Servant of God Archmandrite Fabian Abrantowicz (1884-1946)
Fr. Abrantowicz was born on September 14, 1884, in a village of Wereszkowski, in the district of Nowogrodek [Belarus (White Russia)]. His father had a small farm. After graduating from school in Nowogrodek, Fabian entered the seminary of the Mohyliv Diocese in St. Petersburg in 1900. He finished his studies there in 1906, and then went to the Theological Academy of St. Petersburg. On November 9, 1908, he was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1910, he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Theology. For two years he taught religion in different gymnasiums and state-owned schools in St. Petersburg. Then he went to study philosophy at the university in Louvain (Leuven) in Belgium, where he also attended Cardinal Mercier’s lectures. Father Fabian received his Doctoral degree in philosophy for a thesis, in which he compared Thomism and intuitionism of M.O. Loski. In the fall of 1914, he conducted pastoral work in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, and served as a professor at the Mohyliv Diocesan Seminary in St. Petersburg.
Toward the end of WWI, when the Czar (tsar) was deposed, the Holy See began staffing anew the dioceses located in the former Russian-partitioned territories. On November 7, 1917, Pope Benedict XV reactivated the diocese of Minsk, naming Fr. Zygmunt Lozinski its Ordinary. When in May 1918, the Bolsheviks closed down the seminary in St. Petersburg, Bishop Lozinski opened a seminary in Minsk and named Fr. Fabian Abrantowicz its rector, also charging him with the school’s organizational matters. Seventeen alumni from the closed St. Petersburg Seminary, natives of the Mohyliv region, enrolled along with five new candidates. Classes began on October 14, 1918, in the former Dominican monastery, which housed a seminary before the suppression of the diocese, but which had since been occupied by the army. A few months later, Fr. Andrzej Cikoto, Pastor in Molodeczno, came to offer his services to Fr. Abrantowicz. In view of the approaching Bolshevik invasion, on July 9 and 10, 1920, the seminary was evacuated to Wloclawek, [Poland] and then, a year later, moved to Kielce, [Poland] where the remaining seminarians were ordained.
In 1920, Fr. Abrantowicz went back to his hometown – Nowogrodek. There he helped organize the school system and taught religion in a local gymnasium. When the treaty of Riga was singed, and it became clear that there was no possibility of returning to Minsk, Bishop Lozinski established his temporary residence at St. Michael’s Church in Nowogrodek and opened a Minor Seminary there.
Father Fabian was named a Minor Seminary instructor, judge of the Church Tribunal, examiner for the Synod, and censor of religious books. He was also appointed to the Diocesan Administrative Council and the Seminary Board of Directors. In 1923, he became the Chapter prelate and an emissary and canonical visitator of monasteries. In 1924, he was additionally made the Vicar General over some part of the diocese. After the diocesan institutes were moved to Pinsk, [Belarus] in 1925, the Bishop named Fr. Abrantowicz a spiritual director, professor, and procurator of the seminary, putting him in charge of the reconstruction of the former Franciscan monastery and its adaptation for Seminary’s needs.
For several years Fr. Abrantowicz attended the lectures of the Rev. Prof. George Matulewicz and became well acquainted with the Congregation of Marians, which some of his colleagues joined. Bishop Matulewicz wanted to have religious orders in his diocese or, at least, to open monasteries for Belarussian people. He engaged Frs. Cikoto and Abrantowicz in the work of putting this plan into action, because he hoped that they would join the Marians. Father Cikoto entered the Marian novitiate in Mariampole in 1920, and Fr. Abrantowicz also planned to join, but he was essential to Bishop [Lozinski] who wished to organize the diocese of Pinsk. Finally, on June 15, 1926, Bishop Lozinski granted Fr. Fabian permission to join the Congregation of Marians. He started his novitiate in Druya [Belarus] in the beginning of August of 1926, under the direction of Fr. Cikoto. He pronounced his first religious vows on August 3, 1927.
Having made his vows, Fr. Abrantowicz remained in Druya, dedicating himself to pastoral work. His sermons were particularly remembered. However, his service did not last long, because on May 5, 1928, Pope Pius XI made him the Apostolic Administrator for Russians Catholics of Eastern Rite who lived in China. In July he went to Rome. He stayed there for a period of time taking care of necessary formalities, learning about the situation in China, and seeking assistants. On August 2, 1928 the Pope received him in audience, during which he also recalled their earlier meeting in Warsaw. On August 3, Fr. Fabian renewed his vows before Fr. W. Lewandowicz, and on August 20 he left Rome. He arrived in Shanghai on September 29 to find that none of the local monasteries would grant him as much as an overnight stay. On November 6, 1928, he came to Harbin. He found circumstances there, in every respect, in a totally deplorable state. Only seven people attended his first Liturgy. Contrary to information received by the Apostolic See, there was no prospect for large numbers of the Russian Orthodox converting to Catholicism. Father Fabian wrote to Rome: “If the entire matter hasn’t been already opened, it would be better not to open it at all.”
There were a Polish Catholic Mission and two parishes in Harbin. One of them — St. Josaphat — was organized and run by Fr. Antoni Leszczewicz. There was also an orphanage for boys known as St. Charles Minor Seminary, and two schools for girls: one – run by Franciscan Sisters– Missionaries of Mary, and the other – by the Sisters of St. Ursula. As the new Ordinary, Fr. Abrantowicz met with many difficulties while trying to organize his work. Everyone was against him, he was short of money; but most importantly, he was not getting any response to his letters nor directives from Rome. On August 3, 1929, he renewed his vows before the Pastor, Fr. Wladyslaw Ostrowski, and a year later, he made his perpetual vows in Liao Lang before the Apostolic Vicar of Manchuria, A. Tondic.
