Mariavite Church

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Old Catholic Mariavite Church
Mariavite emblem composed of two angels and a monstrance
Mariavite emblem
ClassificationIndependent Catholic
OrientationOld Catholicism
Prime bishopMaria Karol Babi [pl]
AssociationsWorld Council of Churches
Conference of European Churches
Polish Ecumenical Council
RegionPoland and France
HeadquartersPłock, Poland[1]
FounderMaria Franciszka Kozłowska
Płock, Poland
Separated fromRoman Catholic church
SeparationsCatholic Mariavite Church
Congregations44 parishes (2011)[1]
Members23,436 in Poland (2011),[1] about 10,000 (2021) in France
Ministers4 bishops; 25 priests
Other name(s)Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites
Official Edit this at Wikidata

The Mariavite Church is today one of two independent Christian churches collectively known as Mariavites who first emerged from the religious inspiration of a devout Polish noblewoman, Feliksa Kozłowska (1862-1921) in the late 19th-century. Initially, it was a renewal movement seeking reform in Polish Catholicism which in the estimation of sympathisers had become estranged from the original Gospel message, especially the clergy, seen at the time, as often corrupt in its life-style. The movement was an attempt to replicate the simplicity of the life of Mary, in Latin, qui Mariae vitam imitantur, (Let them imitate the Life of Mary), thus vita Mariae, the Life of Mary, gave the movement its name.

After a growing conflict with Polish Catholic bishops, the movement was eventually reported to the Vatican as an attack on the ecclesiastical status quo and became the object of two Papal bulls that resulted in the wholesale excommunication of both clergy and lay adherents of the movement. In the face of excommunication from the Catholic Church, the leaders of the movement sought refuge with the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands which, after negotiations was welcoming and granted both recognition and the hugely important Apostolic succession, which gave it the power to confer holy orders. The "Mariavite Church" therefore became considered as a separate and independent religious denomination in Poland. Throughout its early tribulations with the Rome authorities, it was led by Jan Maria Michał Kowalski until 1935, when he was "deposed" as bishop, and a schism occurred. The church split in two, mainly around the issues of married clergy, the ordination of women and Kowalski's personal stance on sexual behaviour. Henceforth the "Kowalski parishes" formed the Catholic Mariavite Church, and were relegated to the small estate of Felicjanów, named in honour of the foundress. The dissident majority became known as the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites, which, after 1935, was led by bishop Maria Filip Feldman [pl] and remained based in the city of Płock. To this day, by reason of the number of worshippers and parishes, they are the larger of the two churches. After 1935, the leadership of the smaller church grouping, the Catholic Mariavite Church, remained loyal to bishop Kowalski, and later to his widow, bishop Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska.[2]

The Old Catholic Mariavite Church 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. Since 2015, Maria Karol Babi [pl] is the prime bishop of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church. By contrast, the Catholic Mariavite Church currently stands away from the ecumenical movement.

Name changes[edit]

The name of the church was Old Catholic Mariavite Church (Polish: Staro-Katolicki Kościół Mariawitów from 1910, and Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów from 1967).[3][4]


Polish Roman Catholic Church under Russian rule[edit]

From 1795 the territory of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had been partitioned between the three neighbouring powers, Austria-Hungary, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. Under the Russian Empire, where the Russian Orthodox Church was the established church, Polish Catholic religious organizations became illegal. The situation of the Catholic Church was worst in the Russian Partition.

After the 1863 January Uprising, the tsarist authorities forbade the establishment of any new Polish organisations. Religious orders were often banned or exiled. Catholic clergy in the Russian Partition could not be locally educated, in contrast to the priests in the Austrian and Prussian Partitions. The only authorized Roman Catholic theological training in the Russian Empire was at the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy. Catholic priests were often criticized for their inappropriate personal behaviour and exploitation of the peasantry. The Mariavite movement emerged out of this complex situation.

Feliksa Kozłowska, already a member of an order established by Capuchin friar, blessed Honorat Koźmínski since 1883, decided in 1887 covertly to form in Płock a new religious order for women, following the Rule of St. Clare. Later it assumed the name, Order of Mariavite Sisters. It was one of many Roman Catholic religious communities at the time, which survived despite repeated attempts by the Russians to suppress Polish Catholic organizations.

Kozłowska's revelations[edit]

In 1893 Kozłowska had her first religious vision. In it she understood she was to found a new religious movement expressing "Mariavitism". More visions followed until 1918. Their content was gathered in a volume entitled Dzieło Wielkiego Miłosierdzia (The Work of Great Mercy) in 1922 and became the most important religious work for the Mariavites after the Holy Bible. In her revelations, Kozłowska received the instruction to fight the moral decline of the world, especially the sins of the clergy.

