By Laura Ieraci
KRAKOW, Poland — Thousands of people gathered in Poland’s second-largest city this past spring for the beatification of the first lay nurse, venerated for her unflinching testimony to her Catholic faith, even during the darkest days of the communist regime.
Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska was beatified April 28 at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow, where St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, renowned for her visions of Jesus and for promoting the Divine Mercy Chaplet, is buried.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided; Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow concelebrated.
“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,” says the website of the National Association of Catholic Nurses of the United States. “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.”
The National Association of Catholic Nurses was represented at the beatification by Geraldine McSweeney, president of the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants. McSweeney said the celebration was “so joyful and spiritual.”
“The choir was beautiful; their singing would lift you to heaven. There were thousands on the grounds of the basilica, where the ceremony was relayed on giant screens,” she said.
Blessed Hanna was born in Warsaw in 1902, but her family moved to Krakow soon after, where her father taught Polish literature at Jagiellonian University.
The First World War had a profound impact on Hanna’s career choice. Close to the end of the war, she helped to care for the wounded at the Krakow railway station. She graduated from nursing school in 1924, and pursued graduate studies in France and Switzerland.
The Second World War brought personal tragedy for Hanna: her father was arrested and died in a concentration camp and her brother was murdered. Despite these losses, she persevered in offering nursing care to wartime refugees.
After the war, Hanna received a nursing scholarship in the United States, after which she returned to Poland and became a lecturer, eventually becoming the director of the Kobierzyn School of Psychiatric Nursing in 1957.
Though she was forced into early retirement from teaching, her passion for nursing continued. She became a close friend of St. John Paul II, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, with whom she developed parish-based nursing care in the city. Hanna died of cancer in 1973, and Archbishop Wojtyla celebrated her funeral.
The cause for her canonization was opened in 1998, and Pope Francis declared her venerable in 2015. A first miracle was attributed to her intercession two years later, opening the way for her beatification.
Read more about Blessed Hanna here.
1. Portrait of Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska.
2. Geraldine McSweeney stands by the side altar at St. Nicholas church where Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska’s remains lie. (Photos courtesy of the American National Association of Catholic Nurses)