Adam Bernard Chmielowski was born in the village of Igołomia in Poland on August 20th, 1845. Despite beginning his studies in Puławy at the Farming-Institute in 1862, the 1863 Czarist Invasion led him to join the armed forces.
That same year in October, he was critically wounded resulting in an amputated leg. Adam became a prisoner of war. He was sentenced to exile in Siberia, but he managed to escape. After his release, he resided in Paris, France for one year. Then, he returned to Warsaw and enrolled in the School of Fine Arts. In 1866, the Czar closed this institution causing Adam to travel once more. He found himself studying in Germany at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1874, he returned to Warsaw and was a member moving in prominent circles. Several of his well-known paintings debuted during this time.
Despite his rising success, Adam did not feel satisfied. He believed, “The essence of art is the soul expressing itself in a style.”
Adam’s style received new layers. In 1880, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate. A letter to his friend Helena Modrzejewska captures a glimpse of his newfound interior peace.
As for his former artistry, he wrote, “Art is just a word and nothing more; the creations of art are wholly an inborn manifestation of one’s soul; in plain words, they are our own creations. This is good because it is a natural way of communication and understanding among people. However, if we pride ourselves on our accomplishments and sacrifice everything for them then, although it might be called the cult of art, in reality it is disguised egotism — it is deifying oneself. This is the most foolish and despicable form of idolatry.”
This new realization foreshadowed Adam’s true calling. Not long into his novitiate, he found himself submerged in mental trials. Medicine failed to aid him, so he was forced to leave the Jesuits.
This dark night of the soul did not deter Adam from his vocation. Instead, he was led closer to his calling and embraced St. Francis of Assisi’s austerity joyfully.
Due to threats from the Czarist authorities, Adam found himself continuing his new calling as a Third Order of St. Francis in Kraków. He rekindled old friendships and found himself welcomed.
A final layer was soon added to Adam Chmielowski’s life. He began painting again and divided his apartment to accommodate the homeless.
Eventually, he visited the men’s homeless shelter. The meager rations and living conditions tore at Adam’s heart. He had found his new purpose — to live among the homeless.
After receiving approval from Bishop Dunajewski, Adam decided to take the name of Brother Albert and wore a coarse habit. He immediately left earthly comforts to join the homeless men’s undistinguished world.
His work quickly grew as the conditions in the women’s homeless shelter were worse than the men’s. Knowing that he needed strong and holy women, Brother Albert prayed.
In 1889, Brother Albert met Anna Lubanska and Maria Silukowska. Both women studied and learned the ways of religious life. By 1890, they moved into the Potocki palace’s basement to start their ministry. In 1891, a total of seven women were invested in religious habits and vows. The “Albertine Sisters” had formed.
At Brother Albert’s beatification on June 22nd, 1983, Pope St. John Paul II recalled this saint’s perspective: “I look at Jesus in the Eucharist. Could His love have devised something more beautiful? Since He is Bread, we must be bread…Let us give of ourselves” (Quo, Fr. Kluz OCD, Adam Chmielowski).
Truly, Brother Albert’s life demonstrated that compassion is the highest state of art.
St. Brother Albert was canonized on November 12th, 1989. His work continues on as Albertine Brothers and Sisters assist those in need throughout the world.
His words to his spiritual children are pertinent to this day, especially in the new year:
“Give yourself. Be as good as bread, which is available to everyone to take as much as he needs. May you never be without bread. May you always be as good as bread. May you ever be as sustaining as bread. May you allow others to cut you as bread.”
Finally, “Since He is Bread, we must be bread. . .”
As the National Eucharistic Revival continues into the new year, let this be an anthem in our own spiritual journeys as we daily strive to become more like Christ.