On pilgrimage with Marian Founder
Special anniversary inspires reflections on heroic life and holy death of Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski.
by Father Joseph, MIC
You can imagine my emotion this past Spring as I paused and knelt at the baptismal font in the village church of Podegrodzie in Poland where our beloved Marian Founder, Fr. Stanislaus of Jesus Mary Papczynski, received his new life in Christ. This ancient village is located near Stary Sacz in the heart of the Sandetian Valley. It is a picturesque region that is criss-crossed with brooks that create many deep ravines and gorges. The Beskidy Mountains loom in the distance.
Then, as I knelt and prayed at Fr. Founder's tomb in the small Church of the Cenacle in Gora Kalwaria near Warsaw, I reflected on his holy death. As I prayed, I thought of the unique Way of the Cross which surrounds the church. It is hand-carved in stone by a renowned sculptor. The carvings of Christ's Passion reminded me of how the last words of Fr. Stanislaus echoed those of the dying Savior: "Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit."
I shared these precious moments of walking in the footsteps of Father Founder with a group of my fellow Marians and some lay people. The occasion was my Congregation's third annual conference for the Association of Marian Helpers. Every year, we Marians and some of our key lay staff from Marian Helpers Centers around the world gather to share and discuss our future plans. I was present as the Director of the Association in North America.
This conference became something very special because it was dedicated to the 300th anniversary of Father Founder's passage into eternal life, which we mark this Sept. 17. So, we spent time sharing about the life and legacy of Fr. Stanislaus during our conference sessions at Zakopane, as well as travelling by bus to his tomb and birthplace.
At his birthplace
For me, it truly became a personal pilgrimage. I sensed Father Founder's presence with me. And I came to appreciate even more his holy life and inspiring example.
In his beautiful hometown of Podegrodzie, I realized afresh that this oasis of silence, quiet, and beauty must have helped to form his character as he grew into a very sensitive and loving man. I was able to pause at one of the wayside shrines to the village church. There, I could just imagine the pious youth stopping with his parents for a brief prayer while on the way to Mass.
Father Tadeusz Rogalewski, MIC -- the preeminent biographer of Fr. Stanislaus -- tells us that he developed a love for piety quite early.
Both of his parents were very devout and raised their son in a deeply religious atmosphere. His mother was particularly known for her patience and for her love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She belonged to the local rosary sodality. Under her influence, he developed a deep, lifelong devotion to Our Lady. In the many difficulties that he encountered later in life, especially in founding the Marians, he would turn to the Blessed Mother for help.
In fact, when we visited the actual monument that marks his birthplace in Podegrodzie, I reflected on his mother and how her devotion must have nurtured his own desire to spread devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception. This is the first part of our charism or call as a congregation.
In Podegrodzie, I also realized that this deeply spiritual and sensitive man of God had been well prepared by his devout upbringing for the heroic call of offering his life for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. As an adult, he saw with deep sorrow his native homeland ravaged by terrible wars, famines, and plagues. He was then led by God to pray for the souls of those who had died suddenly in such difficult circumstances with no one to pray for them.
Following his example, we Marians are called to offer our lives for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, especially the victims of wars and diseases.
At his tomb
Then, when I visited the tomb of Father Founder in Gora Kalwaria, I was inspired that his whole life of heroic virtue, which started in his hometown, had prepared him to leave us the example of a holy death.
Father Rogalewski captures his final days so well in the biography, "Founder of the Marians: Father Stanislaus Papczynski":
In Aug. 1701, he was afflicted by a serious illness which proved to be fatal. Father Stanislaus made another addition to his will and gave his last dispositions. Meanwhile, the illness violently ravaged his body and the sufferings grew more acute. Consumed by fever, he was coherent and lucid till the very end.
On Sept. 17, 1701, fully conscious, he received the Holy Sacraments (Viaticum) from Fr. Joseph of All Saints, the first priest ordained in the Order. Afterwards, he gave his last blessing to the confreres surrounding his bed and urged them to persevere in the faithful observance of the rule and the constitutions, and to be particularly zealous in helping the souls suffering in Purgatory.
As he drew his last breath, he was grasping the crucifix and praying fervently. The last words that could be heard coming from his lips were: "Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit." He fell asleep in the Lord on Sept. 17, 1701, in the evening, as the sun faded and disappeared below the horizon.
His legacy today
Now, 300 years after our Father Founder's passing on to the Lord, it is important to remember that his spirituality and mission are not intended only for my fellow Marians and me, but for each of you as our Marian Helpers or supporters.
In fact, this reality was underscored eloquently by our Father General, the Very Rev. Mark Garrow, MIC. At our conference, he emphasized, "From the very beginning of our Congregation, lay men and women have been associated with our spirituality and our apostolates. In the early years of the Congregation, Father Founder promoted lay participation in our spirituality through 'Confraternities of the Immaculate Conception.' In this way, he promoted authentic veneration of the Immaculate Conception and prayer for the deceased." (We currently spread the Blue Scapular devotion through the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.)
Father General then mentioned that, inspired by Father Founder, we have pioneered "new initiatives" to foster devotion to Mary among our Helpers, such as our "Thirteenth of the Month Club."
Here, at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, I have also tried in all of my letters to encourage you to remember to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, which was so dear to the heart of Fr. Stanislaus. Whenever possible, in all of my letters and on all of our envelopes, I include the reminder: "Praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is a great work of mercy, according to the Founder of the Marians."
In all these ways in which we share the spirituality of Father Founder and our Congregation with you, we are really fulfilling the third part of our charism as Marians. This is our call to assist pastors, especially in educating people in the truths of the faith. Here, Fr. Stanislaus understood well the importance of explaining the truths of the faith -- in both his writings and homilies. In fact, in his own day, there was great ignorance of the faith on the part of many of the people, particularly among the peasants whose education and resources were so limited.
I am thinking here of how we try to inspire you to holiness of life and faithfulness to the Church's teachings through our Association publications. All of this, too, is part of the legacy of Fr. Stanislaus, updated to fit our modern circumstances. (We Marians also continue to assist the local clergy in parishes as part of our call.)
So, during this special anniversary year, may all of us -- Marians and Helpers alike -- be inspired by the life of our Founder and encouraged to carry on his legacy.
And as we seek to honor his memory and invoke his prayers for the future, I wanted to invite you to entrust your personal intentions to him. Entrust them to his loving and sensitive heart.
You can send your intentions to the Marian Helpers Center, and we will ensure that they are then placed at his tomb later this year -- as a sign of his powerful intercession for you and your loved ones.
Mail your special intentions to:
Fr. Founder Petitions
Stockbridge, MA 01263
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