· Vatican City ·

Remembering Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

A man of faith always on the move

24 July 2020

Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education (for Educational Institutions), died on Friday, 17 July. After learning of Cardinal Grocholewski’s passing, Pope Francis,  expressed his condolences in a telegram addressed to the Cardinal’s brother, Władisław. The following is a translation of the Pope’s telegram, accompanied by a brief biography.

Informed of the death of your beloved brother, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, I would like to express my closeness to you and your family members in the grief that has stricken those who knew and esteemed the dear departed Cardinal. I recall with gratitude the commendable work he carried out as a respected  professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian and Lateran Universities, and as the author of numerous scientific publications. He was particularly dedicated to serving the Holy See, first as Secretary and Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, then as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. In both spheres he offered his witness of priestly zeal, of faithfulness to the Gospel and of the edification of the Church. As I raise my prayers to the Lord Jesus that He give to the late cardinal the eternal award promised to His disciples, I convey my Apostolic Blessing to you and to those who mourn the dear departed one.

Franciscus PP.


Cardinal  Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education (for Educational Institutions), died on Friday, 17 July, months shy of his 81st birthday.

He was born on 11 October 1939 in  Bródki, Poland and, after completing his studies in philosophy and theology at the archdiocesan seminary of  Poznań, he was ordained a priest on 27 May 1963. After serving three years in parish ministry he transferred to Rome in 1966 to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, earning his licence in 1968 and his doctorate in 1972, both conferred summa cum laude. After completing three further years of study at the Studio Rotale, he obtained his diploma as a canon lawyer. While pursuing his studies in Rome he also attended language courses in Germany and France, and performed pastoral work in various German and Italian parishes.

    From October 1972 to 15 November 1999 his primary role was in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, where he first performed duties as a notary, eventually becoming chancellor in 1980. In 1982, John Paul II appointed him titular Bishop of Agropoli and Secretary of the said Tribunal, a role he fulfilled until being appointed Prefect in 1998. Meanwhile he was raised to the dignity of Archbishop in 1991.

    Throughout this period he carried out many roles of great responsibility in other areas. In 1982 he participated in the commission that joined the Pope in studying the project of the new Code of Canon Law and, from 1983 to 1985, the commission for the reform of the Roman Curia. From 1983 to 1998 he was also a member of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia and, from 1988 to 1999, he served as President of the Commission for lawyers of the Holy See and of the Roman Curia. On 7 June 1998, as the Pontiff’s Special Envoy, he consecrated  the first Catholic Church in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the Pope’s behalf. From 5 October 1998 to 15 November 1999 he also served as President of the Vatican City Court of Cassation.

    In 1999 he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, a position he filled for some 16 years, working to give impulse to the formative commitment of Catholic universities, ecclesiastical faculties, religious institutes and Catholic schools throughout the world.

    The prelate also played a role in many university activities throughout the years. From 1974 to 1982 he collaborated with Prof. Ignacio Gordon in organizing international courses, entitled Renovationis canonicae pro iudicibus, at the Gregorian University.  From 1975 to 1999 he was a lecturer and then, beginning in 1983, an invited professor in the canon law faculty, offering special courses in marriage law and canonical procedures. He taught  administrative canon law at the  Pontifical Lateran University of Rome between  1980 and 1984, and at the Studio Rotale from  1986 to 1988. From 1999, as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, he served as Grand Chancellor of the Gregorian and of the subsidiary Pontifical Biblical Institute, as well as of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology and the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. He was the patron of the Superior Pontifical Institute of Latin Studies and of Christian and Classical Literature in the Pontifical Salesian University.

    In the context of his long and brilliant academic career he was the recipient of numerous awards and honours. He was involved in many important national and international conventions, and wrote and co-authored numerous books, articles and reviews in specialized periodicals. He participated in the editing of various Canon Law revisions and was a member of many scientific and canon associations, and also served as postulator of the cause for the Canonization of Edmund Bojanowski, who was proclaimed a saint by John Paul II in Warsaw on 13 June 1999, and of Sr Sancia (Giovanna) Szymkowiak, who was beatified by the same Pontiff and was canonized on 18 August 2002.

    He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and participated in the conclaves for the elections of Pope Benedict XVI on 19 April 2005, and of Pope Francis on 13 March 2013. He resigned from his office as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education on 31 March 2015.

    His funeral took place in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Altar of the Chair on Saturday, 18 July, presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, vice dean of the College of Cardinals. Following the Mass, Pope Francis presided at the Rite of ultima commendatio and valedictio.