Adam Stefan Sapieha

Prince Adam Stefan Stanisław Bonfatiusz Józef Cardinal Sapieha (14 May 186723 July 1951) was a Polish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. Between 1922 – 1923 the senator of the Second Rzeczpospolita. In 1946, Pope Pius XII created him Cardinal.

Early life

Sapieha was born in 1867 in the castle of Krasiczyn to a family of nobles. He was the youngest of the seven children of Prince Adam Stanisław Sapieha-Kodenski and Princess Jadwiga Klementyna Sanguszko-Lubartowicza.


After graduating from gymnasium in Lwow in 1886, he enrolled himself into the Law Department at the University of Vienna, starting simultaneously Law studies at Institut Catholique in Lille. In 1887 on the basis of his certificate from The University of Vienna Sapieha continued studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After two years (1888) he passed the examination and returned to Vienna for further studies, where he studied till 1890, and obtained the certificate of completion in 1892. In the same year he began theological studies at the University of Innsbruck. And in 1892 he signed up for the third year of seminar studies in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv.

Early vocation

After returning to the home country in 1897, he was designated vice-rector of the clerical seminary in Lwow, of which he was in charge till 1901. He resigned because he was discouraged by the imposed rules of education of the young priests. After a half-year trip across the United States of America, he was designated a vicar of the St. Nicholas congregation in Lwow in October 1902.In 1905 Sapieha was appointed to Rome to be a papal chamberlain, where he was a consultant in the matters concerning the Polish Catholic Church on the territory of annexations. It was the realization of the idea by Lwow Armenian Catholic Archibishop Józef Teodorowicz (who was the Sapieha’s long-term friend) [ Wielki Zapomniany, ks.Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski. [ ks. abp Józef Teodorowicz (1864-1938)] .] , to place the ambassador of the Polish Catholic Church in the Roman Curia.

He was educated at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he was also ordained as priest on 1 October 1893 by Bishop Jan Puzyna de Kosielsko (later Bishop of Kraków and Cardinal). Father Sapieha did pastoral work in the diocese of Lemberg, whose seminary he served as a faculty member for four years until becoming its rector. In October 1895 he started further studies in Rome, where he obtained a doctorate of civil and canon law at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. At the same time he studied diplomacy at the Pontifical Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles. It was very important for Adam Stefan to meet the Vatican circles and Pope Leo XIII himself.


Appointed bishop of the diocese of Kraków on 24 November 1911, Sapieha was consecrated by Pope Pius X in the Sistine Chapel on 7 December of the same year. In 1915 he established a life-saving committee for war-stricken people.After the WWI he was one of the main representatives of Polish Episcopacy objecting to concordat. He reckoned that Polish church should be utterly independent and its primate should be the Archbishop of Warsaw. This attitude led to conflict with Achille Ratti – e.g.: during the first post-war congress of Polish bishops in Gniezno (26-30 August 1919), Sapieha asked Ratti to leave the conference room because as he thought: Polish church wants to adjudge its affairs without foreign influences. Sapieha was not elevated to cardinal by Pius XI, which Ratti had become in 1922.

In 1922, Sapieha was elected senator from the Christian Union of National Unity party. He ordered a memorial service and issued a proclamation about the assassination of Gabriel Narutowicz. It was the only speech he delivered as a senator because he had to subordinate to papal proscription against church hierarchs holding public office. He resigned as senator on 9 March 1923.

Sapieha was appointed archbishop in 1925. He received a degree honoris causa from the Jagiellonian University in 1926. In September 1930, after opposition leaders were arrested and placed in confinement in the prison at Brest Fortress, Archbishops Sapieha and Teodorowicz denounced the government. Sapieha was awarded the White Eagle Order in 1936.

In 1937, Sapieha, who had opposed the Pilsudski regime (sanacja), made the controversial decision to move Piłsudski's body from St. Leonard's Crypt to the Crypt under the Silver Bells, although both crypts are in Wawel's Cathedral [Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Jerzy Jan Lerski, 1996. [ Google Print, page 525] .] [Annual Register, edited by Edmund Burke. [ Google Print, page 202] .]

In 1939 he asked Pope Pius XI to accept his resignation due to his age and health condition. It was declined. After the pope’s death he repeated his request to the new pope, Pius XII on 19 June 1939. In anticipation of the upcoming war and at Józef Beck’s instigation he withdrew his request.

Activities during WWII

During World War II, while Primate August Hlond was in France, Sapieha was defacto head of the Polish church and one of the main leaders of the whole nation. One of the most important organisations that he was part of was the National Council of Welfare, created on the model of Caritas (charity). From the outset of the Nazi occupation, he was an independence activist, collaborating with Polish government-in-exile.

In August 1944, Sapieha was forced to operate the Polish seminary in secret due the Nazi invasion of Kraków. He moved his seminarians (including the future Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła) into his episcopal residence to finish their training.


In March 1945, he initiated the publishing of Tygodnik Powszechny. He was nominated a Cardinal Priest, of the title of "S. Maria Nuova", on 18 February 1946. Later on the same year he conferred priestly ordination to Karol Wojtyła in the chapel of his episcopal residence. Sapieha knew Wojtyła was destined to become a priest when a young Karol delivered a welcoming speech to the archbishop's visit to his school. Some people consider him a mentor of Pope John Paul II [ The Independent, Pope John Paul II. Kołakowski Leszek, 2005. [ The Independent, article on JP II] ] . In 1950, he inspired and took part in writing the letters of protest of Poland's episcopacy to president Bolesław Bierut, that condemned repression and persecution of the church in Poland. In 1949, he nominated a hitherto ordinary of Lublin, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński as primate. Sapieha died on the 23rd of July 1951, and his funeral on the 28th of July turned into a demonstration. He was buried in the Wawel Cathedral, in a crypt under the confession of St. Stanislas.


Sapieha's biographer, Jacek Czajkowski describes the circumstances of the cardinal having been invited by governor Hans Frank to Hitler's birthday party in April 1942. He told a German official: "No! They are not going to change anything, but they will take a photograph of me and write that a Polish bishop arrived at Hitler's birthday party with best wishes. Tell him I will not come." Another such anecdote recalls when governor Hans Frank ordered the cardinal to hand him the keys to the Wawel Castle. Sapieha replied: "But don't you forget to give them back to me when you will be leaving Wawel."

Józef Dużyk, in his article "The Prince of the Church" recalls probably the most significant moments of life under the occupation when cardinal Sapieha served his guest, Governor Frank, brown bread with marmalade on silver plates, saying that the bishops in Kraków have always had silver plates, but for what they eat on those plates, they thank the occupants. A different version of this story is that he told Frank, that bishop eats the same what his people eat.

He died on 23 July 1951, at the age of 84. Cardinal Sapieha is buried in Wawel Cathedral (in Kraków).



*Stępień, Stanisław. "Kardynał Adam Stefan Sapieha Środowisko Rodzinne, Życie i Dzieło". [Przymyśl, 1995]

External links

* [ Catholic Hierarchy]
* [ Piotr Boron - Works: Cardinal Stefan Sapieha]

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