By Sarah Bedia
St. Stanislaus Papczynski was a priest, military chaplain, and a founder of a religious order. John (Jan) was born in 1631 in the small village of Podegrodzie in southern Poland. His father Tomasz was the bailiff for the village and a blacksmith, and John had seven older siblings. He was a trusted shepherd for his father’s herd of sheep and was a very active boy who loved to spend time outside around the nearby river and hills. As a child, he did not have an easy time in school, but by age fifteen, he went to study at the Jesuit College at Jaroslaw, nearly one hundred miles from home. Afterwards, he studied at the Jesuit College at Lvov, in what is now western Ukraine.
After a Cossack invasion drove him away from Lvov, he finished his studies at the Jesuit College at Rawa Mazowieka in central Poland in 1654 at age twenty three. His parents had arranged a good marriage for John, but by this time, he had decided to live a consecrated religious life. The Piarist Fathers, a young religious order, had recently come to Poland and John entered the congregation at Podoliniec soon after his college graduation. He took the religious name Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary. Two years later, he made his solemn vows and was the first Polish fully professed Piarist. He did his seminary studies in anticipation of priestly ordination and taught at two colleges during that time. He wrote a highly regarded textbook, entitled The Messenger of the Queen of Arts.
Ordination to the Priesthood
Stanislaus was ordained a priest in 1661 at age twenty-nine. After ordination, he continued to teach, and, at Warsaw, he earned a reputation as an excellent homilist and spiritual advisor. However, there was turmoil within Fr. Stanislaus’ province and he was at the center of it. He understood the ideals of the order to be closer to those of the Piarist founder [St.] Joseph Calasanz, while the rules were applied much more loosely within his province. He unintentionally became a source for division, and his relationship with his superiors became strained. In 1670, he requested to be released from the order, making a very painful decision after sixteen difficult years.
Dedicated to the idea of founding an order with a particular devotion to Mary under her title Immaculate Conception, Fr. Stanislaus faced a difficult set of challenges:
- No religious order had ever been founded in Poland;
- He came from a humble family background without connections, and;
- The order he envisioned would live in an austere manner.
He gained support from Stefan Wierzbowski, the Bishop of Poznan, and spent about six months preparing for this new venture by writing the new rule of life for the order. He also wrote a book, Templum Dei Mysticum (The Mystical Temple of God), which was a guidebook for how to live a holy life. It was a significant publication for its time, and underwent several reprints. In 1673, wearing the new white habit of his order, he visited some hermits at Puszcza Korabiewska. One of them donated adjacent land for him, and on this property Fr. Stanislaus built a retreat house, where some of the hermits joined him. That fall, he received a canonical visit by the local bishop, who approved the Rule and the living arrangement.
A Visit to Purgatory
In 1675, Fr. Stanislaus served as an army chaplain in Ukraine during the Polish-Ottoman War. While there, he experienced a mystical vision of deceased soldiers pleading for his prayers. This was the first of several experiences that caused him to include prayers and sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory as a central mission of his young order. Once, at the retreat house, his brothers saw him fall into a spiritual supernatural ecstasy. Later, while on a pilgrimage, he experienced yet another ecstasy during which he actually visited Purgatory. All of these experiences increased his fervor on behalf of suffering souls.
Bishop Wierzbowski undertook a renewal of the faith by constructing pilgrimage sites in the town of Gora, near Warsaw. He sent for Fr. Stanislaus’ now-growing community, and provided a church (The Church of the Lord’s Cenacle) and monastery for their use in 1677. This was to be Fr. Stanislaus’ home for the remainder of his life. From here, the brothers cared for the needs of the many pilgrims and those of the neighboring parishes, and were especially committed to teaching the faith to the uneducated. At Fr. Stanislaus’ direction, they were successful at beginning several lay apostolates, or confraternities, which were based on devotion to Mary and prayer for the deceased.
Founding of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception
In 1690, Fr. Stanislaus set out on foot for Rome seeking papal approval, but since there was no Pope when he arrived, he was only able to gain approval for affiliation with some already existing orders. Nine years later, he sent an envoy to Rome in his stead and this time the attempt was successful. At Gora in June of 1701, Fr. Stanislaus made his solemn vows to the papal nuncio and the brothers made their vows to him. He died peacefully just three months later, September 17, 1701 and was buried at the Church of the Lord’s Cenacle.
St. Stanislaus Papczynski was a man deeply dedicated to protecting and defending the Virgin Mary’s honor. In addition, his experiences of death on the battlefield and his mystical visions of the suffering of souls being purified gave him a particular affection and sympathy for them, especially for those who died suddenly. The order he founded, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, nearly died out at one time. It recovered about a century ago, however, and now thrives in nineteen countries. It was the Marians who managed to smuggle the Diary of [St.] Maria Faustina out of war-torn Poland in the 1940’s and who are most responsible for the spreading of her message of the Divine Mercy.
St. Stanislaus’ cause for beatification was interrupted for nearly two hundred years, but his beatification finally took place in 2007. He was canonized on June 6, 2016 in Rome by Pope Francis. His feast day is September 17, the day of his death, and there is a shrine in his memory at the Church of the Lord’s Cenacle in Gora Kalwaria, Poland. He is the patron of his order. In addition, he is also a patron of unborn children, as numerous healings of prenatal difficulties have been attributed to his intercession.