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Mother Zofia Czeska

The founder of the school and the Congregation of the Virgins of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Congregatio Virginum a Praesentatione Beatae Mariae Virginis)




   The history of the Church, from antiquity down to our own day, is full of admirable examples of consecrated persons who have sought and continue to seek holiness through their involvement in education, while at the same time proposing holiness as the goal of education. Indeed, many of them have achieved the perfection of charity through teaching. This is one of the most precious gifts which consecrated persons today can offer to young people, instructing them in a way that is full of love (...) [John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 96]

   The Holy Father addressed members of the consecrated life, who are devoted to education work with the ardent encouragement, to be faithful to their founding charism and to their traditions, knowing that the preferential love for the poor finds a special application in the choice of means capable of freeing people from that grave form of poverty which is the lack of cultural and religious training (Ibid., 97).


   One of the persons who devoted themselves to educational work was Mother Zofia Czeska. She was born in 1584 in Poland. The daughter of Mathew Maciejowski and Catherine Lubowiecka. Her parents belonged to the middle-class noble family of the Malopolska, who inhabited the regions of Cracow and Sandomierz. They had nine children: five sons and four daughters. Zofia was the third. When she was 16 she married John Czeski. When she was 22 she became a childless widow. Being still young she received many offers of remarriage but she preferred to remain single. The rest of her life she devoted to the work of Christian mercy, with special attention for orphaned and poor girls. Inspired by love of God and care for the salvation of the souls, out of her own resources, she organised in her own houses between 1621 and 1627 in Cracow at Szpitalna Street 18, the Educational and Formation Institute, called The Virgin's House of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; that House of Orphans was intended to educate and care of girls and prepare them for the adult life.

   The times in which Zofia lived were difficult and marked by suffering caused by high level of death from famine, drought, diseases, plagues, floods and wars which left many children orphaned. In many cases they had nobody to care for them and nothing to live on. They relied on their relatives and very often had to beg for money and were even forced into prostitution. Zofia Czeska in order to prevent those various forms of danger and human suffering sacrificed the rest of her life and all her goods for the poor and orphaned children. Giving them from the very beginning the best possible education and formation she intended to prepare them to face the future with dignity and happiness for this life and for the sake of the endangered life of every child of God. To the very end of her life she gave herself to the service of education, fulfilling her duties as the Mother Superior of the Institute and the teacher and formator as well. With perseverance and fortitude she organised the lawful and material support of the Institute. On May 31st 1627 she received approval of the Institute by the foundation decree of the bishop of Cracow Mgr Marcin Szyszkowski on the 24th of May 1633 the foundation was confirmed in the name of the Holy See by Apostolic Nuncio Honorat Visconti. On the 30th June 1633 her institute was approved by the King of Poland Władysław IV Waza.

    It was a pious institute organised in the fashion of a religious order but it was not one in the strict sense. The Ordinary bishops of Cracow were its protectors and spiritual guidance was provided by the Jesuit order.

   Wishing to provide stability for her institute, the Servant of God undertook efforts to shape it into the form of a religious order and of active observance (with simple religious vows and without the strict closure) had just begun to be founded within the Church all around the world. God had called his Servant, Zofia Czeska when she was organising the future religious order. She died with the people's opinion of being saint on the 1st of April 1650. She was buried in Blessed Mary's (Mariacki) Church in Cracow.

   The permission for the establishment of the religious order of the Virgins of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Presentation Virgins) was given by Apostolic See in 1658 and its statues were approved on the 13th January 1660 by the Bishop of Cracow, Andrew Trzebicki. The statues had been worked out on the basis of the Constitutions of the Conservatory of Saint Eufemia in Rome. The foreword to the statues by the servant of God, Mother Zofia Czeska, is her spiritual testament: one living faith witness and an example of the exceptional love of God. In this foreword she unequivocally established the purpose and the intention of her activity. She underlined clearly the sensation of that call granted from god as a gift to "work in the education of girls in order to express gratitude for His goodness and love. She described it in simple words: "God needs nothing from us but He does need us for those who are the last with whom He identifies Himself". She was convinced that she was helping the girls in the most important things: their desire for salvation and holiness, according to the will of God. Her desire was to give everything she had to God, but - as she used to say - God as the Lord of all things, not being in need of any kind of donation, to his friends, servants, orphans and children implores us to give; and what is given to them it is like being given to Himself so He accepts that - this is the reason that she devoted her life to the most needy ones. Among them I chose the last children and orphans, i.e. the poor little girls living without any care, in order to educate them well because I am close to those of the little part I was put beside by the means of God's mercy.

