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The Mariavite Church was an independent Christian church that emerged from the Catholic Church of Poland at the turn of the 20th century. Initially, it was an internal movement leading to a reform of the Polish clergy. After a conflict with Polish bishops, it became a separate and independent religious denomination. The denomination was led by Jan Maria Michał Kowalski from the 1920s until 1935 when Kowalski was deposed and a schism resulted in two groups. The Mariavite Old Catholic Church, also called Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites and Old Catholic Mariavite Church of Poland was led after 1935 by Maria Filip Feldman [pl] in Płock; the Catholic Church of the Mariavites was led after 1935 by Kowalski in Felicjanow. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church was, and still is, the larger of the two groups.

Old Catholic Mariavite Church
Mariavite emblem composed of two angels and a monstrance
Mariavite emblem
ClassificationIndependent Catholic
OrientationOld Catholicism
Prime bishopMaria Karol Babi [pl]
AssociationsWorld Council of Churches
Conference of European Churches
Polish Ecumenical Council
RegionPoland and France
HeadquartersPłock, Poland[1]
Płock, Vistula Land
Separated fromLatin Church of the
Catholic Church
SeparationsCatholic Mariavite Church
Congregations44 parishes (2011)[1]
Members23,436 (2011)[1]
Ministers4 bishops; 25 priests
Other name(s)Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites
Official Edit this at Wikidata

After 1935, the leadership of the smaller group, the Catholic Mariavite Church remained in the hands of Kowalski, and later in the hands of his widow, Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church is a member of the Polish Ecumenical Council, and also of the World Council of Churches. It is not currently a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. The Catholic Mariavite Church stands away from the ecumenical movement. Since 2015, Maria Karol Babi [pl] is the prime bishop of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church.



The term Mariavite comes from Latin phrase qui Mariae vitam imitantur "who imitate the life of Mary".[2] The name of the church is Old Catholic Mariavite Church (Polish: Staro-Katolicki Kościół Mariawitów from 1910, and Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów from 1967).[3][4]


Catholic Church in Poland under Russian EmpireEdit

In the 19th century, the territory of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was divided among the control of three nations. According to the laws of the Russian Empire, which upheld the Russian Orthodox Church as the established church, Polish Catholic religious organizations were illegal. The situation of the Catholic Church was the worst in the Russian Partition.

After the January Uprising in 1863, tsarist authorities forbade the establishment of Polish-national organisations, including religious ones. Many cloisters were dissolved. The Catholic clergy in the Russian Partition were not well educated, in contrast to the priests in the Austrian Partition and Prussian Partition. The only authorized Roman Catholic theological academy in the Russian Empire was the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy. The priests were often criticized for their inappropriate behaviour and exploitation of the peasants. The Mariavite movement emerged in this difficult situation.

In 1887 Feliksa Kozłowska established a religious order for women following the Rule of St. Clare in Płock. Later to be called the Order of the Mariavite Sisters, at the time it was one among many Roman Catholic religious communities. Despite attempts by the Russians to suppress Polish Catholic organizations, they continued. Kozłowska had been in another Roman Catholic order since 1883, one established by Capuchin friar Honorat Koźmiński [pl].

Kozłowska revelationsEdit

In 1893 Kozłowska had her first vision. She was said to found the new religious movement of "Mariavitism" on 2 Aug 1893. Kozłowska received several visions between 1893 and 1918 that were gathered in 1922 in the volume entitled Dzieło Wielkiego Miłosierdzia (The Work of Great Mercy), the most important religious work for the Mariavites beside the Bible. In her revelation, Kozłowska received an order to fight with the moral decline of the world, especially with the sins of the clergy.

In her first vision, she was told to organize an order of the priests-Mariavites. This order was to promote the renewal of the spiritual life of the clergy. The most important purpose was to spread the perpetual Eucharistic adoration and the cult of the Perpetual Help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In their everyday life, the clergy were to return to the Franciscan tradition of an ascetic life: fasting, modesty and simplicity in clothes and life. They recommended frequent confession and communion for the people. Notably, early adherents of the Mariavite renewal represented the elite of Polish clergy of that time. They were young priests who had completed theology studies at the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy; they were often professors and lecturers at the seminary schools, and held positions as seminary Rectors or as chancery officials.

