Father Przemysław Sliwiński talks to Fr. Paweł Naumowicz, Provincial of the Congregation of Marian Fathers, about the fascinating life of Stanislaus Papczynski, the dramatic history of the Marians, the need to be open to changes and to God, and what is the best way of life for us.
Father Przemysław Sliwiński: On March 15, 2016, the newspaper “Gość niedzielny” wrote on Twitter: “The official announcement has been made of the date of the canonization of Mother Teresa, and the Cristiada’s hero … and of a certain Pole.” Bravo. I’m not applauding the information about the canonization of Mother Teresa.
Father Paweł Naumowicz: I read “Gość niedzielny” from back to back, so I do not begrudge them too much. Besides, I’m not particularly surprised, because a lot of people say about our Founder, “I’ve never heard of him.” When public television recently aired a movie about him, some people said: “It’s the first I’ve heard of him. What a great character.”
So, who is this “certain Pole” to be canonized in June?
It is Stanislaus Papczyński. A mountaineer by descent. A hard, stubborn, and resolute man who strove to fulfill the vocation which God placed in his heart, and accomplished it step by step.
Well, let’s talk about him as of a man of flesh and blood. Can we find in him an inspiration for today?
The life of Fr. Papczyński closely illustrates that you have to approach your life’s plans with flexibility. He was open to changes and to what “today” brings. For example, before becoming a Piarist, he attended various schools – in Nowy Sącz close to home, then in Jarosław, and then another in Lviv. At one point he fell ill, became homeless and was near death. Nobody would take him in because he contracted scabies. Or, as his biographers describe, “Dogs licked his skin.”
As in Jesus’ parable of the poor Lazarus.
Yes. Yet he survived. His father brought him back home. Later Fr. Papczyński wrote about this event as “Lviv’s cross.”
So, the first thing he taught us, don’t give up.
Then he went back to school and returned home an educated man. His mother had a bride in view for him and a plan that he would marry and thus follow his parents’ wishes.
This was quite common at that time. On the one hand, the parents decided who was to go to the Order, who was to get married; but on the other hand, there were saints who rebelled against their parents’ plans.
Papczyński repeatedly clashed with his parents about his plans. He did not give up though and kept pursuing his vision, or rather, the one that God instilled in him. And the third point is that it was not his personal vision. He sought it in God.
Here is another example that illustrates that: In the beginning, Fr. Papczyński had difficulty with learning. Also, his father was rather firm with him. When the boy failed at school, he was sent to herd the sheep, because, as the father claimed, if the school doesn’t work, then you go to work. One time Stanislaus experienced a special intercession of the Blessed Mother and he learned the alphabet in one afternoon.
Is it not some kind of the Baroque biographers’ weakness to dig up such little wonders?
Certainly the Baroque weakness is to frame the story in such a way to make it more interesting. But one thing is certain, the boy had learning difficulties and his father kept on sending him to tend sheep. In his father’s plan, learning science would not come in handy for Stanislaus.
So, here we have perseverance.
It’s something more than just perseverance. To get an education, Stanislaus overcomes his weakness and inability. Let’s emphasize to get an education, because he saw its merit. He saw the merit not only in toiling, but also in the goal. Recalling his time of tending sheep, he said, “Thank you, God, for that time, because it allowed me to pray more and avoid many sins.” He sees that God commands events. It may not be to his liking but Fr. Papczyński said, “Wait and you’ll see that it all makes sense.” Another thing he said was, “deal with it and move forward.” And in Papczyński’s endeavors this is constantly noticeable.
What is holiness then? Specifically, in Fr. Papczyński’s case? A holiness that matters today, that can become a vocation, or a call to enter the path of vocation?
His holiness consists in continuously seeking the will of God and endeavoring to carry it out.
And what does “seeking the will of God” mean?
Coaching manuals usually speak of the realization of one’s personal vision, but Papczyński was mainly striving to get this vision from God. He was discerning the signs of the times and listened to the movements in his heart. When he founded the Congregation, he wrote, “God raised this vision in me.” He also said that the founders of this tiny Congregation are Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate. He was intently listening when hearing the Word of God and participating in the Eucharist, while hearing confessions and watching events around him. Through it all he tried to find out where to go today, where to go tomorrow. This is discerning the signs of the times.