In her first vision, she was told to organize an order of Mariavite-priests. This order was to promote the renewal of the spiritual life of the clergy. Its most important purpose was to spread perpetual Eucharistic adoration and devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In their everyday life, the clergy were to return to the Franciscan tenets of an ascetic life: fasting, modesty and simplicity in clothes and life-style. The revelation recommended frequent confession and communion for the people. Early adherents of the Mariavite renewal were members of the educated élite of Polish clergy of the time. They were mostly young priests of noble birth who had completed theological studies at the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy. They were often professors or lecturers in seminaries, or held positions of influence as Rectors or chaplains.

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

The newly established movement was intended to generate internal reform of the church in Poland. Until 1903 the movement had not been recognised by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in divided and occupied Poland. That year, the provincials of the Mariavite order presented the texts of Kozłowska's revelations and a history of the movement to the Bishop Jerzy Józef Szembek [pl] of Płock to the archbishops of Warsaw and of Lublin with the purpose of gaining ecclesiastical approval. While the archbishops of Warsaw and Lublin refused to consider the cause, bishop Szembek, however, took up the cause and initiated a Canonical Inquisition.

The leaders of the movement were interviewed and their documents were sent to the Holy See. One month later a delegation of Mariavites travelled to Rome to ask the Pope to recognise the order. Their cause was delayed by a conclave to elect the next pope. Meanwhile, they elected Kowalski as the Minister Generalis of the order. He was considered the most capable person in the movement. They eventually presented their cause to the newly elected Pope Pius X. In June 1904 another delegation travelled to Rome to emphasise the importance of their order's mission. to the Roman Curia.

A final decision was made by the Congregation of the Inquisition[citation needed] in September 1904,[5] one month after the second Mariavite audience. In December 1904, The Holy See ruled against the Mariavites. It declared the revelations of Kozłowska to be "hallucinations". The Holy See 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 Holy See. 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 "Mariavite people" i.e., people from parishes where Mariavite priests served, described the positive value of the Mariavites' pastoral work, especially amongst those living in poverty.

Kozłowska accepted the decision of the Holy See and cut herself off from contact with the other nuns and priests of the community. The Mariavite priests, however, gradually decided to disregard the orders of the Holy See. In February 1906 the priests' group informed the Holy See that it was separating from the jurisdiction of the Polish bishops, but it asked its cause to be adjudicated by Rome. At this, the bishop of Płock described the Mariavites as heretics. It led to a wave of anti-Mariavite persecution: Many clergy members of the movement were suspended from their positions.

In their last letter to the Archbishop of Warsaw, in March 1906, the Mariavites requested a reversal of the decisions made against them.[citation needed] In April 1906, Pius X promulgated the encyclical Tribus circiter[5] which sustained the decision of the Holy Office about Kozłowska and the Mariavite community.[citation needed] In December 1906, the Catholic Church excommunicated Kozłowska, Kowalski,[5] and all their followers.

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

In a move calculated to snub the Polish Catholic authorities, the Russian government recognized the Mariavite movement as a "tolerated sect" in November 1906, and recognized it as a separate and independent church in 1912. By 1906 there were about 50,000–60,000 adherents organized into 16 parishes. Five years later, historical sources report 160,000 adherents.

The organization of the Mariavite community somewhat resembled Protestant communities, in that each member of the congregation had a right to speak out on issues. Mariavites were not only active in the religious sphere, but they became active in social, educational and cultural projects. They were soon organizing kindergartens, schools, Literacy classes, libraries, kitchens for the poor, shops, printing houses, poorhouses, orphanages factories and animal husbandry. Their parishes soon built new churches and community centres causing dismay in the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1914 they finished their main church in Płock, the Sanctuary of Mercy and Charity. They bought an estate of 5 square kilometres (1.9 sq mi) near Płock which they named Felicjanów after Kozłowska. Another controversial innovation was that from 1906, they celebrated the liturgy in the Polish vernacular, rather than in Latin. Excommunicated by the Catholic Church, they desired reintegration with the historic apostolic succession and recognition of their bishop.

They contacted the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands through the good offices of Russian General Alexander Kireyev. In 1909 the first Mariavite bishop Maria Michał Kowalski was consecrated to the episcopate in Utrecht, by the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands Archbishop Gerardus Gul, assisted by bishops, Jakob van Thiel of Haarlem, Nicholas Spit of Deventer, Josef Demmel of Bonn, and Arnold Mathew from London. In 1919 they officially changed the group's name to the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites.

