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Feastday / Memorial Mass Readings     |     Words of Wisdom

1835 – 1907
Feastday – 19th November

St Raphael KalinowskiSt Raphael Kalinowski was born Joseph Kalinowki in Vilnius, Lithuania, to an aristocratic polish family on September 1, 1835.  Poland had not been a European state for over 40 years, in 1795.  The Polish-Lithuanian territory had been divided in the 18thcentury by 3 foreign powers: Russia, Prussia and Austria.  The Poles and the Lithuanians never accepted this and were patriotic till the end, continually rebelling against these powers.

Joseph was the 2nd child of Andrew Kalinowski and Josephine Polanska.  His mother died however when he was 2 years old.  His father married his first wife’s sister, had 3 more children: 2 sons and a daughter.  His 2nd wife however died also when Joseph was 9 years old.  His father married a 3rd time and 4 more children were born.  Joseph’s third mother was an exceptional woman in heart and mind and with remarkable tenderness loved all 9 children in her care.  Both parents made their home one of great love and happiness despite the sorrows that had been endured, building their children’s happiness on the foundation of a solid Christian education and patriotic ideals.  To be a Christian and to be a Pole were central to Joseph’s very being.

He was educated at the Nobiliary Institute in Vilna where his father was the professor of mathematics.  Most of the teachers were poles.  One of the most esteemed professors was a Dominican priest, Fr Mokrezcki, one of the few religious allowed to stay in Vilnius.  However, after giving a very patriotic sermon on the feast of St Hyacinth, he was deported to Siberia.

Joseph excelled in mathematics and geometry like his father, but in order to pursue further studies he would have to go abroad or enrol in a Russian university.  Higher studies were not permitted in Lithuania or Poland; one of the first edicts of the Czar closed every Polish and Lithuanian university.  He eventually entered the school of Military Engineering in St Petersburg, as the preferred Engineering School of Roads and Bridges was full.

His time at the Military Academy was the saddest period of his life, marked by a crisis of faith and a searching for the meaning of life.  His faith which had been nurtured at home now lacked the protection of the family and began to crumble.  Religious indifference was the rule of the intellectuals.  He was also tempted by the vanities of the world but was still not finding the satisfaction he desired.

“I am inclined toward the vanities of this world and am seeking in them a medicine for myself, but I do not find interior peace this way.”

He was profoundly homesick.  On one occasion he passed by a church and had the idea of going to confession.  However there was no priest available and he began to weep.  He was missing his home, but he was also missing his link with the Church and his faith.

In 1857 he was awarded the rank of Lieutenant and named professor of mathematics at the academy.  But as he had spent such an unhappy time in the Academy he began to pursue road and bridge building work and accepted a job building railways.  His journey to Kursk took his through swamps and muddy fields but he somehow rediscovered his interior peace by reflecting in solitude, away from the city.  He began to turn back to the familiar religious ideas of his youth.  During this time he read a book about the Most Holy Madonna which especially reawakened his soul and gave him great confidence in the intercession of the Madonna.

When work dried up in Kursk he went to Brest.  Here he witnessed the plight of the poor poles, with no means of education, and the results of such.  He took it upon himself to found a little Sunday school in which he taught.  He began more and more to desire leaving the military life confessing that he “was no longer capable of wearing the Russion uniform while his heart was sick with the knowledge that the blood of his countrymen was being shed.”  He definitively sought to leave following the outbreak of the January (1863) Insurrection.

He took part in the insurrection mainly to help save as many lives as possible.  He was named the War Minister for the region of Vilnius.  The insurrection was a failure and strongly repressed.  He was eventually caught by the Russians and for the crime of being an ex-captain in the Czar’s army who became War Minister against the Czar, he was sentenced to capital punishment.  However his death sentence was commuted to 10 years of forced labour in Siberia, as the Russian authorities didn’t want him to become a martyr for the people.

The trip to Siberia took 10 months.  Joseph became to his fellow inmates an angel of God, consoling and loving all.  Although he could not avail of the sacraments his interior life developed deeply.  He devoted his life to prayer and love of God and neighbour.  He writes himself:

“Outside of prayer I have noting to offer to my God.  I can’t fast, I have hardly any alms to give, I’m unable to work.  The only thing remaining for me is to pray and to suffer.  But never before have I ever had such great treasures and I desire nothing more.”

When he was moved to Irkutsk, he worked with an exiled priest, Fr Szwernicki, instructing the children of deported families.  His vocation to the religious life and priesthood developed in Siberia and he began to study the history of the church and theology in preparation for the life he desired.

He was liberated from exile on February 2nd 1874 and returned home with many prospects.  He received many offers to educate the sons of noted Polish figures - his reputation as an educator had spread.  He eventually settled on becoming the tutor of Augustus, the son of Prince Ladislaus Czartoryski, who was living in Paris.  Joseph felt that at least in the west there was a possibility of entering religious life, as no religious order in Poland could admit novices.  In Paris he continued his spiritual development reading all the masters of Christian spirituality – St Augustine, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena.  His letters from this time were sprinkled with the words of the Saints. 

While assured that he wanted to enter religious life, he was unsure as to which order to join.  It was while reading the lives of the saints that he came upon the Order of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and its wonderful work in the Counter Reformation.  It also turned out that his student’s aunt, Princess Mary, was a discalced Carmelite nun living in Cracow, the only remaining convent among all those suppressed by the occupying forces.  She was very much involved in renewing Carmelite life in Poland and was looking for the right people to help her.  They met by providence and she was convinced that he was the one she was looking for, very much in the same way that St Teresa of Avila met with St John of the Cross.  She did not speak openly however, instead she began a crusade of prayer for Kalinowki’s vocation to the Order. She began to correspond with him and shared the following words of St Teresa with him:

‘Let nothing trouble you, Let nothing frighten you, All is fleeting, God alone is unchanging.
Patient endurance
obtains everything. Who possesses God wants nothing. God alone suffices.’

These words became his motto.  He joined the Discalced Carmelites in Austria a year later on Nov 26 1877.  He received his religious name – Raphael of St Joseph.  He continued his religious formation and completed his philosophical and theological studies in Hungary, where on November 27, 1881, he made his solemn profession.  After this he was sent to Czerna, the only Polish Discalced Carmelite monastery remaining from the suppression.  He was ordained to the priesthood here by the Bishop of Cracow.  He began immediately to rebuild and restore the Teresian Carmel in Poland, looking after the spiritual wellbeing of the Sisters as much as the friars.

He developed a theology of the religious life, not by writing a thesis, but by living it himself.  He wanted to make Carmel known, to spread the spirituality of the Order to a wider audience.  He converted the conventual churches in Czerna and Wadowice into true shrines, to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Joseph, in order to share the treasures of Carmel with the people.  He organised communities of the Secular Order of Carmel and also Confraternities of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  He was even interested in founding a Carmelite Congregation for women in the active life, but the idea did not find support.  He was esteemed as a confessor and spiritual director, he was a good friend and a tireless worker for the union of the Churches.

He died on November 15th 1907 at Wadowice, the monastery he had founded.  He had dreamed of dying on All Souls Day, however he did die on the Feast of All Carmelite Souls.

Abridged from the Introduction to St. Raphael Kalinowski: Intro to His Life and Spirituality by Szcepan T. Pashiwicz, OCD