Blessed Honorat of Biała

Capuchin priest (1829-1916)


Honoratus, born Wenceslaw Kozminski, was born at Biala Podlaska on 16thOctober 1829. He received his earliest schooling at home and after completing his primary school studies at Plock he went to Warsaw to study architecture. In 1846 he underwent a religious crisis and emerged from it with the desire to join the Capuchin Order in Warsaw. He did so, and was ordained a priest on 27thDecember 1852. He devoted himself to an intense pastoral activity, founding 26 Religious Institutes, 18 of which still exist today. He was a prolific writer, and was much sought after as a spiritual director and confessor. He died at Nowe Miasto on 16thDecember 1916. He was beatified by St John Paul II on 16thOctober 1988.

The Polish Capuchin Br. Honorat of Biała Podlaska, in the world Wacław Kożmiński, was the founder of seventeen religious congregations that still exist and eight, or possibly ten, that are no more. He was born in Biała Podlaska on 16 October 1829 to Stefan and Aleksandra Kahl. He finished his days at Nowe-Miasto on 16 December 1916.

At home he received a fine Christian formation. After completing primary school in his home town he attended grammar school in Plock. In 1845 he enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Influenced by Enlightenment currents and an atheistic environment he lost the faith. In 1846, suspected of belonging to a political organisation, he was jailed in Warsaw by the Tsarist police. Here he contracted typhus and lived under the constant fear of capital punishment until 27 March 1847 when, against all odds, he was released. Finally he returned to the faith on the Feastday of the Assumption (15 August 1846).

After battling with himself for having to leave his infirm mother, on 21 December 1848 he entered the Capuchin novitiate at Lubartów. Finally he was ordained priest on 27 December 1852. He was professor of sacred eloquence and theology for the Capuchin cleric students, penitentiary of converted heretics, provincial Definitor, guardian in the friary of Warsaw for a year. For the twenty years between 1895 and 1916, he was general commissary of the Capuchins under Russian domination.

Above all he was a preacher and gifted spiritual directed since the early days of his priesthood when, in the years 1854 to 1864 we find him busy preaching continuously in the churches of Warsaw. Given the task of the direction of Franciscan tertiaries, he did not limit himself only to promote their devotional life, but sought to involve them in energetic social and charitable works. At this time he met Sofia Truszkowska (Blessed Angela Maria)  was her spiritual guide and took care of the so called “living rosary.” Far from being satisfied with forming groups of men and women dedicated to the recitation of the rosary, he enthused them to undertake a vast charitable activity.

After the insurrection against the Russians in January 1863 and its disastrous outcome, and with religious Orders condemned to extinction, Br. Honorat was first confined to the friary of Zakroczym where he remained until 1892. Then  he went to the friary of Nowe-Miasto.

BLESSED HONORAT OF BIAŁAHe sought to save the Catholic faith and patriotic spirit of his people in the face of Tsarist persecution that sought to separate the Church in Poland from the Church in Rome, and have it part of the Orthodox Church. The means he chose to accomplish this bold plan were devotion to Our Lady and the Franciscan Third Order where, with the permission of the Minister General of the Capuchins, he carried out radical reform.

Civil law forbad apostolic work and the reception of novices, thus condemning religious to extinction. And so anyone who wished to become a religious was obliged to leave the country to do so.  Br. Honorat always advised against expatriation to those who asked his counsel. Instead he proposed that they live the evangelical counsels in the spirit of the Franciscan Third Order, and so continue to lead a hidden and ostensibly ordinary life, without habit, friary or convent. In the meantime the person prayed and studied the gospel from which to draw spirit and so lead a form of religious life.

His model was the Holy Family of Nazareth. Central is the hidden life which he strove to foster in the world and prescribe in precise terms in all the constitutions and directories that he lay down for the institutes that he founded. The hidden life for him is not just a contingent requisite imposed by the socio-political conditions in Poland at the time. Rather he recognised it as a gospel principle. He wrote, “These congregations observe a life hidden from the eyes of the world. This mode of religious life is not suggested only by motives of prudence or necessity, but from the commitment to imitate the hidden life of the Virgin Mary. This form of life is not subject to happenings in external social and political circumstances. Each person chooses it because it is desirable in itself, since it allows greater glory for God, as well easier spiritual progress and a surer salvation.”

Numerous institutes took shape within his confessional at Zakroczym. Each of these institutes had to reach a particular group: intellectuals, the young, office workers, factory workers, domestic workers, children, the sick, artisans, farmers; in places and with activities that could benefit one’s neighbour and influence a vast circle of people such as in taverns, restaurants, bookshops, libraries, schools, tailors or other shops.

To spread the influence of the apostolate of his religious, he wanted each congregation to be formed by three different categories of members. The first category was composed of religious living in common and who had the task of accepting and directing the others. Religious in temporary vows constituted the second category while living with their families or in small groups. They are the ‘units’ (units for men and units for women). They were the more dynamic element of each congregation and had more opportunity to influence others with their active apostolate and example. The third category, finally, included tertiaries involved in a particular way in apostolic collaboration.

All these religious lived in secular dress and their way of life was confirmed by the Holy See with the Decree Ecclesia catholica of 21 June 1889. Thanks both to particular circumstances and the insight that a great modern apostle had into the signs of the times, a dozen or so “secular” institutes rightfully and actually found their place in the Church, institutes for which Br. Honorat is considered the forerunner.

The experiment, however, was short lived because as a consequence to recriminations and accusations 1907 saw restrictions imposed the “novelty” of the religious life begun by Br. Honorat beyond the traditional canonical categories. These restrictions resulted in the abolition of the ‘units.’

