John Paul II beatified Józef Bilczewski in 2001 and Benedict XVI canonised him four years later.
Józef was born in 1860 in Wilamovice in southern Poland and attended secondary school in Wadowice, the future birthplace of the Polish pope. He was ordained a priest in Kraków by Cardinal Albino Dunajewski. He received a doctorate in theology from the University of Vienna and eventually became professor of dogmatic theology at the John Casimir University of Lviv.
Throughout his academic career he devoted himself to scientific work and his exceptional intellectual abilities were recognised by Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, who presented Fr Józef to the Holy Father as a candidate for the vacant Metropolitan See of Lviv. On December 17 1900, at the age of 40, he was named Archbishop of Lviv of the Latin Rite.
After accepting his new role, he summed up his pastoral plan as “totally sacrificing oneself for the Holy Church”. He placed a great emphasis on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and receiving Holy Communion. In a pastoral letter to priests he invited them to take part in two priestly associations: the Association for Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament and the Association of Aid to Poor Catholic Churches. He was also an advocate of unity, harmony and peace, and dedicated himself to the cause of social justice. He also placed a lot of emphasis on priestly vocations.
During the First World War he was outspoken in promoting the infinite love of God, capable of forgiving every type of sin and offence. He reminded his flock that they must obey God’s commandments, particularly that of brotherly love.
He died on March 20 1923 and was buried in a Lviv cemetery known as “the cemetery of the poor”.
In June 2001 the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognised as miraculous the healing of a nine-year-old boy’s third-degree burns after he asked Archbishop Bilczewski to intercede for him.
The beatification ceremony took place in the Archdiocese of Lviv on June 26 2001 during Blessed John Paul II’s visit to Ukraine.