   Mother Zofia Czeska, founded her spirituality on the cult of the Eucharist and the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary whom she venerated very much. It was Mary who was chosen as the Holy Patron of the new order. In the mystery of her Presentation in the temple we see the model of the complete self-giving to God. From that mystery, which in Latin stands for the word praesentatio, derives the title: "The Congregation of the Virgin of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary", in other words: "Virgins of the Presentation" (liturgical memorial of November 21st). It was the first religious order with that kind of spirituality and name. The mystery of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary reveals very deep meaning, it is the mystery of selfgiving to God. According to the tradition of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary as a little child was introduced to the temple of Jerusalem and therefore presented, offered by her parents to God, Virgin Mary brought to God herself as a gift. So we live in order to become the gifts to God. God has given Himself for us and so we should in exchange be the same for him. This is the base, the essence of every vocation, the essence of life of every Christian. In order to give ourselves to God we need to present to Him everything we live on, what we do, what we think and feel; all our weaknesses: simply everything we are for Him. If that is the method of our internal life then in this way we become more and more the gift to God. In the mystery of presentation to the temple, the Blessed Mother invites us to follow.

   This is also the leading motive of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation founded by the Mother Zofia Czeska. The charism of the Sisters of the Presentation is the practice of the mystery of the Presentation of Mary, expressed in constant dialog of love between God and man. The vocation of the Sisters of Presentation is not only living in God's presence by prayer, work and suffering, but as well helping young people to live their own mystery of presentation. Practically it means to live in the presence of the living God who is Love and to model our lives consciously as a personal response of our love. In similar words describes the spirituality of the Sisters of Presentation Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (Holy Father John Paul II), who as the pastor of the diocese of Cracow was writing letters and was addressing homilies to the Sisters of Presentation on the occasion of their patron feast. This mystery of Mary's Presentation was chosen by Servant of God Mother Zofia Czeska as a model for herself to follow, for her pupils and spiritual daughters of the founded Congregation.

   Mother Zofia Czeska both during her life and after the death was believed of being the saint. Memories of her, of her great love of God and her sensitivity towards the misfortune of another, have lasted up to the present moment. Her intercession is asked by many of the faithful. The remains of her body are now kept in the side chapel of St. John's church (that one of the Virgins of the Presentation) in Cracow. On April 1, 1995 His Em. Card. Franciszek Macharski the Metropolite of Cracow opened the canonical process concerning the heroic virtues and the question of sanctity of the Servant of God. On the November 20, 1997 the diocesan trial was closed and the trial acts were handed over to the Holy See. These acts are now being prepared for the status of Positio super virtutibus.

   The Congregation of the Virgins of the Presentation continues today, initiated by the Servant of God, educational activity in Poland: running schools, boarding schools, kindergartens, carrying on all kind of work amongst children and youth. Its general house is located in Cracow at no. 7, St. John Street with the lyceum and the gymnasium under the same roof. In the house of the Servant of God under no. 18 at the Hospital Street, there is the boarding school for girls. In the spirit of the Founder sisters work with children and youth in Ukraine: (Rohatyn, Lipówka, Halicz, Chodorów, Nowosiólki, Bukaczowce, Bursztyn, Staszowa Wola, Podolle).

