Thief returns relics of Polish Catholic saint who inspired Pope John Paul II

St. Albert Chmielowski St. Albert Chmielowski. | Public Domain.

A thief on Friday returned the relics of a 19th-century Polish saint who inspired St. John Paul II and apologized for taking them.

St. Joseph’s Church in the Podgórze district of Kraków, southern Poland, announced on its Facebook page June 18 that the relics of St. Albert Chmielowski had been safely returned.

It said: “Today, just before 7 a.m. the stolen relics of St. Brother Albert returned to our Sanctuary. The perpetrator of the theft brought them personally and apologized for the situation. Thanks be to God! Thank you for your prayers!”

The parish reported the theft on June 11. “Let us pray for conversion and repentance for the perpetrator,” it said on Facebook.

In a newsletter dated June 13, it told parishioners: “We regret to inform you that last Tuesday after 9 a.m. a reliquary with the relics of St. Brother Albert was stolen from the Apostles of Mercy Altar.”

Chmielowski -- known as Brat Albert (Brother Albert) in Poland -- was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in 1845. He was injured at the age of 18 while participating in an uprising against Russian forces. His leg was amputated without an anesthetic.

He studied art and became a well-known painter in Kraków. But feeling a call to help those in need, he abandoned the art world, becoming a Secular Franciscan and taking the name Albert.

In 1887, he founded the Brothers of the Third Order of St. Francis, Servants of the Poor (Albertine Brothers). In 1891, he founded the Albertine Sisters. Both branches were dedicated to service of the poor and homeless.

Brother Albert died on Christmas Day 1916.

In 1949, the future Pope John Paul II wrote a play about Albert called “Our God’s Brother.” It was made into a film in 1997, directed by Krzysztof Zanussi.

The Polish pope recalled that when he was considering the priesthood he drew inspiration from Albert’s decision to leave the art world for a life of radical service.

John Paul II beatified Albert in 1983 and canonized him six years later, on Nov. 12, 1989. His feast day is June 17.

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