Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Raphael (Kalinowski) of St. Joseph, O.C.D. He is the only other Discalced Carmelite friar who has been canonized after St. John of the Cross. Since this year marks the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the friars in Duruelo by St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, it is worth learning more about this heir of their spirit who did so much for the Carmelite charism, especially in Poland.
St. Raphael of St. Joseph was born as Joseph Kalinowski on September 1, 1835. In spite of losing his mother early on, Joseph was a happy child and grew up in a very warm and affectionate Christian home. The phrase, “To be a Catholic and to be a Pole,” summed up his youth.
Because of his many intellectual gifts, Joseph left home to study agronomy in St. Petersburg at the age of sixteen. All around him the spirit of irreligion reigned, so Joseph himself stopped attending Mass and receiving the sacraments. After graduation he joined the Czarist army as an engineering officer.
Joseph struggled with poor health and was sent to Warsaw to be treated at a sanitarium. There he became friends with a young woman who was on fire with her faith. Their conversations were so powerful that a process of conversion began in him. In Warsaw, he discovered the terrible plight of his countrymen under Imperialist Russia. When a patriotic cousin was going to be sent into exile in Siberia, Joseph sought to procure a crucifix for him from his sister. She agreed to give it to him on one condition: he must go to confession! He sheepishly agreed, bringing about the final push in his conversion. Afterward, he simply said: “It was an exhilarating experience.”
Around this time, Joseph was asked to join the secret Polish government behind a plot of insurrection. He knew this was futile and would lead to much bloodshed, but he also saw that it was necessary to make this sacrifice for the sake of his fellow Poles. In very little time he was discovered, arrested, and sentenced to ten years of labor in the salt mines of Siberia.
In the camp, 100-200 prisoners shared a barracks with only wooden planks for beds in the freezing cold. He took care of his fellow prisoners, giving money and food to those who needed it, often going hungry himself. He loved to take time alone for quiet prayer and also helped organize prayer services for the men. He said in a letter: “God empties my heart of all natural attachment, probably to fill it with things more pure, of which nothing surpasses the desire to do good to my neighbor.” In Siberia, he also felt a strong attraction toward religious life.
After serving his sentence, Joseph was released and returned home a changed man. He was hired to tutor a young Polish nobleman, Prince Auguste Czartoryski. In Krakow, he met a cousin of the young prince who had become a Carmelite nun. She gave Joseph a book on the spirituality of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross. Through his reading, he also discovered that Carmel was placed under Mary’s patronage in a unique way. His newfound love for Carmelite spirituality and deep devotion to Our Lady sealed the deal; he knew God was calling him to become a Carmelite.
While the young Prince Auguste was saddened to be without his tutor, he also went on to religious life. Eventually, he entered the Salesians, receiving the habit from the hands of St. John Bosco. Father Auguste would help bring the Salesians to Poland and was himself beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
Joseph entered the Discalced Carmelite Friars on November 26, 1877, at the age of forty-two and took the name Raphael of St. Joseph. He made solemn profession and was ordained a priest on January 15, 1882, in Czerna, Poland.
Father Raphael was well prepared for this new life. He embodied the Carmelite charism even before he knew about Carmel! In Siberia, he discovered the absolute demands of the God of love as taught by John of the Cross: to be emptied of all so as to be filled with all. His union with God overflowed into his passionate love for his fellow prisoners. He practiced deep silent prayer during his exile and kept it up his whole life. Then, when he encountered Carmelite spirituality, the resonance was so deep that he had no doubt he was made for this way of life. Later, it was the Carmelite nuns who were to receive his most solicitous care. He had a power in directing souls, drawing them to a more intense spiritual life. One older sister testified: “I have been a Discalced nun since age 20, but had to begin my novitiate once more and change my life under Father Raphael.”
His zeal pushed him to go beyond what his health and age dictated. As a dedicated confessor, Father Raphael was found in the cold damp confessionals so often that he was called “the martyr of the confessional.” Through assiduous study he wrote the history of Carmel in Poland. He was placed in positions of leadership and helped direct the reestablishment of the Discalced Carmelite friars in Poland. He was a disciple of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux very early on. He translated her autobiography from French into Polish before it was published in any other language. He was convinced that Our Lady of Mount Carmel, especially through the Scapular, would bring unity to the Church. By his preaching and counsel, he brought several leaders of a growing dissident sect back into Christ’s Fold.
Father Raphael died November 15, 1907, his last words being “Jesus, Mary, my God, my God.” He wrote in a letter a few years before: “As a boy I always dreamed of dying on All Souls Day,” and this dream came true. He died on the commemoration of All Carmelite Souls, which falls every year on November 15. May the intercession of this great friar bring renewal to Carmel on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the Discalced Friars at Duruelo. May our hearts be set on fire with love for the Carmelite charism after the example of St. Raphael of St. Joseph.