Biography of Servant of God, Archbishop Jan Cieplak

Born into the family of poor Polish nobility in Dąbrowa Górnicza on August 17, 1857. His mother died when he was two years old. After his father remarried, the child was placed in the care of his maternal grandmother; a priest-relative also participated in his upbringing, helping him finish gymnasium in Keltsy. In 1878 he graduated from St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, and from the Academy in 1882 with a master’s degree in theology. He was ordained August 15, 1881. From 1882 he was an instructor and religion teacher at the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg; he was a guardian for orphanages and schools for the poor. He later became a Doctor of Theology and taught dogmatic theology at the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg; in 1900 he became a canon; served as chaplain in a chapel at Good Shepherd Orphanage. April 16, 1908 – appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Mogiliev Archdiocese, under Metropolitan Archbishop Apolinary Wnukowski. December 7, 1908 – consecrated bishop in St. Catherine’s Church in St. Petersburg. From 1910 through 1911 he made a pastoral visitation of the parishes of Central Russia, Siberia and the Far East; he also made a visitation in Belorussia, but his activity there was interrupted by tsarist authorities who considered his pastoral zeal Catholic propagandizing, directed against the State. On account of this, he was relieved of his position as president of the Theological Collegium in St. Petersburg. August 6, 1914 – after Archbishop Wincenty Kuczyński’s renunciation of his post, Bishop Cieplak was elected chapter administrator of the Mogiliev archdiocese. He founded a number of charitable organizations, especially those to care for refugees. From December 1919 – after Archbishop Eduard von der Ropp had briefly headed the archdiocese, Bishop Cieplak, as Vicar General, was entrusted with its management. In June 1919 he was named Titular Archbishop of Ochrida and head of the Catholic Church in Russia. He energetically opposed the nationalization of church buildings and the placing of churches into the hands of parish committees, and he supported priests in their opposition to these plans. He constantly fought against the seizure of items used for religious services, purportedly for the benefit of those starving in the famines along the Volga; he was often subjected to interrogations and various threats. April 2, 1920 – during the Polish-Soviet War, he was arrested in the “Polish Affair,” but soon released. In December 1922 he was again under arrest, but later released. March 10, 1923 – arrested in Moscow where he and fourteen other priests had been invited to “negotiations.” The authorities prepared a trial with the goal of discrediting the Catholic Church; to this end, they had organized prevocational meetings that allegedly expressed the opinion of the people. The clergy was charged with “creation of a counter-revolutionary organization with the goal of opposing the implementation of the decree on the separation of the church from the State.” March 21-26, 1923 – the open trial, at which he was sentenced to death under Articles 40, 68, 69-1, 119 and 121 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR [Military Tribunal]. March 29, 1923 – under the influence of international protests, his execution was commuted to ten years in prison [Praesidium, All-Russian Central Executive Committee]. Sent to Butyrka Prison; April 9, 1924 – released; departed for Poland, where a triumphant reception awaited him. He was later sent to Rome, was received by Pope Pius XI, and later even spent time in the United States visiting Polish parishes. In 1925, while in the United States, he received the news that on December 14 he had been named the first metropolitan archbishop of Vilnius. March 17, 1926 – while still in the United States, he died as a result of over-exhaustion and a cold. His body was transported to Poland and buried in Vilnius cathedral. Sources: Archive of the Directorate, FSB for St. Petersburg and Leningrad oblast; GARF, f. 8409, op. 1, d. 38, l. 277; Dzwonkowski (1998), pp. 195-198; Osipova (1996), p. 208; Rutkowski, F., Arcybiskup Jan Cieplak, 1857-1926 (Warszawa, 1934); Shkarovskii, pp. 243-244; Madała, p. 34
Variant Names:
Cieplak, Jan; Tsepliak, Ian Giatsintovich
Dąbrowa Górnicza (Poland); Saint Petersburg (Russia); Siberia (Russia); Moscow (Russia); Rome; United States
male; clergy and religious; survived