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Blessed Ceslaus of Poland, Friar and Priest
Bl. Ceslaus, the near kinsman and probably the brother of another great glory of our Order, St. Hyacinth, belonged to the noble Polish family of the Odrowatz, and was born in the castle of his ancestors, not far from Breslau, in Silesia. His baptismal name, which signifies in his native tongue honor and glory, was a presage of his future greatness, and he early gave signs of the holiness which he was afterwards to attain. The frankness and amiability of his character and the spotless purity of his life gave him a singular influence for good over his companions. The early education of Ceslaus and Hyacinth was carried on under the superintendence of their uncle, Yvo Odrowatz, who afterwards became Bishop of Cracow, and so distinguished were the two young saints for piety and diligence that people used to call them " the two sages." Later on, Ceslaus was sent to Italy to complete his studies and take his degree in theology and jurisprudence, which he did with much success. On his return to Poland, he embraced the ecclesiastical state, as his brother had already done, and was soon made Canon of the Cathedral of Cracow and raised to other posts of dignity and trust. He employed his ample revenues in relieving the poor and his influence in redressing grievances and in supporting the cause of the weak and the oppressed.
In the year 1220, Bishop Yvo set out on a journey to Rome, taking with him in his retinue his two saintly nephews, and also Henry of Moravia and Herman the Teutonic. Shortly after their arrival in the Eternal City, they witnessed one of Saint Dominic's most striking miracles, the raising to life of the young Napoleon. Struck with admiration at the prodigy, Bishop Yvo conceived the desire of taking back with him to Poland some of the sons of the great Patriarch in order to establish the Order in his diocese. The Saint just at that time had, according to his custom, dispersed his children in all directions; moreover, none of them were acquainted with the Polish language, and he was, therefore, not in a position to meet the prelate's wishes. Yvo pressed his request still more warmly, insisting that he must have some Friars Preachers to labor for the salvation of his flock. Then Saint Dominic, yielding to a sudden inspiration, exclaimed : " My Lord, you have with you four young clerics ; give them to me. I will clothe them with our habit, form them to apostolic virtues, and return them to you in a short time full of zeal and devotedness." The four chosen souls joyfully accepted the will of God as manifested to them by the voice of Saint Dominic, received the habit from his hands, and soon became models of every religious virtue. At the end of six months their training was complete ; they were admitted to profession and sent to preach the Word of God and establish the Order in the countries of the North. After assisting in the foundation of the Convents of Frisach and Cracow, which were soon filled with numerous and fervent Communities, Blessed Ceslaus was sent to plant the Order in Bohemia. He received from the king a site for the Convent at Prague, and the Community there soon reckoned as many as a hundred and twenty-six members. He also founded in Bohemia a Monastery for nuns of the Order, and then set out for Silesia, where he established the Convent of Breslau, which henceforth became his headquarters, and whence he undertook apostolic journeys to evangelize the inhabitants of Central Europe and the southern shores of the Baltic. It was in the course of these journeys that he became acquainted with Saint Hedwig, Duchess of Poland and Silesia, who placed herself under his spiritual guidance.
Blessed Ceslaus was pre-eminently a man of prayer; he devoted to this holy exercise many hours of the day and prolonged his vigils far into the night; he led a most penitential life, afflicting his body by continual fasts, disciplines, and other austerities, and taking his scanty rest on the bare ground, with a stone or a log of wood for his pillow. God was pleased to confirm his preaching by the gift of miracles. Coming once to the banks of the Oder, he found the river so swollen and stormy that the ferrymen absolutely refused to carry him across. Like his brother Saint Hyacinth under similar circumstances, Blessed Ceslaus betook himself to prayer; then he stretched his mantle on the raging waters, and, making the sign of the cross, embarked upon it, and in a few minutes safely reached the opposite bank, his clothes, and even his mantle, remaining perfectly dry. He cured great numbers who were sick of various diseases and raised four dead persons to life. The most remarkable of these miracles was that which he worked on a boy, the only son of his mother, whom he raised from the dead after he had been eight days drowned.
When the savage Tartars besieged Breslau about A.D. 1241, the terrified inhabitants took refuge in the fortress, and Blessed Ceslaus and his Community fasted and prayed incessantly, in the hope of averting the anger of God from the city. One day when the enemy was attacking the walls, the servant of God came upon the ramparts, crucifix in hand, exhorting the besieged to put their trust in God. Suddenly he was seen to be encompassed with light, and over his head appeared an immense globe of fire, whence issued burning darts which fell upon the enemy, killing some and blinding others. The panic-struck Tartars threw down their arms and fled in wild confusion ; some of them were converted by the prodigy and received baptism together with their prince.
A few months after this miraculous event, Blessed Ceslaus was seized with his last illness. After making a touching exhortation to his Brethren, in which he reminded them that all monastic observances are of no value unless based on humility and self-renunciation, he clasped his crucifix and fervently exclaimed : "Lord, Thou hast been the sole object of my desires ; deign in return to admit me to Thy Divine embraces." The glorious Mother of God, whom he had tenderly loved, solaced him in his last moments and conducted him to the joys of heaven on the 16th of July, A.D. 1242.
That same night he appeared, in company with the holy Apostles, to a Dominican nun, and told her, that, in reward of his labors in preaching the gospel, he had been numbered in their ranks. Many prodigies were worked at his tomb, whence issued a miraculous dust which healed many diseases, specially headaches and fevers. Blessed Ceslaus was beatified by Clement XI.
O God, who endowed the Blessed Ceslaus with virginal purity of manners and a burning zeal for the salvation of souls, and rendered him wonderful to the people of divers nations for his holy actions and the grace of propagating the faith; grant, we beseech You, at his intercession, that we may be ever steadfast in the faith, and be enabled, through the gift of Your mercy, to come at length to You, who alone are the author and giver of eternal salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.