One year ago, on Sept. 16, Father Stanislaus of Jesus Mary Papczynski (1631-1701), the man the Marians of the Immaculate Conception refer to as "Father Founder," became "Blessed Stanislaus." Pope Benedict XVI singled him out as "a father of the poor" and "an apostle of intercessory prayer for the dead."
In a ceremony that drew nearly 100,000 people from around the world, including cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, and the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, Fr. Stanislaus, the Founder of the Marian Congregation, was raised to the honors of the altar on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, in Lichen, Poland.
In the annals of the Order he founded, Blessed Stanislaus now joins the ranks of Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927), the Marian Renovator, as well as the Marian Martyrs of Rosica, Belarus, Blessed George Kaszyra (1904-1943) and Blessed Anthony Leszczewicz (1890-1943).
'A model of holiness for our time'
During the beatification ceremony outside the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Lichen, Blessed Stanislaus was remembered as a prolific writer who urged the world to "contemplate God's mercy" and to turn to Mary Immaculate, "asking her gracious guidance and efficacious care." He was remembered as a zealous priest who preached and practiced love of God and neighbor, who took care of the physically and spiritually poor, and who saw visions of suffering souls in purgatory and left as one of his legacies his deep love and abiding concern for them.
Blessed Stanislaus, so attentive to the needs of his time, was held up as a model of holiness for our time.
"With the beatification, the world will now learn about this man who was always close to the common folk," said Br. Andrew Maczynski, MIC, Vice Postulator for the Marian Causes of Canonization in the Marians' Stockbridge, Mass.-based Province, following the ceremony. "This is a holy man, someone we can turn to and learn from."
In his homily, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State of the Holy See and the celebrant of the Holy Mass of beatification, called Blessed Stanislaus a "tireless apostle of Christ" who "burned with a strong passion for the salvation of souls."
Pope Benedict, in a taped address that was aired over two huge screens, congratulated the Marian Congregation, which had waited for this day for more than 300 years.
"I address a cordial greeting to the faithful gathered together for this happy occasion and to the many people who are devoted to this newly beatified son of the Church in whom they venerate a priest who was exemplary in preaching, in the formation of the laity, a father of the poor, and an apostle of intercessory prayer for the dead," said the Holy Father.
'Miracle' boy and other graces
During the beatification ceremony, a healthy, 5-year-old boy named Sebastian, dressed in a suit and tie and accompanied by his mother and father, joined in the presentation of the relic of Blessed Stanislaus. Sebastian was at the center of a miracle approved by the Vatican last year that cleared the path for Blessed Stanislaus's beatification.
While in his mother's womb, the boy was declared dead by doctors in his hometown of Elk, in northern Poland. It was Zbigniew Chojnowski, the cousin and godfather of Sebastian's mother, who sought the intercession of Blessed Stanislaus. Zbigniew's prayers were answered when, on April 4, 2001 — on the eighth day of his novena to Blessed Stanislaus — the fetus regained a heartbeat.
READ A FULL INTERVIEW WITH ZBIGNIEW CHOJNOWSKI.
"This event was immediately judged to have come about beyond the powers of nature," stated the decree concerning the miracle, which Pope Benedict XVI authorized on Dec. 16, 2006. Sebastian was born, without complications, on Oct. 17, 2001.
In Poland, where the beatification was televised nationally, the miracle came as no surprise. Since his days as a preacher, the Founder of the Marians has been viewed as a "saint" in his native land. And the miracle came as no surprise to the countless number of Marian Helpers worldwide who have reported receiving graces through the intercession of Blessed Stanislaus. Such graces have included, among others things, physical and spiritual healings, and assistance in family- and work-related crises.
"I have often been moved to tears when reading the letters I receive from people reporting all kinds of graces, big and small, through the intercession of Father Founder," said Br. Andrew, who, with Fr. Victor Gumienny, MIC, a classmate of his in the novitiate, presented the relic of Blessed Stanislaus during the beatification. "When, several years ago, we began encouraging people, through Marian Helper magazine, to seek Father Founder's intercession, God worked immediately. The readers of our magazine immediately started seeking his intercession and immediately began receiving graces. The letters started pouring in."
A call to serve, guided by Mary
Blessed Stanislaus was born in 1631 in the small village of Podegrodzie, in southeastern Poland. As a young man, he dedicated himself completely to serving God. When he became a priest, he soon became well known. King John III (Sobieski) reportedly sought his counsel and came to him for confession, as did the future Pope Innocent XII, who was serving at that time as the Papal Nuncio for Poland.
But the crowning achievement for Blessed Stanislaus came in 1673 when, after many hardships and setbacks, he founded the Marians, the Church's first men's religious order dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
"Guiding him throughout his life was Mary herself," noted Cardinal Bertone, in his homily. "In the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the new [blessed] marveled at the power of the Redemption worked by Christ. In the Immaculate Virgin, he discerned the beauty of the new creation given totally to Christ and to the Church. He became so fascinated by this truth of the faith that he was prepared to give his life in its defense."
Indeed, nearly 200 years before the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the faith, Blessed Stanislaus professed: "I believe everything that the holy Roman Church believes, but first of all I profess that the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, was conceived without any stain of original sin."
Why was the Immaculate Conception so central to Blessed Stanislaus? He realized that by being preserved from original sin, Mary was made worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God. Thus, she became living proof to the mystery of Divine Mercy — that sin had been conquered by Jesus Christ, whose merciful love is more powerful than evil.
In his preaching and in his writings, Blessed Stanislaus always emphasized turning to Mary Immaculate as our powerful intercessor before God. In his own life, he credited Mary for many graces. In one dramatic instance, this hitherto poor student learned the entire alphabet in one afternoon and then went on to excel in his studies.
