Hanna Helena Chrzanowska was beatified by the Catholic Church on April 28 in Poland. This was the first time that the Church bestowed sainthood on a registered nurse and laywoman. It was also the first time that a professional organization petitioned the church for the canonization of one of its members.
In Krakow, Poland, Chrzanowska dedicated her life to nursing and nursing education and is above all recognized for her contributions to the home-based care of those left behind by the health care system. To truly serve the sick and needy one has to “withdraw yourself and let go the wide waters of love,” Chrzanowska wrote in her notes.
Chrzanowska was born in 1902. As a young girl, she was introduced to what later became her calling when, towards the end of the First World War, she helped to care for the wounded at Krakow railway station. After completing high school, she attended nursing school in Warsaw and also in 1925, on a scholarship, in France. During this time she joined the Ursuline Sisters of St. Benedict as an oblate – a person living in general society who has affiliated themselves with a monastic community.
From 1926 to 1929, Chrzanowska worked as an instructor at the University School of Nurses and Hygienists in Krakow, after which she was the editor of the “Nurse Poland” magazine for ten years. In 1939, World War II broke out in Poland and Chrzanowska devoted herself to organizing nurses in tending to the sick and wounded in her community.
After the war, a university school of maternity and nursing was opened in Krakow, and Chrzanowska was appointed as the head of the department dedicated to home nursing. She later also worked as a director at the School of Psychiatric Nursing in Kobierzyn.
After an early retirement, due to conflict with the communist government, Chrzanowska initiated a unique system of parish-based home care throughout Krakow for those who were chronically ill, poor and needy. She first shared her dream with the priest, Karol Wojtyla, who was later to become Pope John Paul II. Together they brought the service into life. The care of the sick involved professional nurses who were supported by nuns, clerics, and priests, as well as volunteer students, family members, and neighbors.
Chrzanowska was recognized for her contributions by two prestigious awards:
- the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal – awarded in 1965;
- and the Order of Polonia Restituta (Knight’s Cross) – awarded in 1971.
In 1966, Chrzanowska was diagnosed with cancer, and the disease eventually claimed her life in 1973. Wojtyla, then Cardinal, presided over her funeral. “We thank you, Miss Hanna, for having been among us … a particular incarnation of Christ’s blessings from the Sermon on the Mount, above all that he said ‘blessed [are] the merciful,” said Wojtyla.
The process leading to Chrzanowska’s beatification on April 28 started in 1998 with a petition by the Catholic Association of Polish Nurses and Midwives. She was declared venerable in 2015 by Pope Francis, and her beatification was approved in 2017.
You can read more about Hanna Helena Chrzanowska in her biography “Colours of Fire: The Life of Hanna Chrzanowska” written by Gosia Brykczynska. This title of the book is taken from Chrzanowska own words: “Let us not just think about fighting evil… can’t we also shout about goodness? … what I have observed are not just shades of a phantom. I see it all so clearly in the vivid colors of fire!”