Wyszyński, Stefan

views updated


Cardinal, archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, Poland; b. Aug. 3, 1901 in the village of Zuzela on the River Bug (then in the Russian Empire, now in Poland), son of a church organist; d. in Warsaw, May 28, 1981.

Wyszyński's mother died when he was nine, and her last words were taken to mean that Stefan should become a priest, a vocation he remained certain of throughout his young adulthood. After finishing his secondary education at several different schools due to the adverse conditions of World War I, he studied theology and philosophy at the Włocławek Major Seminary and, despite ill-health, was ordained priest August 5, 1926.

After his recovery, he was appointed priest of the Włocławek Cathedral and editor of the diocesan newspaper. From 1925 to 1929, he studied law and Catholic social theory at the Catholic University of Lublin, writing a doctoral thesis on church-state relations and family rights as concerns education. He published prolifically on the subject of Catholic social teachings and their application in concrete social reform throughout the 1930s, and became actively involved in ministry to working-class youths, as well as in supporting the Christian trade union movement.

Targeted for arrest by the Gestapo after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, he spent most of the years of World War II in hiding, during which time he variously ministered to the blind and served as a chaplain to the Polish underground resistance movement.

On March 25, 1946, he was named bishop of Lublin, and consecrated in Częstochowa on May 5 of that year. On Nov. 12, 1948, he was named archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, and Primate of Poland; he was named cardinal of Sancta Maria trans Tiberim by Pius XII on Jan. 12, 1953. It thus fell to him to lead the Polish church through the difficult years in which Poland was subjected to intense Stalinization. Wyszyński prudentially saw that although the church could not compromise its basic independence, it should also avoid, whenever possible, open confrontation with the Communist authorities. This did not stop the regime from imprisoning many priests, nuns, and bishops, or even Wyszyński himself (from Sept. 25, 1953 to Oct. 26, 1956), but it did spare the Polish clergy, already depleted by Nazi persecution, from another potential bloodbath. As a result of the "Polish October" civil disturbances of 1956, he was released from prison by the Communist authorities and appealed for public calm, thus helping to avoid a possible Soviet invasion of Poland.

In the next decade he devoted himself to encouraging the faithful to prepare spiritually for the great celebration marking the 1000th anniversary of Poland baptism in 1966, which, among other things, promoted Poland's strong tradition of Marian devotion, all as a way of strengthening the Polish church in the face of continuing attempts by the authorities to undermine it. He also took part in the Second Vatican Council.

Although in 1980 he proved slow to recognize at first the importance of the Solidarity workers' movement, in the last months of his life he gave it important and judicious moral support. A man of impressive charisma and charity, he was widely mourned at his passing. His case for beatification was begun in 1989.

Bibliography: a. micewski, Cardinal Wyszyński: A Biography (San Diego 1984). Człowiek niezwyklej miary. Ojciec Świety Jan Pawel II o Kardynale Stefanie Wyszyńskim, Kardynał Wyszyński o sobie, Kardynał Józef Glemp o Kardynale Stefanie Wyszyńskim, m. plaskarz, et al, eds. (Warsaw 1984). s. wyszyŃski, A Freedom Within: The Prison Notes of Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński (San Diego 1982); All You Who Labor: Work and the Sanctification of Daily Life. (Manchester, NH, 1985).

[p. radzilowski]

About this article

Wyszyński, Stefan

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article