Jan Balicki (1869-1948)
Bl. John Adalbert Balicki was born on 25 January 1869 in Staromiescie, Poland (today the district of Rzeszow). He died of pneumonia and TB in Przemysl on 15 March 1948.
John Adalbert was raised in a deeply religious family and, although materially poor, they were a family rich in honesty and virtue. From 1876-1888 he attended the schools of Rzeszow under the guidance of high level educators imbued with a love for Polish culture. In September 1888 he entered the diocesan Seminary of Przemysl. After four years of study and spiritual preparation, he was ordained on 20 July 1892.
The bishop sent him to be assistant pastor in the parish of Polna. He was appreciated as a man of prayer, a patient confessor and a gifted preacher. After about a year, he was sent to Rome to pursue his formation at the Pontifical Gregorian University. During his four years of study (1893-1897), he was aware of a dual responsibility: as a priest, to continue to make progress in Christian perfection, and as a student, to complete his studies. His spiritual approach to theology bore fruit later on in his teaching. He listened to the lectures in the morning. In the afternoon he read the authors referred to and, above all, St Thomas Aquinas. Then he went to the chapel to pray over what he studied. He spent his freetime in Rome visiting the shrines of the Apostles and the rooms of the saints. It was a concrete way of learning about the faith.
Professor of theology, prefect of studies
In the summer of 1897, he returned to Przemysl of the Latins, where he was appointed professor of dogmatic theology in the diocesan seminary. He was convinced that theology is not only the science that regards God, but the science that can turn man to reach God. His lessons were meditations on the mysteries of God and had a good influence on the moral formation of his students. Up till 1900, Fr. Balicki was also prefect of studies.
Rector of the seminary
In 1927, in a spirit of obedience, he accepted the post of vice-rector of the seminary and a year later he was appointed rector. He was concerned about the spiritual formation of the priests. Before he presented the candidates to the bishop, he studied the reports and prayed for light to make the proper decision.
Spiritual direction and confession
In 1934 he was forced to resign as rector and professor of theology due to poor health, but he continued to live at the seminary. From 1934-1939 he could only hear confessions and give spiritual direction. Many of his penitents testified that he had an extraordinary gift of penetrating the profondity of their soul. As confessor he had an open heart for everyone who approached him with sincerity. He was always available for confession despite poor health. He was not just a judge or giver of absolution, but he did all he could to motivate his penitents to grow spiritually. He regularly gave direction through letters.
World War II: restrictions, worsened health
In September 1939, Poland was plunged into the tragedy of the Second World War. Right away the city of Przemysl was divided into two parts: the old section occupied by Soviet troops, and the rest of the city occupied by the Germans. Although the priests and the bishop and his collaborators thought it safer to move to the German side, Fr Balicki remained in the Soviet zone hoping to start again the activity of formation in the Seminary. In the end, he was forced to move into a room in the bishop's temporary housing.
In October 1941, the fighting in the area stopped and the artificial barrier that divided the city was abolished. Fr Balicki stayed there in his temporary room with the bishop.
In the second half of February 1948, he became gravely ill and was diagnosed as having bilateral pneumonia and tuberculosis in its advanced stage. He was admitted to the hospital where he died on 15 March 1948. He was considered by all to be a "holy priest" and "humility in person".
Teaching and example
After his death, the fame of his holiness spread throughout Poland and beyond Poland by means of the Polish emigrants. Eventually the people began to report to the authorities the answers to their prayers in which they begged John Adalbert to intercede for them.
Those who knew him report that his whole life was motivated by the desire to be the least among his brothers. His humility was simple, natural, authentic. There was no room for pride or vanity. He was gentle and careful in his dealings with others. He never desired to call attention to his own pains or sufferings.
What stood out as the fruit of humility was his great love of God and neighbour. Love was the dominant attitude. Humility allowed him to tend constantly toward God. He said that the life of grace was revealed in the dominion of the spirit over the flesh and its disordered inclinations. He stressed the role of the virtues in the growth of the spiritual life, especially mortification, patience and humility. Mortification submits nature to grace, patience, inseparable from love, makes man capable of sacrifice for God, humility dethrones the ego to place the Lord at the centre of his heart.
He held up prayer as the indispensible nourishment for the growth of the interior life and for final perseverance. Prayer is the elevation of the mind and heart to God so that we can live for him and we love God with the love that he infuses into our hearts.
He did a study of mystical prayer in which he emphasized four degrees: prayer of quiet, prayer of simple union, ecstatic union and perfect union.
He also gave a list of the 7 steps for progress in the spiritual life. They are a serious approach to life, readiness to be critical of self, unshakable confidence in prayer, joy of spirit, love for suffering, praise of divine mercy, and continuous self amendment.
Model for Diocesan Priests
On 22 December 1975, the then Cardinal Wojtyła wrote to Paul VI to hold him up as a model for priests in our time.