In the eastern territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the Jesuit colleges were established not only in the biggest cities, Vilnius and Lviv, but also in smaller towns, such as Połock (in 1580), Dorpat (in 1584), Nieśwież (in 1586), Łuck (in 1604), Kroże (in 1614) or Krzemieniec (in 1750), to mention but a few. After the suppression of the Order in 1773 all these colleges were taken over by the Commission of National Education as universities / academies, higher-level secondary schools and lower-level secondary schools. Colleges were also founded by other Catholic orders, e.g. Piarists; one of their colleges was established in 1642 in Podoliniec in Spiš, a southern outpost of the Commonwealth.
These schools had rich libraries and archives, as well as their own student theatres.
Some of the colleges on the outer reaches of the Commonwealth managed to employ outstanding teachers, and – despite the formal status of a secondary school – provided teaching at a very high, almost academic level and had considerable influence on the cultural advancement of the area.
It is almost certain that if the course of history had been more favourable, these towns, now nearly forgotten, would be European cultural centres, and their colleges would be as famous as the most prestigious schools in Europe – Oxford and Cambridge.
Krzemieniec Lyceum (c. 1930) by unknownOriginal Source: POLONA
Kroże – the Samogitian Athens
Situated in western Lithuania (district of Kelmė, Šiauliai County), away from the main routes, Kroże (Kražiai in Lithuanian) is a minor town, but it used to be a town which played a significant role both in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was the administrative centre of one of the districts of the former Duchy of Samogitia, and it was a major educational centre in Samogitia, widely known for the exceptionally high standard of education in the Jesuit college and the subsequent secular secondary school. For over 200 years the school’s teachers and graduates took an active part in the intellectual and cultural life of the country. Kroże, the town with the famous college, castle and several churches and monasteries, was called “the Samogitian Athens”.
The Jesuit college was set up in Kroże in 1614, co-funded by Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł, who donated a castle and land, and by the Starosta of Samogitia, Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, who founded the college and in 1621 lay the foundations for the great Jesuit Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was to become the college chapel.
At the time the college had about 600 students, which was a considerable number. Apart from the standard subjects, the students had courses in philosophy and moral theology, and they also put up plays at the school theatre. The staff included outstanding personages, for instance the Renaissance Latin poet and theoretician of literature, Jesuit Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (called the Christian Horace) as the teacher of syntax and poetics, the preacher and Hellenist Zygmunt Lauxmin, the historian Wojciech Kojałowicz-Wijuk, and in the subsequent century – the mathematician Tomasz Żebrowski and the geographer Karol Wyrwicz.
The turning point was in 1773, when the Jesuit Order was suppressed and their colleges, including the one in Kroże, were taken over by the Commission of National Education, the first secular educational authority not only in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but also in this part of Europe. The college was turned into a secondary school. It became a gymnasium (i.e. a secondary school with a strong emphasis on academic learning) and had a particularly high standard of education. Its staff consisted of young teachers from Vilnius.
View of college in Kroże (1840) by Wincenty MisiewiczOriginal Source: POLONA
In October 1823, a secret student society with unknown goals and structure was formed within the college; it was called “Black Brothers”.
The student organization at the college in Kroże followed the Philarete ideas, i.e. learning and virtue, love of the homeland, and interest in the Romantic poetry and – possibly – in the freemason movement. The members expressed their solidarity with the Philaretes from Viland protested against their arrests.
Seal of college in Kroże (before 1939) by Michał Eustachy BernsztejnOriginal Source: POLONA
Russian police, who uncovered the organization, arrested and court-martial six students, the youngest of whom was 15 at the time. As the sentence, passed in March 1824 and approved by Tsar Alexander I, was intended to terrorize the population and discourage dissent, it was exceptionally severe – the plot organizers, Jan Prosper Witkiewicz and Cyprian Janczewski (who was later depicted as one of the characters in Mickiewicz’s drama Dziady), were sentenced to death, and the other members were sentenced to exile and hard labour. Ultimately the most severe sentences were reduced to permanent exile and loss of nobility.
