Remembrance, honour and respect

There are many members of the clergy among the “fathers of independence,” regained by Poland in 1918. The most important among them is Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski, Primate of the Kingdom of Poland and member of the Regency Council, which laid the foundations for the institutions of the newly independent state. Poland.pl talks to Dr Waldemar Krzyżewski, author of the book "Aleksander Kakowski. Messenger of Freedom", published by the Museum of Independence in Warsaw.

Members of the Regency Council before intromission, 1917 POLAND.PL: How did Fr. Aleksander Kakowski become an Archbishop?

DR WALDEMAR KRZYŻEWSKI: Aleksander Kakowski was born on February 5 1862 in the village of Dębiny in the Przasnysz district. He was the son of Franciszek and Paulina (née Ossowski) Kakowski, owners of an estate. His father took part in the January Uprising, and was imprisoned in Modlin and Warsaw. Aleksander’s parents made sure he received a good education, sending him to the elementary school in Przasnysz, and then to the gymnasium in Pułtusk, which he completed in 1878. In the same year, he entered the seminary in Warsaw.

Due to his outstanding ability, in his third year Aleksander was sent to the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy. As a prominent student, he was then sent to Rome to study for a doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, which he received in 1885. In May 1886, he was ordained a priest and started his ministry in the parish of Saint Andrew in Warsaw. From 1887, he also taught canon law, grammar, stylistics and Polish literature at the seminary in Warsaw, becoming its rector in 1898. In 1901, he was appointed honorary canon of the Warsaw chapter. In May 1913, he became the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, and his ingress to Warsaw Cathedral took place on September 14 1913. A year later, the Great War broke out and changed Europe, which presented Archbishop Kakowski with huge challenges.

What role did the Archbishop of Warsaw and the Primate of the Kingdom of Poland play in helping his country regain its independence? What influence could a cleric have on political and military events?

The outbreak of the war caught Europeans by surprise, also the Archbishop. He was faced with two great challenges: maintain proper relations with the partitioning powers so that the effects of war would be felt as little as possible by the Polish population, and preserve the moral bearing of Poles. Archbishop Kakowski performed both these tasks very well.

He was against Poles killing other Poles by serving in the armies of foreign states. After the Germans occupied the Kingdom, he also maintained the appearance of good cooperation, and he took part in the announcement ceremony of the Act of  November 5. Taking advantage of the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, he organised the first congress of the Polish Episcopate after a 150-year break caused by the partitions. It was attended by bishops from Krakow, Lwow and Przemyśl from the Austrian partition and the Bishop of Gniezno‑Poznan from the Prussian partition. This was in fact the first step towards uniting Polish lands torn apart by the eighteenth-century partitions. In October 1917, after long discussions with members of the clergy and those involved in politics in the Kingdom of Poland, he joined the Regency Council. His primary concern was the good of Poland and the Church and he refused any payment for his work.

Defending the morality of Poles was no less an important task for Archbishop Kakowski. When, in the summer of 1915, German and Austro-Hungarian troops occupied the Kingdom of Poland, huge problems appeared not only with the enormity of war damage and growing poverty, but also with regard to the collapse in morality among a large part of Polish society. The Archbishop, seeing these problems and wanting to counteract them, sent a special Chaplaincy Letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Warsaw. He placed an emphasis on maintaining the morality of the Polish population throughout the entire period that the war took place in Poland. This was one of the factors that prevented the outbreak of revolution in Poland and had a positive effect on Poland regaining its freedom.

How do you assess the role of the Regency Council in the revival of independent Poland?

The Regency Council was established as a result of the German and Austro-Hungarian authorities announcing the Act on November 5, 1916. Its members included the Archbishop of Warsaw and the Primate of the Kingdom of Poland Aleksander Kakowski, the Mayor of Warsaw Duke Zdzisław Lubomirski and the well-known social activist Count Józef Ostrowski. It was another great step in the process of Poland regaining its independence. The Regency Council existed for only a year, but its effects on Poland were enormous.

It laid the legal and administrative foundations for the rapid rise of independent Poland, and it was thanks to its actions that state administration was expanded. The judiciary and education system were created. The Polish Army was organised by establishing the office of the Chief of the General Staff and conscription was introduced. Thanks to its efforts, the diplomatic service was established, and Polish legislation began to emerge. It was the Regency Council that declared Poland's independence in October 1918. After 100 years, it deserves remembrance, honour and respect.


I can confess with my hand on my heart: I entered the Regency Council in the spirit of sacrifice, out of God's love and love for my Homeland, with the sacrifice of myself and my earthly interests, I entered as the Primate of the Kingdom of Poland, which the Marshal of the Provisional Council of State reminded me of in an official letter. I entered out of a sense of civic duty, to serve the public good. I entered at the moment when the Homeland did not have a legitimate authority, that is, when Russia left, and Germany had not acquired any rights in relation to the Polish nation. When the realists warned us that Russian troops were returning to Poland, although I was convinced that Russia would never come back, I burned the bridges behind me. I entered to extract from the occupiers national and economic achievements. To organise the country torn apart by war, to build the foundations of the state in the most difficult moment for the nation, a world war.

Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski, Memoirs

With Józef Piłsudski before the thanksgiving service for the salvation of Warsaw, 1921 Soon after Poland regained its independence, our country was again in danger. The behaviour of the Primate before and during the Warsaw battle has gone down in legend...

In July and August 1920, when the Bolshevik invasion was nearing the capital, Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski showed great fortitude and steadfastness by remaining at his post. He remained in Warsaw the whole time, raising the fighting spirit and the morale of both soldiers and the civilian population through his posture. This helped quell panic and stopped people fleeing the city en masse, which would have further complicated the difficult situation on the front. On August 8 1920, he led a procession from Warsaw Cathedral to Castle Square, in which thousands of people from Warsaw took part, and on August 18, along with Senior Army Chaplain Stanisław Gall, he left for the front. On August 29 1920, he gave a thanksgiving service for the salvation of Warsaw in the cathedral.

What did Cardinal Kakowski do in independent Poland? What was his position?

Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski was involved in many social and religious projects. In political matters, he tried to remain neutral and not support any side. He was an advocate of building the Temple of Divine Providence as a votive offering for the Third of May Constitution. Thanks to his negotiating abilities, he accelerated the signing of the Concordat between the Holy See and Poland on February 10 1925.

During his 25-year rule of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, the Cardinal devoted a lot of attention not only to spiritual development, but also to the continuous expansion of the Church’s infrastructure. He set up over fifty new parishes, including more than twenty in Warsaw, and took great effort to make sure that new churches were attractive both in terms of architecture and interior design. He paid great attention to the development of spiritual education in the Warsaw diocese, and he contributed greatly to the formation of the Faculty of Theology at the newly founded University of Warsaw.

Aleksander Kakowski held the position of archbishop until his death. The authorities appreciated his contribution to Poland regaining its independence, and on May 2 1922 he was awarded the Great Ribbon of the Order of Polonia Restituta, while in 1925 he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle.

The family of the late cardinal Aleksandra Kakowski at his coffin during the service in the cathedral of St. John. Zofia Grabowska, the Cardinal's niece and the famous Warsaw teacher, in the center. Primate Kakowski died on 30 December 1938 and was eventually buried – according to his wishes – among the poor of Warsaw in Bródno Cemetery. Why did he not join his predecessors in St. John’s Cathedral?

I think that there were two reasons. The first was his innate modesty and respect for working people, which he inherited from his family home. Aleksander Kakowski came from a minor noble family who had lived in Masovia for centuries. The Masovian nobility were enormously patriotic and attached to the Catholic Church and had a great sense of personal honour. They were also very hardworking. An average nobleman had to work on his own land to support his family.

The second reason, I think, was the trauma experienced during the Bolshevik invasion and the constant threat of the spread of communism in the first half of the twentieth century. By asking to be buried in Bródno Cemetery, he wanted to set an example to others, that they should not exalt themselves and show poorer people that everyone is equal in front of God and should be treated equally on earth. The path to happiness on earth comes through faith and work, not through communism.

Recently, Bishop Stanisław Gall – Senior Army Chaplain in 1918-1933 and Cardinal Kakowski’s closest peer – was reburied.

The paths of Aleksander Kakowski and Stanisław Gall were very similar. They studied at the seminary in Warsaw together, and in Rome, and later they worked closely during their episcopal ministry. Bishop Stanisław Gall died during the German occupation, which is why it was impossible for him to be buried in the cathedral. Therefore, I think it is good that the remains of such a distinguished bishop will rest in the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army.

Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski was buried in Bródno Cemetery at his own request. I think that the reasons why the Cardinal made that decision have simply disappeared in present times. People are no longer so poor and communism collapsed so it is no longer a threat to Poland. Maybe it is a good time to move them and place them in the Temple of Divine Providence, of which Cardinal Kakowski was a fervent advocate.




A graduate of the Veterinary Faculty of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences with a PhD degree in veterinary science. In 1989-1990, he was the Mayor of Przasnysz. Since 1978, he has been a member of the Friends of Przasnysz Society. He has initiated the construction of many monuments in Przasnysz and the surrounding area, and he is the owner of a private Veterinary Museum. His published works include: Listy z Syberii (‘Letters from Siberia’, 1994) and Aleksander Kakowski. Posłaniec wolności (‘Aleksander Kakowski. Messenger of Freedom’, 2017). In 2004, he was awarded the Silver Cross of Merit for his services to the local community, and in 2012 he won the Stanisław Ostoja-Kotkowski medal (2012).