Father Stefan Kowalczyk
2 October 2021
Stefan Kowalczyk was born on August 1th, 1897, the child of Wawrzyniec and Joanna Kowalczyk. He graduated from Mikołaj Rej High School in Warsaw. In 1918, he received his leaving certificate and later entered the Metropolitan Higher Seminary in Warsaw. In 1920, together with other seminarians, he decided to join Haller’s Army. At the time reverends, nuns and aspiring priests engaged in the defense of the country mainly as orderlies and chaplains. As an orderly, Stefan Kowalczyk transported wounded soldiers across the Vistula River. In the fall of 1920 a decision was made to disband said transportation system, hence in December Stefan Kowalczyk returned to the seminary. For his participation in the Polish-Soviet War, he was awarded the Haller’s Swords Decoration in April 1925 (awarded by the General Board of the Association of the Adherents of Haller), and later in May 1929 he was awarded the Commemorative Medal for the War of 1918-1921 [Polish: Medal Pamiątkowy za wojnę 1918-1921].
Stefan Kowalczyk was ordained a priest by Bishop Stanislaw Gall (then Field Bishop of the Polish Army) on January 22th, 1923 in St. John’s Archicathedral in Warsaw. After his ordination he was assigned to work at St. Anne’s parish in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. In 1929, Father Kowalczyk became involved in the activities of Catholic Action as well as youth work- he created the Wola branch of the Association of Youth Patrons [Polish: Zrzeszenie Patronów Młodzieży] – a nationwide association of young lay Catholics. In 1929 he became pastor of St. Clement’s Church, one of the four military parishes in Warsaw. It comprised Tarchomin, Praga, Marki, Józefów, Otwock, the garrison of Rembertów and Radzymin. One had to fulfill several conditions to become a priest of a garrison parish: be under 35 years old, be a priest for at least three years, have Polish citizenship, be in good health and have references from the Archdiocese. Thereby, Father Kowalczyk took on duty. In December of 1930, Bishop Gall appointed Father Kowalczyk as the second notary in the newly created Military Ordinariate’s Court. He served in this capacity until the outbreak of Second World War. Three years after his appointment as the notary, the Bishop of Military Ordinariate had been replaced- Father Józef Gawlina took the place of Stanisław Gall, which resulted in the transfer of Stefan Kowalczyk to St. George’s parish in the Warsaw Citadel. Thanks to his activity as a field chaplain, Father Kowalczyk was promoted by President Ignacy Mościcki to the rank of senior chaplain in 1937, which corresponded to the rank of major in the hierarchy of the Polish Army.
In September of 1939, the Second World War broke out. On the night between 6 to 7 September by order of Commander-in-Chief Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigly, Bishop Józef Gawlina left Warsaw and then Poland. Before leaving, he appointed Father Stefan Kowalczyk as Vicar General of the Polish Army. One of the first Father Kowalczyk’s decisions was creating the Civil Chaplaincy Ambulance Service, also known as “the flying chaplaincy”, which consisted in the clergy providing immediate assistance to air raid victims, giving absolution and medical aid. After the capitulation of Warsaw on September 28th, 1939, most of the military chaplains were sent to prisoner-of-war camps to serve as priests. Father Kowalczyk remained in the capital to serve as Vicar General – the only representative of the Military Ordinariate of Poland. Once the Germans entered the capital, Father Kowalczyk was arrested along with other priests and imprisoned in the Pawiak. He was released after a month.
Following the fall of the September campaign, military chaplaincy ceased to operate in an organized form. In the second half of 1940 it was decided to organize underground chaplaincy activities were organized again. Although Father Stefan Kowalczyk was not dismissed from the function of Vicar General of the secret Military Ordinate of Poland, on February 6th, 1942 Bishop Józef Gawlina (who was abroad at the time) appointed Colonel Fr. Tadeusz Jachimowski as Chief Chaplain of the Armed Forces in Poland. For some time there were two centers of power of the military chaplaincy, after which the priest Kowalczyk subordinated himself to Tadeusz Jachimowski. The re-organization of the structures of the Curia began, during which priest Kowalczyk, alias Biblia became dean of the Warsaw District of Home Army. After assuming this function, he was taking oaths from underground soldiers, organized meetings with priests and also prepared courses for chaplains, during which they were given advice on how to behave in case of arrest. Additionally, as the chief chaplain of the Warsaw District of Home Army, he divided it into circuits.
