Wiktor Radziminsky-Frackiewicz, chaplain (1873-1883)

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Dear friends! I would like to share with you a wonderful message – I have come across it quite accidentally – a message about a chaplain of our church, in the years 1873-1883. Thanks to him a clock tower was built next to the cemetery chapel (i.e. the future church), which Alexander Benois (son of the architect Nicolas Benois) mentions in his memoirs: “The Catholic cemetery where Daddy started building the bell tower was situated farther- some two or three miles away from Kushelevka, closer to the Finlandski Station. The church is very simple, but elegant, built in the Romanesque style in the 50ties. The vaulted crypt, where, in the western corner, was our family tomb, where- under the plates- my sister Louise, who died in a young age, and my brother Isza [a children’s nickname, the full name sounds Jules – StSt] are buried. Our family was closely connected with that church; besides, because it was located in the Vyborg quarter where the Edwards family resided, the chapel soon became the parish church. Matthew Edwards was a fervent Catholic and never left any Sunday service, usually attended Mass along with the whole family. The old façade without tower seemed to fit very well and created perfect harmony with the rest, thus being a realization of my Father’s vision. Thanks to the financial resources which were large enough to satisfy the Polish community’s aspirations- they wished their church to stand out against the environment, it was decided to have a bell tower built, with the project based on Daddy’s plans, whereas the main entrance to the church was under the tower. It seems the construction works on the bell tower had not yet been started in 1877, and the foundations were laid in 1878, yet Father was occupied with the project and often went to the church to talk to the local priest, Fr. Frackiewicz. The priest often visited us as well, which brought some “clerical” spirit into the life in Kushelevka. I myself had some kind of a pious esteem towards the clergy, and on the other hand, especially as far as Polish clergymen were concerned, in their number the Dominicans working in St. Catherine’s Church, I was a little afraid of them, the more that Father sometimes “gently” blamed the monks for hypocrisy (as assignee of St. Catherine’s Parish he was maintaining close contacts with them). I got to love Fr. Frackiewicz with all my heart, and that was mutual, it seems. Unfortunately, that “friendship” did not last long. The authorities considered that quiet and charming man to be dangerous because of his being quite popular, therefore he was sent to a distant Siberian diocese [fortunately, all those assumptions of Alexander Benois concerning the events in Fr. Frackiewicz’ life appeared purely hypothetical and were based on his complete ignorance of the real situation (see: excerpts below); there was no Catholic diocese in Siberia at that time- StSt]. That did, however, happen later. Yet, at the time of constructing the bell tower (1878-1879) Father Frackiewicz was uninterruptedly in St. Petersburg, living with his old mother in a wooden, black-painted house, that stood at the gate just beyond the cemetery’s fence. I would like to emphasize- I got very attached to that kind priest, and even my dad, who was generally rather careful in expressing his opinions about people, claimed that Fr. Frackiewicz was an exceptionally pure and noble man. However, it could not be said that Fr. Frackiewicz attracted people, especially those who were opposed to the Catholic clergy. He looked like a “genuine”, and at the same time rather “comical” kind of a Jesuit, comical to such an extent that- in spite of my sincere admiration for him I did not hesitate to ridicule him imitating his customs, and my parents, who would generally not tolerate such behavior, used to laugh at my mocking him. My kind mummy used to laugh so much until the tears ran down her cheeks as she recalled the funny grimaces he made while refusing to receive one more snack he had been offered, and then, when he finally gave in, he would eat everything with an amazing relish- he surely did not have an easy life at home. I took over his talking habits, especially his specific French and Russian expressions. Nobody spoke Polish in my home, therefore he had to use dialects alien to him, which- by the way- he did not have a command of satisfactorily. All his characteristics were quite interesting and could be very useful for an actor who would have to play Don Basilio in “the Barber of Seville”, and on the stage his strange manners would probably appear to the audience as a grotesque caricature. The most interesting of all his manners were the movements he made, especially while entering a room. The other priests were more “elegant, noble-looking”, and even refined while visiting their parishioners, their way of being was supposed to show that they indeed were representatives of God doing them- ordinary mortals- an honor, and only for the sake of Christian decorum holding out their hands to be kissed, yet at the same time lending their faces an air of humility. Fr. Frackiewicz, on the other hand, would bow two or three times in various directions when appearing at the door, hold his hands over his head with the palms outwards, suggesting that all forms of welcoming him are superfluous, that he is not worthy of them, and ask forgiveness for his excessive presumptuousness. If only had he been an older man, all his grimaces would have had a different character, yet he was only about thirty years old, a little over thirty, his face looked young, always clean shaven, cheeks a little bluish which- because of his paleness- highlighted his ascetic appearance. He was a little taller than medium, very slim and rather long, the more in his tight black cassock. And that “buffo opera type” Jesuit was in fact the most unselfish, generous and sympathetic man of a genuine angelic kindness. Even his appearance highlighted that kindness and was very persuasive. Especially during Mass he radiated his simplicity, dignity and seriousness without making any grimaces and gestures. He was filled with religious feelings while performing ceremony not like any formality, but something holy and alive. One should also see how he treated the poor, how he talked with them nearly crying while listening to their complaints and sorrows, how he apologized for not being able to help them as much as he should. When he wished to offer some help he did not hesitate to give away nearly all he had disregarding how much he had received, and which was not little, after all (when taking into consideration the income “provided regularly by the dead”); he distributed the major part of his possessions, and afterwards often had to suffer from hunger for several days. I seem to remember quite clearly how Fr. Frackiewicz used to walk through Kushelevka, quite strangely, swinging his body, towards our holiday home. As he was walking, one could have an impression that the wind was tossing him, he was fighting against it and the long tails of his coat were being blown about in all directions, although the weather was just fine. As soon as he caught sight of “the most dignified Sir Professor’s son”, who was busy hunting frogs in the grass or doing other foolish things in the garden, he started his greeting ritual, while still walking, bowing and raising his hands. That made it quite difficult for me to answer with my own greeting ritual because I had to nearly fly in order to catch his hand which was in motion, and kiss it. During that, he would repeat something extremely affectionate and friendly, unfortunately not understandable because it was spoken in Polish. When he saw my mum he would repeat that ceremony quite fervently, using some lofty, elevated expressions in a French jargon, and nearly performing St. Vitus’ dance. However, as soon as he started talking to my father, he became quite serious and did not feel embarrassed any more. Father never criticized Frackiewicz in his absence, never accused him of fraud or intrigue, nor a sacrilege. Frackiewicz was a well educated man, knew both theological and lay literature and even history of art, which was not so common at that time. It is quite possible that those extraordinary virtues of his made some envious people fabricate denunciations against him, due to which he was sent to some distant territory (Benois A. “Artist’s life”, volume 2; there are some more publications, we give you an internet link: http://www.gorod-spb.ru/jiznhdojnika2.html ) Until recently the life of Fr. Frackiewicz [A. Benois changed his name- undeliberately – StSt] has been unknown. I have not expected to find an article about his nomination for apostolic administrator in the diocese of Vilna, published in the Polish magazine “Tygodnik ilustrowany” (“Weekly illustrated”)- No. 38 1902, p. 753. Because the person of Fr. Fraciszkiewicz has attracted me for a longer time- mainly thanks to the memoirs of A. Benois – I have decided to present to you the whole article: “Wiktor Radziminski-Frackiewicz

