January 20, 2017

Long-unknown Photo Gives New Perspective on Czechowski, Pioneer Adventist Missionary

JAMES R. NIX, Director, The Ellen G. White Estate

A rare glimpse into the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church surfaced recently with the discovery of a long-unknown photograph of Michael Belina Czechowski a pioneering—if unofficial—Seventh-day Adventist missionary who lived between 1818-1876.

The portrait, shown here for the first time in public, was discovered recently in a leather bound signed presentation copy of his 1862 autobiography. Czechowski originally presented the book to Annie Butler, his secretary who accompanied him and his family when they went to Europe in 1864 as missionaries to spread the Adventist message. Annie was the older sister of George I Butler, a president of the General Conference in the nineteenth century.

Born in Poland, Czechowski became a Catholic priest, eventually traveling to Rome where he met Pope Gregory XVI. Becoming disillusioned with Catholicism, Czechowski left the priesthood, married, and in 1851 moved to America. Becoming an ordained Baptist minister, he preached for several years in Canada and the United States.

It was 160 years ago, in 1857, after hearing James White preach the previous year, that Czechowski became a Sabbathkeeper. Afterward, he worked as a minister among immigrants in New York, Canada, and northern Vermont.

In 1862 Czechowski published his previously mentioned autobiography, using the proceeds from its sale to support his work. The printing and binding of the book were described as “done up in plain, but neat Boston style.” It was priced at $1.00 “current eastern bills or postage stamps,” when ordered from William P. Butler, Box 1079, Boston, Massachusetts.

Since no mention is made of the book being available in deluxe leather binding with a picture of the author tipped in, it would indicate that the recently found copy of the book was prepared as a special presentation copy. Interestingly, a prior owner of this book was Friedrich Schirmer whose surname is the same as Wilhelmina Schirmer, Czechowski’s second wife. The exact relationship needs further research.

Czechowski, wanting to return to Europe but not finding the Seventh-day Adventists willing or able to support him to go as a missionary to his native country, he sought other ways to support his planned endeavors.Consequently, when Czechowski, his wife and children, and his secretary traveled to Europe it was under the auspices of the Evangelical Advent Christian denomination—a group of Sunday keeping Adventists whose roots also go back to the Millerite movement of the 1840s.

On more than one occasion, Ellen White had counseled Czechowski.While commending him for his zeal, she warned that if he decided to go his own way he would become discouraged and in time blame his brethren for what happened. Disregarding Ellen White’s counsels, and bolstered by financial support from first-day Adventists, Czechowski started working among the Waldenses in northern Italy. His efforts met with some success; including baptizing two people before moving to Switzerland.Within four years he had baptized about 50 in Switzerland. While there, in 1867 Czechowski began publishing L’Évangile Éternel, the first Sabbathkeeping Adventist periodical published in Europe.

Although Czechowski sent copies of his French language paper to the Advent Evangelical Christians in America, apparently nobody read them. When eventually they discovered that he was teaching Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, funding from their members stopped. While in Tramelan, Switzerland, in 1867 Czechowski organized the first church of Sabbathkeepers in Europe.Eventually he moved on to France, Hungary, and Romania. After Czechowski left Tramelan following a subsequent visit there one of his converts discovered a copy of the Review and Herald in the room in which Czechowski had been lodging. The convert wrote to the publisher in Battle Creek, Michigan. For the first time Sabbathkeepers in Europe learned there were Sabbathkeepers in the United States, and Sabbathkeepers in America discovered there were Sabbathkeepers in Europe.

Czechowski died in Vienna, Austria, in 1876. Annie Butler, his former secretary to whom he had presented this book, died about 1868 in Tramelan. Perhaps it is fitting that this long forgotten photograph of Czechowski was rediscovered during this 150th anniversary year of his first privately printed Sabbathkeeping Adventist journal in Europe, as well as his organization of the first local Adventist congregation there.