The Blessed Karolina Kózka was born on August 2, 1898, in Poland, the Diocese of Tarnów, in the village of Wał-Ruda which then was a part of the parish of Radłów and has been included into the parish of Zabawa since 1913 – the date of its formation. She was the fourth youngest of eleven children of a poor rural family. From 1904 till 1912 Karolina was attending the classes in the local school.
In the Kózka home, a spirit of love of God and that of duty to neighbourhood prevailed, as well as an atmosphere of devoutness, hard work and quiet reserve in which the young Karolina was raised. The lively faith of her family home expressed itself in common prayers, especially in the evenings and before meals, daily saying and singing the little office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, participation at Sunday Masses, and often on weekdays as well, and attendance at the Sacraments.
The apostolic spirit was a distinguishing trait of the Kózka family. Often Karolina brought together neighbours and relatives, especially children, under the pear tree on the field near her home for reading the Scripture in common, as well as the lives of the Saints and other catholic literature. During the Lent they sang the Passion of the Lord, and at Christmastime, the various songs and carols of the Season. It was with reason therefore that the other villagers called the Kózka home ‘the little church’.
The religious atmosphere of the house was certainly a help to Karolina as she developed in the love of God. From her girlhood on, she loved to pray. Often during the day, she quietly whispered the words, ‘Hail Mary!’ as she herself said, because they made her ‘feel a great joy in the heart’. She never ceased praying the rosary that she had received from her mother. Her private prayers lasted long in the night, and even interfered with her deserved rest. With joy she would go to the parish church which was quite remote in order to go to Sunday Mass, but also on weekdays as well. She participated frequently in the Sacraments. She was developing her apostolic zeal.
In addition to the prayers, she loved her work that she sought to perform as best as she could. She was sensitive to the needs of help of her neighbours and waited on the elderly and the sick people. She catechised her youngest brothers and sisters and the children of the area. One of her companions who had lost her own mother gave this splendid testimony of the Blessed Karolina when saying, ‘She was more than a mother to me”.
By means of this love of hers, she exerted a great influence on the entire society in which she lived. They called her ‘a real angel’ and ‘the first soul destined for Heaven from among all her co-villagers’. Karolina deepened her faith thanks to her uncle Franciszek Borzęcki, who was likewise an inspiration for the religious and cultural life of the village. She helped her uncle in the library and in the room where the villagers’ meetings were held. She was organizing the structures of new parish and was a great help to the priest, later parish-priest Władysław Mendrala.
In the midst of the storm of the First World War, when she was only sixteen, she sacrificed her life to God, killed by a Russian soldier as she resisted her advances. The war broke out In July 1914. In November the Russian army cleared the Vistula River. On November 10 they captured Tarnów and on November 17 they captured Zabawa and Wał-Ruda. The situation was getting dangerous; there were threats of confiscations, so people were trying to hide their properties in the forest. Everyone was telling about Russian soldiers who were raping young women. Everyone was terrified.
At the first day of occupation a soldier came to Kózka’ house but he left after having a meal. Next day, on November 18, at about 9 a.m. another armed Russian soldier came to their house. He asked about the Austrian army, he refused to have a meal and told Karolina and her father to go with them, allegedly to the commanding officer. He led them towards the forest but when they reached the edge of it, the soldier told Karolina’s father to leave them and come back home. Terrorized man turned back, leaving his daughter alone with soldier. The witnesses of the imminent events were two boys coming back towards the village. They hid themselves behind the bushes and saw Karolina struggling with an assailant and running towards the swamps that turned out to be the rescue for her as they made the chase difficult for soldier. He abandoned the chase when he saw that she fall dead of loss of blood. Her body was found only December 4. The wounds she sustained do bear witness to the greatness of her suffering and show her heroic defence of her innocence and purity. Carefully prepared report describes thoroughly the place of her martyrdom and claims the intact virginity of the Martyr. Having imitated Christ already in her life, and always obedient to the will of God, in the last moments of her life she refused to sin and accepted her own death as the greatest confirmation of her love of God. Thus Karolina was conformed to Christ in the shedding of her blood.
The parishioners of Zabawa together with the people of the whole region began to venerate Karolina immediately after her body was recovered. She was honoured with the title of ‘Star of the people’ and her funeral in December 6th became the demonstration of the religious beliefs.
The people spontaneously came together to pray both on the site of her martyrdom, where the cross was placed, and at her tomb. The high regard in which she was held was expressed in many literary works and in various publications.
On November 18, 1917, by the decision of Bishop Leon Wałęga, the Ordinary of Tarnów, Karolina’s body was transferred from the parochial cemetery to a special tomb erected on the side of the parish church of Zabawa.
On February 11, 1965, Bishop Jerzy Ablewicz, introduced the informative process for her cause of the beatification and canonization, as well as for her martyrdom.
On June 30, 1986 in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the ‘decree of the martyrdom of the Servant of God, Karolina Kózka’ was proclaimed.
Her beatification took place on June 10, 1987, during the third pastoral visit of His Holiness to his native country. Since then the cult of the Blessed Karolina is spreading all over the world.
In November 18th, 2002, in the 15th anniversary of the act of proclamation of Pope John Paul II that elevated Karolina Kózka to the altars and allowed to honour her as the Blessed, the parish-church in Zabawa was established as the Shrine of the Blessed Karolina Kózka by Wiktor Skworc, the Bishop of the Diocese of Tarnów. The Bishop also approved the litany to the Blessed Karolina and prayer for canonization of the Blessed.
Nowadays her relicts are placed in the main altar and venerated by the parishioners and pilgrims, who come to visit the Shrine of the Blessed Karolina Kózka. To the place of her birth where is a reconstruction of her house and a museum a lot of pilgrims come every year to ask for favours confiding their intentions to the intercession of the Blessed Karolina.
The site where she was first buried is now another place of cult, which is honoured as connected with the Blessed. There is a monument of Jesus.
There was also prepared a special exhibition about her life. In many churches’ things connected with her, such as paintings, pictures, monuments, chalices and stained glasses are proofs of a great devotion of the faithful and glory of the Blessed Karolina.
A few thousands of pilgrims have visited the Shrine during the feast, which took place in June 10th, 2002, in the 15th anniversary of her beatification.
These days more and more people come to the Shrine as they rely on God as Karolina did. Few of them are suffering from incurable diseases (such as a cancer) and during the last few years many declarations of people who were cured thanks to the Blessed Karolina were delivered to the Shrine. The pilgrims’ book of graces is full of expressions of gratitude of people who were cured from cancer, muscular atrophy, alleviated in suffering, who found the right way of life, regained hope and who believed that it had happened thanks to the blessed assistance of Karolina.
Every 10th day of every month for the commemoration of the date of the beatification of the Blessed Karolina there is a special service in the Shrine of her and the faithful pray to the Blessed Karolina be one day soon canonized.
Every 18th day of month for the commemoration of the date of her death the pilgrims follow the Way of Cross built at the place of her martyrdom as the mirror of life of the Blessed.
Every Friday during a special novena to the Blessed Karolina the requests and thanks left at her grave by numerous pilgrims who visit the Shrine are presented to God.
The cult of the Blessed Karolina rose after her beatification and is spreading all over the world. Her relics were procured by numerous communities in USA, Kazakhstan, Peru, Chad, and Congo and many churches in Poland as well. She is the patron saint of the Diocese of Rzeszów as well as many parishes.
The Blessed Karolina is regarded by the most people, parishioners and pilgrims as well, as the great example to people of the Third Millennium because of her humility, courage and trust in God. She is a sign for those who are looking for the way of salvation, who want to become saint. She is the patron of youths and farmers.