ROME (June 5, 2016) — The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica clanged. The rounded arms of Bernini’s colonnade stretched out as if awakening to a new day. Which it is — in more ways than one.
At 10:52 a.m. today, Pope Francis read the words the Marian Congregation has longed to hear for some 315 years: the Formula of Canonization that declared their Congregation’s Founder hereby enrolled “among the saints … to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the single most joyful day in the 346-year history of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski (1631-1701) was declared a saint, joined by Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad (1870-1957) of Sweden, the foundress of the Bridgettine Sisters.
These first saints to be canonized in this Jubilee Year of Mercy “remained deeply united to the Passion of Jesus, and in them the power of His Resurrection was revealed,” the Holy Father said in his homily.
The word Resurrection was optimal in this case. Father Founder’s canonization date was set following the Vatican’s approval in January of the miracle attributed to his intercession. The miracle involved the healing of a 20-year-old, terminally ill woman shortly after Blessed Stanislaus’ beatification in 2007. Coupled with the beatification miracle — a fetus brought back to life as a result of prayers by a desperate family member — St. Stanislaus has proven himself a powerful intercessor.
“In both cases, we see the work of God, who brings back life from death,” said the Marians’ Superior General Fr. Andrzej Pakuła, MIC, who was among the dozens of Marian priests from five continents who concelebrated the Mass of Canonization under bright, blue skies in the world’s most famous square.
Moreover, by God’s Providence, the Sunday readings used by the universal Church on June 5 tell of miracles — of the dead being brought back to life through God Almighty who offers eternal life (see 1 Kings 17:17:24 and Luke 7:11-17).
“When I saw what Sunday’s readings were,” said Fr. Andrzej, “I saw proof. God put together all this. Amazing. It’s amazing.”
Both miracles attributed to St. Stanislaus’ intercession occurred in his homeland of Poland. The recipient of the beatification miracle, Ursula Markoskal, and the recipient of the canonization miracle, Barbara Sobolewska, were in attendance, along with their families. Barbara was chosen to carry the relic of St. Stanislaus and place it by the altar.
Among the 100,000 or more attendees of the canonization were many from St. Stanislaus’ homeland, where he remains a folk hero to this day, famous for his mysticism, his writings, preaching, teaching, and his no-nonsense undertaking of the duties set before him by Divine Providence. Those duties included serving as a chaplain in the Polish army in wartime. Of humble origins, the future saint would go on to serve as confessor to the future King John III and the Papal Nuncio for Poland, who would later become Pope Innocent XII.
A sure sign of St. Stanislaus’ sway in matters of the state and matters of the spirit, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda attended the Mass of Canonization. Afterwards, at a festive meal hosted by the Marians just outside the Vatican gates, President Duda spoke eloquently of the Church’s new saint, reminding all that in 1764 — 63 years after St. Stanislaus’ death — the parliament of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth turned to the Holy See and requested the beatification and canonization of their beloved spiritual son.
Parliament pursued him being raised to the honors of the alter, said President Duda, “not only because he was a great spiritual leader and an excellent preacher who taught his young confreres, brothers, and priests, or because he was a renowned rhetorician … but on account that he was a great patriot and a great intercessor for his country. He frequently said that love of one’s country and giving of oneself to his country is [a virtue to be emulated]. He said we need good Poles, and a good Pole is someone who has given himself to his country in a heroic way — who has morals, who has ethical values and who is courageous.
“This is how I would summarize his own words,” President Duda continued. “He challenged his fellow countrymen to this way of life and was uncompromising in this. He was not only a priest, but he was a warrior — a warrior for a free, strong, sovereign, and independent Poland.”
For his spiritual sons and daughters — including Marian priests and brothers and Marian Helpers — St. Stanislaus’ legacy also stretches beyond national borders, and indeed, beyond earthly borders. His mystical experiences included visions of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. He would tell his confreres, “Pray, brethren, for the souls in Purgatory, for they suffer unbearably.” And so strong was his devotion to the Blessed Mother, he named his Congregation for her Immaculate Conception. This was nearly 200 years before the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the faith.
Saint Stanislaus called all men and women to contemplate God’s mercy and proclaim that God’s heart is open to all.
“If you read some of his works,” said Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, “he has the most tender approach to sinners, and he calls Mary ‘the hook,’ like a fish hook, that catches sinners to come back to the Lord. Other preachers in his time preached fire and brimstone. Not in his writings. He speaks of Mary’s uttermost tenderness to get sinners back.”
For the Marians, his was a message that presaged the Divine Mercy revelations of St. Faustina in the 1930s, which the Marians have promulgated since 1941 from their Stockbridge, Massachusetts-based province.
Born into a blacksmith’s family in Podegrodzie, in Poland’s rural southern region, St. Papczynski was dedicated by his mother to the Virgin Mary from the time he was still in the womb — in fact, during a harrowing river crossing that nearly drowned mother and child. As a child, he engaged in pious play that included building alters and taking on the gestures and demeanor of priests. He joined the Spanish-based Piarist congregation in 1654, but he left after nine years, dissatisfied that they were no longer living up to their founder’s dedication to strict piety and penance.
He founded the Marians in 1670 with the mission to promote the Immaculate Conception and pray for souls in Purgatory. He died at Gora Kalwaria, outside Warsaw, and was entombed in the Marian church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
His spiritual sons today, now serving in some 20 countries around the world, discover in their vocations a direct link to their Founder, who demanded of his Congregation a daily and dogged pursuit of sanctification for the glory of God and the Church.
“We are taught about him, but not in a way that puts him up on some insurmountable pedestal,” said Br. Alex, MIC, who is preparing to take final vows in August. “Yes, the mystical experiences were there, but he had such a desire for the salvation of other souls. You just want to emulate that. He had his struggles, and he realized that when he encountered struggles, to pray to Mary and let her dust him off and give him the strength. His humanity speaks today. It speaks of the rewards of trust, of prayerfulness, and of pursuing holiness, and serving those who are in despair.”
And it speaks to the reality that God is at work in the world through His saints.
The canonization drew Marian Helpers from throughout the United States, including Ricardo and Regina Escueta of Los Angeles. They came to Rome to give thanks to God for St. Stanislaus through whose intercession Ricardo received a healing from cancer.
“Saint Stanislaus is proof God is working in my life,” Ricardo said. “We believe it’s his intercession and God’s will that we have another purpose in life, to continue life according to His plan.”
One of the two first saints canonized in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8 (on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, no less)? What’s the meaning of this?
“That God has many things in store for our Congregation,” said Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Stockbridge-based province. “God is giving us many graces and many responsibilities, and through His graces, we follow in our Founder’s footsteps to help save souls and preach to the world the mercy of God.”