At the end of 1929, a boarding school for Russian boys was opened, these were orphans from areas next to the Soviet border, whose parents died fighting the Soviet gangs that crossed the border and attacked residents. Later, this orphanage transformed into St. Nicholas High School. Its students and faculty were Russian Orthodox.
The Sisters ran two educational institutions for Russian girls. The Ordinary supported these institutions with funds received from the Apostolic See. At first, the mission embraced all of China; but in 1932 only the area belonging to the newly established Empire of Manchukuo remained under Fr. Abrantowicz’s authority. Conversions to Catholicism were very rare. In 1948, at the end of the mission’s activity, the number of the faithful did not exceed 500. During 1930-1932, Fr. Abrantowicz also held the office of the Ordinary of the Latin Rite. During 1931-1945, the mission published a newsletter called “Katolicheskiy Vestnik” (Catholic Messenger), with a circulation of 500, conceived as a monthly publication.
In 1934, Fr. Abrantowicz went to Rome to give an account of his five years’ work. Pope Pius XI agreed to open a Marian religious house of the Eastern Rite in Harbin. Shortly afterwards three priests and four brothers were in residence and the novitiate was opened in 1937.
In April of 1939, the Ordinary went to Rome again, on an ad limina visit. He underwent medical treatment in Vichy, and later he took part in the General Chapter of the Congregation. In August, he went to Poland. He visited the Marians in Warsaw, [Poland] and also in Riga, [Latvia] Kaunas, [Lithuania]. He likewise saw his closest relatives in Nowogrodek. The outbreak WWII on September 1, 1939, found him still there. He made attempts to get back to Rome. In the beginning of October he was in Lviv and visited the Metropolitan of Szeptycki, Archbishop Joseph Slipyj, and Bishop Nicholas Czarniecki. There he fell ill and was placed in a hospital on Fr. P. Skarga Street. He left the hospital when the eastern parts of the country abruptly fell under Soviet occupation, and on October 19, via Raba Ruska, [Poland] came to Uchnow, [Poland] in the company of another priest. They passed the night in an inn. On October 21, 1939 his traveling companion crossed the river Sulukija, while Fr. Fabian, led by two paid guides, arrived on the German side by land. The Germans detected him and made him go back and surrender to the Soviet border patrol. On October 22, he was arrested and transported to the NKVD quarters in Lviv. His traveling companion, not seeing him come, crossed back to the eastern side, and, risking his own safety, searched for him in Lviv. Then went to the German side again, convinced that Fr. Abrantowicz had been betrayed.
The hearing began with Fr. Abrantowicz standing accused of crossing the border between USSR and Germany twice in one night: going first to the German side, and then coming back again. First, Fr. Abrantowicz believed that it would be easy to explain the entire incident to the investigator, especially in the light of his voluntary surrender to the Soviet border guards. But he learned his mistake quickly. However, he stated for the record that “he admits being guilty of crossing the border to the Polish, not the German, side.” On November 13 he was accused of “arriving in Poland from Japan with a special espionage assignment.” He resolutely rejected this accusation, but in the end he signed the protocol. During the December 21, 1939 interrogation he admitted to having “chosen an active fight against the Soviet regime, since, as a member of a Catholic religious congregation, he did not believe in the possibility of creating a Soviet society in Russia, or in any other country.” He signed this statement at 5 o’clock in the morning, after a night-long interrogation. The next night he admitted to supporting from March of 1918, the cause of uniting Belarus and Poland. To have made in 1919, an attempt to free the Belarussian people from the influence of the Communist-Bolshevik party; to have spoken in 1921 against Communism while accepting Polish citizenship; and to have founded a Belarussian Christian Association.” When questioned about his work in China, he first gave his authentic goals of being there. However, later he signed a statement declaring that his entire activities aimed at fighting Communism and the Soviet Union by word of mouth and in print.
In January 1941, Fr. Abrantowicz was transported to Moscow, to the Butyrki prison. There, on May 22, 1941 he received an official accusation. He testified in response that: “Physical constraint (torture) used on me in Lviv makes this entire inquest invalid; but I was found guilty because I signed the depositions without reading them; I was made to speak under constraint, particularly from December 19, 1939 to the end of that year.” He stated further: “I have never been working for the Secret Services and I have not been a part of any organization.”
The investigation was continuously prolonged in order to “completely clarify the accused’s activities abroad; to unravel the network of anti-Soviet agents among his Catholic acquaintances, and to expose the Vatican’s anti-Soviet actions.” To the number of “agents” recruited by Fr. Fabian were added two young religious, who went along with him to Rome to study. Father Fabian wrote countless statements explaining his work set against the background of the history and activity of the Church; he believed that his judges were uninformed and that they might see his actions differently after learning the facts. At the end of the investigation, a comment was recorded that “the accused does not admit his guilt and reserves himself the right for further written explanations…”
On September 23, 1942, a special NKVD unit sentenced Fr. Abrantowicz to 10 years of forced labor. The judge made a special note in the sentence that the camp must be the one near Karaganda. The accused never arrived there. For reasons unknown, he remained in the Butyrki prison. He died there on January 2, 1946. On October 24, 1992, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation fully rehabilitated Fr. Abrantowicz.
On May 31, 2003, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the Metropolitan of Moscow, officially opened, at the Major Seminary of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in St. Petersburg, Russia, the beatification process of the Martyrs slaughtered by the Communist authorities of the Soviet Union. Among the candidates for the honors of the altar is Father Fabian Abrantowicz.
We encourage you to seek the intercession of Fr. Fabian for your needs, we would also ask you to heartily pray for the beatification of Fr. Fabian. If your prayers, through his intercession, are answered, please contact the Postulator General for the Marian Causes of Canonization.