Plan of college in Kroże (before 1939) by Michał Eustachy BernsztejnOriginal Source: POLONA
Since 1832, after the failed November Uprising, the lessons at the college had to be conducted in Russian. In 1842 school was finally transferred to Kovno, along with all the precious movables: the library of several thousand volumes, the science laboratory equipment, a collection of minerals and almost a thousand items in the numismatic collection.
Since 2009, in the former building of the dormitory of the Jesuit college there has been operating lituanian Kražių Motiejaus Kazimiero Sarbievijaus Kultūros Centras (Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Cultural Center) housing among others, regional museum and exhibition gallery.
Ruins of the Jezuit church in Kroże (1839) by Wincenty MisiewiczOriginal Source: POLONA
Krzemieniec – the Volynhan Athens
The history of the college in Krzemieniec (Kremeneć in Ukrainian), whose fame spread far beyond Volynha, all over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, goes back to the beginning of the 18th century. From the very start the college was a part of a rich and colourful history of an unusual town on the border of states, nations and religions, and became a significant feature in the cultural landscape of Volynha.
The town centre still features the Jesuit monastery complex – the buildings of the college, along with the church serving as the school a dome) and the monastery buildings, creating an open yard in front of the church, were designed by the Jesuit Paweł Giżycki and funded by the last Princes Wiśniowiecki, Janusz Antoni and Michał Serwacy. The construction lasted from 1731 to 1753. The complex housed the Jesuit college founded in 1750, and later – after the suppression of the Order in 1773 – a higher-level secondary school supervised by the Commission of National Education.
Krzemieniec. Szeroka street and college (1857) by Jan KrajewskiOriginal Source: POLONA
In 1805, soon after Volynha became a part of the Russian Empire as a result of the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led to creating first Gimnazjum Wołyńskie (the Volynhan Gymnasium), and then, in 1819, to raising its status and renaming it Liceum Wołyńskie (the Volynhan Lyceum). It was housed in the post-Jesuit and post-Basilian buildings. The Gymnasium was founded by two renowned educators: Count Tadeusz Czacki, the school inspector of the Vilnius region, and Father Hugo Kołłątaj, a politician and Enlightenment writer, who created the school’s programme of study. The Lyceum prided itself on its excellent library of over 30 thousand volumes, the core of which was King Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski’s library, purchased by Count Czacki. The school’s numismatic collection consisted of about 18 thousand items, and the school’s modern botanical garden, created and run by Willibald Besser, comprised about 12 thousand plants.
The very well-equipped school and the excellent staff working according to the ambitious programme of study enabled the college to achieve a very high level of education, almost university standard. As a consequence, the school became an important cultural and intellectual centre, which was of great value not only for the eastern borderlands, but also for the other parts of the country which had been divided and incorporated into three different states. It also vastly contributed to the fact that Krzemieniec started to be referred to as “the Volynhan Athens”.
Krzemieniec. College library (1930) by unknownOriginal Source: POLONA
The November Uprising (1830-1831) brought an end to the Volynhan Lyceum – Tsar Nicolas I perceived the insurrection as a token of ingratitude for his policy allowing the development of Polish education on the lands incorporated into Russia. The reprisals involved the tsar’s order of 21 August 1831, closing the Lyceum, and soon afterwards all the 250 Polish schools in the south-western governorates (Volynhan, Podolia and Kiev) were closed. The Lyceum’s library and vast collections, as well as much of the collection of the botanical garden, were transferred to the newly established Kiev University. 16 out of 20 Lyceum teachers were also transferred to Kiev, including Willibald Besser, who expressed his dissent by lecturing in Latin. The Lyceum ceased to exist.
Views of Volynha. Krzemieniec (1849) by Alphonse BicheboisOriginal Source: POLONA
Due to a legal decree of the Marshal Piłsudski from 1920, the former college of Krzemieniec resumed its activity in 1922, as the group of schools. It was continued up to 1939.
