October 14, 2023

Michael Czechowski

The first unofficial Adventist missionary to Europe

Galina Stele
Photo courtesy of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists

Born in a village near Krakow to Polish Catholic parents in 1818, Michael (Michał) Belina Czechowski became a Catholic priest at the age of 25. In October of that same year, he sought an audience with Pope Gregory XVI to address his concerns over the discrepancies between biblical teachings and the lifestyle of priests. His desire to reform the Catholic Church was not well received, however. Discouraged, he became involved in the movement of Polish patriots, combining these activities with his service in the Catholic Church’s parishes.1

While serving in Lancy, Switzerland, Czechowski was introduced to Protestantism by Jean Jacques Caton Chenevière, a pastor of the Reformed National Church at Geneva.2 Seven years after he had become a priest, in September 1850, Czechowski resigned and married Marie Virginie De La Voit. The next year the couple moved to the Americas and settled in Montréal, where Czechowski worked as a bookbinder and Baptist minister.

In 1856 Czechowski attended a camp meeting at Perry Mills, New York, and was convicted by the Advent message of the soon second coming of Jesus. A year later, he moved to Findley, Ohio, and attended another camp meeting. There he accepted the Sabbath and joined the Adventist Church. He began to work among French-speaking people in northern New York and Vermont with Daniel T. Bourdeau, another Adventist minister.

Ministry in Europe

Czechowski desired to share the news about the soon coming of Jesus with the Polish and Slavic people. To do so, he moved to and worked for some time in New York City, trying to reach French, Poles, Italians, Swedes, and Germans. As early as 1858 he expressed his desire to go to Europe as a missionary in a letter to James and Ellen White, but the church was not yet ready to send a missionary overseas, and they were concerned with his financial management. Undeterred, Czechowski secured funds from the first-day Adventists and sailed for Europe with his wife, four children, and his secretary, Annie Eliza Butler, on May 14, 1864.

The Waldensian valleys in Italy became his first mission field. A small community of believers from Torre Pellice and the vicinity formed before he left for Switzerland in September 1865. Well-known Italian converts were Catherine Revel, often referred to as the first Sabbathkeeper in Europe, and Jean Geymet, a great help in preparing and translating tracts and other publications. Czechowski left the believers in Italy under the supervision of his new coworker François Besson, but visited them in November 1867, crossing the French Alps by foot in deep snow.

In Switzerland Czechowski labored tirelessly, visiting towns and villages, especially in the region of Lake Neuchâtel, where he settled with his family. His first convert, Mrs. Pigueron, was baptized at night by lantern light in February 1866. In the summer of 1866 Czechowski fulfilled his dream by publishing the first issue of a weekly paper, L’Évangile Eternel (The Everlasting Gospel).3 It became the first Adventist publication circulated in Europe, sent out to Switzerland, Italy, France, England, Holland, Germany, Poland, and Hungary.4 The paper was published until 1868.

Seeing great value in publications, Czechowski printed prophetic charts, tracts, and pamphlets, some authored by American Adventists,5 in addition to the weekly paper. One of his converts, David Hanhardt, vigorously distributed literature in mountain villages and during Czechowski’s meetings. In 1867 he printed an 80-page pamphlet on the Sabbath in German. This was essential for his discussions with the German Baptists, who invited him for their meetings and conventions.

The first Adventist missionary society in Switzerland was formed under Czechowski’s watch. But the most influential group he organized was in Tramelan, around the family of Albert Vuilleumier.6 This became the first Adventist congregation in Europe. Czechowski said the members were “strong in the Lord, giving an excellent example to all around them.”7

He traveled extensively throughout Europe, giving lectures on Adventist teachings and prophecies. Czechowski had a gift for connecting with influential people such as Louis Kossuth, the former dictator of Hungary, with whom he shared a prophetic chart and L’Évangile Eternel.

Not in Vain

Often living on the edge of poverty and debt, the Czechowski family endured many hardships during their ministry in Europe. In March 1867 their home burned. When the Tramelan church connected with the General Conference, the funds from the first-day Adventists ceased. They were not happy that Czechowski preached the Sabbath and other Adventist beliefs. In March of 1870 the bank took his newly built house with an office and printing press, and his wife died several months after that.

At the beginning of 1869 Michael moved to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to improve his financial situation. In several months he organized seven small groups in and around Budapest. Then he moved to Romania, where he spent the last seven years of his life. Toma Aslan and his family became Michael’s first converts and the nucleus of the Adventist Church in Romania. By the end of 1872 there were more than 10 believers in Pitesti. Adventists in western Ukraine believe that Czechowski brought the Adventist message to Chernivtsi during that time.

In early 1876 Czechowski was in Vienna, possibly looking for treatment, and collapsed on the street. He was taken to a hospital, where he died after three weeks; he was buried in the city cemetery on February 27, 1876. The Czechowskis laid the foundation for the Adventist Church in Europe, sowing seeds through preaching and publications. When John N. Andrews arrived at his first meeting of believers at Neuchâtel on November 1, 1874, there were representatives from seven places—Tramelan, Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Fleurier, Neuchâtel, Bienne, and Buckten.8 Czechowski’s efforts were not in vain.

1 M. B. Czechowski, Thrilling and Instructive Developments: An Experience of Fifteen Years as Roman Catholic Clergyman and Priest (Boston: published for the author, 1862), pp. 1-158.

2 Alfred Felix Vaucher-Rochat, “Michael Belina Czechowski: A Self-sent SDA Missionary to Europe, 1818-1876” (paper, Ellen G. White Estate, General Conference of SDA), p. 2.

3 L’Évangile Eternel 1, no. 1 (June 1866), retrieved from http://www.archivesadventistes.net/EtageresNumeriques/EvangileEternel/Vol1No1Juin1866.pdf.

4 M. B. Czechowski, “Mission Letters From Switzerland. Number Thirteen,” The World’s Crisis 24, no. 7 (Jan. 9, 1867): 66, 67.

5 A. V. Olson, “The Southern European Division,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 4, 1944, p. 7.

6 M. B. Czechowski, “Mission Letters From Switzerland. Number Nineteen,” The World’s Crisis 26, no. 6 (Oct. 23, 1967): 22.

7 M. B. Czechowski, “Mission Letters From Switzerland. Number Eighteen,” The World’s Crisis 26, no. 18 (Sept. 25, 1967).

8 John Vuilleumier, “Early Days of the Message in Europe,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 28, 1929, pp. 11, 12, retrieved from https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Periodicals/RH/RH19290328-V106-13.pdf.