Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 1999
Polish innovator close to sainthood
Pope to beatify nobleman who founded women's religious order
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
A wealthy man starting a nursery for peasant children was a "new idea" in the 1800s. Today the idea is no longer new, but worthy of holy honour.
Edmund Bojanowski, founder of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate and the man behind the Catholic-based nursery idea in Poland, will be beatified during Pope John Paul's June 5-17 trip to Poland.
"We have been waiting for this moment for many years," said Sister Angelika Toma, the superior of the order in Edmonton. "We have been praying for it for so long."
Toma and the sisters, who operate a daycare adjacent to Holy Rosary Church, have long praised the work of Bojanowski.
"He was an unusual man especially for that time," said Sister Salome Stadler. "It was not easy for him - he was a nobleman - to establish a congregation like this. It was uncommon for a man like him to give up everything to do this.
"He believed in providence, he trusted God completely."
Bojanowski was born in 1814 in the Polish village of Grabonog. He led a privileged childhood as the son of a property owner. He was an educated man, graduating from the universities of Breslau and Berlin where he studied literature.
He contracted tuberculosis in his 20s, but despite his failing health, he walked the two and a half kilometres to Mass everyday, rain or shine.
A man of wealth, whom many would expect to lavish himself with what money could buy him, Bojanowski instead became a servant of the poor.
He founded a literacy club and opened reading rooms to educate the poor, who were continually oppressed and ill-treated by aristocrats and government officials.
This was soon followed by the opening of a daycare in the northwest region of Poland, which was considered the first of its kind in the area.
The after-effect of the cholera epidemic of 1849 spelled further misery for the already poor health of the people, especially the children, many of whom were orphaned. This was enough of a reason for Bojanowski to open an orphanage, where he assured each child of a home and Christian education.
He also set up a hospital for poor men and women. He shared his time tending to the sick at the orphanages, the hospital and also those confined to their homes in the countryside.
But his focus largely rested on the welfare of peasant children. He envisioned village nurseries, where children would be cared for and educated. He would rely on the village girls to staff the nursery.
The first nursery was opened in 1850 thanks to the help of a local widow who leased half of her property to Bojanowski. The idea of the nursery inspired the commitment of three local young girls to the nursery. They are considered pioneers of the SSMI congregation, initially called Little Servants of the Mother of God.
The order is unrelated to the Ukrainian Catholic Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate who have about 40 sisters in Alberta.
Bojanowski later established a formation house to promote spiritual training of the nursery workers. The leadership of the house was under the care of the Jesuit Fathers from a nearby village.
"He main goal was to take care of the children," Toma said. "He combined the idea to take care of children with taking care of young girls who didn't have a place to go either."
Two years before his death, Bojanowski entered the seminary, with the hope of one day celebrating Mass for the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate. But his illness worsened and he was asked to leave.
Today there are 4,500 SSMI sisters worldwide, seven of whom are based in Edmonton.
The sisters operate a daycare with a capacity of 21 and an ever-growing waiting list. Their new facility, which will hold up to 60 children, will be completed in the fall.
The sisters are also involved in a variety of Church and community services, including hospital visits and Polish language classes.
"The religious aspect is very important (in the daycare)," Toma said. "We try to include religion in everything we do with the children. Children pick up on it very quickly.
"Sometimes it's the children who bring the idea (of religion) to the parents at home. Sometimes when they go to a restaurant, (the children) are the ones who start praying before they eat."
As their founder had done, Toma and the sisters have poured most of their energy into the education and well-being of children.
"Whatever you give them now, they will take with them as they grow," Toma said.
Stadler added, "It's educating their whole society. They go out into the world and give to it what we give them."
Two sisters from the house will go to Poland to attend the beatification Mass. The rest of the sisters will celebrate with a noon Mass June 13 at Holy Rosary Church, 11485-106 St.