And he did not do this only once in his lifetime.
He did not seek answers to questions like, “What will be the end of his life?” He did not know, right away, toward what end was his life going. For example, he wanted to found a new congregation, but he did not know the entire road, but only a fragment of it, for today and tomorrow. It is worth remembering that in his case there wasn’t at once a complete vision or all the solutions. Papczyński worked step by step. He chose measures, direction, and the road as the need arose. Finally, the Holy See has approved the Marian Order in 1699, and Fr. Papczyński made his perpetual profession in June of 1701, three months before his death. So it was only now that he could understand, looking back upon his life, why these small, discerned choices for “today” and “tomorrow” had been made in the past.
It’s a bit like Moses, who did not enter the Promised Land. Although he was walking toward it for so long, he only saw it from afar.
It’s also like Isaiah who wrote songs about the Servant of Yahweh. A few hundred years later they turned out to be about Christ. It is similar for Fr. Papczyński. He discovered things for “today” and for “tomorrow,” step by step. We may not always see the end of the road, but only fragments.
I would like to ask you now about the moment when Fr. Papczyński realized that the Piarists were not his ultimate vocation, that there was a need to found a new community, the Marians. We are talking about the Congregation that is actively working today Lichen, Lublin, and Warsaw – the Congregation that produced many famous priests who gained merit not only in the Church but also in Poland. Many readers are surprised to find out that it was Fr. Papczyński who gave it a start. What idea guided Fr. Papczyński in creating this community?
The idea was centered around the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When regulatory changes made it possible to leave the Piarist Order — which, incidentally, Papczyński loved very much until his death — he petitioned for and received permission of the Holy See. On the same day, after hearing the decree of the Holy See which stated that he was free to leave the Piarist Order without trouble or remorse, he made his oblatio, or the offering of himself, stating, “I wish to establish the Order in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of the Immaculate Conception, put on a white habit.” He put on this white habit a little later, with the consent of the nuncio, the bishop, and all the relevant authorities.
The year was 1670 and the first idea was the Immaculate Conception – hence, the Marian charism, which is to spread the devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Later however, as the Congregation began to take shape, Papczyński added another goal, namely praying for the dead. This has been well reflected in various written works of Fr. Papczyński, who signed them as the “Founder of the Order of Immaculate Conception, Priests Assisting the Dead” or “Priests Assisting Souls in Purgatory,” to which he added many years later “and parish priests.” It is thus the third element of the Marian Order — supporting pastors in their work, that is, the evangelization of simple folks and in what we would call today works of charity for the needy — the sick, the dying, the uneducated.
This shows once again that this vision revealed by God to man is dynamic.
Yes, the vision takes shape, it is not a rigid and ready plan. In human terms, Papczyński would have felt fulfilled at the Piarists: he was a priest, a preacher, a homilist, and confessor to important people. He was sought after. God kept revealing to him a new stage of his road – the stage of getting education, of choosing a religious Order, of founding a new Order and defining more precisely its charism.
In many aspects Fr. Papczyński was a forerunner — he founded the first Polish male Order and was the author of the first Polish textbook of rhetoric.
Yes, his was the first textbook, which was used for over 100 years. It is said that even Konarski studied rhetoric using this book. The textbook sustained several reprints in consequent years.[Stanisław Konarski (actual name: Hieronim Konarski; Sept. 30, 1700 – Aug. 3, 1773) was a Polish pedagogue, educational reformer, political writer, poet, dramatist, Piarist priest, and precursor of the Enlightenment in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.]
How did it happen then that this precursor, the founder of the first Polish religious Congregation known as the Marian Fathers, the adviser to King Sobieski – something we haven’t mention yet – a determined individualist who found in God and community a recipe for successful life, as well as the author of first Polish textbook of rhetoric, is almost unknown?