The elderly founder did not fail to defend the form of life and religious apostolate that he had initiated so well and which was necessitated by particular historical and socio-political circumstances. He wrote of the souls who came to him. He wanted to make of them an “army of confessors of the faith, who could resolutely oppose scorn from the world, while silent and hidden, giving a radical and committed Christian witness everywhere.”

He had always enjoined on his religious to write nothing but to surround their identities with absolute silence. To them he gave this testimony about their life: “These ardent souls generate around themselves a charitable moral atmosphere not only among their personal individual contacts but also in groups and the masses. It is recognised that wherever persons with a good spirit are found, even if they do not do anything in particular, they make their salutary presence felt.”

BLESSED HONORAT OF BIAŁAIn 1916, a few days before his death, with dramatically prophetic words he insisted on the necessity to surround religious life with the absolute reserve and to live it clandestinely: “I beg you not to want to show yourselves as religious because the freedom we enjoy now is temporary. Times of great difficulty will return … Be constant in this kind of life since you have been called to this. Only with this will you acquire the treasures of divine grace. Only with this can you work so fruitfully for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

When in 1905 he was no longer able to receive people in the confessional because of illness and deafness, Br. Honorat applied himself to work at the desk. He composed a substantial correspondence with his spiritual children. His hand-written letters, almost four thousand of them, are conserved in twelve volumes in the Vice-postulation archive in Warsaw. Many of his sermons, about a thousand, are also kept in the same archive, along with a vast assortment of other works, mostly hand written, that he had been composing since his young days. These treat of such matters as aesthetics, Mariology, hagiography, history, homiletics, the Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis and the constitutions of different congregations, Polish translations and various other subjects. Worthy of mention is his immense work Who is Mary. In fifty two tomes and seventy six volumes it is an authentic Marian encyclopaedia. Only the first volume was ever published, in two different editions. His Spiritual Diary is also interesting for a knowledge of Br. Honorat’s spiritual life and apostolic commitment. In it we read, “Since the first moment when I entered the Order I have followed this project: to make known to people the love of God.” Of his nearly one hundred works, forty one still have not been published.

Considered a holy man Br. Honorat died on 16 December 1916 at eighty seven years of age. He was buried in the crypt of the friary at Nowe-Miasto. After their identification his remains were transfered to the church above the crypt on 10 December 1975. Finally John Paul II proclaimed him blessed on 16 October 1988.

Translation based on the article by Mariano d’Alatri in Sulle orme dei santi, 2000, p. 255-262

From the Works of Blessed Honoratus: Discourse for the Solemnity of All Saints

(Anthology of the writings of Honoratus Kozminski, part I, Warsaw 1981, p. 206-207)

All the Saints followed the Way of the Cross

No saint ever went to heaven on a bed of roses, laughing and cheerful and crowned with earthly joy. All of them followed a “Via Crucis”, with a crown of thorns on their heads, working and toiling amid a thousand afflictions. Certainly they were happy, because they had been touched by divine grace and enjoyed moments of celestial joy, sensing the presence of Christ crucified at their side, feeling Him bearing the weight of the cross with them, warming them with the warmth of His heart and, through the mist, they caught a glimpse of the glory and the blessedness, the joy unconfined that lay ahead. Good fortune was not the lot that they enjoyed on earth, in fact they kept their distance from it, they scorned it, and fled from it when it pursued them. They trembled before it far more than before the cross, towards which they stretched out their hands as to a safe harbour.

Once they had chosen the way of the cross, they never wished to abandon it. And God was generous in assigning crosses for them to bear, since He knows full well the value of suffering. When our divine Saviour once spoke to the disciples about the shameful death awaiting Him, Saint Peter, in an outpouring of love and with sorrow in his heart, rejected the very thought that the Master should suffer and protested: “Lord, this must never happen to you”. But the Lord turned to Peter and said: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s” (Mt 16: 22‐23). A person who thinks in God’s way does not refuse the cross or complain about it, knowing that it is the only hope, the only way to reach heaven, the sole means to holiness, the source of every grace, the way to acquire the highest degree of heavenly glory. Satan deludes his victims with worldly happiness, offers them a poisoned chalice of fleeting pleasures. God on the other hand offers the cross, which is the storehouse of unnumbered treasures and joys of the spirit and everlasting bliss. This is why the saints were happy to embrace it and never wished to be separated from It. They lived with the cross, they died with the cross, indeed they lived and died on it.

Pains and battles, temptations and moments of spiritual dryness, persecutions, hunger, and want and every kind of adversity were their daily bread. Through desert sands, under the scorching sun, across rocks and crags, ambushed by the enemy, and braving a thousand other dangers they were ever intent upon God, ever persevering and faithful, never stopping, never falling back, without complaining to God when the abundance of temporal consolations was withdrawn; never regretting their chosen way, always serene, trusting, courageous and fearless.

The saints, who bore these afflictions before us, are now rejoicing. God has wiped away their tears and relieved their sufferings, He has invested them with the martyr’s palm and the crown of glory. He has now shown himself to them, face to face; all those tears are now so many jewels on their royal robes, on their crowns of beauty. And why? Because they persevered. The Lord Jesus said: “You are the ones who have stood by me faithfully in my trials, and now I confer a kingdom on you”.

Perseverance is the grace among graces, it is everything, it is the most important value. Without it, all those holy deeds would have led to nothing; without it, every effort is in vain. In order to persevere, two things are necessary above all else: a robust and lively faith, and the capacity to act as faith dictates.


O God,
you willed to give to your priest, Blessed Honoratus,
a spirit of tender love for souls
to reconcile them with you.
Through his intercession
may we taste the sweetness of your forgiveness
and be joined with you in perfect charity.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.