Biography

Bolesław Kominek came into this world on 23 December 1903 as the first child of Franciszek Kominek and Katarzyna (née Kozielska). He was born and grew up in Radlin in Silesia, which was then part of Prussia. He came from a declared Polish family, even though he attended a German elementary school. In 1915 he started high school in Rybnik. The period of his education coincided with the tumultuous years of World War I, then the Silesian Uprising and plebiscite and the birth of an independent Poland. At this time, the young Kominek met Polish activists in Silesia, such as Maksymilian Basista. Bolesław Kominek passed his secondary school-leaving examination in Polish Rybnik in 1923, and then decided to enter the Silesian Theological Seminary in Kraków and study theology at the Jagiellonian University. Bolesław Kominek was ordained a priest on 11 September 1927 by Bishop Arkadiusz Lisiecki.

Soon he undertook further doctoral studies in Paris, at the Catholic Institute. From this period, Fr. Kominek made numerous contacts. For example, he made an acquaintance with Jean-Marie Villot, later cardinal, who then during the pontificate of Paul VI was the secretary of state of the Holy See. In Paris, he met Fr. Stefan Wyszyński for the first time, with whom he struck a lifelong friendship. He attended, among others, lectures by Jacques Maritain, one of the leading Catholic intellectuals of the 20th century. As part of his studies at the Catholic Institute of Fr. Bolesław Kominek prepared a dissertation entitled “La philosophie de R. Eucken à la Lumiere de Thomisme”, and on this basis in June 1930 he received his doctorate.

After returning to Poland, he briefly worked as a vicar in the Dąb district of Katowice. On 25 July 1930, Stanisław Adamski, the bishop of Katowice, appointed him secretary of his personal office with the task of organizing the Catholic Action in the diocese. In this work, Fr. Bolesław Kominek was very successful organizationally. He also participated in the work of the editorial board of “Gość Niedzielny” and published a lot. Soon he became one of the closest colleagues of Bishop Adamski, his great mentor.

With the outbreak of World War II, Fr. Bolesław Kominek fled Katowice, probably fearing a threat from the German side (his name was included in the so-called wanted book of people “dangerous” to the Third Reich). However, in October 1939, he returned to the diocese. During the occupation, he ensured the connection of the diocese with the bishops of Katowice — Adamski and Bieńek, who had been displaced from there, he also worked closely with the German vicars general who were in charge of the diocese at that time, and he had special relations with Fr. Franz Wosnitz. He was involved in underground charity activity, helped those imprisoned in German camps, collaborated with the secret Polish civil administration, and in the last months of the war he was probably also a chaplain to the Home Army.

As a result of the border changes decided after the war by the victorious powers (the USSR, USA, Great Britain), it became necessary to regulate the situation of the Church in the territories incorporated into the Polish state. In this situation, Cardinal Primate August Hlond returned to Poland from internment provided with papal powers to establish apostolic administrators in these areas. On August 15, 1945, Fr. Bolesław Kominek was appointed apostolic administrator in Opole. In this work, he devoted a lot of effort to social integration – between the local population and the incoming displaced persons. He did not agree to the so-called repatriate parishes. He tried to protect the population, including the German population, against the repressions of the strengthening communist government. He carried out work related to the reconstruction of places of worship and church institutions destroyed by the war.

As a result of the escalating conflict between the communist authorities of Poland and the Catholic Church, on 6 January 1951 he was moved from the apostolic administration (as were other administrators from the Western and Northern Territories). After a short period of internment in the Benedictine monastery in Lubiń (Greater Poland), he worked in the Kraków curia, from where he was also removed under pressure from the authorities on 17 March 1953. From then on, he stayed at the Ursuline Convent in Siercza, near Wieliczka. On 26 April 1951, Pope Pius XII appointed him titular bishop of Sophene with the intention of performing the function of church governor in Wrocław. On 10 October 1954, Bolesław Kominek was consecrated a bishop by the Przemyśl bishop, Franciszek Barda, who conferred this ordination secretly in a private chapel.

In the autumn of 1956, after changes at the top of the communist government in Poland and the release of Primate Stefan Wyszyński from prison, it became possible for the apostolic administrators to return to the Western Territories. Bishop Bolesław Kominek officially took over control of the Wrocław diocese on 16 December 1956. In the first years of his term in Wrocław, he focused heavily on material reconstruction, integration work and the creation of institutions of Christian social life, which was difficult in the face of the pressure of the atheistic totalitarian state. Among other initiatives, in 1957 he established the Catholic Scientific Institute in Wrocław, the activity of which was soon banned by the authorities.

In the second half of the 1950s, he established relations with communities of German Christians, Catholics and Evangelicals, interested in improving Polish-German relations. He corresponded with the representatives of the Reconciliation Service for Peace or the German sections of the Pax Christi organization. For the Germans, he became a key partner in talks on post-war reconciliation.

In 1960, the communist authorities allowed Bishop Kominek to leave Poland for the first time and travel to Rome. From then on, Bishop Kominek tried to leave regularly. It was his great concern to inform the Holy See and the international community about issues related to the Polish Western Territories. Kominek aimed at regularising the canonical situation of the diocese in these areas, which was very difficult in the absence of a post-war peace treaty. On 19 March 1962, he was elevated to the title of titular archbishop of Euchaita.

He participated in the debates of the first and fourth session of the Second Vatican Council. He worked in the Council’s Commission for the Apostolate of the Laity and in the Commission for Press and Events. During the last session of the Council, he wrote the Message of the Polish bishops and their German brothers in Christ’s Pastoral Office. This document, signed on 18 November 1965 by all Polish bishops residing in Rome, went down in history as a milestone in the process of Polish-German reconciliation after World War II. He contributed to the normalization of diplomatic relations between Poland and Germany and the normalization of the borders of the Western dioceses in 1972. To this day, this is remembered as one of the most important documents of the twentieth-century heritage of Europe, and the sentence “We offer forgiveness and ask for forgiveness” has gone down in history as a marker for a peaceful shaping of international relations.

Archbishop Bolesław Kominek was also one of the founders of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences; in the years 1971-1974 he was the vice-president of this organization. His efforts to normalize the status of the dioceses in the Western Territories and Polish-German relations bore fruit. After Germany and the RPL signed the treaty on the normalization of mutual relations on 7 December 1970 and the German government recognized the de facto border on the Oder and Neisse rivers, it became possible to regularise church matters. Ultimately, this matter was regularised in the apostolic constitution of Paul VI (Episcoporum Poloniae Coetus) of 28 June 1972.

Bolesław Kominek was created a cardinal on 5 March 1973. A year later, on 10 March 1974, he died. He was buried in Wrocław cathedral.

Marek Mutor