The Mariavite Church is an independent Christian church that emerged from the Catholic Church of Poland at the turn of the 20th century. Initially, it was an internal movement leading to a reform of the Polish clergy, but after a conflict with Polish bishops it became a separate and independent denomination. Currently the Mariavite denominations have around 28,000 members in Poland and 5,000 in France.
The Mariavite Church is one of very few religious movements that developed in Poland or among Polish communities abroad after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The other example is the Polish National Catholic Church that was founded in the United States. The reasons behind the establishment of these two churches are different. The leaders of the Polish National Church fought for the equal treatment of Polish immigrants in the Irish- and German-led Catholic Church in the U.S. of that era. The leaders of Mariavite movement were trying to reform the clergy and Catholic communities spiritually in Poland, which at this time was divided into three countries (see: partitions of Poland). Although at the beginning the Mariavite Church had no connection with Protestantism, there are now what some see as fairly minor commonalities with Protestantism that are more fully discussed below.
Situation of the Catholic Church in Poland under Russian Empire
The history of the Mariavite movement dates back to the second half of the 19th century. In 1887 Feliksa Kozłowska established the religious order for women according to the Rule of Saint Clare. This order would later be called the Order of the Mariavite Sisters, but at the time it was one among many Roman Catholic religious communities. Feliksa had earlier been in another Roman Catholic order since 1883, one established by the Capuchin friar, Blessed (Father) Honorat Koźmiński. All of these religious organizations were illegal according to the laws of the Russian Empire. In this part of Poland, divided between three neighbouring countries, the situation of the Catholic Church was the worst. After the January Uprising in 1863, tsarist authorities forbade the establishment of Polish-national organisations, including religious ones. Many cloisters were dissolved. The Catholic clergy in the Russian-dominated area, in contrast to the priests in regions occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia, was not well educated. The only theological academy was in Saint Petersburg. The priests were often criticized for their inappropriate behaviour and exploitation of the peasants. The Mariavite movement emerged in this difficult situation.
Revelation of Feliksa Kozłowska - 1893-1903
In 1893 Feliksa Kozłowska, also known by her convent name, Maria Franciszka, had her first vision (revelation). The date of 2nd August 1893 is said to be the date of founding of the new religious movement of "Mariavitism", which later became a separate and independent church. The name "Mariavite" comes from Latin words: Mariae vitam (imitans) – '(following/imitating) the life of Mary'. Several visions of Kozłowska between 1893 and 1918 were gathered in 1922 in the volume entitled Dzieło Wielkiego Miłosierdzia – The Work of Great Mercy, which is the most important religious source for the Mariavites beside the Bible. In her revelation Kozłowska received an order to fight with the moral decline of the world, especially with the sins of the clergy. In her first vision she was told to organize the order of the priests-Mariavites. The aim of this order was to promote the renewal of the spiritual life of the clergy. The most important purpose was to spread the perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the cult of the Perpetual Help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In their everyday life they returned to the Franciscan tradition of an ascetic life – fasting, modesty and simplicity in clothes and life. They recommended frequent confession and communion for the people. It has to be underscored that they represented the elite of Polish clergy of that time – they were young priests who had finished theology studies at the Saint Petersburg Clerical Academy; they were often professors and lecturers at the seminary schools, and held positions as seminary Rectors or as chancery officials.
Attempt to legalize the movement - 1903-1906
For Kozłowska and the Mariavite priests the newly established movement was to be a means for an internal reform of the Church in Poland. The initial purpose was not to create a different denomination. Until 1903 the existence of the movement was not officially recognised by the Roman Catholic authorities in divided and occupied Poland. It was in that year that the provincials of the Mariavite order presented the texts of the revelations and the history of the movement to the bishops of the dioceses of Płock (where Feliksa Kozłowska lived), Warsaw and Lublin. While the bishops of Warsaw and Lublin refused to accept the documents, the bishop of Płock did accept them and started the canonical process. The leaders of the movement were interviewed and the documents were sent to the Holy See. One month later a delegation of Mariavites went to Rome to ask the pope to recognise the order. They had to wait, however, for the end of the conclave during which a new pope would be elected. During this time they chose the Minister Generalis (Minister General) of the order – Jan Maria Michał Kowalski, who was then the most important person of the movement. Finally, after waiting two weeks for the end of the conclave, they presented their case to the newly-elected Pope Pius X. In June 1904 another delegation traveled to Rome to express to the Roman Curia the importance of their order's mission.