Today District Academy of Humanities and Pedagogic of Taras Shevchenko in Krzemieniec is placed in the old collegium. In the former college church, there is Lord's Transfiguration Church of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
College in Krzemieniec. Portraits of alumni (1924)Original Source: POLONA
Podoliniec – the Oxford of Spiš
In the course of its history, the town has been known as Podoliniec (Polish), Pudlein (German), Podolin (Hungarian) or Podolinec (Slovak). At present it is a nondescript town in the northern outpost of Spiš in Slovakia, but almost four hundred years ago it was the town where an important Piarist community was established. The Piarists founded a college which existed for almost three centuries and which was famous for its high level of education even outside the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In 1642 the Piarists were invited to Podoliniec. The superior of the province Onofrio Conti arrived from Bohemia with a party of several friars. The road must have been dangerous, as they were escorted by 20 Cossacks and Vlachs. Initially the Piarists were stationed at the Podoliniec Castle, but soon Starosta Stanisław Lubomirski built them a domicilium, along with a novitiate, church and dormitories. The school opened on 18 June 1643, and its first rector was John Dominic Franchi (1595-1662), the first superior of the province. 189 students enrolled; the candidates were admitted up to 30 years of age, though the youngest one was only five.
Map of Spiš from 18th century (1760) by Franciszek Florian CzakiOriginal Source: POLONA
The subjects taught at the college included philosophy, Latin, grammar, poetics and rhetoric, but also mathematics, astronomy and military engineering, which are known to have been taught particularly effectively. The college had an extensive library, comprising Polish literature and rare books printed in Poland (published by the Piarists in Warszawa and Krakow). It also had a tabularium (archive) with manuscripts of school chronicles, school registers from the whole period of the existence of the school, books by the Piarist teachers and documents connected with the functioning of the priory and the college. Besides, it had its own theatre, at first putting up plays in Latin, but later, in the 18th century, in Polish. There was also a portrait gallery in the corridors and the refectory, with pictures of several popes, eminent Piarists of Podoliniec, and a series of pictures with scenes from the life of the founder of the Piarist Order, St. Joseph Calasanz. There is information indicating that the gallery also included portraits of Polish kings
The tragic turning point was the year 1769, when the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa occupied the Polish part of Spiš and unified it with the Hungarian part. The college started to lose the Polish character, and more decisive steps to that effect were taken in 1787, when the Polish Piarists were removed from administration of the school, and teaching in Polish was replaced first with teaching in German and then in Latin. The school went into gradual decline, though the status and form of the gymnasium was preserved until 1849.
Today Piarists complex belongs to the Redemptorist who restored the church and a part of the monastic buildings. In some parts of convent there are working social institutions, such as: vocational school run from 1991 by the Redemptorists with the boarding house and children's home - both institutions named after Hofbauer St Klement - and Centre of the free time of the father Augustín Krajčík.
Piarists church in Podoliniec (1939)Original Source: NAC
The three colleges described here were all located on the borderlands between various nations (Polish, Lithuanian, Rusyn, German, Jewish) and religions (Catholic, Protestant, Russian Orthodox, Judaic), even though until the late 18th century these lands were a part of one multinational and multicultural state – the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The foundation of the three schools was preceded by the Act of Parliament of 1573 called the Warsaw Confederation, guaranteeing religious freedom.
In a broader perspective we should note that for several centuries the Commonwealth and the other European countries of that period were in fact a European union, which was a Christian union sharing the language of high culture – Latin. This situation shaped the underlying message expressed in the programmes of study of these schools, as their main goal was to teach the civic ethic which would now be called European. It was rooted in Christian values, and it was not connected with a particular nation.
College in Krzemieniec. Portraits of alumni (1924)Original Source: POLONA
Based on the book "The Forgotten Colleges of the Commonwealth" by Jan Skłodkowski, ed. 2019 POLONIKA
editor: Anna Ekielska
translation: Małgorzata Matysik
© Jan Skłodkowski
© Narodowy Instytut Polskiego Dziedzictwa Kulturowego za Granicą POLONIKA [POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad]
Supervisory Institution: Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego RP [Minstry of Culture and National Heritage of Republic of Poland]