August Czartoryski was born in Paris on 2 August 1858, in exile. Thirty years earlier his noble lineage, very much bound up with the history and dynastic concerns of Poland, had migrated to France. From there, and more precisely from Lambert Palace on the banks of the Seine, they were extensively active among Polish nationals and diplomatic circles in Europe in an effort to restore their homeland's unity which had been torn apart by the three great Powers since 1795. Prince Adam Czartoryski, a political being and a warrior, had handed over the reins of the family, as well as the patriotic activity, to Prince Ladislaus, who had married Princess Maria Amparo, daughter of Spanish Queen Maria Cristina and Duke Rianzarez. Ladislaus and Maria were August’s parents. As the eldest son of the family, he was seen as the reference point for all those who dreamed of Poland's rebirth after the third dismemberment. But God's plans were different.
When he was six years old his mother died of tuberculosis: she would pass this disease on to her son. When the first symptoms showed up, a long and forced pilgrimage in search of health began for August, but he would never regain it: Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, Spain were the main ‘stopover’ points in these wanderings. Yet health was not the main aim of his search: In his youthful soul there was another, much more precious quest, the search for a vocation. It did not take him long to understand that he was not made for life in the royal court. Writing to his father when he was twenty, and alluding to the worldly festivities he was forced to be involved with, he said among other things: “I confess that I am tired of all this. They are useless amusements that distress me. I find it annoying to be obliged to make acquaintances at so many banquets.”
Joseph Kalinowski, his tutor, had a powerful influence on the young prince. He had had the experience of ten years of forced labour in Siberia, would become a discalced Carmelite and would be canonised by John Paul II in 1991. He was Czartoryski's tutor for only three years (1874-1877), but he left his mark. He got him to understand that the personalities he should look to to guide him in his vocational search were especially St Aloysius Gonzaga and his compatriot St Stanislaus Kostka. He was enthusiastic about the latter's motto: Ad maiora natus sum. “The Life of St Aloysius by Fr Cepari that I had sent to me from Italy” Kalinowski later wrote ”had a decided effect on August’s spiritual progress and opened up the way to an easier union with God.”
The decisive event was when he met Don Bosco. August was 25 years old when he got to know him for the first time. This happened in Paris at Lambert Palace, where the founder of the Salesians celebrated Mass in the family oratory. The servers at the altar were Prince Ladislaus and August. “I have wanted to make your acquaintance for a long time!” Don Bosco told August. from that day on, August saw the holy educator as the father of his soul and arbiter of his future. Don Bosco had become the point of reference for the young man's vocational discernment. Just the same, Don Bosco was always cautious about accepting the prince into the Congregation. It was the Pope, Leo XIII, who personally resolved all doubts. Having discovered what August’s wish was, the Pope concluded: “Tell Don Bosco that it is the Pope's wish that you be received among the Salesians.” “Well then, my dear friend,” Don Bosco immediately replied “I accept you. From now on you are part of our Society and I want you to belong to it until death.”
At the end of June 1887, after renouncing everything in favour of his brothers, young August was sent to San Benigno Canavese for a brief period of aspirantate before beginning his novitiate the same year under the guidance of novice master Fr Giulio Barberis. August had so many habits that had to be changed: timetable, food, common life ... He also had to fight against attempts by the family who were not resigned to his choice. His father came to visit him and tried to dissuade him. But August would not let himself be won over by that. On 24 November 1887 he was clothed as a religious by Don Bosco in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. “Courage, my prince,” the saint whispered in his ear. “Today we have won a magnificent victory. But I can also tell you with great joy that the day will come when you will be a priest and by God's will you will do much good for your homeland.” Don Bosco died two months later, and Prince Czartoryski, kneeling at his tomb at Valsalice, would profess his vows and become a Salesian.
At that time, Fr Andrew Beltrami was completing his studies at Valsalice in view of the same goal, and he struck up a deep friendship with August: they studied foreign languages together and helped one another to climb to the heights of sanctity. When August’s illness worsened, the superiors asked Andrew to spend time with him and help him. They spent the summer holidays together in the Salesian institutes at Lanzo, Penango in Asti, Alassio ... August was a guardian angel for Andrew, a teacher and heroic example of holiness. Andrew Beltrami, today Venerable, would say of him: “I looked after a saint.”
His illness was such that August was sent to the Ligurian coast and here he did his theological studies. The course of the illness made the family's attempts more insistent, and they also resorted to pressure from the doctors. To Cardinal Parocchi, who was asked to use his influence to snatch him away from Salesian life, he wrote: “In complete freedom I wanted to take my vows, and I did so with great joy in my heart. From that day on, living in the Congregation, I have enjoyed great peace of mind, and I thank the Lord for having made the Salesian Society known to me and for having called me to live in it.”
Prepared by suffering, he was ordained priest on 2 April 1892 at San Remo by Bishop Tommaso Reggio, the bishop of Ventimiglia. Prince Ladislaus and Aunt Isa were not part of the ordination. Fr August’s priestly life lasted barely a year, spent in Alassio in a room that looked over the courtyard where the boys were. He died at Alassio on the evening of Saturday 8 April 1893, during the Easter Octave, seated on the same chair that had already been used for Don Bosco. “What a beautiful Easter!” he had said on Monday to the confrere who was helping him, without imagining that he would be celebrating the last day of the octave in Paradise. He was thirty-five years old and had been a Salesian for five years. On the holy card for his First Mass he had written: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise” (Psalm 84). His body was taken to Poland and buried in the crypt in the parish church at Sieniawa, beside the family tombs. It was where August had made his First Communion. Later his remains were moved to the Salesian church in Przemyśl, where they still lie today.
August Czartoryski, the young prince, had developed an effective way to discern the divine plan in his regard. He placed before God in prayer all the questions and concerns he had, and then in a spirit of obedience he followed the advice of his spiritual guides. Thus he came to an understanding of his vocation to undertake a life of poverty to serve the little ones. This same approach allowed him, during his life, to fulfil the choices he had made, so that today it can be said that he carried out the plans of Divine Providence heroically.