The final decision was taken by the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in August, one month after the second Mariavite audience. The decision, announced in December 1904, was unfavorable to the Mariavites's cause, calling the alleged revelations of Feliksa Kozłowska "hallucinations." The Vatican ordered that the movement be dissolved and forbade any further contact between the priests and Kozłowska. Following the decision, another two delegations were sent to the Vatican by the Mariavite community. The first, including the Mariavite priest Skolimowski, asked the pope to allow them to gather monthly for their spiritual exercises; the second, a delegation of the "Mariavite people" (i.e., people from parishes where the Mariavites served), described the positive value of the Mariavites' work, especially amongst those living in poverty.
The attitudes of the Mariavites changed over time, which included rebellion from the recommendations of the Holy See. Feliksa, therefore, cut herself off from contact with the other nuns and priests of the community and accepted the decision of the Vatican. In February 1906 the group informed the Vatican that it was separating itself from the jurisdiction of the Polish bishops while still expecting its case to be adjudicated by Rome. It was during this time that the bishop of Płock openly called the Mariavites heretics, which led to instances of anti-Mariavite persecution. Many clerical members of the movement were suspended from their position.
In their last letter to Archbishop of Warsaw, in March 1906, the Mariavites asked for the elimination of all of the decisions that had been made against them. The final answer, though, came from the Vatican: In April 1906, Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Tribus Circiter (Around three years ago) which sustained the decision of the Holy Office about Sister Feliksa Kozłowska and the Mariavite community. Furthermore, in December 1906 Kozłowska and Jan Maria Michael Kowalski were excommunicated as well as all those who chose to follow them.
The Mariavite Church - first period (1906-1921)
The Mariavite movement was legalised by the Russian authorities as a "tolerated sect" in November 1906. Six years later they were officially recognised as a separate and independent church. In 1906 there were about 50-60 thousand Mariavites in 16 parishes. Five years later historical sources mention the number of 160 thousand believers. This increase in the group's numbers may be due to the decision of the bishops to send Mariavites into the villages rather than retaining them as professors, rectors, or chancery officials in urban centers.
The organization of the Mariavite community somewhat resembles Protestant communities, where each member has a right to speak about its problems. Mariavites were not only active on religious grounds, but they operated many cultural, educational and social activities. They were soon organizing their own schools, kindergartens, libraries, kitchens for the poor, shops, printing houses, poorhouses, orphanages and factories. Very quickly they built a lot of new churches, which made the Catholic Church look at them with heightened suspicion. In 1911 they finished their main church in Płock called the Sanctuary of Mercy and Charity. They bought also 5 km² of land near Płock that they named after Kozłowska – Felicjanów. Another thing that took them closer to what Protestant tradition had was the language of the liturgy, which was since 1906 Polish. Separated from the Catholic Church, they desired reintegration into the historic apostolic succession and their own legitimate bishop. They got into contact with the Old Catholic Church in Utrecht through the efforts of General Kireev. In 1909 the first Mariavite bishop was consecrated to the episcopate in Utrecht, by the Utrecht Union Old Catholic Archbishop Gerardus Gul. In 1919 they officially changed the group's name to the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites.
The death of Feliksa Kowalska in 1921 closed the first era of the Mariavite movement, when the internal reformation movement changed, involuntarily at first, into the creation of a new denomination. This period was the most successful time for the Mariavites. They developed a lot of activities for the believers. However, gradually the number of the adherents was decreasing and in 1921 there was officially 43 thousand Mariavites. Nevertheless, the number of institutions they created, the buildings they constructed and magazines and books they published were very impressive.