In one of his many published prayers to the Blessed Mother, which was quoted by Cardinal Bertone, he wrote:
Mary, you console, comfort, sustain, and raise up the oppressed, those who weep, who are tempted, who are weighed down ... O sweet Virgin! Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your life!
But Blessed Stanislaus was not only a man of deep prayer; he was intimately engaged with the people and events of 17th century Poland, a time of great upheaval. The special needs of his times dictated the aspects of the charism he set forth for his new religious community — a charism that is practiced by Marians worldwide to this day. The Marians would not only spread devotion to Mary Immaculate as part of their charism, they would also assist the souls suffering in purgatory and provide zealous apostolic care to people whose spiritual life was in great peril.
In other words, his call to holiness was a call to action for those most in need of God's mercy.
Showing mercy on the battlefield, in the parish
Blessed Stanislaus reportedly served as a chaplain in the Polish army at a time when Poland was being ravaged by foreign invaders.
Living in a war-torn time period, he witnessed thousands of casualties on battlefields and also from dreaded plagues. He himself accompanied Polish troops as a chaplain in battles against Turkey in Ukraine in 1674. Deeply saddened to observe how many people died with no time to spiritually prepare, he was moved to engage in —and advocate for — prayer and penance on their behalf of the dead.
There are even testimonies that the suffering souls of many of the fallen soldiers appeared to him and asked for his intercession. In one account, at a gathering with a family and other guests, Fr. Stanislaus had a profound mystical experience of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. He later told his confreres after returning to his monastery: "Pray, brethren, for the souls in purgatory, for they suffer unbearably." He then locked himself in his cell and spent three days praying for them.
His legacy of praying for souls in purgatory remains as vital today as it was in his own time.
"One of the most significant problems of our times is the loss of a sense of human dying, which is a result of the loss of a sense of life," said the Very Rev. John M. Rokosz, MIC, Superior General of the Marian Congregation. "Dying without God is terrifying. Father Papczynski teaches us to live with our attention on dying as the point of our ultimate meeting with God, the point at which we will enter the fullness of eternal life.
"Only a person who accepts this vision of death and views it without fear can fully and joyfully live out his or her life," Fr. John continued. "Father Papczynski teaches us that we ought to prepare ourselves for this event and to help the others to do so, both through our prayer and through staying at the side of the dying."
Indeed, Blessed Stanislaus's Christian love extended to the living, as well. Having suffered from debilitating illnesses himself, and having experienced poverty and even homelessness, Blessed Stanislaus was especially sensitive to the needs of the poor.
"The peasants farming the land and living in the villages were usually neglected," said Br. Andrew. "The pastors in the parishes desperately needed help caring for the spiritual needs of the peasants. Father Stanislaus would assist by preaching, teaching catechism, and hearing confessions in parishes near his monasteries."
What would the Marian Founder stress in his pastoral work with the poor?
"He tried to convince them that human life, whether short or long, has consequences in eternity," wrote the biographer Fr. Tadeusz Rogalewski, MIC. "He encouraged them to abandon sin and inspired them to the practice of the Christian virtues. He knew that lack of belief in the salvation of the soul is man's real tragedy."
In words that were later to be echoed in Christ's revelations to St. Faustina, Blessed Stanislaus wrote, "The most merciful Savior of the world cares for the salvation of all people, and not only does He have in consideration the happiness of the just, but also, or even mainly, of the sinners." As Jesus told St. Faustina, "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 723).
Hope for renewal
With print, radio, and broadcast journalists from around the world on hand in Lichen, the Marians viewed the beatification of their Founder as the coronation of the hopes and dreams of many generations of Marians and Marian Helpers.
They also viewed it as an opportunity for other clergy and religious, and the laity to join them in spreading the word about Blessed Stanislaus — joining in the call to seek his intercession and to turn to him as a model of faith and trust in God. The Marians believe it presents an opportunity for renewal in their community, the wider Church, and the world.
"The beatification is, above all, a call for a deeper interest in the charism left to the Congregation by its Founder, and an invitation to live by it," said Fr. John.
"All aspects of the charism of the community — including the spread of the message of mercy and devotion to the Immaculate Conception — are on display and validated and made relevant to the Church and the world," said Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, a seminarian from the United States, who witnessed the beatification along with Marians from five continents.
"We are all turning back to our Founder and discovering the rich spirituality he laid out for us," said Fr. Robert Vennetti, MIC, a young Marian priest who serves at St. Peter's Parish in Kenosha, WI.
Perhaps this shining hope for renewal through the Marian Founder's legacy was put best by His Eminence Cardinal Franc Rode, CM, in his homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification, which was held at the Founder's tomb in Gora Kalwaria, Poland, on Sept. 17.
"We have waited a long time for the joy of today's thanksgiving," said the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. "For you, beloved Marians, these were three centuries of prayers and efforts so that the glow of your Founder's sanctity, which you were so much convinced of, could shine to the whole world."
In that light, Cardinal Rode emphasized, " If now we rejoice with the beatification of Fr. Papczynski, we can most forcefully claim that today is the day when the testimony of his life is needed most for the Church and the world."
In gratitude for the beatification of Father Founder, the Marians have published The Miracle of Me, a book that captures the wonder of life in the womb using simple language and poetry. While this book makes an excellent gift for an expecting mother and her family, it has also developed a higher purpose. The author, Amy Pedersen, has used part of her proceeds to launch Project MOM, a pro-life ministry. The Marians are convinced of the importance of this undertaking and, therefore, are offering "a buy-one-give-one" promotion to help get this book into the hands of women who need it the most — especially those considering abortion. For every book you purchase, we will include another copy free of charge, stamped "donated" for use in pregnancy crisis centers, parishes, or other pro-life causes. Please call the Marian Helpers Center 1-800-462-7426 and reference the promotional code, R-MIME.