Saint Andrew Bobola, Priest SJ and Martyr

Andrew (Andrzej) Bobola was born in 1591 of an old and distinguished Polish family, in the Palatinate of Sandomir, Poland. In 1611, he entered the Jesuit order in Vilnius, Lithuania and was ordained a priest in 1622 and appointed preacher in the Church of St Casimir, Wilno. After making his solemn vows on 2 June, 1630, he became superior at Bobruisk, where he worked wonders by his preaching and was much admired for his devotion during an epidemic of the plague.

In 1636, he began his work in the Lithuanian missions. During this period Poland was being ravaged by Cossacks, Russians, and Tatars, and the Catholic faith became the object of the combined attacks of Protestants and Orthodox. The Jesuits, in particular, suffered greatly.

Andrew first laboured in Vilmius, Lithuania and Warsaw, and later, from 1652, as an itinerant missioner in Eastern Poland. He served for several years as an adviser, preacher, and superior of a community in various places such as Polock, Lithuania, where he was probably stationed in 1655, and also in Pinsk, Lithuania (both now part of Belarus).

Bobola’s success in converting members of the Orthodox church stirred the anger of those in high authority. A Catholic nobleman, Prince Radziwell, offered the Jesuits a house at Pinsk, and here Andrew Bobola was stationed. His opponents tried in every way to hinder him in the exercise of his apostolate, even to extending their persecutions to attacks upon his person.

On 16 May, 1657, he was seized by two Cossacks and severely beaten in the village of Peredil, Lithuania. Tying him to their saddles, they dragged him to Janów, Poland where he was subjected to appalling tortures (amputated limbs, flayed skin, burn wounds, wood slivers driven underneath the fingernails, nose cut off). After having been burned, half strangled, and partly flayed alive, he was released from suffering by a saber stroke.

At the beginning of the 18th century, nobody knew where he had been buried. In 1701, Fr Martin Godebski, rector of the Pinsk college reputedly had a vision of Bobola. This caused Godebski to order a search for his remains. They were found completely incorrupt, and this was widely recognized as a proof of holiness. In 1719, the casket was officially reopened and the body inspected by qualified medical personnel (five physicians and pharmacists). It was still completely incorrupt, the flesh pliable and soft. His body was interred in the collegiate church of the Society at Pinsk, where it became the object of great veneration.

In 1922, Bolsheviks moved the corpse to Moscow, where it was put on display as an object of curiosity (due to its condition) in the Museum of Hygiene of the People’s Commissioners of Health. In May 1924, the holy relic – as a form of ‘payment’ for help during time of famine – was handed over to the Holy See. Since 17 June, 1938, it has been kept in Warsaw.

Declared Blessed by Pope Pius IX on 30 October, 1853, Bobola was canonised by Pope Pius XI on 17 April, 1938. On his feast day in 2002, he was declared a patron saint of Poland and of the Warsaw archdiocese. Andrew is remembered for his outstanding preaching and pastoral zeal.

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