Under the rules of Archbishop Kowalski (1921-1935)
After the death of its foundress the head of the Mariavite Church became Bishop Kowalski (later he called himself the Archbishop). He was the closest associate of Kozłowska, staying under her strong influence until her death. The respect for "Mateczka" passed on Kowalski and very quickly he became the one and only authority of the Mariavites. He initiated a lot of changes within the church, which aimed to make it differ from Roman Catholicism. His innovations were called far-reaching theological and dogmatical Modernism.
The Mariavites' homepage summarizes Kowalski's reforms and radical innovations as such : *"The possibility for a priest of being married (1922-1924); *The communion under the two species (1922); *The priesthood of women (introduced in 1929, abolished among Old Catholic-Mariavites in January 1935, retained in the Catholic Mariavite Church); *The Protestant concept of the priesthood of the people of God (1930); *Immediate Communion of just-born baptized infants (1930); *The removal of the ecclesiastical titles (1930); *The suppression of the prerogatives of the clergy (1930); *The simplification of the liturgical ceremonies and the rules of Lent (1931-1933); *The reduction of the eucharistic fast."
However, these innovations were very controversial, not only to the Roman Catholics, but also to many of the Mariavites themselves. Introduction of the marriages between priests and nuns (1924) and the priesthood of women (1929) were disputed the most. Kowalski's changes disrupted the contact with the Old Catholics, who were still firmly opposed to the ordination of women. In the 1920s and 1930s Kowalski was searching for an ecumenical dialogue with other churches. He first proposed union with the Polish National Catholic Church, then to deepen contacts with Eastern Orthodox churches and other Eastern-tradition churches. In the early 1930s he sent letters to Roman Catholic bishops with proposals of reconciliation. None of these attempts succeeded.
The opposition against "the dictatorship" of Archbishop Kowalski arose in the Mariavite Church in the 1930s. In October 1934 the bishops and priests demanded changes to the teachings and rules of administration in the Church, but Kowalski refused to make any changes. In January 1935 the General Chapter of the Mariavite Priests (Synod) decided to remove Kowalski from his position. The Archbishop still had some supporters and refused to accept the decision of the General Chapter. It led to the division of the Church that was to be the completion of Kozłowska's prophecy that Mariavite Church was to experience a schism as Christianity had earlier in its history. During this time around 30 percent of believers left the Mariavite Church and converted back to Roman Catholicism.
After the division in 1935
Archbishop Kowalski withdrew from Płock to Felicjanów with his followers. This village is now the headquarters of the Catholic Church of the Mariavites with perhaps under 3,000 believers. This denomination confirmed all the decisions of Archbishop Kowalski and introduced the public cult of Feliksa Kozłowska, the Mateczka, the Spouse of Christ and new Redemptrix of the world. Its doctrine is far removed from the original Roman Catholic doctrine of the foundress. It is more insular and does not take part in the ecumenical movement. Archbishop Kowalski died during World War II in the concentration camp at Dachau. His successor was his wife, Bishop Izabela Wiłucka. Since 1946 the head of this Church has been Bishop Józef Maria Rafael Wojciechowski, who died in March 2005 and was succeeded by Bishopess Maria Beatrycze Szulgowicz.
The opposition led by bishop Feldman gathered the majority of the Mariavites. They decided to remove the greater majority of innovations Kowalski had made while retaining some minor changes and to return to the original ideas and rules from before the death of Kozłowska. This branch of the Mariavite Church is the larger one and has now around 25,000 believers in Poland  and 5,000 in France (mostly Paris). A major problem shared by both churches is the lack of clergy, as the most of the priests are aged. The Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites started many activities in the post-war ecumenical movement. Together with other Churches it has established the Polish Ecumenical Council. It renewed its contacts with other Old Catholic churches.
Relations between Mariavites and Roman Catholics
Since the 1970s one can observe the reconciliation efforts and process between the Roman Catholic and Old Catholic Mariavite churches. The Polish bishops apologized for the problems which had occurred in the beginnings of the Mariavite movement. Also their attitude toward Kozłowska changed and they affirmed she was a woman of great piety and religiosity. In 1972 the Jesuit priest Stanisław Bajko, the secretary of the Polish Episcopate Commission for Ecumenism, made theological research on the revelations of Kozłowska. He did not find any traces of theological discordance with Roman Catholic doctrine. The Mariavites wanted also to use the fact that the Holy See recognised as true the revelation of Faustina Kowalska about the Lord's Grace, and that nota bene took place in Płock, which was for the Mariavites a clear sign that God has repeated this message to the people.
