Monday, March 05, 2007

The Saint and the Patriot: A Double Dose of Casimir

Today in Chicago they celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day, and city (but not suburban, I'm bloggin' in between periods here at Bryan Middle School) employees actually get the day off in honor of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish patriot who, at the request of Benjamin Franklin, left his own country to help lead the United States' fight for independence. General Pulaski successfully led the Battle of Brandywine before dying trying to secure the city of Savannah for the colonists. But as valiant as this patriot's death was to the cause of independence, this blog will concentrate mostly on his namesake—yesterday's saint.

Casimir, the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania, was born in 1458, the third of thirteen children of Casimir IV, King of Poland, and Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of Albert II, King of Bohemia and Austria. Casimir was only fourteen when his father commanded him to lead an army against Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. However, unlike the Revolutionary War hero, when St. Casimir saw that he was greatly outnumbered and that his officers were deserting, he called the battle off.

Although Pope Sixtus IV later supported this decision, Casimir's dad was ashamed of his son's perceived cowardice, and banished him to a castle in Dobzki for three months of house arrest. After that, Casimir vowed to never take up arms again.

Prince Casimir also had no desire to be king, but that did not mean he did not care for the people of Poland. In fact, he was so persistent in bringing the needs of the destitute and the oppressed before his father (as well as giving all his personal belongings away to the needy), that Casimir gained the nickname "Defender of the Poor." He spent more time in church than court, often missing meals for prayers. He could not be convinced to marry but had an immense love for Mary, and requested that a copy of his favorite hymn to Our Lady be buried next to him. Sadly that day would come far too soon for the poor of Poland, as Casimir succumbed to tuberculosis—dead at the age of twenty-three.

But like "The Little Flower," St. Therese, the other slight saint who died from TB at an early age, Casimir spent a lot of his time in heaven helping those on earth, for many miracles were reported not only at his tomb, but ironically for those who asked his intercession on the battlefield. And the man the Polish call "The Peacemaker" is still mending fences now—my brother, Father Bill O'Toole, who is currently pastor of St. Casimir's Church in Hammond, Indiana, tells how the saint (along with his friend, the Blessed Mother) is bringing reconciliation between the old Polish and new Hispanic members of his congregation. And so while Pulaski's death helped bring about Revolution, Prince Casimir's life continues to bring revelation—in the hope of Our Lord's Resurrection. So happy parish feast day Father Bill, and don't forget to ask a favor of your Polish patron for all of us here at Fighting Irish Thomas.

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