Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland in English
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.