On the 9 April 2013, Prof. Th.D. Józef Benignus Wanat, discalced Carmelite, professor of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Cracow, an eminent historian, historian of art and culture, a generous-hearted man of extraordinary modesty, died in Cracow.
He was born in Frydrychowice near Wadowice on 17 March 1934 as the third child of Franciszek and Maria née Wądrzyk. He was baptized by canon Józef Batko on the feast of the Annunciation. He attended the elementary school in Frydrychowice and subsequently the high school in Wadowice which he graduated from in 1951. Following the voice of the Divine vocation, he entered the Order of Discalced Carmelites in Czerna and assumed the habit on 15 July 1951, receiving the name of Benignus of Christ the King. Having concluded the novitiate, in the years 1953-1959 he studied philosophy in Poznań and subsequently theology in Cracow. It was in the latter city that on 16 May 1959 he became ordained by Bishop Karol Wojtyla in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. In the following year, within the so called Tirocinium pastorale, he participated in the inter-congregational study program organized by the Franciscans in Cracow as well as in the pastoral practice in St Florian’s Church. In 1960, he became head of the Archive of the Province of Discalced Carmelites in Czerna, whose collections he reorganized, rearranged and inventoried. In an effort to broaden his knowledge of this discipline of knowledge, he participated in a number of archivist courses organized by the Catholic University of Lublin and in the year 1969, he graduated from the history department at the Philosophical-Historical Faculty of the Jagiellonian University, obtaining the degree of Master in history. Throughout almost his entire monastic life, he held a number of responsible posts, such as: superior in the Higher Seminary of the Discalced Carmelites in Cracow (1966–1969, 1975–1984), superior of the convent in Czerna (1969–1972, 1987–1990), and subsequently in Lublin (1972–1975), and in Prądnik Biały in Cracow (1999–2002). On several occasions he had also held the office of provincial of Discalced Carmelites in Poland (1984–1987, 1990–1993), provincial of the Cracow province of Discalced Carmelites (1993–1996) and provincial vicar (1996–1999).
Following the defense of his doctoral dissertation entitled The Cult of Saint Joseph the Betrothed of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Among the Discalced Carmelites in Cracow, written under the supervision of Professor Bolesław Przybyszewski, Father Józef Benignus Wanat obtained his Th.D. degree. Extremely enthusiastic reviews of this dissertation had been submitted by Associate Professor Józef Lepiarczyk of the Jagiellonian University and Professor Dr. Janina Bieniarzówna of the Cracow Academy of Economics. On 14 March 1984, following a session of the Faculty Council which was held in the Archbishops’ Palace in Cracow, Father Wanat obtained the post of associate professor at the Faculty of Church History of the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow. Among the reviewers of Father Wanat’s academic output in the course of his post-doctoral studies, whose foundation was the dissertation entitled The Order of Discalced Carmelites in Poland. The Convents of Carmelite Brothers and Sisters 1605–1975, were Prof. Adam Przyboś of the Jagiellonian University, Rev. Prof. Władysław Smoleń of the Catholic University of Lublin and Rev. Bolesław Przybyszewski of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. Father Wanat became associated more permanently with the latter university by undertaking to lecture there mainly on the history of modern art and, from 1993, he was employed full-time there at the post of associate professor in the Faculty of Church History. In the year 2000, Prof. Rev. Wanat received the title of professor of theological sciences. He retired in the year 2004, yet he still very willingly continued to lecture and conduct M.A. and doctoral seminars at this university. In March 2007 he was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit by the President of the Republic of Poland in recognition for his honest work and exemplary academic attitude.
Rev. Professor Józef Benignus Wanat was the author of a number of excellent books associated above all with history and the artistic legacy of the Discalced Carmelites in Poland. His monumental work entitled Zakon karmelitów bosych w Polsce. Klasztory karmelitów i karmelitanek bosych 1605–1975 (The Order of Discalced Carmelites in Poland. Convents of Carmelite Brothers and Sisters 1605–1975), which was published in Cracow in 1979 still continues to play an exceptionally important role in Polish academic literature. The results of his academic research which were published in the year 1981 in a book entitled Kult świętego Józefa Oblubieńca Najświętszej Maryi Panny u karmelitów bosych w Krakowie (The Cult of Joseph, the Betrothed of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Among the Discalced Carmelites in Cracow), contributed to the renaissance of the devotion of St Joseph in the former capital of Poland. Among father Wanat’s other merits one should also mention the gathering of historical documentation to the coronation of the image of Our Lady of the Scapular in Czerna as well as his efforts to create the chapel of Father Rafał Kalinowski in the local convent.
The stigma of disease exerted a very special mark on Rev. Wanat’s life. When in 1991 he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor (lymphoma), he was given no more than five years of life. Yet as provincial of the Order, he refused to initiate treatment, but instead went to Africa to visit the convents in Burundi and Rwanda. The disease had launched another attack in 1996, dealing such a devastating blow to Father Wanat’s organism that a place of burial had already been prepared for him. Yet the ardent prayers of the Carmelite nuns and friars addressed to Our Lady of the Scapular had resulted in an inexplicable remission of the tumor and a complete recovery which was regarded as miraculous.
I had the great joy and pleasure to have cooperated with Rev. Prof. Wanat. We were both students and disciples of the great historian of art and archivist – Rev. Professor Bolesław Przybyszewski, in whose apartment we used to meet very often to discuss matters relating to art. Father Wanat was a reviewer of my post-doctoral thesis and it was precisely after him that I had taken over the post of Head of the Department of Modern Art History in the Pontifical Academy of Theology, subsequently transformed into the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Cracow. Therefore, I had the opportunity to observe Father Professor Wanat in various life situations. He was always full of modesty and humility; he never acted in a patronizing way towards others, nor did he ever emphasize his own achievements. His gentleness, calm and cordiality were well-known in the Cracow academic milieu, both among students and lecturers who very willingly asked him for assistance in a variety of day-to-day situations. He always found time, a good word and a cordial smile for them. He never raised his voice nor was ever seen in a state of agitation.
Father Professor Józef Benignus Wanat was buried in the Biały Prądnik cemetery in Cracow on 13 April 2013. His funeral was attended by Franciszek Cardinal Macharski and Bishop Kazimierz Górny from Rzeszów, as well as by ninety priests, over one hundred nuns and numerous friends and acquaintances. He will remain in our memory and hearts forever.
Translated by Piotr Mizia