Many commentators[who?] see also a reason for the hostile attitude toward the Mariavite movement in the role that was played by Feliksa Kozłowska. The influence of Kozłowska was seen to be too strong; this is why she was the victim of harsh attacks (called often the incarnation of a devil, as in the satiric article "Where the devil cannot go, there he will send a woman" from 1906). Her activities had begun to be criticized by the bishop of Płock as early as 1897. The strongest point of this accusation was that she was treated by many Mariavites as a living saint. This accusation is not groundless, as she was treated by Mariavites as a very good and pious person even before the condemnation of the pope, but this situation was far from unique in the annals of Christianity. It is also true that her biography was shaped in a hagiographical style by Archbishop Kowalski, when finally he called her the incarnation of the Holy Spirit on earth in his writings.
The first activities against the movement and its development were taken in 1903, after an official presentation of its existence. The Archbishop of the Warsaw diocese had forbidden the observance of some otherwise approved devotions of the Roman Catholic rite (e.g. the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Perpetual Help of Our Lady) that were perceived as the most important for the Mariavite faction, whose devotion to them was found to be "excessive" and unnecessary.
After coming into view the movement was very quickly a target for many attacks. The newspapers were publishing a number of satiric articles and the cabarets were laughing at the Mariavites in their songs and plays.[who?] This led to the more violent acts against the Mariavite churches and chapels. The most difficult year was 1906, when in a few places riots and even the murder of Mariavites took place. They were generally connected with the problem of ownership, because in many places Mariavite priests with the majority of believers of the parishes wanted to take over the churches, which in many cases the Mariavite believers had built, while according to the law applied they were confiscated and claimed to belong to the Catholic Church.
The situation of the Church in inter-war period was still troublesome, especially if we consider the relations with the dominant religious group in Poland (Roman Catholics). Mariavites were still the victims of prejudices. Even some so-called "Mariavite pogroms" happened. In these days the leaders of the Mariavite Church were very often sued in court. Archbishop Kowalski had to appear in front of the tribunal in 20 cases; among them he was accused for blasphemies against God, the Bible, the Church, and the Sacraments, betrayal of the country (implicit treason), of socialism, communism, theft, frauds, lies, etc. In the most important process, he was blamed for sexual abuses that had taken place in the Płock cloister. In 1931 he was found guilty and finally sent for two years to prison between 1936 and 1938. There were many articles in the press demanding the criminalization of the Mariavite Church.
Very often Mariavites were said to be pro-Russian and pro-socialist. Their legalisation by the tsarist authorities was for their accusers an evident proof that they were collaborating with the occupiers. It is true that the very early Mariavites became aware of the problems among the workers and they were directing many social activities. For many Poles, "Polishness" was strongly connected with the Roman Catholic faith. Rejection of the faith was equivalent with rejection of nationality.
The history of relations between the Mariavites and Roman Catholics could be divided into two periods. The first was when the Mariavite Church was emerging and forming its institutional shape. This period was full of mutual distrust, suspicions and insults. The worst time was between 1906 and 1911, shortly after separation of the Mariavites, and between 1923 and 1937, when Polish nationalism was very ardent. The second was the post-war period, which was affected by two events: the difficult situations of all churches in communist Poland and the decisions of Vatican II. Those circumstances led to the opening of dialogue and closer connections between Christian denominations. The progress in ecumenical reconciliation between the Old Catholic Mariavite Church and Catholic Church in Poland is now underway. (However, the Felicjanów denomination stays intransigent and rejects any possibility of the rapprochement with Catholics.)
It should be noted that at the location of the papal residence at Castel Gandalfo where there is located a noted observatory, that little known ecumenical activities have taken place. In the 1980s observations at Castel Gandalfo were led by a Polish astronomer, who at the same time was a priest and professor of the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites, Rev. Konrad Maria Pawel Rudnicki. The late Pope John Paul II – a fact without precedence – allowed Rev. Rudnicki to celebrate the Mariavite Mass in his private chapel.
