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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Bernardina Maria Jablonska

September 20, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Some people look back on their lives and see how differently things turned out from what they had planned. A professor once told his business students that very few students work in the field they studied in college. If someone had told the young Bernardina Maria Jablonska that she would be the superior of a religious order that spent most of its time ministering to the poor, she would have scoffed at such a suggestion.
In the southeast forested hills of Poland, there is a small village, Pyzuny Lukawica. Amidst the natural beauty of this area so close to the Ukrainian border, Bernardina Maria Jablonska was born on August 5, 1878. Although her parents were not wealthy in worldly terms, they were pious and lived a faithful Catholic life.
Since they were landowners in Lukawica, they were far from any schools, so Bernardina, their only child for many years, was educated in the home by a tutor. So strong-willed was the Jablonskas’ daughter that the tutor was unable to control her and soon resigned.
Bernardina was then educated with a group of children near their home. Bernardina and her mother deeply loved each other and spent much time together, outside of the child’s study time. They would attend daily Mass and make frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament and shrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This peaceful way of life continued for some years until Bernardina’s mother suddenly and unexpectedly died in 1893. Bernardina was devastated by the loss of her mother and changed from a lively teenager to a recluse.
With her mother gone from this world, Bernardina’s devotion and love for the Blessed Virgin Mary became even stronger. Bernardina frequently left her home to spend time in a small chapel in the forest near the Jablonska home. Inside this chapel was a statue of the Immaculate Conception, in front of which Bernardina spent many hours in prayer and contemplation after she placed a bouquet of wildflowers at Mary’s feet.
As she knelt before the image of Mary, she entrusted all of her cares to the Blessed Virgin. Another place of pilgrimage was the church in Lipski where Bernardina had been baptized. Here she spent many hours in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
She also read many religious books, including ones about the lives of the saints. In an effort to imitate the saints, she began to practice many sacrifices and penances. On her walks through the forest, as she enjoyed the natural beauty, she reflected on the lives of the saints and considered entering the religious life.
The more time she sat before the Blessed Sacrament the more she felt our Lord calling her to become a religious. Deep in her soul, in the silence she listened, opening her mind and her heart to God. The nature walks, the prayer before both Jesus and the statue of Mary, and reading the saints led her to love God more and more. She longed to consecrate her life to Christ in a convent.
On June 16, 1896, Bernardina met Friar Albert Chmielowski (1845-1916) and decided that she wanted to join his newly formed Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, Servants of the Poor, also called the Albertine Sisters. She mistakenly believed that they were a contemplative order. Even so, her father was greatly opposed to his daughter entering the religious life.
However, when Bernardina became an adult, she quietly left her father’s home to join the hermitage of the Albertine Sisters in Bruso. When Fr. Albert welcomed her, he asked her why she wanted to join the Albertines and she said it was because she loved Christ so much.
Friar Albert then explained that to love Jesus was not enough; he told her she needed to show her love by works of mercy. The first assignment that he gave to her was work in a hospice for the homeless in Krakow. Bernardina, accustomed to the peaceful forests in the hills, had had only one interaction with the poor — she had given an indigent man some food in exchange for tales of foreign lands.
The shock of city life with its bustling traffic, crowded streets, and constant noise left her greatly disturbed. Instead of a peaceful countryside, she was now surrounded by people who were miserably poor, both physically and spiritually. As the residents of the hospice complained, as the mentally ill patients shouted obscenities and showered her with insults, Bernardina nearly lost her mind.
Rushing to Friar Albert, she poured out her heart about her seeming inability to fulfill his orders. It is just as necessary to serve Christ in these poor souls as it is to love Christ, he told her. Like Christ, they were suffering souls — only Christ knows the depth of His sufferings, the physical torments, the inner torments that He endured for our salvation. As he continued, he told her the height of sanctity was facing the difficult task of ministering to those in need — especially those who are in such desperate circumstances.
The great turning point in this temptation, in her effort to overcome her repugnance, came on Holy Saturday 1899. Friar Albert wrote for her an act of trust in God which she then prayed devoutly, sincerely, and signed it:
“Gift to Jesus Christ, my soul, my mind, and all that I possess. I offer my person, the rigors, inner torments and spiritual sufferings, all the humiliation and contempt, all body pains and diseases. I do not want anything in return either now or after my death, because I do all this for the love of Jesus Christ.”
So great was the change in her attitude, so rapid the progress she made in serving the poor, that Friar Albert appointed her superior general of the Congregation of Albertines when Bernardina was only 24 years old. For the next 38 years, despite much suffering, Bernardina acted as a true mother to her sister Albertines. By the example of her constant prayer life, she led them to a firm foundation in serving those in need.
In 1916 when Friar Albert died, Bernardina led the Albertines and began writing the constitutions according to his ideals. She wrote at night, usually on her knees.
During the day she continued directing the sisters and serving the poor. After Bernardina had worked for ten years on rules for the order, the Church approved those rules, which included poverty — Bernardina believed that was responsible for the dramatic rise in the number of Albertine sisters.
On September 23, 1940, Bernardina died in Krakow, Poland. She was beatified on June 6, 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II. Her memorial is on September 23.
Dear Blessed Bernardina, you followed where the Lord led you, despite your repugnance. In turn He blessed you and your work for the poor. Help us to willingly say to our Lord, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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