It was during these stormy times, in the year 1631, that John Papczyński was born in the small village of Podegrodzie, in southern Poland. Years later, by God’s grace, he was to be known as Saint Father Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczyński, founder of the Marian Fathers, canonized in Rome, June 5, 2016.
From his small town beginnings, John Papczyński was called by God to a series of great tasks, starting with his entry into religious life in the monastery of the Piarists in 1654. There he became the first Pole who took vows in the Piarist Order. For many years during this period, Providence intertwined St. Stanislaus’ life with that of the Mazovian region surrounding Warsaw, a city serving as the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
It was no peaceful sanctuary. As the central location of the Republic, between the Baltic and the Black Seas, it was exposed to frequent armed conflicts, especially throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. There were conflicts with Turkey, the Cossacks, Russia, Sweden, and later, with an old vassal state, Prussia, and an old ally, Austria.
The city of Warsaw alone was under siege and liberated on numerous occasions. Its surrounding areas were burned and plundered by various armies. During these difficult times, St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczyński carried God’s word ardently to those who needed it most, earning himself the nickname “Mazovian Apostle.”
The Mazovian region, in fact, served as the cradle of Marian life. It was there, in the early autumn of 1673, that the first Marian monastery was established. St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczyński settled in a small part of the Puszcza Korabiewska (Korabiew Forest) near Skierniewice. Today it is called Puszcza Marianska (the Marian Forest). However, the Congregation traces its beginning to December 11, 1670 with Saint Stanislaus Papczyński publically announcing in his Oblatio the desire to establish a community of men dedicated to spreading the honor of the Immacuate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He came to this point in his life after 19 years with the Piarists, leaving that order to answer the Lord’s call to establish a new order in the Church, one devoted to the Immaculate Conception. As a Pole, Marian devotion was part of Stanislaus’ inheritance: familial, religious, and cultural. In addition, two factors in particular, both attributed to Mary’s intercession, deepened his devotion.
The first was the miraculous defense of the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, saving the historic monastery from the destruction of the Swedish invasion, and truly enkindling the Polish national spirit. The second was the consecration of Poland to Mary by King John Casimir in Lwow (present-day L’viv, Ukraine). At this event, the Polish nation was publicly entrusted to Mary’s care, in gratitude for the Polish victory over invading Swedish forces. Mary was given the title Queen of Poland.
The Marian devotion of St. Stanislaus particularly focused on the Immaculate Conception, and this was some two centuries before the dogma would be proclaimed by the Church. He wrote: “I believe everything that the holy Roman Church believes … but first of all I profess that the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, was spotless from original sin, from the moment of her conception.”
The privilege of the Immaculate Conception was very precious to St. Stanislaus. He talked about it in sermons and wrote extensively on the subject. Like a knight of old, who pledged to defend the honor of his lady, he made a vow of blood to lay down his life if necessary in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. History shows that he faithfully kept this vow, not only in the living of his life, but in the founding of a religious order dedicated to promoting the Immaculate Conception.
Two other factors weighed heavily on the mind of St. Stanislaus, as God led him to found a new religious order. Particularly during the period of the Swedish invasion, St. Stanislaus witnessed thousands of casualties on battlefields and from dreaded plagues. He himself accompanied Polish troops as a chaplain in battles against Turkey in Ukraine in 1674. He was deeply saddened to observe how many people died with no time to prepare to meet their Maker. At the same time, he experienced visions of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. These factors, combined with the deeply charitable spirit that always characterized St. Stanislaus, led to a charism still distinctive among religious communities: prayer and penance on behalf of the dead, including those most forgotten, especially the souls of those who had died in wars and plagues.