cardinal wyszyński

Stefan Wyszyński

Stefan Wyszyński (3 August 1901 - 28 May 1981) was a Polish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as the bishop of Lublin from 1946 to 1948, archbishop of Warsaw and archbishop of Gniezno from 1948 to 1981. Appointed cardinal on 12 January 1953 by Pope Pius XII, he assumed the title of Primate of Poland.


Wyszyński was born in a village, Zuzela, on the River Bug, on the regional border between Mazovia and Podlasie. In outcome of the Partitions in the late 18th century, these territories were part of the Russian partitional zone until the end of the First World War. In those areas directly incorporated in the Russian Empire there was an intensive campaign to make the Polish population abandon their traditions and lose their national awareness.

In 1912 Wyszyński's father (his mother had died when he was nine) sent him to Warsaw. He completed his grammar school education there in 1915. He then enrolled in the seminary in Włocławek, and on his 24th birthday (3 August 1924), after being hospitalised with a serious illness, he received his priestly ordination from Bishop Adalberto Owczarek.

Wyszyński celebrated his first Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving, at Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, a place of special spiritual significance for many Catholic Poles. The Pauline monastery there holds the picture of the Black Madonna, or Our Lady of Częstochowa, the patron saint and guardian of Poland. Father Wyszyński spent the next four years in Lublin, where in 1929 he received the doctor's degree in the Faculty of Canon Law and the Social Sciences of the Catholic University of Lublin. His dissertation in Canon Law, was entitled The Rights of the Family, Church and State to Schools. For several years after graduation he travelled throughout Europe, where he furthered his education.

After returning to Poland, Father Wyszyński began teaching at the seminary in Włocławek. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he left Włocławek because he was wanted by the Germans for the pastoral duties he had performed for working-class people. At the request of Bishop Kozal, he went to Łaski near Warsaw. When the uprising broke out on 1 August 1944, he became chaplain of the Kampinos unit of the Armia Krajowa Polish underground resistance organisation.

In 1945, a year after end of war in the area, Wyszyński returned to Włocławek, where he started a restoration project for the devastated seminary, becoming its rector and the chief editor of a Catholic weekly. Just a year later, on 25 March 1946, Pope Pius XII appointed him Bishop of Lublin; he was consecrated by August Cardinal Hlond on 12 May that year. After the death of Cardinal Hlond on 22 October 1948, he was named Metropolitan Archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, and thus Primate of Poland, on 12 November 1948.

World War II ended in 1944 however in eastern present-day Poland, and later in the west hostilities continued between a large segment of native Poles and the Stalinist government, which lasted for several years. The Catholic Church was hoping for return of the Polish government-in-exile from London and the removal of Stalin's puppet regime. The Church actively supported the anti-Communists. One of the prime issues was the confiscation of properties for public use, including secular schools and for distribution among farmers. The Catholic Church had been the largest single land owner just before the war.

After the war Stefan Wyszyński demonstrated anti-semitic attitudes. When a hand grenade had been thrown into the local Jewish community headquarters Stefan Wyszyński was approached by the Jewish delegation. Wyszyński stated that the popular hatred of Jews was caused by Jewish support for Communism, which had also been the reason why "the Germans murdered the Jewish nation". Wyszyński also gave some credence to blood libel rumors commenting that the question of the use of Christian blood was never completely clarified.

In 1950 Archbishop Wyszyński decided to enter into a secret agreement with the Communist authorities, which was signed on 14 February 1950 by the Polish episcopate and the government. The agreement settled political dispute of the Church in Poland. It allowed church to hold reasonable property, separated church from politics, prohibited religious indoctrination in public schools, and even allowed authorities to select a bishop from 3 candidates presented. Karol Wojtyla was selected in such a manner.

On 12 January 1953, Wyszyński was elevated to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere by Pius XII. Beginning in 1953, another wave of persecution swept Poland. When the bishops continued support for resistance, mass trials and the internment of priests began - the cardinal being among the victims. On 25 September 1953 he was imprisoned at Grudziądz, and later placed under house arrest in the monastery in Prudnik near Opole and in Komańcza in the Bieszczady Mountains. While imprisoned, he observed the brutal torture and mistreatment of the detainees, some highly perverse in nature. He was released on 26 October 1956.

Nonetheless, he never stopped his religious and social work. Its crowning achievement was the celebration of Poland's Millennium of Christianity in 1966 - the thousandth anniversary of the baptism of Poland's first prince, Mieszko I. During the celebration, the Communist authorities refused to allow Pope Paul VI to visit Poland; they also prevented Cardinal Wyszyński from attending overseas celebrations. Wyszyński triumphed in 1978, when Karol Wojtyla of Kraków was elected Pope John Paul II, followed by a spectacular papal visit to Poland in 1979. Wyszyński did not turn a blind eye towards the civil unrest in 1980. When the Solidarity trade union was created in Poland, he appealed to both sides, the government as well as the striking workers, to be responsible for their actions.

Cardinal Wyszyński, often called the Primate of the Millennium, died on 28 May 1981 at the age of 79. To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his death, the year 2001 was celebrated as the Year of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński.


In 2000 a motion picture was made about the life and imprisonment of Wyszyński, The Primate - Three Years Out of a Thousand, directed by Teresa Kotlarczyk. The title role was played by Andrzej Seweryn.

In the CBS miniseries Pope John Paul II (based upon the life of the Polish pope), Cardinal Wyszyński was portrayed by English actor Christopher Lee.

See also


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