Mariavite Church

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Map of the Dioceses of the Mariavite Church.

The Mariavite Church was an independent Christian church that emerged from the Catholic Church of Poland at the turn of the 20th century. Initially, it was an internal movement leading to a reform of the Polish clergy.

After a conflict with Polish bishops, it became a separate and independent denomination.

From the 1920s until circa 1935, the denomination was led by Jan Maria Michal Kowalski (who lived 1871-1942).

However, a division in the mid-1930s resulted in two groups:

  • the Mariavite Old Catholic Church, also called Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites, also called the Old Catholic Mariavite Church of Poland
"the Feldman group" (led after 1935 by Philip Feldman, also called Klemens Maria Filip Feldmann)
"the Felicjanow group" (led after 1935 by Kowalski from Felicjanow).

The Mariative Old Catholics ("the Feldman group") were (and still are) very much the larger of the two groups.

After 1935, the leadership of the smaller group, the Catholic Church of the Mariavites ("the Felicjanow group"), remained in the hands of Kowalski, and later in the hands of his widow, Izabela Wilucka (or Wilucka-Kowalski).

The Mariavite Old Catholics ("the Feldman group") are mainly in Poland (about 25,000 members), with about 5,000 members in France.

Membership of the smaller Catholic Church of the Mariavites ("the Felicjanow group") (about 3,000 members) is virtually entirely within Poland.

The larger group, the Mariavite Old Catholic Church of Poland ("the Feldman group"), is a member of the Polish Ecumenical Council, and also of the World Council of Churches. It is not currently a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht.

The smaller group, the Catholic Church of the Mariavites ("the Felicjanow group"), stands away from the ecumenical movement.

Currently, the Mariavite movement in Europe has, in total, around 28,000 members in Poland and 5,000 in France.

Since 2007, Michał Maria Ludwik Jabłoński has been the Prime Bishop of the larger of the two bodies, the Mariavite Old Catholic Church ("the Feldman group").

There is also a Mariavite Old Catholic presence in the United States of America, -- the Mariavite Old Catholic Church - Province of North America. However, this Province is not formally linked with the Mariavite Old Catholics in Poland.


Catholic Church in Poland under Russian Empire[edit]

In the nineteenth century, the territory of Poland was divided among the control of three nations. According to the laws of the Russian Empire, which upheld the Russian Orthodox Church as the established church, Polish Catholic religious organizations were illegal. In this part of Poland, divided among the rule of three competing countries, the situation of the Catholic Church was the worst.

After the January Uprising in 1863, tsarist authorities forbade the establishment of Polish-national organisations, including religious ones. Many cloisters were dissolved. The Catholic clergy in the Russian-dominated area were not well educated, in contrast to the priests in regions occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia. The only theological academy was in Saint Petersburg. The priests were often criticized for their inappropriate behaviour and exploitation of the peasants. The Mariavite movement emerged from this difficult situation.

In 1887 Feliksa Kozłowska established a religious order for women according to the Rule of Saint Clare, based in Plock. Later to be called the Order of the Mariavite Sisters, at the time it was one among many Roman Catholic religious communities. Despite attempts by the Russians to suppress Polish Catholic organizations, they continued. Kozłowska had been in another Roman Catholic order since 1883, one established by the Capuchin friar, Blessed (Father) Honorat Koźmiński.

Revelation of Feliksa Kozłowska – 1893–1903[edit]

In 1893 Kozłowska, also known by her convent name "Maria Franciszka", had her first vision. She was said to found the new religious movement of "Mariavitism" on 2 Aug 1893. It developed after her death into a separate denomination. The name "Mariavite" comes from Latin words: Mariae vitam (imitans), "(following/imitating) the life of Mary." Several visions of Kozłowska between 1893 and 1918 were gathered in 1922 in the volume entitled Dzieło Wielkiego Miłosierdzia (The Work of Great Mercy), the most important religious work for the Mariavites beside the Bible. In her revelation, Kozłowska received an order to fight with the moral decline of the world, especially with the sins of the clergy.

In her first vision, she was told to organize the order of the priests-Mariavites. This order was to promote the renewal of the spiritual life of the clergy. The most important purpose was to spread the perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the cult of the Perpetual Help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In their everyday life, the clergy were to return to the Franciscan tradition of an ascetic life: fasting, modesty and simplicity in clothes and life. They recommended frequent confession and communion for the people. Notably, early adherents of the Mariavite renewal represented the elite of Polish clergy of that time. They were young priests who had finished theology studies at the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy; they were often professors and lecturers at the seminary schools, and held positions as seminary Rectors or as chancery officials.