Attempt to legalize the movement – 1903–1906Edit

For Kozłowska and the Mariavite priests, the newly established movement was generate internal reform of the church in Poland. Until 1903 the movement was not recognised by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in divided and occupied Poland. That year the provincials of the Mariavite order presented the texts of Kozłowska's revelations and a history of the movement to the local ordinary, Bishop Jerzy Józef Szembek [pl] of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Płock, and to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Warsaw and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lublin. While the bishops of Warsaw and Lublin refused to accept the case, Szembek accepted the case and started a canonical investigation.

The leaders of the movement were interviewed and the documents were sent to the Holy See. One month later a delegation of Mariavites traveled to Rome to ask the pope to recognise the order. They had to wait for the end of the conclave, during which a new pope would be elected. During this time, they chose Kowalski as the Minister Generalis of the order. At that time, he was considered the most important person of the movement. They presented their case to the newly elected Pope Pius X. In June 1904 another delegation traveled to Rome to express to the Roman Curia the importance of their order's mission.

The final decision was made by the Congregation of the Inquisition[citation needed] in September 1904,[5] one month after the second Mariavite audience. In December 1904, The Holy See ruled against the Mariavites. It said that the revelations of Kozłowska were "hallucinations". The Holy See ordered that the movement be dissolved and forbade any further contact between the priests and Kozłowska. Following the decision, the Mariavite community sent another two delegations to the Holy See. The first, including the Mariavite priest Skolimowski, asked the pope to allow them to gather monthly for their spiritual exercises; the second, a delegation of the "Mariavite people" (i.e., people from parishes where the Mariavites served), described the positive value of the Mariavites' work, especially amongst those living in poverty.

In time the Mariavites decided to disregard the orders of the Holy See. But, Kozłowska accepted the decision of the Holy See and cut herself off from contact with the other nuns and priests of the community. In February 1906 the priests' group informed the Holy See that it was separating from the jurisdiction of the Polish bishops, but it asked its case to be adjudicated by Rome. During this time, the bishop of Płock called the Mariavites heretics. This led to instances of anti-Mariavite persecution. Many clerical members of the movement were suspended from their positions.

In their last letter to the Archbishop of Warsaw, in March 1906, the Mariavites asked for the reversal of the decisions that had been made against them.[citation needed] In April 1906, Pius X promulgated the encyclical Tribus circiter[5] which sustained the decision of the Holy Office about Kozłowska and the Mariavite community.[citation needed] In December 1906, the Catholic Church excommunicated Kozłowska, Kowalski,[5] and all their followers.

Mariavite Church – first period (1906–1921)Edit

The main Mariavite House of Worship, Temple of Mercy and Charity in Płock, Poland.

The Russian government recognized the Mariavite movement as a "tolerated sect" in November 1906, and recognized it as a separate and independent church in 1912. In 1906 there were about 50,000–60,000 adherents organized into 16 parishes. Five years later, historical sources report 160,000 believers.

The organization of the Mariavite community somewhat resembles Protestant communities, as each member of the congregation has a right to speak about problems. Mariavites were not only active on religious grounds, but they operated many cultural, educational and social activities. They were soon organizing kindergartens, schools, libraries, kitchens for the poor, shops, printing houses, poorhouses, orphanages and factories. Quickly their parishes built many new churches, causing suspicion in the Catholic Church.

In 1911 they finished their main church in Płock, which was called the Sanctuary of Mercy and Charity. They bought 5 square kilometres (1.9 sq mi) of land near Płock which they named Felicjanów after Kozłowska. Since 1906, they practiced the liturgy in the vernacular of Polish, rather than in Latin. Excommunicated from the Catholic Church, they desired reintegration into the historic apostolic succession and recognition of their bishop.

They contacted the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands through Russian General Alexander Kireev. In 1909 the first Mariavite bishop was consecrated to the episcopate in Utrecht, by the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands Archbishop Gerardus Gul. In 1919 they officially changed the group's name to the Old Catholic Church of the Mariavites.