A great part played in this is the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Father Papczyński founded the Polish male Order, which rapidly grew so that in the 18th its membership already numbered in the hundreds. The Marians landed in Portugal, were present in Rome, and they served in what is now Belarus and Ukraine. The problems started in the 19th century. The Order was expelled from Portugal during the Spring of Nations, and then Napoleon threw us out of Rome. After the January Uprising we were forbidden to accept new candidates, while the existing ones were resettled to specific monasteries, thus being condemned really to extinction. Some of them worked in the dioceses, some worked alone, but the Order as such was dying out.
If we think that the Marians served predominantly on Polish soil, then, indeed, the Order was condemned to extinction.
This was to change in 1909. There was only one surviving Order member, who was also the Superior General. Father Sękowski wrote, “I am getting ready two coffins – one for myself and the other the Congregation.” A disaster.
And then came a priest who received his baptism and First Communion from the Marians in Marijampole (now a town in Lithuania). He said that he wants to join the Order and put on a white habit. But of course, the tsarist authorities did not give him permission to do so. We are talking here about a known figure, a professor from St. Petersburg, Fr. George Matulaitis-Matulewicz. He convinced the then Superior General to start on a new road and to obtain permission from the Holy See to do the formation work in secret and to serve in secret. And that’s how it happened. Father Matulewicz made vows before Fr. Sękowski, who died a few months later. That was an event on the edge between life and death – the Order was nearly dead.
Have the modern era Marians greatly changed as compared to their “elder white brothers?”
Father Matulewicz, still a diocesan priest, went to Rome and returned with permission to transform the Marian Fathers Order into a habit-less religious congregation. The Marians had to wear the same religious garb as the diocesan priests, not white habits, but black cassocks. In order to continue the transformation, Fr. Matulewicz moved the novitiate out of the Russian partition to Fribourg, Switzerland. The Congregation came back to life, but no longer in the white habits of Fr. Papczyński, but in the black cassocks of Fr. Matulaitis-Matulewicz. Looking at this story, we see that the Lord wanted the Congregation to survive against the odds. Its last member was ready to die and he accepted that the congregation would disappear with his death. And yet it revived. It revived in the new shape.[The January Uprising was an uprising in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (present-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, parts of Ukraine, and western Russia) against the Russian Empire. It began on Jan. 22, 1863, and lasted until the last insurgents were captured in 1864.]
Is it because of the revival that the Founder was forgotten in the Congregation?
Naturally, Fr. Matulewicz, who became the General Superior of the Congregation, remembered Fr. Papczyński as the Founder but he was also engaged in intense pastoral work, since he received formation as a diocesan priest.
Remembering the Founder was not easy. There was nowhere to draw the knowledge from. Father Papczyński’s written works were in Latin, of course. Some of them disappeared, many were in manuscripts, some in single copies. It was not until the 1950s, when the Congregation caught the wind in the sails for good, and we began to discover these texts. First, by collecting and translating, and then by living them out. Actually, all Fr. Papczyński’s surviving works were released in Polish just before his beatification.
One may say that we have discovered a pearl that was buried somewhere in the garden. For example, when I joined the community, I read the spiritual diary of Bl. George Matulaitis. We were formed in his spirituality. Although we knew that Fr. Papczyński was the Founder, yet all the time he remained unknown and distant to us. I think that it is changing now.
Can you see today in the Congregation a fascination about Fr. Papczyński?
I think is started on the occasion of the beatification and continues to grow.
What places on the map of Poland could we mark with a little flag to trace the road of Fr. Papczyński?
His birthplace, Podegrodzie, an unusual place. The local parish recently celebrated its 1000 anniversary! Father Papczyński’s parents relocated there to be near St. Kinga.[Saint Kinga of Poland (also known as Cunegunda) (March 5, 1224 –July 24, 1292) is a saint in the Catholic Church and patroness of Poland and Lithuania.]
In modern days people do not relocate to be closer to a Saint.
Today we relocate if we find a better job, peace, education or better conditions. They relocated to be closer to a Saint.
Then, there are places where Fr. Stanislaus went to school – Nowy Sącz, Jarosław, Rawa Mazowiecka, and Warsaw. Warsaw has also become the site of his intensive activity. He was a renowned preacher at the church at Długa Street, which is today the field cathedral.
