Continuing our series investigating the visit of future Pope John Paul II to a rural Polish community in Central Wisconsin in 1976, we pick-up the thread from our previous post and follow the Polish Cardinal as he visits the first foundation of Felician Sisters in North America.
Besides having a desire to breath the fresh air of rural Wisconsin, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla also came to Portage County to visit a beloved religious order: Zgromadzenie Sióstr św. Feliksa z Kantalicjo (Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, most commonly known as the “Felician Sisters”).
|St. Felix of Cantalice
St. Felix of Cantalice
The Felician Sisters were founded by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska in 1855 in Warsaw, Poland and soon after in 1869 were called to move their motherhouse to Krakow. Blessed Mary Angela had a special devotion to St. Felix of Cantalice, a Capuchin Franciscan who had a particular love and attention to children. St. Felix was a personal friend of St. Philip Neri and led an active-contemplative life teaching children in Rome. Thus, she named her congregation of sisters after St. Felix and began to devote her entire life not only to the forgotten children of Poland, but also the less fortunate and homeless of the city.
Quickly after the founding of the Felician Sisters, they were asked to minister to the needs of rural children throughout Poland. They did this very successfully and were well known for their good work. As a result, it was no surprise when the pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Polonia, Father Joseph Dabrowski, sent a letter to Krakow to invite the Sisters of St. Felix to come and send a few of their sisters from Poland to Central Wisconsin. The sisters accepted the challenge and in 1874 five of them made the arduous journey and became the first Polish religious sisters in the United States. As they left Krakow they were blessed by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, who heartily approved the new mission.
The Sisters quickly got to work and started a Polish school that would attract families from all over Wisconsin and built an orphanage that served homeless children in the region. Thus, the Sisters in Polonia had a direct connection to Krakow and to Blessed Mary Angela.
|Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, as Archbishop of Krakow, knew the Felician Sisters very well and would often visit with them in his home diocese. Not only that, but while in Rome he would ask the Felicians there to drive him to his various appointments whenever he was called to the city.
All of this would lead him to beatify Mary Angela Truszkowska in 1993 after he became Pope John Paul II.
As a result, coming to Central Wisconsin to visit with the first foundation of Felician Sisters in North America was something personal and further confirmed his appreciation of the Felician order. Not only that, but his own affection and love for children remained dear to his heart and the Felician Sisters gave a tangible expression of that in their apostolate.
After visiting with the Felician Sisters, Cardinal Wojtyla prepared himself to give a lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. More on this tomorrow.