The first period of the Mariavite movement ended when Kowalska died in 1921, and the internal reformation movement changed into the development of a new denomination. This period was the most successful time for the Mariavites. They developed many activities for the adherents. Gradually the number of adherents decreased; in 1921 there were officially 43,000 adherents. They created numerous social institutions, built facilities, founded magazines, and published books having to do with the movement.

Archbishop Kowalski (1921–1935)Edit

After Kozłowska died, Kowalski became head of the church. He had been the closest associate of Kozłowska, staying under her strong influence until her death. The respect for Kozłowska was taken up by Kowalski; quickly he became the only authority of the Mariavites. He initiated several changes within the church to make it more distinct from Roman Catholicism. His innovations were called far-reaching theological and dogmatic Modernism.[citation needed]

The Mariavites' homepage summarizes Kowalski's reforms and innovations:[6]

  • 1922–1924: Possibility for a priest to be married
  • 1922: Communion under the two species
  • 1929: Ordination of women, retained in Catholic Mariavite Church
  • 1929–1935: Ordination of women, abolished in Old Catholic Mariavite Church
  • 1930: Priesthood of the people of God similar to Protestant concept
  • 1930: Immediate Communion for just-born baptized infants
  • 1930: Removal of the ecclesiastical titles
  • 1930: Suppression of the prerogatives of the clergy
  • 1931–1933: Simplification of the liturgical ceremonies
  • 1931–1933: Simplification of the rules of Lent
  •  ?: Reduction of the eucharistic fast

These innovations were controversial, not only to the Roman Catholics, but also to many of the Mariavites. The introduction of marriages among priests and nuns (and sometimes between them) in 1924, and the priesthood of women in 1929, were the most disputed.[citation needed] Kowalski's changes disrupted the connection with the Old Catholics,[7] who were then firmly opposed to the ordination of women. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kowalski was seeking for an ecumenical dialogue with other churches. Kowalski proposed union with the Polish National Catholic Church, and worked to deepen contacts with Eastern Orthodox churches and other Eastern-tradition churches. In the early 1930s, he proposed reconciliation to Roman Catholic bishops. None of these attempts succeeded.

The opposition against "the dictatorship" of Kowalski arose in the Mariavite Church in the 1930s. In October 1934, the bishops and priests demanded changes to the teachings and rules of administration in the church, but Kowalski refused to make any changes. In January 1935 the General Chapter of the Mariavite Priests (Synod) decided to remove Kowalski from his position. Kowalski and his supporters refused to accept the decision of the General Chapter.

The church divided. (Kozłowska had prophesied that the Mariavite Church would have a schism, as Christianity had earlier. During this time, nearly 30 percent of adherents left the Mariavite Church and converted back to the Roman Catholic Church.

After 1935 schismEdit

The Kowalski faction moved from Płock to Felicjanów. This village is the headquarters of the Catholic Church of the Mariavites, which has about 3,000 members. The denomination confirmed all the decisions of Kowalski and introduced the public cult of Kozłowska, the Mateczka, the Spouse of Christ and new Redemptrix of the world. Its doctrine has moved beyond that originally encouraged by the foundress. The church is insular and does not participate in the ecumenical movement. Kowalski died in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. His successor was his wife, Bishop Maria Izabela Wiłucka-Kowalska. From 1946 to 2005, the head of the church was Bishop Maria Rafael Wojciechowski [pl]. He was succeeded in 2005 by Bishop Maria Beatrycze Szulgowicz [pl].

Feldman led the opposition that attracted the majority of Mariavite adherents. They decided to reverse most of the innovations introduced by Kowalski. They returned to Kozłowska's ideas and rules. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church and is much the larger: as of 2011 it had about 23,500 members in Poland,[8] and about 5,000 in France.

Both churches are struggling with a lack of clergy, as most of the priests are aged and young people have not entered the seminary in sufficient number to replace them. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church started many activities in the post-war ecumenical movement. Together with other churches, it has established the Polish Ecumenical Council. It renewed its contacts with other Old Catholic churches.

Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North AmericaEdit

A third Mariavite group is the Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North America, founded in the United States in 1930 by Polish immigrants and their descendants. It was long under the direction of Robert R. Zaborowski (1949–2010), and based in Wyandotte, Michigan,having no parishes other than the tiny chapel in the residence in Wyandotte. The Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Europe correctly contends that it has had no official presence in North America.