Later, after leaving the Piarists, it was Lubocza and other small towns, where he tried to discern the situation. Finally the Marian Forest, where the first monastery was erected. Properly speaking, Fr. Stanislaus joined the hermits there and with them created the first house. Another place is Góra Kalwaria …
… New Jerusalem according to the plan of the Bishop of Poznan …
Yes, Bishop Wierzbowski. Who recalls today that 300 years ago Warsaw was subordinate to Poznań and was part of the Poznań archdiocese? Three hundred years ago, Warsaw was a city of little significance, while today it is the most important city in Poland.
Pay close attention to things of little significance!
Yes, because everything can change very, very quickly.
This may be a new entry in the coaching manual but let’s talk a little about New Jerusalem, because today’s Góra Kalwaria, which is the place of Fr. Papczyński’s eternal rest, was created in an unusual way. It is not like the cities that usually rise.
Yes. It was the bishop’s idea to design a city on based on Jerusalem’s layout. And he called it New Jerusalem, which had to have different buildings – the palace of Pilate, the Cenacle, the crucifixion site, and others. He invited several male and female religious Orders to serve there. He invited the pilgrims to come to this place, especially those who could not go to Jerusalem in the Holy Land, so that they could live out in this new town the way of the cross of Jesus Christ, His resurrection, etc., and to renew their faith.
The Marians were finally settled at the Church of Our Lord’s Cenacle, in such a spot that allowed them to introduce the pilgrims to New Jerusalem. And what’s interesting is that when the bishop Wierzbowski was dying, he was distributing goods to various religious orders present in the New Jerusalem. When Fr. Papczyński came to see the dying bishop, he told him, “To you I leave the Divine Providence since I no longer have anything else.”
Didn’t he think to himself: “Well, the bishop put one over me?”
On the contrary. As his biographers report, he warmly thanked the bishop and ordered the Marians to recite the appropriate prayers in honor of Divine Providence. I must say, that we benefited from this, for today there is no other male religious Order left in Góra Kalwaria other than the Marians. If you must cling to something, let it be Divine Providence.
We won’t probably find this in any textbook, and yet, who knows, if it’s not the most important key to success. The last question, which I deliberately left for the end, because it is something that amazes me most. How did it happen that Fr. Papczyński, a person that lived over 300 years ago, has been hailed (which is particularly clearly seen on Twitter) the patron saint of the unborn and defender of life?
When we think of the Immaculate Conception today, we say that Mary was conceived immaculately, i.e., without original sin, full of grace, because God wanted her to be the mother of His Son. So God planned for her life to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary first was created in God’s concept, in His wish, and love.
When we extrapolate this, we need to say that each of us existed first in the mind of God, His wish, and therefore, we were conceived, because God so willed. Even if some people hear today from their mother or father that they weren’t wanted or their parents wished for them to never been born, or even if someone was conceived through rape, they must know that each person is really wanted and planned by God centuries ago, before the foundation of the world.
This may seem irrational, when we hear this, when we think about it, “How can it be so?” I am one of the seven billion people, and how many have already been before me. And yet, it turns out that God directs the story in a way that I could be born, that I could be the one and only, the unique one, and grow accordingly. God directs my story in such a manner that I can eventually fulfill my vocation. As Fr. Stanislaus used to say, we are more beautiful and more important than the angels.
And since each one of us is so unique, so beloved by God, and so important, Fr. Papczyński offers us his support from the moment of conception in the womb, through birth and until death, until the time of celebrating with God and the saints in heaven. Many married couples who struggled to conceive became happy parents after they prayed through the intercession of Fr. Stanislaus. Other people were granted healing for children in the womb. The miracle that led to his beatification was called “return to live” or “revitalization” of a still pregnancy. We receive more testimonies of new, extraordinary events through the intercession of Fr. Papczyński.
It wasn’t the Marians, but those who have experienced the grace of God through the intercession of Fr. Stanislaus, hailed him the patron saint of the unborn and defender of life.
I’m not sure if we fully succeeded in showing Fr. Papczyński as a model of efficacy, since we started the conversation by saying that no one knows him …
No, we started from the fact that he is to be canonized. His holiness testifies to the fact that he was very efficient and achieved what he wanted. He was efficient and, as many have testified, continues to be extremely effective in interceding before God for our causes.