Wiktor Radziminski-Frackiewicz, canon

Reverend Canon from Vilna, W. R. was nominated papal administrator of the Vilna diocese by Archbishop  Boleslaw Klopotowski, at the instruction of His Holiness Leo XIII; he replaced Bishop Stefan Zwierowicz [sent to Tver (Russia) for 9 months- StSt.]. Ruling the huge Vilna diocese (with 1,5 million faithful, inhabiting 23 deaneries of two vast provinces – Vilna and Grodno provinces) requires a lot of work and responsibility. He is commonly highly esteemed, cares about the church very much, is tactful and can successfully manage the task entrusted to him, thus winning a lot of sympathy on the part of parishioners, is very likable indeed. A large burden rests on his shoulders, it is enough to say that apart of the other duties mentioned above he even runs the Parish of Our Lady of Ostra Brama. Wiktor Radziminski-Frackiewicz, using the Brodzicz as coat of arms, was born on November 18th 1835, with Wincenty and Wiktoria ne Starzynski being his parents, in the Zawilejski district (powiat) of the Vilna province. His grandfather Antoni was chamberlain of His Majesty King Stanislaw August. In 1835 Wiktor Frackiewicz graduated from the Minsk Gymnasium and entered the Vilna Seminary in the very same year. Two years later he was sent to Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. He accomplished his education there in 1861 receiving the degree of Master of Arts in Sacred Theology. He was ordained priest and, on returning to his mother diocese, was appointed curate at St. John’s Church in Vilna. In 1863 His Excellency Bishop Adam Stanislaw Krasinski called him to become his chaplain- he spent ten years holding that post. In 1873 Fr. Frackiewicz was called to St. Petersburg where he was staying in the church near Vyborg Cemetery for the ten years to come. In 1883 His Excellency Bishop Cardinal Hryniewicki (the present Archbishop in part. infid. and canon in the Lvov Chapter) called Fr. Frackiewicz back to Vilna where he appointed him to the position of the Our Lady of Ostra Brama parish priest. He ran the parish for 19 years with real care and dedication, attempting to restore the church building (which had been taken over from the barefoot Carmelites) to the best possible beauty, especially the chapel housing the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary (painted most probably in the 17th century in the Italian style of that time). He became the chief canon of the Vilna Chapter in 1901, and since 1897 had been chamberlain of the papal court.” “Brodzic”, the coat of arm: Gravestone of Canon Wiktor Radziminski-Frackiewicz, Rossa Cemetery, Vilna (Lithuania): http://www.nieobecni.com.pl/index.php?s=grob&id=4817 (as we can see,  the birth date, engraved on the stone, differs from the one given in the above article by almost a year).

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