Attempt to legalize the movement – 1903–1906[edit]

For Kozłowska and the Mariavite priests, the newly established movement was generate internal reform of the Church in Poland. Until 1903 the movement was not officially recognised by the Roman Catholic authorities in divided and occupied Poland. That year the provincials of the Mariavite order presented the texts of the revelations and the history of the movement to the bishops of the dioceses of Płock (where Feliksa Kozłowska lived), Warsaw and Lublin (The latter two were under rule of different nations). While the bishops of Warsaw and Lublin refused to accept the documents, the bishop of Płock did accept them. He started the canonical process for recognition.

The leaders of the movement were interviewed and the documents were sent to the Holy See. One month later a delegation of Mariavites went to Rome to ask the pope to recognise the order. They had to wait for the end of the conclave, during which a new pope would be elected. During this time, they chose Jan Maria Michał Kowalski as the Minister Generalis (Minister General) of the order. At that time, he was considered the most important person of the movement. They presented their case to the newly elected Pope Pius X. In June 1904 another delegation traveled to Rome to express to the Roman Curia the importance of their order's mission.

The final decision was taken by the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in August, one month after the second Mariavite audience. In December 1904, The Vatican ruled against the Mariavites. It said that the revelations of Feliksa Kozłowska were "hallucinations." The Vatican ordered that the movement be dissolved and forbade any further contact between the priests and Kozłowska. Following the decision, the Mariavite community sent another two delegations to the Vatican. The first, including the Mariavite priest Skolimowski, asked the pope to allow them to gather monthly for their spiritual exercises; the second, a delegation of the "Mariavite people" (i.e., people from parishes where the Mariavites served), described the positive value of the Mariavites' work, especially amongst those living in poverty.

In time the Mariavites decided to disregard the orders of the Holy See. But, Kozłowska accepted the decision of the Vatican and cut herself off from contact with the other nuns and priests of the community. In February 1906 the priests' group informed the Vatican that it was separating from the jurisdiction of the Polish bishops, but it asked its case to be adjudicated by Rome. During this time, the bishop of Płock called the Mariavites heretics. This led to instances of anti-Mariavite persecution. Many clerical members of the movement were suspended from their positions.

In their last letter to the Archbishop of Warsaw, in March 1906, the Mariavites asked for the reversal of the decisions that had been made against them. The final answer came from the Vatican: in April 1906, Pope St. Pius X issued the encyclical Tribus circiter (Around three years ago) which sustained the decision of the Holy Office about Sister Feliksa Kozłowska and the Mariavite community. In December 1906, the Church excommunicated Kozłowska and Jan Maria Michael Kowalski, as well as all those who chose to follow them.

Mariavite Church – first period (1906–1921)[edit]

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

In November 1906, the Russian authorities recognized the Mariavite movement as a "tolerated sect." They officially recognized it in 1912 as a separate and independent church. In 1906 there were about 50–60,000 Mariavites in 16 parishes. Five years later, historical sources report 160,000 believers. This increase in the church's numbers may be due to the decision of the bishops to send Mariavite priests into the villages, rather than retaining them as professors, rectors, or chancery officials in urban centers.

The organization of the Mariavite community somewhat resembles Protestant communities, as each member of the congregation has a right to speak about problems. Mariavites were not only active on religious grounds, but they operated many cultural, educational and social activities. They were soon organizing kindergartens, schools, libraries, kitchens for the poor, shops, printing houses, poorhouses, orphanages and factories. Quickly their parishes built many new churches, causing suspicion in the Catholic Church.

In 1911 they finished their main church in Płock, which was called the Sanctuary of Mercy and Charity. They bought 5 km² of land near Płock which they named Felicjanów after Kozłowska. Since 1906, they practiced the liturgy in the vernacular of Polish, rather than in Latin. Separated from the Catholic Church, they desired reintegration into the historic apostolic succession and recognition of their bishop.

They contacted the Old Catholic Church in Utrecht through the efforts of General Kireev. In 1909 the first Mariavite bishop was consecrated to the episcopate in Utrecht, by the Utrecht Union Old Catholic Archbishop Gerardus Gul. In 1919 they officially changed the group's name to the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites.