The first period of the Mariavite movement ended with the death of Kozłowska in 1921. A reform movement changed had transformed into the development of a new denomination. This period was the most successful for the Mariavites. They developed many activities for the adherents. Gradually the number of adherents decreased. In 1921 there were officially 43,000 adherents. They created numerous social institutions, built facilities, founded magazines, and published books relating to their mission.

Archbishop Kowalski (1921–1935)[edit]

Interior of the Płock Temple (1914), designed by Feliks (Maria Mateusz) Szymanowski and Bartołomiej Przysiecki, priests of the church

After Kozłowska died, Kowalski became head of the church. He had been her closest associate, strongly influenced by her vision until her death. The loyalty reserved for Kozłowska was transferred to Kowalski. He became the main authority for the Mariavites. He took several radical initiatives within the church to differentiate it further from Roman Catholicism. His innovations have been described as far-reaching theologically and dogmatically as well as deeply liberalising.[citation needed]

The Mariavites' homepage summarizes Kowalski's reforms and innovations:[6]

  • 1922–1924 - Marriage available for priests
  • 1922: Communion under the two species
  • 1929: the Ordination of women, introduced in the Catholic Mariavite Church (with possibility of marriage)
  • 1929–1935 Ordination of women, abolished in Old Catholic Mariavite Church (one reason for the schism in the church)
  • 1930: Priesthood of the people of God similar to Protestant concept
  • 1930: Eucharist for new-born baptized infants
  • 1930: Removal of ecclesiastical titles
  • 1930: Suppression of prerogatives of the clergy
  • 1931–1933: Simplification of liturgical ceremonies
  • 1931–1933: Simplification of the Lenten sacrifice
  • ?: Reduction of the Eucharistic fast

These innovations were 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) in 1924, and the priesthood of women in 1929, were the most disputed.[citation needed] Kowalski's innovations disrupted the connection with the Old Catholics,[7] 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. Kowalski 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 proposed a reconciliation with the Roman Catholic bishops. None of these attempts succeeded.

The opposition against "the dictatorship" of 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. Kowalski and his supporters 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 turbulent time, nearly 30 percent of adherents left the Mariavite Church and returned to the Roman Catholic Church.

After 1935 schism[edit]

The Kowalski loyalists moved from Płock to Felicjanów. The village is the headquarters of the Catholic Church of the Mariavites, which has about 3,000 members. The denomination confirmed all the decisions of Kowalski and introduced a public cult of 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. Kowalski died in Dachau concentration camp during World War II. His successor was his wife, Bishop Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska. From 1946 to 2005, the head of the church was Bishop Maria Rafael Wojciechowski [pl]. He was succeeded in 2005 by Bishop Maria Beatrycze Szulgowicz [pl].

Feldman led the opposition to Kowalski and attracted the majority of Mariavite adherents. They decided to reverse most of the innovations introduced by Kowalski. They returned to Kozłowska's ideas and rules. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church is much the larger: as of 2011 it had about 23,500 members in Poland,[8] and about 5,000 in France.

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

Vilification of the Church[edit]

Kozłowska's influence was seen as overweening. This along with likely misogyny may be why she was the target of scurrilous attacks, like the trope, the incarnation of the devil, or in a satirical article, "Where the devil dare not go, he will send a woman" (1906). Her activities were criticized by the bishop of Płock as early as 1897. He was concerned that many Mariavites viewed her as a living saint, though most likely saw her as a very good and pious person before the condemnation by the pope, but this situation was not unique in Christian history. Kowalski characterized her as "the embodiment of the Holy Spirit on earth" in his writings.[citation needed]

In 1903 the Archbishop of the Warsaw forbade Roman Catholics in the diocese from observing some otherwise conventionally approved devotions of the Roman Catholic church, i.e. the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and praying for the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which were considered most important by the Mariavites. He called these devotions as "excessive and unnecessary".

As the movement became more visible, it attracted critics. This led to more violent acts against Mariavite churches and chapels. In 1906, there were riots and some Mariavites were murdered. These eruptions of public disorder were generally connected with problems of property rights, because in parishes led by Mariavite priests the majority community wanted to use the churches, which in many cases the Mariavite believers had built themselves, whereas "according to law", they were seen as having been "usurped" from the Catholic Church.

The church struggled during the Second Polish Republic. Mariavites were discriminated against to the extent of "Mariavite pogroms". The leaders of the Mariavite Church were often sued in court. Kowalski appeared in 20 cases. He was accused of blasphemies[9] against God, the Bible, the Catholic 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, which he served from 1936 to 1938. Newspapers published articles demanding the criminalization of the Mariavite Church.

Because of their recognition by the Russian government, 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 to rejection of patriotism.

