June 17 – Founder of the Albertines

June 16, 2014

Saint Brother Albert Chmielowski

In Igołomia, on the outskirts of Cracow (Poland), the noble family of Adalbert Chmielowski and Josephine Borzysławska announced on August 20, 1845, the birth of their son Adam (Brother Albert). Mr Chmielowski together with his wife, raised their children in an atmosphere of patriotic ideals, strong faith in God and a Christian love for the poor. Orphaned at an early age, Adam and his two brothers and a sister were raised by relatives who also provided them with an excellent education.

From left: St. Adam and his brothers and sister, Stanley, Marian, Hedwig

From left: St. Adam and his brothers and sister, Stanley,
Marian, Hedwig

At the age of eighteen, while Adam was a student at the Polytechnical Institute at Puławy, he lost his leg while taking part in the 1863 uprising. Because of the political repression following the uprising, he left Poland. In Gand (Belgium) Adam studied engineering; however, having discovered his artistic ability, he devoted his time and studies to the arts, especially painting, in Paris and Munich, Germany.

Student photo of St. Adam in 1865.

Student photo of St. Adam in 1865.

In 1874 he returned to Poland as an accomplished artist. Slowly, with the desire “to dedicate his thoughts and talents to the glory of God”, Adam began to paint subjects with a religious theme. One of his most famous artistic works was “Ecce Homo”, the result of his recognition of God’s love for man, which led Chmielowski to a spiritual metamorphose.

In Cracow’s public dormitories Adam saw the material and moral misery of the homeless and the derelicts, and for the love of Christ, whose countenance he recognised in their foresaken manhood, he decided to abandon his career, to live among the poor and needy and to accept a beggar’s life and lifestyle.

St. Adam Chmielowski when he was a painter.

St. Adam Chmielowski when he was a painter.

On August 25, 1887 Adam clothed himself in a grey habit and assumed a new name, Brother Albert. The following year he professed religious vows and founded the Congregation of the Brothers of the Third Order of St Francis Servants of the Poor, (Albertine Brothers). In 1891 he founded a similar Congregation of Albertine Sisters whose aim was to provide assistance to poor and needy women and children.

Brother Albert organized shelters and homes for the crippled and incurables, soup kitchens for the poor, nurseries and institutions for homeless children and youth. He sent sisters to work in military hospitals and lazarets. In the shelters, the hungry received bread, the homeless found a place to live, the naked were clothed and work was available to the unemployed. A helping hand was extended to everyone, regardless of one’s religion or nationality. While trying to meet the basic needs of the poor, Brother Albert with a fatherly love concerned himself with the spiritual welfare of those to whom he ministered. He instilled within them a proper respect for one’s dignity and brought them to reconciliation with God. Brother Albert drew his strength to fulfill these acts of charity from his love for the Eucharist and for Jesus on the Cross.

Brother Albert

Brother Albert died on Christmas day 1916, in Cracow, in the shelter founded by him, poor among the poor. The legacy he bequeathed to his spiritual brothers and sisters was the complete gift of himself to God in the service of the poor and needy, a life of evangelical poverty according to the example of St. Francis of Assisi, unconditional trust in the Providence of God, prayer and union with God in the work of every day. “You must be as good as bread, which for everyone rests on the table and from which everyone, if hungry, may cut himself a piece for nourishment” is the lesson Brother Albert’s unselfish life teaches us.

The spiritual heritage of Brother Albert was joyfully accepted by the members of his Congregations, who today continue his mission to the poor and needy in Poland as well as other countries of the world.

St. Brother Albert

Recognizing the sanctity of Brother Albert, his contemporaries referred to him as “the greatest person of his time”. Seen as the twentieth century Polish St. Francis, Brother Albert was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1983 in Cracow.

In proclaiming him among the saints on November 12, 1989 in Rome, the Church presents Brother Albert to a world in need of this witness of God’s mercy by one who opened himself to the needs of others, in the spirit of evangelical goodness.

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