The death of Feliksa Kowalska in 1921 closed the first era of the Mariavite movement, when the internal reformation movement had changed into the development of a new denomination. This period was the most successful time for the Mariavites. They developed many activities for the believers. Gradually the number of the adherents had decreased; in 1921 there were officially 43,000 Mariavites. They created numerous social institutions, built facilities, founded magazines, and published books having to do with the movement.

Archbishop Kowalski (1921–1935)[edit]

After the death of Kozłowska, Bishop Kowalski (later he identified as the Archbishop) became head of the Mariavite Church. He had been the closest associate of Kozłowska, staying under her strong influence until her death. The respect for "Mateczka" was taken up by Kowalski; quickly he became the only authority of the Mariavites. He initiated several changes within the church to make it more distinct from Roman Catholicism. His innovations were called far-reaching theological and dogmatic Modernism.[citation needed]

The Mariavites' homepage summarizes Kowalski's reforms and innovations:[1]

  • Possibility for a priest to be married (1922–1924);
  • Communion under the two species (1922);
  • The priesthood of women (introduced in 1929, abolished among Old Catholic-Mariavites in January 1935, retained in the Catholic Mariavite Church);
  • Priesthood of the people of God (1930) (seen to relate to similar Protestant concept);
  • Immediate Communion for just-born baptized infants (1930);
  • Removal of the ecclesiastical titles (1930);
  • Suppression of the prerogatives of the clergy (1930);
  • Simplification of the liturgical ceremonies and the rules of Lent (1931–1933); and
  • Reduction of the eucharistic fast.

These innovations were very controversial, not only to the Roman Catholics, but also to many of the Mariavites. The introduction of marriages among priests and nuns (and sometimes between them) (1924) and the priesthood of women (1929) were the most disputed. Kowalski's changes disrupted the connection with the Old Catholics, who were then firmly opposed to the ordination of women. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kowalski was seeking for an ecumenical dialogue with other churches. He proposed union with the Polish National Catholic Church, and worked to deepen contacts with Eastern Orthodox churches and other Eastern-tradition churches. In the early 1930s, he sent letters to Roman Catholic bishops with proposals of reconciliation. None of these attempts succeeded.

The opposition against "the dictatorship" of Archbishop Kowalski arose in the Mariavite Church in the 1930s. In October 1934, the bishops and priests demanded changes to the teachings and rules of administration in the Church, but Kowalski refused to make any changes. In January 1935 the General Chapter of the Mariavite Priests (Synod) decided to remove Kowalski from his position. With his supporters, the Archbishop refused to accept the decision of the General Chapter.

The Church divided. (Kozłowska had prophesied that the Mariavite Church would have a schism, as Christianity had earlier. During this time, nearly 30 percent of believers left the Mariavite Church and converted back to Roman Catholicism.

After the division in 1935[edit]

Archbishop Kowalski withdrew from Płock to Felicjanów with his followers. This village is the headquarters of the Catholic Church of the Mariavites, which has about 3,000 believers. The denomination confirmed all the decisions of Archbishop Kowalski and introduced the public cult of Feliksa Kozłowska, the Mateczka, the Spouse of Christ and new Redemptrix of the world. Its doctrine has moved beyond that originally encouraged by the foundress. The church is insular and does not participate in the ecumenical movement. Archbishop Kowalski died during World War II in the concentration camp at Dachau. His successor was his wife, Bishop Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska. From 1946-2005, the head of the Church was Bishop Józef Maria Rafael Wojciechowski. He was succeeded in 2005 by Bishop Maria Beatrycze Szulgowicz.

Bishop Feldman led the opposition that attracted the majority of Mariavite believers. They decided to reverse most of the innovations which Kowalski had introduced. They returned to Kozłowska's ideas and rules. This branch of the Mariavite Church is now called the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites and is much the larger: it has around 25,000 believers in Poland[2] and 5,000 in France (mostly Paris).

Both churches are struggling with a lack of clergy, as most of the priests are aged and young people have not entered the seminary in sufficient number to replace them. The Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites started many activities in the post-war ecumenical movement. Together with other churches, it has established the Polish Ecumenical Council. It renewed its contacts with other Old Catholic churches.

Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North America[edit]

The third Mariavite group is the Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North America, founded in the United States in 1930 by Polish immigrants and their descendants. It was long under the direction of Mr.Robert R. Zaborowski (1949–2010), and based in Wyandotte, Michigan,having no parishes other than the tiny chapel in the residence in Wyandotte. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Europe correctly contends that it has had no official presence in North America.