Relations between Mariavites and Roman Catholics[edit]

The history of relations between the Mariavites and Roman Catholics can be divided into three periods. The first was when the Mariavite Church was emerging as an institution. This period was full of mutual distrust, suspicions and insults. The worst time was between 1906 and 1911, shortly after the excommunication of the Mariavites, and between 1923 and 1937, when Polish nationalism was at its height.

The third was the post–Second World War period, which was affected by two events: the oppression of all churches under decades of Polish anti-religious campaign, and the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council. Those circumstances led to the opening of a dialogue and closer connections between Christian denominations. The progress in ecumenical reconciliation between the Old Catholic Mariavite Church and the Catholic Church in Poland is now underway. However, the Felicjanów denomination rejects any possibility of a rapprochement with Catholics.

Since the 1970s, the Roman Catholic and Old Catholic Mariavite churches have worked on reconciliation. Polish Catholic bishops have apologized for the problems that had dogged the beginnings of the Mariavite movement. Their attitude towards Kozłowska has changed somewhat. They have affirmed that she was a woman of great piety and religiosity. In 1972 the Jesuit priest Stanisław Bajko, secretary to the Polish Episcopal Commission for Ecumenism, studied the revelations of Kozłowska and concluded that they were not incoherent with Roman Catholic doctrine. The Mariavites were pleased that the Holy See has finally recognised as true Kowalska's revelation about the Grace of God.[citation needed]

The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo has been a scene of many ecumenical activities. For instance, in the 1980s, astronomical observations at the Vatican Observatory were led by Konrad Rudnicki, a Polish astronomer, a professor and priest of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church.[10]

Structure of the Mariavite churches[edit]

Old Catholic Mariavite Church[edit]



Dioceses of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Poland

organized into three dioceses in Poland with 38 parishes and one province in France with 2 parishes:

Order of the Mariavites in Germany[edit]

The Order of the Mariavites in Germany (German: Orden der Mariaviten in Deutschland e.V.) is an Eingetragener Verein type association in Germany. Even in 1949, this association was not legally recognized as a sect by Germany.[11] This association is not recognized by either the contemporary Old Catholic Mariavite Church or the Catholic Mariavite Church.

Apostolic succession:

Apostolic succession[edit]

Kowalski was consecrated in St. Gertrude's Cathedral, Utrecht, on 5 October 1909, by Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (OKKN) Archbishop Gerardus Gul of Utrecht, assisted by two OKKN bishops, J. J. van Thiel of Haarlem and N. B. P. Spit of Deventer, one Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany bishop, J. Demmel of Bonn, and Arnold Harris Mathew of London.[12]

Kowalski consecrated: Fatome, Feldman, Gołębiowski, Próchniewiski, Rostoworowski, Siedlecki, and his own wife, Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska.[13]

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

A "third Mariavite group" was 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 Robert R. Zaborowski (1949–2010), and based in Wyandotte, Michigan, having no parishes and only the tiny chapel in his residence in Wyandotte. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Europe correctly contends that it has had no official presence in North America. Zaborowski died on 22 November 2010 after a long illness and was buried as a layman.

  • Próchniewski consecrated Francis Ignatius Maria Boryszewski (1930–1975) on 2, February, 1930
  • Robert Ronald John Maria Zaborowski

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to Der Spiegel in 1949, Maas had impersonated a Catholic priest and occasionally flouted: "It is after all a swindle." Although Maas was investigated by Mannheim police, the prosecutor did not issue an arrest warrant until the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Freiburg pointed out that Maas violated the 1933 Reichskonkordat by wearing Catholic clerical clothing in public. According to Der Spiegel, Maas wanted to become a priest without a theological education, so he forged his Mittlere Reife, Abitur, and certification as a Roman Catholic theologian; he also used two honorary doctorates that he was not entitled to use in Germany.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Poland 2013, p. 44.
  2. ^ Karski 2003, p. 402.
  3. ^ "The Old Catholic Mariavite Church". Płock, Poland: Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Sukcesja Apostolska". (in Polish). Płock, Poland: Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów. Archived from the original on 30 August 2004. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Appolis 1965, p. 53.
  6. ^ "Old Church Catholic Mariavite". Archived from the original on 23 December 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
  7. ^ Brandreth 2007, p. 60.
  8. ^ Poland 2013, pp. 44–45.
  9. ^ Łagosz 2013.
  10. ^ "Zmarł astronom Konrad Rudnicki | Urania - Postępy Astronomii". (in Polish). Toruń, PL: Polskie Towarzystwo Astronomiczne. 2013-11-13. Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2013-11-15.
  11. ^ a b c "Wenn man den Drang in sich spürt". Der Spiegel (in German). No. 52. 1949. pp. 10–11. Archived from the original on 24 October 2015. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  12. ^ Appolis 1965, pp. 58–59; Bain 1985.
  13. ^ Bain 1985.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]