Hanna Chrzanowska – 1902-1973
Hanna Chrzanowska was born October 7th 1902 in Warsaw, into a family who had rendered great services to the academic, cultural and nursing life of Poland. Her father Ignacy Chrzanowski, a renowned professor of Polish literature, came from a family of landowners. Her mother Wanda, neé Szlenker, came from a wealthy Lutheran family of Warsaw industrialists. Her mother’s sister, Zofia Szlenkier founded a children’s hospital in Warsaw and became a director of the Warsaw School of Nursing. Both families were renowned for their extensive charity and philanthropic work.
In 1910, Hanna Chrzanowska’s parents moved to Kraków where Professor Chrzanowski took the chair of Polish Literature at the Jagiellonian University. In Kraków Hanna attended a high school run by Ursuline sisters where she graduated with distinction. Having left school she enrolled onto a Red Cross course in order to help nurse victims of the Polish-Bolshevik war. In December 1920 she commenced studies at the Jagiellonian University. Upon hearing about the establishment of a new school of nursing in Warsaw, she abandoned her university course and immediately enrolled in the school of nursing, in order to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse.
Having graduated from the school in 1924, she was awarded scholarships to France and Belgium, where she became acquainted with community nursing. During the years 1926-1929, she worked as an instructor at the University School of Nursing in Kraków. From 1929 to 1939 she also edited a nursing monthly – Polish Nurse – the first such professional nursing journal in Poland. At this time she was living in Warsaw. She published numerous professional articles and also made successful attempts at literary works, some of which were semi-autobiographical. She took keen interest in the activities of the Polish Association of Professional Nurses and was its Vice-chair for many years. She also actively participated in preparing the first Nursing Act of 1935. She also contributed to the formation of the Catholic Union of Polish Nurses, in 1937.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought numerous painful experiences for Hanna. On October 2nd 1939, her aunt Zofia Szlenkier died in the battle for Warsaw. On November 6th her father was arrested as part of Sonderaktion Krakau, and along with other professors, he was deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died shortly afterwards in January 1940. In the spring of 1940 Hanna’s only brother Bohdan, a Soviet POW, was murdered in the Katyń woods by Soviet troops. In spite of these tragic experiences, she did not lose hope. Already at the beginning of the war she went back to Kraków and volunteered to work with the Polish Welfare Committee, dedicating all of her skills and powers to taking care of refugees, prisoners and displaced persons. She took special care of orphans, including Jewish children, trying to find them foster families and safe shelters. She even organised summer-camps outside of Kraków for youngsters and established food and milk banks for starving children. She worked tirelessly, frequently risking her health and life. The experiences of the atrocities of the war had a significant influence on the development of her spiritual life. It became a time of seeking God’s support; a time of discovering the need for deep personal prayer and appreciating the meaning of the Eucharist. This time of intense spiritual growth was accompanied by the formation of a truly gospel inspired heroic love of her neighbour.
After the war, Hanna Chrzanowska resumed work in the Kraków School of Nursing as the head of the department of community nursing. Meanwhile she was offered a scholarship to the USA to broaden her knowledge and understanding of community and home nursing. For several years she lectured on community nursing and gave lectures on community health to nursing teachers in Warsaw. As an instructor and tutor she always put a strong emphasis on educating young nurses in a spirit of authentic service to the sick, treating patients with dignity and paying attention not only to their physical health, but also to their spiritual needs. In 1957, she was fired from her post and given the position of director of the Psychiatric School of Nursing in Kobierzyn, outside of Kraków. One year later the school was closed down and she took early retirement.
During all of her professional life Hanna did not conceal her religious beliefs or her attachment to Christian values, even during the darkest days of Stalinist communism. On the contrary, she manifested clear and credible testimony to her vibrant faith. Such an attitude prompted respect and recognition, especially among her students and colleagues but provoked aversion and repressive measures on the part of communist authorities.
Retirement did not mean rest for Hanna. She knew from personal experience the numerous healthcare needs of the people in Kraków – some of whom were friends and relations – but many more who were lonely, abandoned, elderly, or disabled and chronically sick, who were deprived of any kind of care. Following God’s inspiration, she decided to organise for them professional nursing care, based on church structures and independent of the inefficient socialist health care system. Having developed the idea, she turned to Father Karol Wojtyła, later bishop of Kraków (now St Pope John Paul II), for advice. He in turn pointed her in the direction of Father Machay from the Basilica of the BVM, in the old town square, who gave his full approval of her plan to be implemented in his parish. Parish nursing in Kraków was established. Having received the moral support of the church authorities, Hanna proceeded to organise parish nursing not only in Kraków but within the whole archdiocese.
Endowed with a charismatic personality, she gathered around her a wide group of associates and volunteers including nurses, religious sisters, priests, seminarians, physicians, professors and students. With the help of her volunteers she organised holidays and retreats for her house-bound patients, which helped them rediscover the joys of life and gave them strength to bear their daily cross. Thanks to her efforts, the custom of celebrating the Holy Mass in the home of the sick became popularised, as well as the custom of pastoral visits to the homes of the sick and housebound. For her nurses and volunteers she also organised retreats and delivered regular conferences at which she would explain her nursing philosophy of spiritual care. She worked closely with Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, in all areas of work concerning the sick. As a result of his recommendation she was awarded the medal ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ by Pope Paul VI.
Hanna’s interior prayer life and practical nursing spirituality was profoundly influenced by Benedictine spirituality – and in 1956 she became an oblate of Tyniec Abbey. While caring for the sick and those who suffered, she gradually came to realise that she was serving Jesus Christ himself.
After suffering from a recurrance of cancer, Hanna died in Kraków on Sunday morning the 29th April 1973. The funeral Mass and ceremony in Rakowiecki Cemetery was conducted by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła. In the homily he said: We thank you Miss Hanna that you were among us… an embodiment of Christ’s beatitudes from the sermon on the Mount, especially the one saying – ‘Blessed are the merciful’. Those who knew Hanna well all testify that she heroically obeyed the Greatest Commandment of all – to love God with all her heart and her neighbour.
In 1995 nurses from the Catholic Association of Nurses and Midwives submitted a request to Cardinal Franciszek Macharski to open Hanna’s canonisation cause. The Cardinal who once said of Hanna that she was the conscience of the nursing profession, responded positively to their request and Hanna’s cause was formally opened November 3rd 1998. It was the first time that a professional group had petitioned the Church to canonise one of its members! On 7th July 2017, Pope Francis I declared that a miracle attributed to the Venerable Servant of God had prepared the way for her beatification.
God, who in a special way called your servant Hanna Chrzanowska to the service of the sick, poor and abandoned, grant that she who answered your call with all her heart, should be counted among the saints while encouraging us with her example to bring help to our neighbours. Through her intercession grant us the grace… for which we pray in faith and hope. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be…
Please keep us informed about graces obtained through the intercession of Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska at the Postulator’s Office: Parafia Sw Mikolaja, 31-034 Krakow, Kopernica 9