The Church in Poland has had no official contacts with this United States church since the death of Bishop Prochniewski. The Province in North America was an autonomous body. Mr.Zaborowski died on 22 November 2010 after a long illness.and was buried as a layman.

Relations between Mariavites and Roman Catholics[edit]

Since the 1970s, the Roman Catholic and Old Catholic Mariavite churches have worked at reconciliation. The Polish bishops apologized for the problems that had engendered the beginnings of the Mariavite movement. Their attitude toward Kozłowska changed; they affirmed that she was a woman of great piety and religiosity. In 1972 the Jesuit priest Stanisław Bajko, the secretary of the Polish Episcopate Commission for Ecumenism, studied the revelations of Kozłowska and concluded that they were not discordant with Roman Catholic doctrine. The Mariavites were pleased that the Holy See recognised as true the revelation of Faustina Kowalska about the Lord's Grace. They said nota bene took place in Płock, which was for the Mariavites a clear sign that God has repeated this message to the people.

The influence of Kozłowska was seen to be too strong; this is why she was the victim of harsh attacks (called often the incarnation of a devil, as in the satiric article "Where the devil cannot go, there he will send a woman" from 1906). Her activities had begun to be criticized by the bishop of Płock as early as 1897. He was concerned that many Mariavites treated her as a living saint. She was treated by Mariavites as a very good and pious person before the condemnation of the pope, but this situation was not unique in Christian history. Archbishop Kowalski characterized her as "the embodyment [sic] of the Holy Spirit on earth" in his writings.[citation needed]

In 1903 the Archbishop of the Warsaw diocese forbade laypeople from observing some otherwise approved devotions of the Roman Catholic rite (e.g. the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Perpetual Help of Our Lady), which were considered most important by the Mariavite faction. He called their devotion to these "excessive" and unnecessary.

As the movement became more visible, it attracted critics. The newspapers were publishing a number of satiric articles and the cabarets were laughing at the Mariavites in their songs and plays.[who?] This led to the more violent acts against the Mariavite churches and chapels. The most difficult year was 1906, when in a few places riots and the murder of Mariavites took place. They were generally connected with the problem of ownership, because in many places Mariavite priests with the majority of believers of the parishes wanted to take over the churches, which in many cases the Mariavite believers had built, while according to the law, they were confiscated and claimed to belong to the Catholic Church.

The Church struggled during the inter-war period after Poland regained its independence. Mariavites were discriminated against, and there were "Mariavite pogroms". In these days the leaders of the Mariavite Church were very often sued in court. Archbishop Kowalski had to appear in front of the tribunal in 20 cases; he was accused of blasphemies against God, the Bible, the Church, and the Sacraments, betrayal of the country (implicit treason), of socialism, communism, theft, frauds, lies, etc. He was blamed for sexual abuses that had taken place in the Płock cloister. In 1931 he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, serving from 1936 to 1938. The press published articles demanding the criminalization of the Mariavite Church.

Because they had been recognized by the Tsarist authorities, the Mariavites were criticized as pro-Russian and pro-socialist. They were suggested to be collaborators with the occupiers. The very early Mariavites became aware of the problems among the workers, and they directed many social activities based on their interpretation of Christianity. For many Poles, "Polishness" was strongly connected with the Roman Catholic faith. Rejection of the faith was equivalent with rejection of nationality.

The history of relations between the Mariavites and Roman Catholics could be divided into two periods. The first was when the Mariavite Church was emerging and forming its institutional shape. This period was full of mutual distrust, suspicions and insults. The worst time was between 1906 and 1911, shortly after separation of the Mariavites, and between 1923 and 1937, when Polish nationalism was ardent.

The second was the post-World War II period, which was affected by two events: the oppression of all churches under decades of Communist rule in Poland, and the changes introduced by Vatican II. Those circumstances led to the opening of dialogue and closer connections between Christian denominations. The progress in ecumenical reconciliation between the Old Catholic Mariavite Church and Catholic Church in Poland is now underway. (However, the Felicjanów denomination rejects any possibility of the rapprochement with Catholics.)

The papal residence and observatory at Castel Gandolfo has been a site of ecumenical activities. In the 1980s, observations at Castel Gandolfo were led by the Rev. Konrad Rudnicki, a Polish astronomer who was also a priest and professor of the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites.

