Who was St Andrew Bobola SJ?


Excerpt From The Homily Preached By Pope Piux XI At The Canonisation Of St Andrew Bobola SJ

The life of St. Andrew  Bobola, S.J., (1591-1657)

According to modern hagiography, Andrew Bobola, S.J., did not differ much from other priests or his fellow Jesuits in terms either of pursuing holiness in his daily life or of his missionary zeal. The argument for that is that there was a silence and nobody would remember much about him for 50 years after his death, which happened in 1657.  The history of devotion to him started in 1702, when the martyr appeared in the visions of the Rector of the Jesuit College in Pinsk Fr Martin Godebski, S.J. The rector ordered that the body should be found. They found it after two days of search, totally incorrupt and with a “fine fragrance”, buried in one of the damp crypts of the church. Many people started to visit the martyr in the crypt asking for his intercession, and many miracles happened, including the total protection of the city and its region from plague, famine, and robbing soldiers during the Great Northern War (1700-1721). So what was it like this both exceptional and ordinary life of Andrew Bobola? 

Andrew or Andrzej, was born in Strachocina, southern Poland, in 1591. He went to a Jesuit College in Braniewo. He joined the Society of Jesus in Vilnius, in 1611, and he stayed there until finished all studies. There he also was ordained as a priest in 1622 and made his final vows in St. Casimir Church, in 1630.  Father Bobola would spend most of his apostolate time preaching, hearing confessions, giving cathechesis to the local community. (He would not be given to teach or to supervise at the college, supposedly because of a lack of skills for such duties).  He was appointed to serve the needs of people at St. Casimir Church for twelve years. He also spent 9 years in different polish cities: Plock, Warsaw, Lomza. Every time Father Bobola would start his apostolate, he would do it with a great devotion and obligingness to the people he met. Both youngsters and adults would listen to his word and participate in his pastoral activities for the poor, the sick and prisoners.

The most successful and outstanding mission lead by the zealous father was in the eastern part of Lithuania (present Belarus). There was a unique situation at that time, because of the Union of Brest, which gave the opportunity for the Orthodox Church in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to retain the old liturgy and to join the Roman Catholic Church. To begin with, it was a fruitful process of reunification of the two Christian Churches. But after a few decades the rebellion of unsatisfied Orthodox clergy together with the armed Cossacks, guided by Bogdan Chmielnicky, and of the Orthodox Russians started to grow. Finally it broke into a war of neighbouring Russia against the Commonwealth. Andrew Bobola was martyred under these circumstances.

The dedicated missionary had already started to strengthen the faith of the Catholics while working in Nesvizh, 1622-24, and in Bobruisk, 1630-32. He also spent the final five years before his death in the same eastern part of Lithuania, in Pinsk and its surrounding area. He lead missions, and helped in the parishes. Living with the Orthodox he would try to convince them that the Roman Catholic Church had not changed, after the Great schism of Christianity in 1054, whereas there had been changes in the Eastern Orthodox Church. For that reason Fr. Bobola studied the fathers of the Church: St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Gregory, who were also acknowledged by the Orthodox believers. With these authors it was much easier to explain the role of the unity of one, apostolic, Catholic Church with the supreme authority of Christ’s vicar, the pope. 

Bobola did not only work in the cities, but he would go frequently into the villages, and towns, which were situated in very swamp areas and were difficult to visit. He continued to work this way even when the ravages of the Cassocks began. It is said that just before his death two entire villages returned to the Catholic faith through his preaching. His opponents called him “the soul-hunter”. In 1657, when the Cassocks appeared in the Pinsk region, the resentful Orthodox sent them to chase the missionary.  He was caught in Peredil, and threatened with the purpose of making him deny the catholic faith. Since Bobola remained steadfast in his resolve, they started to ridicule him and to torture:

“The hateful Cossacs tore his skin from his hands and head, and in imitation of chasuble that the priest wears at Mass, they tore the skin from his chest and back. Then in imitation of Jesus’ wounds, they cut holes in the palms of his hands. After two hours of his torture, during which he continually prayed for his tormentors, they jabbed a butcher’s awl into his chest near the heart. They then strung him up by his feet and finally gave him a blow with a sabre that mercifully brought an end to his passion.” (1)

Not only Andrew Bobola, but also other 49 jesuits, other lay Catholics were tortured and killed in that savage time, 1655-1661. He was beatified on the 30th of October, 1853, canonized on the 17th of April, 1938.  Later Bobola was named as a patron of Poland.

(1) St. Andrew Bobola (1591-1657)/ Joseph n. Tylenda, S.J. // Jesuit saints and martyrs,- Loyola University Press, Chicago: 1984. P.135.
The sources:
St. Andrew Bobola (1591-1657)/ Joseph n. Tylenda, S.J. // Jesuit saints and martyrs,- Loyola University Press, Chicago: 1984. P. 133-135.
Šventasis Andrius Bobola (1591-1657) / Simas Sužiedėlis // Laiškai lietuviams, 1957 gruodžio 11, T. 8. Nr. 11. P. 322.
Šv. Andrius Bobola / Liudas Jovaiša // Magnificat. -2013, gegužė. Nr. 5(39). P. 343-347.
Christ‘s unconquered Athlete / David Jones // Novena.- 2015, Spring/Summer. Nr. 11. P. 14-16.


Listen to this excerpt from the homily preached by Pope Piux XI at the Canonisation of St Andrew Bobola SJ