Joseph Kalinowski, a native of Poland, was born on September 1, 1835, a time when “Poland” had not been on the European map for more than 40 years. Polish-Lithuanian territory, which had for hundreds of years been one republic, was brutally divided in 1795 by the three foreign powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria. This injustice was never accepted by the patriotic peoples of Poland and Lithuania. “As long as we live,” they sang, “Poland is not dead.” This was the historical context into which Joseph was born.
The second child of Andrew Kalinowski and Josephine Polonska, Joseph lost his mother when he was only two months old. His father remarried and had three other children, but unfortunately his second mother died when he was nine. His father then remarried again and from this marriage four children were born. It was ?whom Joseph would call “mother.” She was exceptional at loving and caring for the children. Joseph’s parents succeeded in making it a true home of happiness grounded in faith. At the same time they instilled in the children high patriotic ideals.
Joseph Kalinowski always did well in school. He was especially known for his skills in mathematics. After high school he intended to go on for further studies; however, all Polish Universities had been closed due to the occupation of foreign powers. In consequence, this led Joseph to the school of Military Engineering in St. Petersburg. He would have preferred Civil Engineering, but enrollment there was already full. So Joseph was “a soldier by necessity, but engineer by choice.”
One biographer noted about this period of Joseph’s life: “Studies at the Military Academy constitute the saddest period of Kalinowski’s life, years marked by crisis of faith and searching for the meaning of life. His faith, formed at home but now lacking the protection of this environment, began to crumble. Religious indifference was deeply rooted and fashionable in intellectual circles of the Russian capital of that time and greatly influenced the young student, who was uprooted from his country’s cultural and religious environment.”
When his studies ended in 1857, Joseph was awarded the rank of Lieutenant and named professor of mathematics at the Academy. But he did not wish to stay on; instead he pursued work in civil engineering. He was later promoted to the rank of Captain of the General Staff, but Kalinowski was becoming more and more convinced that his place was not in the armed forces of the Czar. An eyewitness to many injustices to his people caused by the Russian government, he could no longer bear it: “I was no longer capable of wearing the Russian uniform while my heart was sick with the knowledge that the blood of my countrymen was being shed.” He was then discharged, by request, of his military duty.
Next, Kalinowski decided to join the insurrectionists of his own country, even agreeing to become War Minister for the region of Vilna, not so much as to cause more conflict but in order to save as many lives as possible and to avoid making matters worse for his countrymen. He knew well the power of the Czar military forces. However, Joseph was arrested by the Russians and sent to prison for a grave crime: An ex-captain of the Czar’s army, he had become Minister of War against the Czar. His sentence was passed: capital punishment. He was spared from this through the pressure of those who knew him and because the Russians wanted to avoid Joseph being viewed as a martyr of the people. Thus his death sentence was commuted to ten years of forced labor in Siberia. During this period of his life in exile he began to cultivate a profound interior life, nourished by frequent participation in the sacraments and personal prayer. He was seen by some of his fellow workers as an angel of God sent to them at this time of much suffering; he was selfless in his efforts of helping and guiding others. It was also in Siberia that Joseph’s vocation to the religious life and the priesthood matured and crystalized; he had been thinking about it even before his arrest. In February of 1874, Kalinowski was finally released from exile.
Joseph returned from Siberia with the reputation of being a man of profound faith and upright moral conduct, and a good educator of the young. Because of this he received many offers to undertake the education of sons of some noble Polish figures. He did accept one offer, that of the office of tutor of Augustus, the son of Prince Ladislaus Czartoryski who was then residing in Paris.
Eventually, after some time, Joseph again pursued his religious and priestly vocation as a Discalced Carmelite Friar. On November 26, 1877, he was clothed in the habit of the Order and was given the name Raphael of St. Joseph. After ordination to the Priesthood, Raphael immediately began to work for the rebirth of the Teresian Carmel in Poland. Highly regarded by his superiors and his fellow religious, he was continually given the office of superior or other areas of responsibility. During 1891-1894 he became founder and first superior at the Wadowice monastery. Father Raphael was a leader, a man of courageous initiatives. He ordinarily brought these initiatives to a very successful completion. He placed all his knowledge and his rich experience of life at the service of the Church and the Order. Father Raphael’s contemporaries regarded him as a “living prayer,” a man who gave himself completely. Prayer impelled him to serve others and to spend himself in the service of the Church. He was someone who commanded respect with a word, a glance and, above all, with his life. He was also known as a keen spiritual director, confessor and a father to all. St. Raphael also continuously worked toward promoting unity among the Churches of East and West through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. His feast is celebrated on November 19th.