Structure of the Mariavite Churches (Feldman Group)[edit]

Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites[edit]


  • Jan Maria Michał Kowalski (1907–1942)
  • Klemens Maria Filip Feldmann (1935–1942)
  • Roman Maria Jakub Próchniewski (1945–1953)
  • Wacław Maria Bartłomiej Przysiecki (1953–1957)
  • Jan Maria Michał Sitek (1957–1965)
  • Wacław Maria Innocenty Gołębiowski (1965–1972)
  • Stanisław Maria Tymoteusz Kowalski (1972–1997)
  • Ździsław Maria Włodzimierz Jaworski (1997–2007)
  • Michał Maria Ludwik Jabłoński (2007– )


  • three dioceses with 38 parishes:
    • Warsaw-Płock diocese with bishop in Płock
    • Podlasie-Lublin diocese with bishop in Cegłów near Siedlce
    • Silesia-Łódź diocese with bishop in Łódź
    • the French Province since 1988

Catholic Church of the Mariavites (Felicjanów Group)[edit]

Beatrycze Szulgowicz


  • Jan Maria Michał Kowalski (1935–1942 died in Dachau)
  • Antonina Maria Izabella Wiłucka-Kowalska (1940–1946)
  • Józef Maria Rafael Joseph Eugen Wojciechowski (04.10.1949–2005)*
Konsekrator Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 25.11.1956 Felicjanow
at the same day Rafael consecrated Maria Natanael Colacik Felicjanow
  • Beatrycze Szulgowicz (2005– )


  • two custodies with 16 parishes

French area of jurisdiction Mariavite Church[edit]

  • Mgr André Le Bec (1992–)

Order of the Mariavite Church in Germany – exterritorial jurisdiction[edit]

This jurisdiction is not yet recognized by the contemporary leaders of Płock and Felicjanow in spite of one of its past leader's (Archbishop Maas) efforts to unify all sections into one church again by returning the ashes of church founder Kowalski to Płock – which brought back the church's roots to Płock – and by consecrating bishop Józef Maria Rafael Joseph Eugen Wojciechowski – which brought back the apostolic succession to Felicjanow.

Apostolic succession:

consecrated by Jan Maria Michał Kowalski 4 September 1938 Felicjanow, Poland
consecrated by Maria Marc Paulus Fatôme 9 October 1949 Mannheim, Germany
consecrated by Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 31 October 1987 Cologne, Germany
elected as archbishop, coadjutor and successor by Maria Paulus Norbert Maas 8 December 1988

Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North America[edit]

  • Francis Ignatius Maria Boryszewski (1930–1975)

Consecrated by Jacob Maria Roman Prochniewski 2, February, 1930

  • Robert Ronald John Maria Zaborowski (1972–2010)

Apostolic succession[edit]

On 5 October 1909, Gerardus Gul, of the Union of Utrecht consecrated Jan Maria Michal Kowalski.[3] Gul was the Old Catholic archbishop of Utrecht.[3] Gul was assisted at the consecration by Arnold Harris Mathew, JJ Van Thiel, J Demmel and MBP Spit.[3]

Kowalski was consecrator of: Fatome, Feldman, Golebisewski, Prochniewiski, Rostoworowski, Siedleccki, and also of his wife Izabela Wilucka.[3]

There is a line of succession from Gul, to Kowalski, to Fatome, to Naburto, to Fusi (with a parallel path from Fatome to Maas to Fusi), to Marchese, to Hugh George de Willmott Newman.[3] A large number of bishops derive succession via Newman, and therefore can claim succession via Gul and Kowalski.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Peterkiewicz, J. The Third Adam, London: Oxford University Press, 1975. A book which specifically relates to the period following the death of the foundress to the deposition of Kowalski from office in 1935.
  • Pruter, Karl and J. Gordon Melton. The Old Catholic Sourcebook, New York: Garland Publishers, 1983.


  1. ^ mpcaillot. "Old Church Catholic Mariavite". Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  2. ^ C. Salimi-Asl, E. Wrasse and G. Schuch (Ed.), ' 'Die Transformation nationaler Politik : Europäisierungsprozesse in Mitteleuropa, German Council on Foreign Relations, p.242
  3. ^ a b c d e Bain, AM Bishops Irregular - an international directory of Independent Bishops 1985.

External links[edit]