Mariavite Old Catholic Church - Province of North America
The third currently existing Mariavite faction is the Mariavite Old Catholic Church - Province of North America, presently under the direction of Archbishop Robert R. Zaborowski in Wyandotte, Michigan. However, according to the Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Europe there is no official presence in North America. This information is erroneous and misleading in that the American branch has existed since 1930 and the Church in Poland has had no official contacts since the death of Bishop Prochniewski. The Province in North America is a strong and viable autonomous body.
The Administrative Center of the Mariavite Old Catholic Church - Province of North America is located at 2803 Tenth Street, Wyandotte, Michigan 48192-4994. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Structure of the Mariavite Churches (Feldman Group)
Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites
- Jan Maria Michał Kowalski (1907-1935)
- Klemens Maria Filip Feldmann (1935-1942)
- Roman Maria Jakub Próchniewski (1945-1953)
- Wacław Maria Bartłomiej Przysiecki (1953-1957)
- Jan Maria Michał Sitek (1957-1965)
- Wacław Maria Innocenty Gołębiowski (1965-1972)
- Stanisław Maria Tymoteusz Kowalski (1972-1997)
- Zdzislaw Maria Wlodzimierz Jaworski (1997-2007)
- Michał Maria Ludwik Jabłoński (2007- )
- 3 dioceses with 38 parishes:
Catholic Church of the Mariavites (Felicjanów Group)
- Jan Maria Michał Kowalski (1935-1942 died in Dachau)
- Antonina Maria Izabella Wiłucka-Kowalska (1940-1946)
- Józef Maria Rafael Joseph Eugen Wojciechowski (04.10.1949-2005)*
- Konsekrator Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 25.11.1956 Felicjanow
- at the same day Rafael consecrated Maria Natanael Colacik Felicjanow
- Beatrycze Szulgowicz (2005- )
- two custodies with 16 parishes
French area of jurisdiction Mariavite Church
- Mgr André Le Bec (1992-)
Order of the Mariavite Church in Germany - exterritorial jurisdiction
This jurisdiction is not yet recognized by the contemporary leaders of Płock and Felicjanow in spite of one of its past leader's (Archbishop Maas) efforts to unify all sections into one church again by returning the ashes of church founder Kowalski to Płock - which brought back the church's roots to Płock - and by consecrating bishop Józef Maria Rafael Joseph Eugen Wojciechowski - which brought back the apostolic succession to Felicjanow.
- Maria Marc Paulus Fatome (1938-1951)
- consecrated by Jan Maria Michaeł Kowalski 4 September 1938 Felicjanow, Poland
- Maria Paulus Norbert Maas (1951-1988)
- consecrated by Maria Marc Paulus Fatôme 9 October 1949 Mannheim, Germany
- Norbert Udo Maria Szuwart (1988-
- consecrated by Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 31 October 1987 Cologne, Germany
- elected as archbishop, coadjutor and successor by Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 8 December 1988
Mariavite Old Catholic Church - Province of North America
- Francis Ignatius Maria Boryszewski (1930-1975)
Consecrated by Jacob Maria Roman Prochniewski 2, February, 1930
- Robert Ronald John Maria Zaborowski (1972 - )
Consecrated by Francis Ignatius Maria Boryszewski 28, January, 1972
- Peterkiewicz, J. The Third Adam, London: Oxford University Press, 1975. A book which specifically relates to the period following the death of the foundress to the deposition of Kowalski from office in 1935.
- Pruter, Karl and J. Gordon Melton. The Old Catholic Sourcebook, New York: Garland Publishers, 1983.
- Official site of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church (English, German, Polish)
- The French province of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church
- Site of the Mariavite Catholic Church
- Order of the Mariavite Church in Germany - exterritorial jurisdiction - official site
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 entry on Poland with a mention of the nascent schism of the Mariavites
- ↑ C. Salimi-Asl, E. Wrasse and G. Schuch (Ed.) : Die Transformation nationaler Politik : Europäisierungsprozesse in Mitteleuropa, German Council on Foreign Relations, p.242