Protector of the Aflicted
National shrine in Poland and Dachau liberation bear witness to St. Joseph’s intercessory power
By Adrian Walczuk. 12/1/2021
Knights of Columbus in Poland are blessed to have a particularly historic place for pilgrimage during this Year of St. Joseph: the world’s oldest shrine dedicated to the protector of the Holy Family. The National Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, the oldest city in Poland, is home to the first crowned image of Jesus’ adoptive father — an image that has been associated with countless miracles since 1670.
That year, St. Joseph appeared in a dream to a man in the nearby village of Szulec. The man was paralyzed, and his suffering was such that he had prayed to God to end his life. St. Joseph promised him that he would recover if he had an image of the Holy Family made according to his instructions and gave it to the church, which itself dates back to the 12th century. The man followed the mysterious command and was healed.
Soon, many Catholics began coming to Kalisz to make requests in front of the extraordinary image of St. Joseph, who is depicted with Mary, Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In 1770, due to numerous graces received in answer to prayers, the painting was deemed “miraculous,” and 26 years later a representative of Pope Pius VI visited the shrine to ceremonially crown the image. By the end of the 18th century, the shrine had received about 1,000 votive offerings given in thanksgiving for healings and help obtained through the intercession of St. Joseph.
Among the many miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Joseph of Kalisz, the story of the prisoners in Dachau concentration camp during World War II is of special importance.
A large group of prisoners in that camp were Polish priests who had a great devotion to St. Joseph of Kalisz. In the spring of 1945, as the war was coming to end, they sensed that their Nazi captors would liquidate the camp before they could be rescued. The priests turned to St. Joseph. A committee was formed to prepare prisoners for an act of consecration to the saint; at the center of the preparations was a novena.
On April 22, the last day of the novena, about 800 prisoners consecrated themselves to St. Joseph. A week later, American soldiers liberated the camp. It was later learned that, according to Heinrich Himmler’s orders, the prisoners were due to be executed just a few hours after the camp was liberated.
The priests made a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the shrine in Kalisz in 1948 and returned each year for many decades afterward, fulfilling the vow they made in Dachau to spread devotion to St. Joseph. In 1970, they created a memorial chapel, called the Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude of the Dachau Priests, in the basement of the church.
Years later, St. John Paul II referred to the miraculous events in the Nazi camp when he visited Kalisz in 1997. “I would like to … thank the priests, prisoners of Dachau [who] entrusted their suffering, their Dachau fate to the Guardian of the Church of God,” the pope said. “On pilgrimage to the St. Joseph Shrine in Kalisz, they pray annually for their persecutors, and they also remember their brothers who were not given the chance to survive the camp and live long enough to see the day of freedom in their homeland.”
The story of the Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz and the liberation of Dachau is told in the K of C-produced documentary St. Joseph: Our Spiritual Father. Learn more about the film at kofc.org/stjoseph.
ADRIAN WALCZUK writes from Kraków, Poland, where he is a member of Father Michał Sopocko Council 17667.