On August 1st, 1944, at 11 a.m. Father Kowalczyk called a briefing in the building on Długa Street, during which he gave the last instructions concerning the chaplains’ service and the time when the Warsaw Uprising would break out. The meeting was attended by 14 chaplains, however, unfortunately priest Tadeusz Jachimowski did not arrive at the appointed place. The Military Chaplaincy Office was located on Jasna Street, it was the first place where Biblia worked during the Warsaw Uprising. Just a week after the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, Father Kowalczyk learned about the execution of Father Tadeusz Jachimowski, the Chief Chaplain of Home Army. As a result, after a consultation with Home Army command, he took over the duties of the Chief Chaplain. Due to the lack of information flow, many chaplains did not reach their appointed areas at first, so the initial task of the new Chief Chaplain was to ensure that every military unit had its own chaplain. On August 11th, at the request of Father Kowalczyk, Commander of the Warsaw District of Home Army- Antoni Chruściel, alias Monter, issued a pastoral ordinance of unification of morning and evening prayers in the units. Chruściel became renowned among his colleagues as a superior who tried to keep direct contact with chaplains from different districts. For this reason, the runner officer Teresa Wilska, alias Bożenka, led Father Kowalczyk to the Warsaw Old Town in mid-August. In addition to said organizational work, Biblia performed all other pastoral tasks. He said holy masses, heard confessions, performed burials and blessed weddings. On September 7th, 1944, the wedding of the famous courier Jan Nowak-Jeziorański and Jadwiga Wolska, alias Greta, took place on 7 Wilcza Street. The wedding was sanctified by Father Kowalczyk. He also tried to care for the faith of the insurgents. In agreement with the Home Army command, he organized prayers to the Holy Mother between the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and at the same time Polish Armed Forces Day (August 15th) and the Feast of Black Madonna of Częstochowa (August 26th). At the end of September Biblia, knowing that the Warsaw Uprising is going to fall, ordered the documents of the Military Ordinariate of Poland to be walled up in the cellar of the burnt house on Koszykowa Street. Shortly before the capitulation, Father Kowalczyk appointed Father Mieczysław Paszkiewicz to be the Vice Ministry Chief and ordered him to remain in Warsaw until all the insurgent units left the capital.
The day after the capitulation of Warsaw, Father Kowalczyk ordered the last briefing of the Home Army chaplains, during which they were assigned to either go to prisoner-of-war camps together with soldiers or remain in the destroyed capital to minister to the civilians. It was agreed then that Biblia, together with four other chaplains, would go to the camps, while the rest of the chaplains received certificates releasing them from the military service, thanks to which they could leave Warsaw together with the civilians. On October 5th, 1944, Father Kowalczyk, together with the Warsaw Uprising command and the insurgents, was transported to Oflag II C Woldenberg along with four other chaplains and then moved to the Stalag XI B Fallingbostel prisoner-of-war camp. At the end of January 1945, the camp was liberated by the Red Army.
After his return to Warsaw, Father Kowalczyk first served as a vicar in the Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph the Spouse on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street (nowadays a seminary church). In 1948, he became a librarian at the seminary located next to the church. He spent the last days of his priesthood as a vicar treasurer in the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Town. Father Stefan Kowalczyk, alias Biblia passed away June 16th, 1957, shortly before his 60th birthday.
Translate: Zuzanna Zapadka
- Stefan Kowalczyk, https://www.1944.pl/powstancze-biogramy/stefan-kowalczyk,23291.html (retrieved: September 24th, 2020)
- Śmierć nie jest końcem – o kapelanach powstania warszawskiego, https://parafia-wojskowa-radom.pl/smierc-nie-jest-koncem-o-kapelanach-powstania-warszawskiego/ (retrieved: September 24th, 2020)
- Organizacja duszpasterstwa wojskowego po ratyfikacji konkordatu z 1925 r., http://archiwum-ordynariat.wp.mil.pl/pl/263_126.html (retrieved: September 24th, 2020)
- Dariusz Chodyniecki, Wojskowa służba kapelańska w czasie II wojny światowej, „Saeculum Christianum: pismo historyczno-społeczne” 5 (1998), nr 2, p. 59-102
- Stanisław Zasada Duch ’44 siła ponad słabością. Duchowi przywódcy Powstania Warszawskiego, Kraków 2018, Wydawnictwo WAM
- „Gdy zaczniemy walczyć miłością…”. Portrety kapelanów powstania warszawskiego, red. Grzegorz Górny i Aleksander Kopaliński, Warszawa 2004.
- Translation of the name “Związek Hallerczyków” into English taken from: Krzysztofory. Zeszyty Naukowe Muzeum Historycznego Miasta Krakowa, red. Anna Biedrzycka, tłum. Michał Szymonik, Kraków: Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa 2018, 36, p. 306, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwi07buwp_DyAhWCjosKHYHWDmwQFnoECAIQAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmuzeumkrakowa.pl%2Fplik-do-pobrania%2F116&usg=AOvVaw0SuAegv-bppzmfmc9UsNQZ (retrieved: September 8th, 2020)