Feliksa Kozłowska

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The main Mariavite House of Worship, Temple of Mercy and Charity in Płock, Poland

Feliksa Kozłowska (also known as Felicja Kozłowska and Sister Maria Franciszka) (May 27, 1862, Wieliczna - August 23, 1921, Płock) was a Polish religious mystic and visionary who founded what eventually became the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, and, by implication, a dissident group which split from it in 1935, the Catholic Mariavite Church. Both groups had their origin from the Catholic Church, which considered both heretical.

The Mariavites[edit]

Main article: Mariavite Church

Origins[edit]

Already a nun and a leader of religious vocationals, in 1893 Sister Maria Franciszka began to claim that she had experienced a series of religious visions, which would continue intermittently until 1918. The first vision allegedly told her to begin an enhanced battle against the decadent state of the world, beginning with that of the Roman Catholic clergy in Poland. She said that the vision instructed her to form a new clerical order with the primary goal of propagating the Adoration of the Holy Sacrament and the Perpetual Help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sister Maria Franciszka succeeded in recruiting some of the elite of the younger Polish clergy,[citation needed] especially those in the part of Poland then under the rule of the Russian Empire. They became known as "Mariavites" as they allegedly took their inspiration for this effort at greater sanctity from imitation of the life of Mary. This group continued for ten years, and in 1903 decided to attempt to get official recognition, or at least toleration, from the Vatican. Sister Maria's confidant, Father Jan Maria Michał Kowalski led this effort. Sister Maria herself, not wishing to break with the Vatican or to seem in any way to foster heresy, largely stayed out of public view and left the political implications of the movement to others, particularly to Father Kowalski.

Rejection[edit]

As part of the effort to get official sanction from the Catholic hierarchy for the Mariavite movement, the group submitted documentation through the offices of the Bishop of Płock (in whose diocese Feliksa Kozłowska lived) to the Vatican. Father Kowalski led a delegation of Mariavites to the Holy See in 1904, and met with Pope Pius X. Kowalski seems[original research?] to have been promised[by whom?] a high likelihood of success in his quest. He and his fellow Mariavites then experienced deep disappointment when, in December 1904, Sister Maria Franciszka's alleged visions were denounced[by whom?] as mere hallucinations. In April 1906, Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Tribus circiter, which criticized Feliksa Kozłowska; and her followers too received harsh criticism[by whom?] for treating her as a living saint and as the equal to the Blessed Virgin. The final blow came in December, 1906, when the Vatican excommunicated Feliksa Kozłowska and Father Kowalski by name, and their followers as well. This marked the first instance in history of the excommunication of a woman by name as a heretic, as opposed to being excommunicated by virtue of membership in a group deemed to be heretical.

Independence[edit]

In November, 1906, only a month prior to the final break with Rome, the Russian Empire granted the group official toleration in the part of Poland under its control. No doubt cynical motives played a part here[citation needed] – a split in the Polish Catholic Church, the tsarist officials realized, could help foster a split in Polish nationalist aspirations as well. In 1909 the Mariavites, in an attempt to remain in the historic apostolic succession, began contact with the Old Catholic movement of Utrecht. In 1912 they gained full recognition as a legal church in the Russian portion of Poland. They had previously begun work on their own cathedral in Płock which became the Temple of Mercy and Charity. At this point they apparently had as many as 50,000 to 60,000 adherents in sixteen parishes, and grew greatly during World War I, with the movement having perhaps as many as 160,000 adherents around the time of its peak in 1917. In 1918 Sister Maria revealed the contents of her final vision. The group name officially adopted the name Old Catholic Mariavite Church in 1919, two years prior to Sister Maria's death.

After the end of World War I and following the establishment of a new government for a reunited Poland, the group began to suffer open persecution[by whom?], and membership declined, with many Mariavites returning to the Roman Catholic church. This trend accelerated in 1921, when Feliksa Kozłowska died and Jan Maria Michał Kowalski succeeded her as the group's leader. Kowalski published a biography of Feliksa and a compilation of her visions, and tried very much to keep her alive in the minds of followers, and to make her authority over her followers his own. The hagiographic nature of this work and its elevation of Sister Maria to a status seeming co-equal with that of the Blessed Virgin Mary (if not the Holy Spirit) seemed excessive even to many Mariavites, and helped lead to the weakening and eventual split of the movement. Many of the factual details surrounding the life of Sister Maria remain shrouded in myths and legends, some perpetuated by Father Kowalski (who later elevated himself to archbishop of the Mariavites).

See also[edit]