Zaborowski died on 22 November 2010 after a long illness and was buried as a layman.

Relations between Mariavites and Roman CatholicsEdit

Since the 1970s, the Roman Catholic and Old Catholic Mariavite churches have worked at reconciliation. The Polish bishops apologized for the problems that had engendered the beginnings of the Mariavite movement. Their attitude toward Kozłowska changed; they affirmed that she was a woman of great piety and religiosity. In 1972 the Jesuit priest Stanisław Bajko, the secretary of the Polish Episcopate Commission for Ecumenism, studied the revelations of Kozłowska and concluded that they were not discordant with Roman Catholic doctrine. The Mariavites were pleased that the Holy See recognised as true the revelation of Kowalska about the Lord's Grace. They said nota bene took place in Płock, which was for the Mariavites a clear sign that God has repeated this message to the people.

The influence of Kozłowska was seen to be too strong; this is why she was the victim of harsh attacks (called often the incarnation of a devil, as in the satiric article "Where the devil cannot go, there he will send a woman" from 1906). Her activities were criticized by the bishop of Płock as early as 1897. He was concerned that many Mariavites treated her as a living saint. She was treated by Mariavites as a very good and pious person before the condemnation of the pope, but this situation was not unique in Christian history. Kowalski characterized her as "the embodyment [sic] of the Holy Spirit on earth" in his writings.[citation needed]

In 1903 the Archbishop of the Warsaw forbade Roman Catholics in the diocese from observing some otherwise approved devotions of the Roman Catholic rite (e.g. the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Perpetual Help of Our Lady), which were considered most important by the Mariavite faction. He called their devotion to these "excessive" and unnecessary.

As the movement became more visible, it attracted critics. This led to the more violent acts against the Mariavite churches and chapels. In 1906, there were riots and some Mariavites were murdered. They were generally connected with the problem of ownership, because in many places Mariavite priests with the majority of believers of the parishes wanted to take over the churches, which in many cases the Mariavite believers had built, while according to the law, they were confiscated and claimed to belong to the Catholic Church.

The church struggled during the Second Commonwealth of Poland. Mariavites were discriminated against, and there were "Mariavite pogroms". The leaders of the Mariavite Church were often sued in court. Kowalski appeared in 20 cases; he was accused of blasphemies[9] against God, the Bible, the Catholic Church, and the sacraments, betrayal of the country (implicit treason), of socialism, communism, theft, frauds, lies, etc. He was blamed for sexual abuses that had taken place in the Płock cloister. In 1931 he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, which he served from 1936 to 1938. Newspapers published articles demanding the criminalization of the Mariavite Church.

Because of their recognition by the Russian government, Mariavites were criticized as pro-Russian and pro-socialist. They were suggested to be collaborators with the occupiers. The very early Mariavites became aware of the problems among the workers, and they directed many social activities based on their interpretation of Christianity. For many Poles, "Polishness" was strongly connected with the Roman Catholic faith. Rejection of the faith was equivalent with rejection of nationality.

The history of relations between the Mariavites and Roman Catholics could be divided into two periods. The first was when the Mariavite Church was emerging and forming its institutional shape. This period was full of mutual distrust, suspicions and insults. The worst time was between 1906 and 1911, shortly after separation of the Mariavites, and between 1923 and 1937, when Polish nationalism was ardent.

The second was the post–Second World War period, which was affected by two events: the oppression of all churches under decades of Polish anti-religious campaign, and the changes introduced by Second Vatican Council. Those circumstances led to the opening of dialogue and closer connections between Christian denominations. The progress in ecumenical reconciliation between the Old Catholic Mariavite Church and Catholic Church in Poland is now underway. However, the Felicjanów denomination rejects any possibility of the rapprochement with Catholics.

The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo has been a site of ecumenical activities. In the 1980s, observations at Vatican Observatory were led by Konrad Rudnicki, a Polish astronomer, priest and professor of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church.

Structure of the Mariavite ChurchesEdit

Old Catholic Mariavite ChurchEdit



Dioceses of the Old Catholic Mariavite Church in Poland

organized into three dioceses in Poland with 38 parishes and one province in France with 2 parishes:

Order of the Mariavites in GermanyEdit

The Order of the Mariavites in Germany (German: Orden der Mariaviten in Deutschland e.V.) is an Eingetragener Verein type association in Germany. Even in 1949, this association was not legally recognized as a sect by Germany.[10] This association is not recognized by either the contemporary Old Catholic Mariavite Church or the Catholic Mariavite Church.

