SAINT JÓSEF BILCZEWSKI (1860-1923), bishop
Today, the Church honors Saint Jósef Bilczewski, a faithful servant to the Body of Christ, who fostered a deep devotion to our Lord’s Eucharistic Presence and who felt deeply for the poor and disadvantaged.
The eldest of nine children, Jósef was born in Wilamowice, Austria (modern day Ukraine) on April 26, 1860. After completing high school, Jósef entered the seminary in Kraków, Poland, and was ordained a priest in 1884.
Two years later, he received a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Vienna. Following advanced studies in Rome and Paris, he passed the qualifying exam at the Jaghellonic University of Kraków. The following year he became professor of Dogmatic Theology at the John Casimir University of Leopoli (Lviv) in the Ukraine.
During his tenure at the University, he was appreciated as a professor by his students and also enjoyed the friendship and respect of his colleagues. He tirelessly dedicated himself to scientific work and, despite his young age, acquired renown as a learned individual. His extraordinary intellectual abilities, and his ability to easily relate to others, were recognized by Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, who recommended him for the vacant Metropolitan See of Leopoli.
The Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII responded positively to the Emperor’s proposal, and on December 17, 1900, he named the forty year old Monsignor Jósef Bilczewski as Archbishop of Leopoli of the Latin Rite. Upon taking possession of the archdiocese, he spelled out very clearly his pastoral plan which can be summed up in the words “totally sacrifice oneself for the Holy Church.”
Among other things, he pointed out the need for the development of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament and frequent reception of Holy Communion.
Above all, he took great care to cultivate many holy priestly vocations. He saw the priest as, first and foremost, a teacher of faith and an instrument of Christ, a father for all peoples of all classes. Taking the place of Christ on Earth, the priest was to be the minister of the Sacraments, and, for this reason, his whole heart had to be dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist, in order to be able to nourish the people of God with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
On social issues, he always stood on the side of the people and the poor. He taught that the basis of social life had to be true justice made perfect by Christian love. During World War I, when hearts and souls were overtaken with hate and a lack of appreciation for one another, he pointed out to the people the infinite and unfathomable Love of God, capable of forgiving every type of sin and offense. He reminded them of the need to observe the Commandments of God, and particularly that of brotherly love.
In sickness, Jósef was prepared for death and accepted it with peace and submission as a sign of God’s will, which he always considered sacred, breathing his last on March 20, 1923. Jósef Bilczewski was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 2001, and canonized a saint by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on October 23, 2005 in Rome, Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on March 20.
(From saints.sqpn.com and vatican.va/news_services)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ bishop)
“Lord God, You counted Saint Jósef among Your holy pastors, renowned for faith and love which conquered evil in this world. By the help of his prayers, keep us strong in faith and love and let us come to share his glory.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”