St. Albert Chmielowski, Painter and Poor Man, Pray For Us

Albert died on Christmas Day in 1916 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989.

Albert Chmielowski, “Abandoned Parsonage,” 1888, National Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Albert Chmielowski, “Abandoned Parsonage,” 1888, National Museum, Warsaw, Poland (photo: Public Domain)

The feast day of St. Albert Chmielowski (1845-1916) is June 17. 

Albert was born into a wealthy family in Poland, the oldest of four children. He studied agriculture in school and was planning to take over his family’s estate. At the time, Poland had been partitioned by the surrounding nations of Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, and many young Poles were inspired to fight for the rights of their people. Among them was Albert, who was passionate about politics, and at the time did not seem to be a candidate for future sainthood.

At age 17, Albert took part in an 1863 uprising against Russian Czar Alexander II. A grenade thrown by a Russian soldier killed Albert’s horse and left Albert with a severely injured leg. He offered his sufferings to God as his leg was amputated and replaced by a wooden leg.

He was forced to flee Poland for a time, as many revolutionaries were being executed or sent to Siberia. He studied engineering in Belgium but discovered he had a talent for art. He studied art in France and Germany, including at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He then returned to Poland and became a successful artist. 

He was moved by the plight of the poor and began volunteering at a homeless shelter. He believed God was calling him to serve the poor in religious life, rather than pursuing a life in politics or art. He took a particular interest in the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1887, he became Brother Albert of the Third Order of St. Francis and wore a simple gray habit. He served the destitute, living in the same shelters in which they lived. To fund his work, he auctioned off his paintings. He founded his own community, the Servants of the Poor or Albertine Brothers, and a companion women’s congregation, the Albertine Sisters. They fed and sheltered the poor. Sharing the life of the poor, it was his goal to offer each person nourishment and food and surround him with the love of Christ.

Albert loved the writings of St. John of the Cross and urged the wealthy not to forget the plight of the poor. He came to believe that among the world’s greatest problems was that people ignored the sufferings of their neighbors.

Albert died on Christmas Day in 1916. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a Krakow homeless shelter Albert had founded. As a young priest, John Paul was inspired by Albert’s life and wrote a play about him, Our God’s Brother, which was made into a film. St. Albert is the patron of painters, soldiers, volunteers, harvests and travelers. In 1918, St. Albert’s beloved Poland became an independent nation again.