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Feliksa Kozlowska (also known as Felijca Kozlowska and Sister Maria Franciszka) (b. May 27, 1862 in Wieliczna - August 23, 1921 in Płock, Poland) was a Polish religious mystic and visionary who founded what eventually became the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, and, by implication, a dissident group which split from it in 1935, the Catholic Mariavite Church.
Already a nun and leader of religious vocationals, in 1893 Sister Maria Franciszka began to claim the experience of a series of religious visions, which were to continue intermittently until 1918. The first vision was said to tell her to begin an enhanced battle against the decadent state of the world, beginning with that of the Roman Catholic clergy in Poland. She said that the vision instructed her to form a new clerical order, whose primary goals were to propagate the Adoration of the Holy Sacrament and the Perpetual Help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was able to recruit some of the elite of the younger Polish clergy, especially those in the part of Poland that was then under the rule of the Russian Empire. They became known as "Mariavites" as their inspiration for this effort at greater sanctity was said to be inspired by an imitation of the life of Mary. This group continued for ten years, and in 1903 decided to attempt to get official recognition, or at least toleration, from the Vatican. This effort was led by Sister Maria's confidante, Fr. Jan Maria Michal Kowalski . Sister Maria herself, not wishing to break with the Vatican or be seen in any way as fostering heresy, largely stayed out of public view and left the political implications of the movement to others, particularly Fr. Kowalski.
As part of the effort to get official sanction from the Catholic hierarchy for the Mariavite movement, documentation was submitted under the offices of the Bishop of Plock, where Feliksa Kozlowska lived, to the Vatican. Fr. Kowalski led a delegation of Mariavites to the Holy See in 1904, and met with Pope Pius X. Kowalski seems to have been promised a high likelihood of success in his quest. He and his fellow Mariavites were then crushed when, in December 1904, Sister Maria Franciszka's alleged visions were denounced as mere hallucinations. In April, 1906, Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Tribus circites in which Feliska Kozlowska was criticized, and her followers were criticized harshly as well for treating her as a living saint and the equal to the Blessed Virgin. The final blow came in December, 1906 when Feliska Kozlowska and also Kowalski were excommunicated by name, and their followers as well. This was the first instance in history of a woman being excommunicated by name as a heretic, as opposed to being excommunicated by virtue of membership in a group deemed to be heretical.
In November, 1906, only a month prior to the final break with Rome, the Russian Empire granted the group official toleration in the part of Poland under its control. No doubt, cynical motives were afoot here – a split in the Polish Catholic Church, the tsarist officials realized, could help foster a split in Polish nationalist aspirations as well. In 1909, the Mariavites, in attempt to remain in the historic apostolic succession, began contact with the Old Catholic movement of Utrecht. In 1912 they were granted full recognition as a legal church in the Russian portion of Poland. They had previously begun work on their own cathedral in Plock. At this point they apparently had as many as 50-60,000 adherents in sixteen parishes, and grew greatly during World War I, with the movement having perhaps as many as 160,000 adherents around the time of its peak, 1917. In 1918, Sister Maria revealed the contents of her final vision. The name Old Catholic Mariavite Church was officially adopted in 1919, two years prior to Sister Maria's death.
After the war and the setting up of a new government for a reunited Poland, the group began to be openly persecuted, and membership declined, with many Mariavites returning to the Roman church. The pace of this accelerated in 1921, when Feliska Kozlowska died and was succeeded as the group's leader by Kowalski. Kowalski published a biography of Feliska and a compilation of her visions, and tried very much to keep her alive in the minds of followers, and make her authority over her followers his own. The hagiographic nature of this work and its elevation of Sister Maria to a status seeming co-equal with that of the Blessed Virgin Mary seemed to be excessive even to many Mariavites, and helped lead to the weakening and eventual split of the movement. In reality, many of the factual details surrounding the life of Sister Maria are shrouded in myths and legends, some perpetuated by Fr. Kowalski (who later elevated himself to archbishop of the Mariavites).
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