Bd. Honoratus was born at Biala Podlaska, Poland, and baptized Florence Wenceslaus John Kozminski. His parents were in comfortable circumstances, and during his early years were a strong religious and cultural influence on him.
Attracted to the career of an architect, which was his father’s calling, young Kozminski in 1844 entered the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, his father’s Alma Mater. However, after the father’s death a year later, Wenceslaus fell victim to antireligious currents at the school, and not only ceased to practice Catholicism but became its declared enemy, trying to convert his Catholic companions to his altered religious views.
In 1846, he was accused of having taken part in a conspiracy against the Russians. The accusation was false, but the Russians, who then ruled Poland, clapped him into a frightful jail, and seemed ready to condemn him to death for treason.
Prison became the battlefield of his soul. On the one hand, he caught a serious disease, probably typhus; on the other, he suffered a grievous spiritual temptation to abandon all religion. However, on the feast of the Assumption, 1846, Kozminski suddenly recovered his religious faith. When released from jail a year later, he made a public confession of his apostasy. His conversion he attributed to the grace obtained for him by Our Lady and to the faithful prayers of his mother.
Nor did his change of heart cease with recovery of faith. In December 1848 Wenceslaus joined the Capuchin Franciscans, taking the religious name Honoratus. Ordained a priest four years later, he began pastoral work in and around Warsaw as a confessor, preacher and prison chaplain. He also helped Maria Angela Truszkowska to found the Congregation of the Felician Sisters; and to increase the piety of the faithful he founded a number of “Circles of the Living Rosary”.
But the spies of imperial Russia were still on the alert. After Poland’s unsuccessful revolt for independence in 1863, Russia suppressed the Capuchin house in Warsaw. Honoratus and his fellow friars had to move to Zakroczym. There they lived under constant surveillance by the secret police, forbidden to leave the monastery or move elsewhere. Kozminski meanwhile kept busy at his religious duties. Each week he spent hours in the confessional and in spiritual direction. He focused particularly on young people who, like himself, had strayed from the church.
In making these contacts with people who sought his advice, he found that many were considering emigrating to some place where they could enter the religious life, which the Russians were trying to discourage in Poland. Friar Honoratus thought that such aspirants might be satisfied if there were available some type of religious association that might satisfy them and at the same time permit them to stay at home. What he did was to set up a new type of congregation based on the Third Order of St. Francis. Like tertiaries, the members could take simple vows and live in community without being required to identify themselves outwardly as members of a religious order.
The plan worked, and he set up, in all, 26 of these congregations. Members continued at their daily occupations while engaged in a secret apostolate to fellow workers. Certain of the centers had more specific apostolates. Some specialized in preaching, others in various social projects. In other words, the Congregations were an early form of our present-day secular religious institutes.
Eventually Honoratus wanted to put the organization under the control of the bishops. At first, the hierarchy feared what Russia would do if they became involved in this new form of religious life. However, when the Russian overlords became a bit more tolerant in 1905, the episcopate accepted jurisdiction over the Congregations, and with the approval of Rome, began to change their mode of operation. Father Honoratus, although deeply disappointed by the alterations, accepted the deal. Thenceforth he had no further connection with the novel type of religious institute that he had invented.
Friar Honoratus continued his own work as a confessor and spiritual director to the end of his life; still working under oppressive political conditions. He also served as commissary general of the Capuchins in Poland and published a number of religious writings.
Stricken by a painful illness, Honoratus of Biala Podlaska died on December 16, 1916. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1988 as a man who had fought his way back from infidelity to a triumphant faith.
–Father Robert F. McNamara