and the beginning of XX century was the time when Polish priests were engaged in the issue of independence of their homeland also in Vatican. At that time hierarchs from the Austrian partition had most possibilities. Beside St. bishop Pelczar, St. archbishop Jóżef Bilczewski, cardinal Jan Puzyna and also prelate priest Adam Sapieha were active.

Initiators and sponsors of the Institute set also other important purposes to it. It was to be a place where Poland is one, and its task was to integrate church elites from all three partitions. This is also representation and a kind of a ‘diplomatic institution’ of the Church, which represented the nation. This purpose was recorded in ‘A confidential memorial’, in which it was pointed that the Institute is to help in contacts of the Polish church hierarchy with the Holy See. A very important motif of action of the founders was their deep patriotism and love to Homeland.

Four years after opening the Institute, in 1910 (the name of that time was Polish Hospice), the First World War broke out and priests students, as citizens of hostile countries, had to leave Rome. The Institute got deserted for 9 years, in order to renew its activity in 1923 when the first priests from independent Poland arrived at the Eternal City.

Less students

Polish bishop at the helm with St. Józef Sebastian Pelczar bought the building from the Convent of Sisters of the Poor of St. Józef Kalasanty. And although it was renovated many times, one can still find monumental sacral elements in it. They are seen inside a representative hall with a library. On the ceiling there is a genuine wooden vault of the church and stucco, and the light falls inside through stained-glass rosettes.

Besides sacral elements in the decorations there are also national symbols. When we enter the representative hall, we see a bas-relief presenting Dobrawa and Mieszko I. in the living room one can see a White Eagle in Crown, a bust of Jan III Sobieski, General Władysław Anders and certainly St. John Paul II.

The Institute has been often renovated by next priests rectors. – When I arrived here in the 80s of the last century, we had a problem even with electricity. In order to boil water for tea, every student had to be equipped with an extension cord, in order to get electricity from a corridor – says Fr. Selejdak, who arrived in the Institute in 1985.

A longtime rector did a lot of changes here – Fr. Zbigniew Kiernikowski (at present the bishop of Legnica). He built in two floors and made a thorough renovation. – Please, have a look at this beautiful mosaics in the chapel, made by a famous Slovene artist Fr. Marko Rupnik SJ, a creator of, among the others, a chapel Redemptoris Mater in Vatican. It is also an initiative and an idea of bishop Kiernikowski – says Fr. Selejdak.

Our house survived and can still function also thanks to devotion of a lot of people and institutions inland and from abroad – emphasizes Fr. Dr. Adam Sycz – the current rector of the Institute. – One cannot forget about the Catholic League from the Unites States, which has been very engaged in supporting education of the Polish clergy in Rome – he adds. At present 29 priests students from Polish dioceses live and are educated in the Institute, whom bishops send to specializations in various ecclesiastical fields. Priest Rector mentions prevailing faculties of studies – these are: Holy Scripture, canonical law, dogmatic and moral theology, patrologia or social communication.

The whole history of the Polish Papal Ecclesiastical Institute in Rome shows that at the times of peace, it is another home for priests, and when dark clouds were appearing over Poland, it changed into a kind of a diplomatic institution of the Polish Church. The Institute plays an important role for our Polish Church outside Poland, as a ‘Redoubt of the Polish Church on the Tiber’. Fr. Selejdak is certain that these are not just words spoken in an exaggerated way.


„Niedziela” 23/2016

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: