Saint of the Day – 20 December – Blessed Michal Piaszczynski (1885-1940) Priest and Martyr, Poet, Writer, Lecturer, Apostle of the poor – born on 1 November 1885 at Lomza, Podlaskie, Poland and died on 18 December 1940 in the prison camp in Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, Oberhavel, Germany of starvation and illness related to the concentration camp conditions. He was Beatified as one of the 108 Martyrs of World War II and thus has a secondary feast on 12 June as part of this group.
Michal Piaszczynski was born in Lomza, Poland, the son of Ferdinand and Anna Zientara. In 1903 after graduating from high school, he entered the seminary in Sejny. After being ordained a Deacon, he was sent for further specialised studies to the Catholic Clergy Academy in St Petersburg. The Spiritual Academies – theological colleges – were created as a result of Russian repression after the fall of the November Uprising of 1830-1831 and the liquidation of Polish universities. Their task was to be to attempt to re-educate the Polish Catholic clergy of the Russian partition.
And there, on 13 June 1911 in the academic chapel, he was Ordained a Priest at the hands the Servant of God, Bishop Jan Feliks Cieplak, a defiant priest, many times punished by the Russian authorities for preaching patriotic sermons and participation in national demonstrations and later – during Soviet Russia – arrested twice and in 1923 sentenced at a demonstration trial to the death penalty for ” inciting a rebellion through superstition .”
In 1912 he graduated with a master’s degree in Holy Theology …
He was briefly the first Parish Priest of St Mary Magdalene in Mikaszówka. For a short time – but long enough to be remembered by the village as a church and community builder … Michał left Mikaszówka and in 1914, after two years in Freiburg, he obtained doctorates in philosophy and literature.
At the beginning of the First World War, Fr Michal was visiting Italy. From there, at the request of Polish emigrants he went to France, where for four years he was a chaplain of miners, a priest of the Polish-French parish and a prefect of schools. At that time, he visited Polish colonies and prisoner-of-war camps of Poles in France (in the mining regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais with the capital in Lille, Lorraine and Picardy) – they were Poles mainly from the German partition, conscripted into the German army, participating in the trench warfare and taken prisoner by Franco-British troops …
“He was known here in the colony in France and was highly respected by all Poles who today, (in 1946) remember and honour him for his holiness and goodness. He assisted the poor and visited the sick. In a word, a holy priest…” (the letter by Jerez-Chojnacka, representatives of the Polish mission in France).
After the end of hostilities, he returned in 1919 to the reborn Commonwealth, to his hometown of Łomża. He threw himself into the teaching work … He became a lecturer and then a vice-director (from 1935), newly opened in 1919 at the Major Seminary in Lomza. He invited Jewish rabbis to him, thus becoming a promoter of religious dialogue with Jews. He addressed them with the term “elder brothers in the faith,” which made him a kind of precursor (though not the only one) of the significant movement of St John Paul II. Blessed Michal was also a teacher in various schools and Chaplain of a Hospital and Confessor of the Benedictine Sisters in the Abbey of Of the Holy Trinity.
When the Second World War broke out and the Germans took possession of Blessed Michal’s area, they immediately proceeded to round up the Catholic Priests. As part of the planned policy of extermination of the Polish clergy and intelligentsia, about 80% of the clergy from areas directly connected to the German Reich – found themselves in German concentration camps. Most of them lost their lives, as did 15% of Polish teachers, 30% of technicians, 40% of university professors, 45% of doctors and dentists, and 57% of lawyers …
Fr Michal was arrested on 7 April 1940 and was moved to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on 3 May 1940.
During his detention, he comforted everyone. In the evenings, he prayed with them and gave short homilies and lectures. His deep love for God was also reflected in his attitude towards his fellow man – he helped the weak in camp work and assisted them on their way to the assembly ground.
One day, when the head of the camp, took their daily ration of bread, from the Jews, Fr Michal, who once said at the table, that he would like to eat his fill at least once more in his life, offered his portion of bread to a Jewish lawyer from Warsaw named Kott. At that time, the Jew would say: “You Catholics believe that there is a living Christ in your churches. I believe that there is a living Christ in this bread, He who told you to share it with me,” recalled Fr Kazimierz Aleksander Hamerszmit.
Blessed Michal went to the Lord, emaciated, starved, sick, suffering from numerous complaints related to the conditions under which he lived – deprived of medical care – on 18 December 1940.
He was beatified by St John Paul II in Warsaw, 13 June 1999, in the group of 108 Polish martyrs of World War II.