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Monday, November 11, 2013

Albert Chmielowski

Zawale 1883, Albert Chmielowski (going by the name, Adam, at the time).
Chmielowski's style was crisp, clean, and literal, his palette relatively dark.
Albert Chmielowski, 1886, painted
shortly before entering the
priesthood by Aleksander Gierymski
With the possible exception of the gospel writer and physician, St. Luke, it's rare that a painter becomes a saint. Most are far from it, in fact. Albert Chmielowski (I have no idea how to pronounce that name) was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989. The pope cited St. Albert Chmielowski as having been a seminal influence in his own spiritual growth--an artist and writer who gave up that part of his life to work with the poor. In 1888 Albert Chmielowski founded his own Franciscan brotherhood, known today as the Albertine Brothers. In 1891 along with Maria Jablonska (now St. Bernardina), he co-founded a parallel women's group. Pope John Paul II was intimately familiar with the life and times of his fellow Krakow brother, having written a popular play, Our God's Brother, which later became a movie in 1997.

Girl With Hat, 1874,
Albert Chmielowski

Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski was born on the outskirts of Krakow, Poland, in 1845, at a time when Poland was a part of the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas I. His family was aristocratic and well-to-do. He was the oldest of five children who, early on, lost both their parents. Adam and his brothers and sisters were raised by relatives. Chmielowski originally studied agriculture in college, then became involved in politics, losing a leg in 1863, at the age of eighteen (no anesthesia), as the result of an injury stemming from an anti-tzaris protest. His political activities forced him to leave Poland and settle in Ghent, Belgium, where he began studying engineering. Later, deciding to become an artist, he studied in Paris and Munich. He was able to return to Krakow in 1874 where he became a popular, if not particularly outstanding, artist.

Ecce Homme (Behold, the Man), 1881, Albert Chmielowski
Chmielowski's time away from home and his deep political convictions had changed him. He became conscious of Krakow's enormous population of homeless poor. His paintings, including his most famous, Ecce Homme (above), date from this period. Chmielowski began donating his time and talents as an artist in support of the Catholic church's efforts to alleviate the suffering of these people. Eventually, his volunteer work led to the difficult decision to give up his painting career and to live and work with the struggling poor whose plight he could not ignore. In 1886, Adam Chmielowski became Brother Albert Chmielowski as he donned the coarse, gray habit of the local Franciscan order to become a priest. Within a year he had taken his vows and organized a brotherhood within the order to recruit others in providing direct assistance to the needy suffering. Brother Albert, as he continued to call himself even as a priest, spent the rest of his life in service to God and the homeless. He died on Christmas Day, 1916, at the age of seventy-one.

Saint Brother Albert Chmielowski, 1934, Leon Wyczolkowski

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