Saint of the Month: St. Stanislaus Kostka

St. Stanislaus Kostka was a Polish nobleman and Jesuit novice who showed remarkable perseverance in following God’s call to his vocation. Stanislaus was born in 1550 at Rostkovo Castle in Poland, and was named after the 11th century martyr and bishop, St. Stanislaus. His father, John, was a senator for the realm and governor of Zakroczym. His mother Margaret, was related to the Polish chancellor. Stanislaus and his older brother Paul were raised in a strict environment and were taught by a private tutor. Stanislaus was more devout than Paul, who teased and bullied him. When he was thirteen, he and Paul were sent to Vienna to attend a Jesuit college which had recently opened there. Stanislaus gained a reputation for being unusually studious and fervent about the Faith, and because of his friendliness, was well-liked.


After several months, the boys moved from the Jesuit residence to the house of a senator, who was a staunch Lutheran. Stanislaus became quite ill in December of 1565. Because of his opposition to the Catholic Faith, the senator would not allow a priest to enter the house bearing the Eucharist, causing grief for the sick boy. Paul ignored his brother’s pleas to obtain Viaticum for him, and so Stanislaus resorted to heartfelt prayers, calling upon the patroness of his sodality, St. Barbara. He later related that he was indeed visited by the saint with two angels and was given Holy Communion. He also told that the Virgin Mary appeared to him with the infant Jesus, encouraged him to become a Jesuit, and placed the Child in his arms. After his recovery, the relationship between Paul and Stanislaus continued to deteriorate. The more devout Stanislaus became, the more angry and aggressive Paul was. The verbal abuse escalated to beatings, which Stanislaus endured patiently. At one point, Stanislaus cautioned his brother that he would be going away soon and never returning.


Indeed, Stanislaus, at age fifteen, was resolved to enter the Jesuits. He applied to the provincial at Vienna during the summer of 1566. While he was considered a good candidate, parental opposition had been problematic previously, so Stanislaus was told that he would need his father’s permission. He knew that his father frowned upon his strong spiritual tendencies, so after consulting another Jesuit, he made an alternate plan. In August of 1567, he clandestinely left Vienna in the morning, leaving behind his stylish clothing, dressed as a poor traveler. That evening, Paul realized what had happened, and in a rage followed his brother, but was unable to find him. Bearing a letter from the Vienna Jesuits, Stanislaus traveled on foot two hundred and eighty miles to Augsberg, Germany to appeal to the provincial there, [St.] Peter Canisius. Canisius sent him to work in a boarding school at Dillingen and quickly recognized how serious and capable the boy was. He accepted Stanislaus into the order and made arrangements for him to travel to Rome with two companions, hoping that John Kostka would not intervene.
After a five hundred-eighty mile journey on foot, the trio arrived in Rome in October, bearing a letter from Canisius. Stanislaus presented himself to [St.] Francis Borgia, the Superior General of the Jesuits. He was admitted to the novitiate of St. Andrew in Rome, where he was placed in the care of novice master Fr. Giulio Fazio.


Just ten months into his novitiate, Stanislaus became aware that he was about to die. Indeed, he became sick with a fever, which the infirmarian did not think to be anything serious. On August 10, he was so weak that he knew his death was imminent. He hand-wrote a letter to the Virgin Mary, requesting that she call for him on the feast of her Assumption into heaven. On the 14th, he was given Viaticum and spent time in prayer that night with several other Jesuits. Late at night, he stated that the Virgin Mary was coming to meet him with some angels, and he died as he requested in the early morning hours of August 15 at age seventeen.

St. Stanislaus Kostka exhibited a rare seriousness and devotion to the Faith from childhood, which withstood opposition and hostility from within his own family. Paul Kostka lived to be present at his brother’s beatification in 1605, and testified that his brother experienced ecstasies during their time in Vienna. Fr. Fazio testified that Stanislaus experienced heat in his chest that was so intense he had to “apply cold compresses” and that he “was a model and mirror of religious perfection…he did not spare himself the slightest penance”. He let nothing stand in the way of his following the Virgin Mary’s call to be a Jesuit, including walking nearly nine hundred miles, including through the Alps. A list of his “accomplishments” would be a short one, but it could be said that he “died of love”. His feast day is November 13 and there are schools, parishes, and novitiates named after him the world over.