Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – The Most Reverend Sigismund Felix Felinski, Archbishop of Warsaw

The Most Reverend Sigismund Felix Felinski, Archbishop of WarsawArticle

The distinguished prelate whose likeness is herewith given, and whose release from captivity in May, 1883, excited almost boundless enthusiasm in Poland and the Polish race throughout the world, comes of a family which had already given noble sufferers to the cause of country and religion. His father, Professor Gerard Felinski, of the Lyceum of Kremenetz, was banished to Siberia by the late Emperor Nicholas, and died there in exile. His mother, herself a woman of the highest talents, shared the same punishment, and spent several years under police surveillance in the semi-savage district of Berezoff, near the shores of the Arctic, from which she was released only to die of a broken heart in her native land.

Sigismund, the subject of the present sketch, was born in Volhynia, in Russian Poland, before the banishment of his distinguished parents. His early education he received at home. After completing his studies in the University of Moscow and abroad, young Sigismund felt himself called by God to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, and in compliance with his vocation he entered the episcopal seminary of Zytomir, the capital of his native province. His talents and noble character soon marked him out as the foremost of his fellow-students, and, on completing his course of theology, he was chosen by the bishop, Mgr. Borowski (who was himself afterwards exiled by the Russian government), to pursue an extended course of studies in the Ecclesiastical Academy of Saint Petersburg, admission to which is only granted to the most distinguished students of the diocesan seminaries. After his ordination as priest he was appointed assistant in Saint Catherine’s Church, in the Russian capital, and four years afterwards he was named professor of theology in the Ecclesiastical Academy there. In both offices he won the highest respect from all classes, both Catholics and non-Catholics, and was regarded as one of the ablest men of the Catholic Church in the Russian Empire.

On the death of Monsignor Fialkowski, the archbishop of Warsaw, in 1861, Sigismund Felinski, in spite of his youth, was chosen as his successor, by the late Holy Father, Pius IX. The Russian government hoping to find in him, from his Russian education and long intercourse with the capital, a pliable subject for its anti-national policy in Poland, readily acquiesced in the nomination, and he was formally installed in his diocese 6 January 1862. The times were trying for Poland and the Catholic Church. The agitation which culminated in the outbreak of 1863 was assuming formidable proportions, and the new archbishop found himself speedily called on to take his stand either with the government or with his people. He did not hesitate for a moment. While urging his flock to refrain from a rebellion of which he clearly foresaw the unfortunate results, he boldly addressed to the czar himself a generous appeal for justice to the oppressed and exasperated Polish nation. His exile was resolved upon, and a pretext for carrying it out was soon found. In the spring of 1863 numerous bands of insurgents took the field in behalf of Polish liberty, and in the suppression of the insurrection the utmost barbarity was used by the government. Executions were carried out with the most ruthless barbarity, and not a few priests were among the victims. One of these, who was charged with having acted as chaplain to the insurgents, the authorities required the archbishop to degrade from his sacred office previous to his execution. Felinski, who recognized no superior in his ecclesiastical functions save the Holy Father and his own conscience, declined to carry out the order. In consequence he was suddenly arrested, and, without form of trial, deported under an escort to the town of Jaroslav, on the Volga River, many hundred miles from his diocese.

In this place of exile, the archbishop was subjected to the most galling restrictions. He devoted himself, as far as permitted, to the spiritual wants of the few Catholics in the district, discharging the duties of a simple missioner with as much zeal and energy as he had those of archbishop of Warsaw. Pius IX repeatedly interceded for his liberation with the Eussian government, but in vain, and for twenty years the illustrious confessor continued to pay the penalty of his devotion to the call of duty.

In December, 1882, the czar consented to the appointment of ten bishops to fill the sees left vacant by the death or exile of their pastors. As Monsignor Felinski was still the rightful archbishop of Warsaw, that see could only be filled with his consent. As the government persistently refused to allow him to return, with his usual unselfishness the banished archbishop placed his resignation in the hands of the Sovereign Pontiff, and was by him relieved from the office which he had borne for over twenty-one years. Little over one year had been spent in the discharge of his duties as archbishop, and twenty in exile! On the conclusion of the negotiations the Eussian government allowed him in May, 1883, to leave the empire, and in June the illustrious exile proceeded to the Eternal City, where he was received by the Holy Father with the most touching kindness. His journey across Galicia (Austrian Poland) was a regular triumphal progress. All classes vied in doing honor to the confessor and patriot, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the modest archbishop was enabled to slip away from the homages of his grateful countrymen and make his way to Rome.

MLA Citation

  • “The Most Reverend Sigismund Felix Felinski, Archbishop of Warsaw”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1885. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 January 2017. Web. 25 February 2017. <>