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The Manner of Evangelization
Roots – Constant Mission
Our hero came to Warsaw in February 1787 in the company of father Tadeusz Hübl and Emanuel Kuntzmann, as a candidate for a religious brother. After reaching the city, Redemptorists reported to the then apostolic nuncio, Ferdinand Saluzzo. This man, born in Naples, knew not only our Congregation, but also the founder himself, Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. The hierarchy led the Redemptorists to King Stanisław August Poniatowski, a ruler who supported the development of science and art. When Redemptorists told him that they were going to stay in Warsaw only for a while before moving on (as we read in the documents – in Swedish Pomerania or Belarus), Poniatowski suggested that they stay in the capital a while longer, mainly because of the winter, which was very dangerous that year (roads were difficult to pass due to heavy snowfall). For several months of their stay in Warsaw, the religious would look after the brotherhood of Saint Benon. It was an organization founded in the first half of the 17th century by German immigrants, who at that time numbered many. The brotherhood ran an orphanage and a school for the children of burghers of German descent; its members also looked after the church of Saint Benon.
Redemptorists agreed to stay in Warsaw to bring order to the works carried out by the brotherhood that had been struggling with considerable personnel problems, as well as the church, which was quite neglected. Initially, the religious lived and worked at the Jesuit church (the Jesuit order was deleted; today, this place is located near the Warsaw cathedral). Only after a year, after cleaning the apartment, Saint Clement and his companions started to live at the church of Saint Benon.
Clement immediately expanded the statutes of the brotherhood and began to admit children not only from German but also Polish families to the orphanage and school. In one document, he wrote to the Prussian authorities (from 1796 Prussians ruled in Warsaw): “We will not make any differences between the children we take to the orphanage. All they have to do is be poor, abandoned or orphans. ”
The second Redemptorist workplace, of course, was St. Benon’s Church. The religious could not carry out folk missions in Poland at that time, because during the Enlightenment, this type of pastoral work was very reluctantly achieved. For this reason, Clement organized pastoral work in the church of Saint Benon following the example of a constant mission (this form of evangelization was then called). What was that about? Every morning, masses were celebrated (the regulations at the time allowed the Holy Sacrifice to be celebrated only until noon) with sermons in German and Polish, and sometimes in French. In the afternoon, various services were held.
Another type of missionary work in Warsaw was activities aimed at converting Protestants and Jews. The first converts came to the church of Saint Benon very willingly – not because they were attracted by mass or liturgy, but because of the music.
Under Prussian rule in Warsaw, many institutions in which famous artists and singers could perform were closed. So, the Protestants found a place where they could play and sing – it was the church of Saint Benon. During the solemn masses, the attendance of accompanying musicians grew up to fifty people. The liturgies were enriched with arrangements made by the orchestra and the choir. Saint Clement put great emphasis on the fact that the services in the church of Saint Benon were celebrated in a beautiful and most solemn way: he decorated all the altars very richly, and he also tried to ensure that the liturgical service was not only numerous, but also beautifully dressed. The most beautiful holy masses in Warsaw were celebrated – in the opinion of contemporary people – in the church of Saint Benon.
Protestants, attracted by the music and singing to the church of Saint Benon, often later listened to the sermons, which as a result were preached before the masses. Saint Clement noticed that he had non-Catholic listeners, so he tried to explain the truths of the Catholic faith in a clear and understandable way. Later, many of those who came to church to listen to music also went to Saint Clement for theological discussions. These conversations often resulted in conversions.
Saint Clement did not limit himself to discussions with Protestants; sometimes, he also conducted them with Jews living in Warsaw. And in this group there were conversions, although there were slightly fewer than in the case of Reformed Christians.
It is interesting that a professor of Fryderyk Chopin also took part in concerts organized by Redemptorists. In gratitude, he composed two songs that were later performed by musicians in the church of Saint Benon.
Another kind of work, which was very difficult, but very necessary, was to take care of prostitutes, which unfortunately were in great numbers in Warsaw at that time. Poland was the scene of numerous wars, and therefore a lot of girls and women were destitute. Redemptorists tried to help them, also trying to find for them some decent occupation that would allow them to lead an honest life.
The fathers (and especially Saint Clement) wanted to set up a convent in Warsaw for the Congregation of Redemptorists, the female branch of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer. It was to be – in contrast to the existing cloistered order – an active community. The intention of the religious was to establish a religious order whose sisters would largely educate and raise poor girls. This process, of course, was already underway at a school for poor youth run by Redemptorists. It is worth recalling that the school for girls founded by Saint Clement was the first free institution of this type in the history of national education in Poland. Earlier, there were various types of orphanages and private schools, where young women could receive education, but all this required payment of an appropriate fee. Poor families could not afford it, which is why such a training center for girls was very much needed. They taught many subjects: writing, reading, history, geography, mathematics and various professions. Throughout the years of the institution’s existence, about three hundred girls were educated there.
As for the boys’ school, at some time up to four hundred young men studied there. An interesting fact is that two relatives of Stanisław August Poniatowski (they were Andrzej and Stanisław) were educated in there (according to sources) – they were probably the sons of the illegitimate monarch (the king never officially married). Even after abdication and deportation to Grodno in 1795, Poniatowski wrote to Warsaw and asked about the fate of those boys who – as he wrote in his letters – “are educating with Saint Benon”.
Unfortunately, this area of Redemptorist activity, although so important and useful, encountered many enemies who tried their best to destroy the works carried out and even to get rid of the religious from Warsaw. Ultimately, they finally succeeded. In June 1808, Redemptorists were removed from the city and their religious house was closed. A similar fate befell all their enterprises, namely schools and orphanages.
Author: fr. Adam Owczarski CSsR
Translator: fr. Łukasz Drożak CSsR