   Mulierem fortem quis inveniet? "The women of the fortitude who finds?" - asks the Holy Scripture. The Servant of God Zofia Czeska was not only fortus but also valde prudens - very reasonable. She pointed out for herself a very noble goat and she courageously realised it, binding together the faith and love of God. Let us pray to God for the grace of approval by the Church the heroic state of her virtues and the sanctity of life and that she would be raised to the altars as the Patron Saint of teachers and male and female formators of children and young people (Rev. Prof. B. Przybyszewski).


THE PRAYER FOR THE BEATIFICATION


   O God, You are Love itself and in your goodness you let all people participate in realisation of your will. We thank You for the gifts given to the Servant of God, Mother Zofia Czeska, who following Mary in Her Presentation in the temple, gave herself totally to You and sacrificed her life to the education of minds and the formation of hearts of the poorest children and orphans. Through her, You God, called to existence within the Church a new religious family in the service of teaching and forming the children and female youth.

   Almighty and merciful God, raise her, we humbly ask You, to the glory of the blessed ones in order to make her a model and intercessor towards our perseverance in the education of new generations in the family and school, based on Truth and Christ's love, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.


A PRAYER OF THE FORMATORS


    Lord Jesus Christ, Divine Teacher, with tender love You gathered children to Yourself, assuring us that anybody who receives these little ones is receiving You in person; You also looked with love on the young man who asked about the sense of life.

   We humbly ask You through the intercession of the Servant of God, Zofia Czeska, who out of love for You through the intercession of the Servant of God, Zofia Czeska, who out of love for You renounced everything for orphans and the poor; giving herself totally to their service by spiritual formation and education ; grant us also the gift of wisdom and love to guide those who are under our care and protection. Teach us to follow the footsteps of your Servant Zofia Czeska and take part today in the construction of the "civilisation of love and life" so desired by the Holy Father John Paul II.

   Glory be to You Lord Jesus, Divine Master and Teacher, with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.


THE PRAYER FOR A SPECIAL GRACE


   O God of infinite love and mercy, who every day grant us the graces we need to follow inexhaustibly the footsteps of Christ carrying His Cross. We humbly wish to sing a song of thanksgiving for your Servant, Mother Zofia Czeska, whom You have chosen, in order to fulfil her vocation by total renouncing of any material goods, to devote herself to teach and form the poorest children out of love for You and the salvation of souls.

   We ask You, Lord, to number Your Servant Zofia Czeska among Your saints, and we ask You to grant us through her intercession the grace of ............................. for which we ask with faith and trust. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Thanksgivings for the graces received through the intercession of the Servant of God,
Mother Zofia Czeska, may be sent under indicated address:


Zgromadzenie Sióstr Prezentek
ul. św. Jana 7
31-017 Kraków, Poland


Pictures

1. The church of the Sisters of Presentation dedicated to SS. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in Cracow where their General House is located >>

2. The house of the Servant of God Zofia Czeska ot the Szpitalna Street in Cracow where she founded the school for girls >>

3. The signature and the seal of the Servant of God Zofia Czeska in a document from 1631 >>

4. The picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ransom of Slaves - the Mother of Liberty - which was particularly venerated by the Servant of God, decorated with the papal crowns by archibishop of Cracow Karol Wojtyła on the 9th of May 1965 >>

5. The remains of the body of Servant of God Zofia Czeska in the side chapel of St. John's church in Cracow >>

6. The picture of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary >>

7. Two schools of the Sisters of Presentation - the lyceum and gymnasium in Cracow, and the lyceum and gymnasium dedicated to John Paul II in Rzeszów >>

8. Official opening of the canonic investigation in the proces of prooving the heroic state of virtues and the opinion of being saint of the Servant of God Mother Zofia Czeska - April 1, 1995 >>

9. Closing of the beatification process on the diocesan level of the Servant of God Mother Zofia Czeska - November 20, 1997 >>

autors by s. Renata Gąsior, translated by ks. Karol Porczak, MS

With the permission of the Metropolitan Curia of Cracow, 30.04.2001, reg. no. 970/2001
His E. Bishop Jan Szkodoń, Wikariusz Generalny
Ks. Dr hab. Grzegorz Ryś, Cenzor