Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński (1822-1895)
Bl. Sigmund Felix Felinski (1822-1895) Archbishop of Warsaw and Founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. He was born on 1 November 1822 to Gerard Felinski and Eva Wendorff, in Wojutyn in Volinia (present-day Ukraine), in what was then Russian territory. He was Archbishop of Warsaw for 16 months, spent 20 years in exile in Siberia, spent 12 years in semi-exile as tit. Archbishop of Tarsus and parish priest in the country. He died in Kraków, which then belonged to Austria, on 17 September 1895. Indeed, he spent 58 of his 73 years in territory that belonged to the Russian Empire.
Spiritual and national figure
He is venerated as Shepherd in exile, an apostle of national harmony and unity in the spirit of the Gospel, a model of priestly dedication. As Archbishop of Warsaw and founder of a religious congregation, he exercised his duties and role as "Good Shepherd" with great strength, love and courage, always keeping careful watch over himself. "I am convinced that by keeping my heart uncontaminated, living in faith and in fraternal love towards my neighbour, I will not go off the path. These are my only treasures and are without price", he wrote.
The third of six children, of whom two died at an early age, he was brought up with faith and trust in Divine Providence, love for the Church and Polish culture. When Sigmund was 11 years old his father died. Five years later, in 1838, his mother was arrested by the Russians and sent into exile in Siberia for her involvement in patriotic activity. Her patriotic activity was working for the improvement of the social and economic conditions of the farmers.
Education and background
Sigmund was well educated. After completing high school, he studied mathematics at the University of Moscow from 1840-1844. In 1847 he went to Paris, where he studied French Literature at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France. He knew all the important figures of the Polish emigration, e.g. Adam Mickiewicz. He was a friend of the nationalist poet Juliusz Slowacki who died after the revolt of Poznan. In 1848, he took part in the revolt of Poznan which failed. From 1848-50 he was tutor to the sons of Eliza and Zenon Brzozowski in Munich and Paris. In 1851 he returned to Poland and entered the diocesan seminary of Zytomierz. He studied at the Catholic Academy of St Petersburg. On 8 September 1855 Archbishop Ignacy Holowinski, Archbishop of Mohilev ordained him. He was assigned to the Dominican Fathers' Parish of St Catherine of Siena in St Petersburg until 1857, when the bishop appointed him spiritual director of the Ecclesiastical Academy and professor of philosophy. In 1856 he founded the charitable organization "Recovery for the Poor" and in 1857 he founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary.
Archbishop of Warsaw
On 6 January 1862, Pope Pius IX appointed Sigmund Felinski Archbishop of Warsaw. On 26 January 1862 Archbishop Zylínski consecrated him in St Petersburg. On 31 January he left for Warsaw where he arrived on 9 February 1862. The Russians, brutally suppressed the Polish uprising against Russia in Warsaw in 1861 creating a state of siege. In response to the harsh measures of the Russians, the ecclesial authorities closed all the churches for four months. On 13 February 1862, the new Archbishop reconsecrated the cathedral of Warsaw; the Russian Army had profaned it on 15 October 1861. On 16 February he opened all of the churches in the city with the solemn celebration of the Forty Hours Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Sigmund Felinski was Archbishop of Warsaw for 16 months, from 9 February 1862 to 14 June 1863. Times were difficult since there were daily clashes between the occupying Russian power and the Nationalist Party. Unfortunately, he was met by an atmosphere of distrust on the part of some citizens and even clergy, since the Russian government deceived them into thinking that he was secretly collaborating with the government. The Archbishop always made it clear that he was only at the service of the church. He also worked for the systematic elimination of governmental interference in the internal affairs of the church. He reformed the diocese by making regular visits to the parishes and to the charitable organizations within the diocese so that he could better understand and meet their needs. He reformed the programmes of study at the Ecclesiastical Academy of Warsaw and in the diocesan seminaries, giving new impetus to the spiritual and intellectual development of the clergy. He made every effort to free the imprisoned priests. He encouraged them to proclaim the Gospel openly, to catechize their parishioners, to begin parochial schools and to take care that they raise a new generation that would be sober, devout and honest. He looked after the poor and orphans, starting an orphanage in Warsaw which he entrusted to the Sisters of the Family of Mary.
In political action he tried to prevent the nation from rushing headlong into a rash and inconsiderate position. As a sign of his own protest against the bloody repression by the Russians of the "January Revolt" of 1863, Archbishop Felinski resigned from the Council of State and on 15 March 1863 wrote a letter to the Emperor Alexander II, urging him to put an end to the violence. He likewise protested against the hanging of the Capuchin Fr Agrypin Konarski, chaplain of the "rebels". His courage and interventions quickly brought about his exile by Alexander II.
Exile in Siberia for 20 years
In fact, on 14 June 1863, he was deported from Warsaw to Jaroslavl, in Siberia, where he spent the next 20 years deprived by the Czar of any contact with Warsaw. He found a way to organize works of mercy to help his fellow prisoners and especially the priests. Despite the restrictions of the Russian police, he managed to collect funds to build a Catholic Church which later became a parish. The people were struck by his spiritual attitude and eventually began calling him the "holy Polish bishop".
Semi-exile in Kraków region
In 1883, following negotiations between the Holy See and Russia, Archbishop Felinski was freed and on 15 March 1883, Pope Leo XIII transferred him from the See of Warsaw to the titular See of Tarsus. For the last 12 years of his life he lived in semi-exile, in southeastern Galizia at Dzwiniaczka, among the cropfarmers of Polish and Ukrainian background. As chaplain of the public chapel of the manor house of the Counts Keszycki and Koziebrodzki, he launched an intense pastoral activity. Out of his own pocket, he set up in the village the first school and a kindergarten. He built a church and convent for the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary.
In his leisure, he prepared for publication the works he had written during his exile in Jaroslavl. Here are some of them: Spiritual Conferences, Faith and Atheism in the search for happiness, Conferences on Vocation, Under the Guidance of Providence, Social Commitments in view of Christian Wisdom and Atheism; Memories (three editions),
Remains in Warsaw
He died in Kraków on 17 September 1895 and was buried in Kraków on 20 September. Later he was buried at Dzwiniacza (10 October 1895). In 1920 his remains were translated to Warsaw where, on 14 April 1921, they were solemnly interred in the crypt of the Cathedral of St John where they are now venerated.