Sometimes it may seem to us that the saints are divided into two groups: those pious almost since childhood and those who at one point drastically converted from lack of faith or from particularly grave sins. Raphael of St. Joseph Kalinowski, however, was a non-practicing believer for ten years. His whole life is a script ready for a movie.
He graduated from the military academy of engineering in St. Petersburg and became a tsarist officer in order to serve the insurgents' office of the minister of war in Lithuania in 1863. Finally, thanks to the prayers of his step-mother and teenage sister, he went to confession. He also started to think about joining an Order, but after his arrest by the Russians, he got the death penalty, later changed to a sentence of hard labor in Siberia. In exile, he already passed for a man of God and upheld the spirits of fellow sufferers: "He showed mercy and love toward his neighbor constantly and incessantly, quietly and discreetly. He kept watch over the sick and with his meager stocks gave aid where it was needed," one witness recalled. Upon his return, he became the tutor of young August Czartoryski, incidentally announced blessed in 2004. Finally, in 1877, at age 42, he joined the Carmelite Order. There, he changed his name from Joseph to "Raphael of St. Joseph." His ministry in the Carmelites was associated primarily with two monasteries: in Czerna and Wadowice, which he founded and where he died.
He enjoyed great authority and love, even among non-believers, but he apparently was not a bright preacher: he stuttered and lost his teeth from the exhaustion of his busy life and disease. He turned out to be a great confessor. He spent long hours in the confessional, showing mercy and wisdom particularly toward the doubting, weak, and wavering in faith – after all, he himself experienced this, so he understood his penitents. He repeated that “good people are like clean air: you breathe it, even though you cannot see it.”