The first Augustinian friars came to Poland in 1342, and settled at Kraków in southern Poland. They had been invited there from Bohemia by a Polish king, Kazimierz the Great. Twenty years later, the same king granted the Augustinians a piece of land for a construction of a church and a monastery in Kazimierz, which was then a new and a separate city next to Kraków.
The official ceremony marking the opening of their newly-constructed Augustinian priory and its the cloister took place on the 28th May 1378. It was dedicated to St Catherine and St Margaret. Because St Catherine is a patron of study, some historians have suggested that the king wanted the Augustinians to form an academic center.
The golden era of Krakow’s Augustinian community was the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A lot of Polish Augustinians at that time attended major intellectual centers of Europe, or studied at the University of Krakow founded in 1364. Some of them became professors of theology. The most popular of them was Isaiah Boner O.S.A., a doctor of theology, who died with a reputation of sainthood about the year of 1470. His fame spread throughout the geographically diverse Province of Bavaria, to which the Polish Augustinians then belonged.
Isaiah Boner was a delegate of the Polish community during some Provincial Chapters of the Province of Bavaria. In 1438, he was elected a Province inspector and in 1452 as Vicar General assisted the Prior General during the Provincial Chapter that was held in Ratisbon, Germany. In recent years, he has been promoted for beatification. One of the key moments for the Polish Augustinians in the sixteenth century happened on 31st December 1547. At that time the Prior General, Jerome Seripando O.S.A., separated the Polish Augustinians from the Province of Bavaria, which had suffered ill effects of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.
The Polish Province was placed under the invocation of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary. It was given all Augustinian houses in Little Poland, Mazowsze and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, totalling twenty-three communities and 260 friars. Feliks from Radom, the Prior of St Catherine’s monastery in Kraków, became the first Provincial of the new Province. In 1583 Provincial Szymon Mniszek O.S.A. founded a congregation of Augustinian Sisters as a female branch of the Augustinian Order in Poland. The Sisters were placed in the neighborhood of the Krakow monastery.
In 1727 the Augustinian friars built them a gothic chapel, which became popularly known as the Hungarian Chapel because its donor was a Hungarian magnate. The end of the eighteenth century and the whole of the nineteenth century was an extremely difficult time for Poland generally. At the end of the eighteenth century Poland lost its independence. The nation was partitioned into three sections, which were occupied by three neighboring countries: Austria, Prussia and Russia. Some Augustinians actively participated in a Polish uprising against this oppression.
In 1864 the Russian government suppressed many of the Augustinian convents in Poland, and separated the remaining houses from the jurisdiction of the Prior General at Rome. The uprising failed. As a result, Augustinians were forbidden to admit any candidates to the Order anywhere in Poland, with the exception of the monastery of St Catherine in Krakow. Eventually in the year 1903, Prior General Thomas Rodriguez O.S.A. attached the last remaining community of the Augustinian friars in Krakow to the Province of Bavaria once again.
With the help of the German friars, the community in Krakow survived, and in 1910 it became an independent administrative unit directly under the jurisdiction of Prior General. After 1918, when Poland regained independence after more than 120 years, the friars centred on Krakow were granted the status of a Vice-Province. A German Augustinian, Fr Gregory Uth O.S.A., was elected the first superior. Solid foundations were laid for the rebuilding of the Augustinian life.
World War II launched by the Nazi Germany in 1939 dramatically interrupted the rebuilding of the Augustinian life in Poland. On the 20th September 1941 Gestapo arrested six friars from the monastery in Krakow, and most of them died in concentration camps. After the War, the terror of the Communist regime tragically affected the remnants of the Augustinian communities in Krakow. The friars opened a school, but were forced to close it in 1947. In 1950 the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Adam Sapieha, ordered an abolition of the two Augustinian monasteries in Krakow.
A new phase of the presence of the Augustinian Order in Poland was opened by Fr William Faix O.S.A., a United States citizen of Polish origin, who on the 14th July 1979 was sent to Poland to re-establish a Province there; his task was successful, and he has now moved to the Augustinian community in Prague. After encouraging growth, the Province of Poland was officially re-established, although at present it operates under a delegate of the Prior General because lacking the numbers constitutionally required for the exercise of a full Provincial structure.
Photos (at right).Picture 1: St Catherine's Augustinian Church, Kraków. Picture 2: Statue of St Catherine in the Kraków church.
Currently, the Augustinian community consists of three houses: two in Krakow (at St Catherine’s, initially founded in 1342, and one in recent years in another suburb), and at one at Lomianki next to Warsaw, initially founded in 1356). The apostolic work of the new province is diversified. The friars lead a parish, teach in school, take care of the English-speaking Catholic community in Warsaw, are engaged in study, take regular pastoral care of handicapped and sick people, etc. Some work for the promotion of vocations, organize regular retreats for youth, and cooperate with the Greek-Catholic Church.
Photo Gallery For the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian Order in Krakow today, click here.
Links The web site of the Polish Province. It contains many photographs. http://www.augustianie.pl/
The Churches of Krakow. St Catherine’s Augustinian Church is included. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_of_Krak%C3%B3w