A Polish religious sect with pronounced national characteristics. It was founded in 1906 in Warsaw, Poland, by Jan Kowalski, a diocesan priest, and Sister Maria Felicja Kozłowska (1862–1921) of the Third Order Franciscans. It developed out of the community of sisters founded by the latter in Plock in 1888 and the community of secular priests organized at her instigation by Kowalski in 1893. Both groups adopted the Franciscan Rule and aimed at a religious, moral, and social renewal of clergy and people. They stressed the veneration of the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mariae vitam imitantes ). Because of their mystical bent they were not approved by Rome. On Sept. 4, 1904, the Holy Office condemned the community of priests and on Dec. 5, 1906, excommunicated Kozłowska, Kowalski, and 40 priests. As minister general, Kowalski then organized a Mariavite union, which was given recognition as a "religious sect" by the ministry of the interior at St. Petersburg (Nov. 28, 1906). Negotiations with the members of the utrecht schism culminated in the reception of the Mariavites into the old catholics (1909–24) at the Old Catholic Congress held in Vienna in 1909. Kowalski was consecrated bishop Oct. 5, 1909. The Polish Duma recognized the Mariavites as a Christian confession. After the death of Kozłowska, whom Kowalski described in 1922 as the "bride of the Lamb and the espoused wife of Christ," the fanaticism of the Mariavites became more pronounced. This trait was revealed especially by "mystic marriages" between priests and nuns whose children would be conceived without original sin and would be destined to constitute the beginning of a new and sinless humanity. In 1935 Archbishop Kowalski was divested of his offices. A split developed among the Mariavites. A small group, which regarded the monastery of Felicjanów as its main center, continued to adhere to Kowalski. The latter was arrested by the Nazis and died in the concentration camp of Dachau. The great majority of the Mariavites placed themselves under the jurisdiction of Bp. Clemens Philipp Feldmann (1935–45). During World War II the Mariavites were suppressed by the National Socialists. Since 1957 their leader has been Bp. Michał Sitek.
In 1911 there were about 200,000 Mariavites, but by the end of World War II their number was reduced by half. In 1962 the main group comprised 25,000, including 25 priests and about 200 sisters. They were organized into three bishoprics with 41 parishes. The motherhouse of the sisters was located at Płock. The Felicjanów group numbered 5,000, distributed over 22 parishes.
Bibliography: k. algermissen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, j. hofer and k. rahner, eds. (Freiburg 1957–65) 7:55. i. rhode, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 4:752–754; Die Mariaviten: Gestalten und Wege der Kirche im Osten (Ulm 1959). j. grÜndler, Lexikon der christlichen Kirchen und Sekten, 2 v. (Vienna 1961) 2:867–869. c. p. feldmann, Die altkatholische Kirche der Mariaviten (2d ed. Płock 1940), Mariavita (Płock 1962), Jubilee issue. É. appolis, "Une Église des derniers temps: L'Église Mariavite," Archives de sociologie des religions 10 (1965) 51–67.