Bishop I. J. Masalskis

Vysk_I_J_MasalskisBishop Ignotas Jokūbas Masalskis

Ignotas Jokūbas Masalskis was a bishop in Vilnius and the first chair of the Educational Committee. He is the most important figure in Catholic Enlightenment-modern, religious, and civic consciousness- in Lithuania. He was born on July 30, 1726 in Alekšicai, Gardinas County. His father was Mykolas Juozapas Masalskis, a military commander in Lithuania, and his mother was Pranciška Oginskytė. Masalskis began his career in the clergy in 1744, when his father acquired a pastor‘s position for him in Volpa (part of the Vilnius Diocese) as a gift from King Augustas III. In that same year, he was granted the title of Canon of the Vilnius Chapter. In 1745, Masalskis joined the Warsaw Missionary Seminary, which at that time, was becoming famous for its exemplary educational program. A short while later, Masalskis‘ father sent him to Rome, where his theological studies took place in the surroundings of Pope Benedict XIV, which represented the period of Catholic Enlightenment.

Mykolas Juozapas Masalskis was appointed Bishop by Augustas III on January 23, 1762, upon the death of Mykolas Jonas Zenkovičius, Bishop of Vilnius. The consecration took place on July 27, 1762. Masalskis was very well-educated, and enjoyed the company of people from the Arts and Education. Many of his acquaintances made successful careers as architects such as: Martynas Knakfusas and Laurynas Gucevičius. Because of Masalskis, the current Archcathedral in Vilnius was reconstructed and is in its current form. He forbade public punishment, and reduced the number of religious holidays. Masalskis ordered all deacons and pastors to send detailed information about the status of the parish and deaneries. In 1763, Masalskis reorganized the Priests Seminary in Vilnius, where he focused on education and upbringing. He relied on the missionaries for this. The number of clerics went from 18 to 50, and Polish Literature, Lithuanian History, and French were added to the curriculum. Masalskis strived to have Lithuanian spoken by priests administering pastoral care in rural parishes.

In 1773, after closing the Jesuit ordinates, Masalskis unveiled his project, in which he presented organizational principles of the Education Commission, and the unusual principles of the Education Ministry, which were meant to take over the Jesuit-run educational facilities. The Commission was formed on October 15, 1773, and the first chair was the Bishop. This attests to the intellectual primate of the Church in the second half of the 18th c in Lithuania and Poland. Masalskis suggested to the members of the committee to be concerned about the parochial schools, and to establish a teacher‘s seminary in Vilnius. He promised to establish a primary school in every third parish. This was a program with a broad scope, a Lithuanian enlightenment manifesto, a universal patriarchal alphabetization of the villages in Lithuania. Masalskis resigned from the Educational Committee post in 1777, after he was accused of embezzlement of Government funds, though he remained a regular member until 1794.

On May 3, 1791, the approved Constitution became a new historical reporting point for Lithuania and Poland. Significant changes were taking place in the country, as well as society. Masalskis‘ political stance, however, was opposed to the ideas of the Constitution. He forbade the clergy in his diocese from civilian campaigning. In 1792, he joined the Targowica supporters of the confederation, and in 1793, participated at the meeting in Gardinas, approving the second division of the nation of Lithuania and Poland. In 1794, at the start of the uprising, Masalskis was in Warsaw. He was editing the formal document of April 2nd, condemning the actions of the insurgents. The Bishop was accused of treason by Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and was arrested. He was hanged by a street mob in Warsaw, on June 28, 1794. His remains were brought back to Vilnius in 1795.

According to an article by Dr. Eligijus Raila


Vilniaus arkivyskupijos kurija, Šventaragio 4, Vilnius, Lietuva,