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Cardinal Stephan Wyszyński, often called the “Primate of the Millennium” led the Polish Catholic Church for more than thirty years, and along with it, survived some of its most challenging times.
He was born in Zuzela, a tiny village bordering on the Bug River (a funny name, but a waterway with immense significance as a dividing line, in the cultural, religious, political, and military senses) on August 3, 1901. Like much of Poland, the area was ping-ponged around from Russia to whatever version of Poland was in effect at the time, and as a result of the instability, even families like Wyszyński’s which could claim some minor upper-class or noble status, were penurious and lived hard lives. His mother died when he was nine, and he spent the next decade or so in school and then seminary, and was ordained on August 3, 1924, his twenty-third birthday.
He continued his studies and earned a reputation among his fellows as a dedicated and thoughtful priest. So dedicated and thoughtful that he had to leave his living in Włocławek when the Second World War broke out, as he’d come to the attention of the Nazis, who viewed him as a likely candidate for leader of a resistance movement, and as someone who had rather more influence than they liked with the local population.