St. Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski


Memorial : 17 June

Also known as :

Adam Chmielowski
Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski
Brat Albert
Brother Albert

“For centuries Saint Francis has not had so admirable a disciple and follower in the love of poverty as the Polish academic painter and founder of a religious order Albert (Adam Hilarius) Chmielowski, whom Pope John Paul II beatified on June 22, 1983, together with the Carmelite Raphael Kalinowski. Albert (Adam) Chmielowski was canonised on November 1, 1989.

This Polish saint was born on August 20, 1845, in Jagellonia in the Miechow district and lost his father at the age of eight years. When the orphaned boy was eleven he was sent to study at the Cadet Academy in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad). He continued his studies in Warsaw and Pulawy. Everywhere he went, the gifted young man was beloved by his comrades because of his noble spirit, his good heart, and his firm character, but above all for his courage.

He proved this when he took part in the Polish insurrection of 1863 against the Russians. He was seriously wounded and lost a leg, but, as a result, he escaped the firing squad.

Adam Chmielowski then went secretly to Paris in 1865; in 1885 he returned to Warsaw. After a two-year stay in his Polish homeland he went to Paris again, then to Ghent, and finally to Munich, in order to complete his study of painting at the Academy of Arts there.

In 1880 the thirty-five-year-old academic painter entered the Society of Jesus in Stara-Wies but because of poor health could stay there for only six months. What to do now? After a long interior struggle he discerned at last a call to become an apostle and promoter of the Third Order of Saint Francis, since he had always been enthusiastic about its ideals. In 1881 he started recruiting for the Third Order among the people of rural Podolia, but then after 1884 he continued his campaign in Krakow. It was here that he came to meet Blessed Raphael Jozef Kalinowski. Their conversations about religion awakened in him the determination to give himself completely to God in utter poverty so as to serve the poorest of the poor.

As a Franciscan tertiary he wanted to be called from then on by his Third Order name, “Brother Albert”. In Krakow he became increasingly well acquainted with the need of the most destitute, the homeless beggars. Alarmed by their plight, which was even more serious on the spiritual than on the material level, he looked after them more and more and put himself completely at their service. He sought to alleviate their need: he practised such absolute frugality that he himself now lived like a beggar in poverty, and he helped those who shared his fate in whatever way he could.

To start with, in the cold season he arranged to have a heated room where the homeless could warm themselves. With the help of the men and women who began to flock around him, he founded hostels for the poor beggars – indeed, he even established workshops for them where they could earn a little money for their support. Brother Albert, having become a beggar, went on begging for the beggars and provided emergency lodgings for hundreds of these unfortunates and helped them in their physical and spiritual need.

In 1888 Brother Albert, placing his hands in the hands of Cardinal Archbishop Albin Dunajewski of Krakow, professed vows of poverty and chastity and, together with the men and women who had gathered to help him serve the poor, founded the religious congregation of Brothers of the Third Order of Saint Francis, called the Albertine Brothers, and that of the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis, called the Albertine Sisters.

Before World War II the members of this religious community staffed twenty-four hostels for homeless men and fifty-six hostels for homeless women. Today the Albertine congregation numbers forty brothers who, in eight hostels, carry out Christ’s commission: “I was homeless, and you sheltered me!”

Until his final hour, on Christmas day of 1916, Brother Albert lived a poor man, as it appeared, but interiorly he had a wealth of joy and peace in serving the most destitute, the people with whom Christ had fraternized and identified himself. Brother Albert lived entirely in God and in his grace and thereby had a great influence upon everyone he met. “Be good, like the nourishing bread that’s ready on the table for all who may be hungry!” That was his motto.

So it came about that all people responded to him with sympathy, regardless whether they were believers or nonbelievers, Christians or Jews. If they were impoverished, he accepted them all, generously and charitably. He put himself aside completely and lived in perfect austerity and self-denial; at his death on Christmas day 1916 he left behind no magnificent work and no great religious family but, nevertheless, the inspiring example of a life that abounded in good deeds.”
- F. Holboeck

At the beatification on June 22, 1983, Pope John Paul II said:
“Brother Albert…reached [the] heights of holiness…by way of love… Adam Chmielowski studied painting and for a number of years engaged in artistic activities before following his vocation, which, after a first attempt in the Society of Jesus, led him to the Third Order Franciscans, from where his Albertine vocation took shape… Brother Albert laid down his life in the service of the very poor and of social outcasts. [He] gave his life completely to Christ. And in Christ [he] discovered the fullness of knowledge, of love and of service….

Brother Albert confessed: “I look at Jesus in his Eucharist. Could his love have provided anything more beautiful? If he is bread, let us too become bread…let us give ourselves.” Brother Albert [did this to the very end, until he] died in his “beggars’ refuge” in Krakow in 1916.

On the basis of a new miracle worked by God through the intercession of Brother Albert (beatified June 22, 1983), Pope John Paul II canonised him only six years later, on November 12, 1989, to the joy of the Polish people and for the consolation of all homeless people, for whom this Polish saint can be a powerful intercessor, just as he was a generous helper to them while on earth.

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