Apostolic succession:

Mariavite Old Catholic Church – Province of North AmericaEdit

  • Prochniewski consecrated Francis Ignatius Maria Boryszewski (1930–1975) on 2, February, 1930
  • Robert Ronald John Maria Zaborowski (1972–2010)

Apostolic successionEdit

Kowalski was consecrated in St. Gertrude's Cathedral, Utrecht, on 5 October 1909, by Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (OKKN) Archbishop Gerardus Gul of Utrecht, assisted by two OKKN bishops, J. J. van Thiel of Haarlem and N. B. P. Spit of Deventer, one Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany bishop, J. Demmel of Bonn, and Arnold Harris Mathew.[11]

Kowalski consecrated: Fatome, Feldman, Golebisewski, Prochniewiski, Rostoworowski, Siedleccki, and his wife, Wiłucka-Kowalska.[12]


  1. ^ According to Der Spiegel in 1949, Maas had impersonated a Catholic priest and occasionally flouted: "It is after all a swindle." Although Maas was investigated by Mannheim police, the prosecutor did not issue an arrest warrant until the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Freiburg pointed out that Maas violated the 1933 Reichskonkordat by wearing Catholic clerical clothing in public. According to Der Spiegel, Maas wanted to become a priest without a theological education, so he forged his Mittlere Reife, Abitur, and certification as a Roman Catholic theologian; he also used two honorary doctorates that he was not entitled to use in Germany.[10]



  1. ^ a b c Poland 2013, p. 44.
  2. ^ Karski 2003, p. 402.
  3. ^ "The Old Catholic Mariavite Church". Płock, Poland: Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Sukcesja Apostolska". (in Polish). Płock, Poland: Kościół Starokatolicki Mariawitów. Archived from the original on 30 August 2004. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Appolis 1965, p. 53.
  6. ^ "Old Church Catholic Mariavite". Archived from the original on 23 December 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
  7. ^ Brandreth 2007, p. 60.
  8. ^ Poland 2013, pp. 44–45.
  9. ^ Łagosz 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Wenn man den Drang in sich spürt". Der Spiegel (in German). Vol. 1949 no. 52. 1949. pp. 10–11. Archived from the original on 24 October 2015. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  11. ^ Appolis 1965, pp. 58–59; Bain 1985.
  12. ^ Bain 1985.


Appolis, Émile (1965). "Une Église des derniers temps: L'Église Mariavite". Archives de sociologie des religions (in French). 19: 51–67. ISSN 0003-9659. JSTOR 30120666.
Bain, Alan (1985). Bishops Irregular: An International Directory of Independent Bishops. Bristol, England: A. M. Bain. ISBN 978-0-9510298-0-0.
Brandreth, Henry R. T. (2007). Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church. Borgo Press. ISBN 978-0-912134-06-2.
Karski, Karol (2003). "Mariavites". In Fahlbusch, Erwin; Lochman, Jan Milič; Mbiti, John; Pelikan, Jaroslav; Vischer, Lukas; Bromiley, Geoffrey W.; Barrett, David B. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Christianity. 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 402–403. ISBN 978-0-8028-2415-8.
Łagosz, Zbigniew (2013). "Mariavites and the Occult: A Search for the Truth". Anthropos. 108 (1): 256–266. ISSN 0257-9774. JSTOR 23510279.
Poland. Central Statistical Office (2013). Wyznania religijne stowarzyszenia narodowościowe i etniczne w Polsce 2009–2011 [Churches, Denominations as well as National and Ethnic Associations in Poland, 2009–2011] (PDF) (in Polish). Warsaw: Statistical Publishing Establishment. ISBN 978-83-7027-519-8. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 October 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2018.

Further readingEdit

Peterkiewicz, Jerzy (1975). The Third Adam. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-212198-1.
Pruter, Karl; Melton, J. Gordon (1983). The Old Catholic Sourcebook. New York: Garland Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8240-9111-8.

External linksEdit