ST. HYACINTH: Apostle of the North; Apostle of Poland
Founder of the Church in Poland
1185 – 1257
Of noble ancestry Hyacinth was born at Oppeln, Silesia (then belonging to Poland) in 1185. His name is actually a corruption of his Polish name Jacek (a form of John) by which he was baptized that same year.
Studying at Cracow, Prague and Bologna Hyacinth received his doctorate in law and divinity. Bishop Vincent of Cracow then hired him as Canon of his See needing his assistance in the administration of the diocese.
When the pious Bishop resigned, Yvo, Hyacinth’s uncle was appointed to succeed him. When for some reason he had to go to Rome he took with him Hyacinth and Ceslas, another nephew.
Becomes a Dominican
It so happened that St. Dominic was in Rome at that time (1218). Because Hyacinth already a priest was so impressed by his strength of faith and compassion that he felt a profound conversion he asked to be received among the first disciples into Dominic’s newly organized Order of Preachers together with his compatriot Ceslas (who later became a saint too). They both received the Dominican habit from St. Dominic himself in the convent of Santa Sabina. This was for Hyacinth the crucial moment of his life.
After a brief novitiate of only six months by special dispensation they were allowed to make their vows. Hyacinth was then appointed superior of their mission by the holy founder and made to lead a small band of missionaries to preach the faith in Poland.
Being a great preacher Hyacinth was highly successful in changing the hearts and lives of many, and bringing a great number into the faith. Besides having the gift of speech Hyacinth was also endowed with the gift of miracles. However since he preferred to convert the people and receive new members by the word rather than by signs and wonders he did his best to keep accounts of his miracles quiet.
Since he was determined that the work he began so well continue, to ensure their long-term success he founded Dominican convents and friaries wherever he went. Thus Hyacinth, one of the key first-generation evangelizers of the Dominican Order spearheaded the expansion of their Order across Northern and Eastern Europe.
Over a lengthy period Hyacinth, our determined missionary and his band of missionary preachers traveled great distances to preach the Gospel and help to establish Christianity in many places on the way to their homeland Poland. Everywhere they went they managed to touch the lives of many both rich and poor, nobility as well as peasants. Long standing quarrels were patched up and even the nobility humbled.
Finally they reached Cracow which at that time badly needed them as it had become a city of much immorality. Once more Hyacinth’s persuasive preaching and good example did its magic and affected an entire change of morals in Cracow. So even here Hyacinth founded 5 Dominican monasteries as centers of learning as he did at Sandomir and at Plock to continue the good work he started. He can therefore be rightfully called the founder of the Church in his native Poland.
Apostle of the North
Hyacinth, a determined missionary, then made three missionary journeys that spanned 40 years and covered a wide area which in those days was a remote and wild place. Always traveling tirelessly on foot this adventurous traveler and missionary was ever in grave danger from barbarians and wild beasts. Because of this he was called and venerated as the “Apostle of the North” although his work was not just limited to the north.
First reaching the Baltic Sea he evangelized Pomeranis and Lithuania. Then he crossed over into Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the North. After energetically preaching to them and establishing new convents there a steady flow of preachers followed in his wake to consolidate and continue his work.
Besides evangelizing the north our indefatigable preacher then continued his work in Russia and the Ukraine in the south. However invasions from Tartar hordes severely hampered his missions. Because the Mongols when they crossed the Volga had destroyed in 1238 many Dominican missions Hyacinth had them restored.
After reaching as far as the Black Sea and the Aegean he returned in 1231 to Cracow.
However after two years our energetic missionary set out again – this time to see how the convents he had founded were faring. Then bravely penetrating among the Tartars he even carried the Gospel to far-off Tibet and China in the east!
Death and Canonization
By the time he got back to his central monastery at Cracow in 1257 he was already an old man of 72. Knowing that his end was near he exhorted his brothers to ‘esteem poverty as men who had renounced all earthy things.’
After receiving his last Sacrament on 8 August – the feast of St. Dominic himself – our missionary – preacher extraordinaire died on the feast of the Assumption in Cracow.
He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 17 August 1594.
Thaumaturgus of his Age
Because of the many miracles he wrought Hyacinth was called the Thaumaturgus (worker of miracles) of his Age. He even raised from the dead a young man who drowned while on his way to call the saint to come and convert his master’s servants and tenants.
This happened in the year 1257 the same year that Hyacinth died.
He is also known as the Apostle of Poland.
Sources of Reference
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. III – pp. 338 – 339
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia – p. 153
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp. 248 – 249
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – p. 116
A Calendar of Saints – p. 158
Lives of Saints – pp 342 – 343
Saint Companions – pp. 306 – 307