Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aug. 12, 2014 Tuesday: St. Stanislaus Kostka

St. Stanislaus Kostka, S.J.

Stanislaus Kostka was only 18 years old when he died, and had been a Jesuit novice for less than a year. He is one of the popular saints of Poland and many religious institutions have chosen him as the protector of their novitiates.

He was born in 1550 at the family estate in east-central Poland. His father was a local governor and military administrator, and a senator of the Kingdom of Poland. His mother was the sister and niece of Polish dukes. According to the standards of those times, all this meant Stanislaus was a Polish noble destined for public life.

When he was 14, his father enrolled him and his older brother Paul in a new Jesuit college in Vienna that was especially favored by the nobility. Paul, who always had an eye for comfort, found them rooms in the house of an Austrian senator.

Stanislaus was a serious and quiet person. He avoided all unnecessary contact with visitors, applied himself to his studies, dressed plainly for a noble, and spent so much time in prayer that Paul derisively nicknamed him “the Jesuit.” Paul interpreted Stanislaus’ natural meekness and humility as a reproach to his own worldly and carefree way of life. Whatever Stanislaus did either offended or irritated him. So, he harassed his younger brother, abusing him physically and verbally. Stanislaus didn’t crack under pressure. He just became more virtuous and determined to become a Jesuit.

In December 1565, Stanislaus received some heavenly help. Feeling ill and close to death, he asked to receive Holy Communion. Paul kept putting him off, saying the illness wasn’t life-threatening. (Their landlord was a staunch Lutheran and wouldn’t allow a priest into the house). Stanislaus prayed to St. Barbara to somehow receive Communion, and soon Barbara and two angels appeared to him in his room, bringing him Communion. They left, and then Our Lady carrying the baby Jesus appeared, and told him he was to enter the Society of Jesus. Stanislaus regained his health and returned to college.

Now really resolved to be a Jesuit, Stanislaus asked the Jesuit provincial of Vienna for admittance, only to be told he needed his parents’ consent. Stanislaus knew they wouldn’t give it, and decided to ask further away from home. In August 1567, he walked the 450 miles to Augsburg, Germany. Paul heard of it and started after him. Stanislaus was dressed as a simple pilgrim, and the angry Paul went right past him on the road without recognizing him and gave up the chase.

Stanislaus reached the Augsburg provincial, Fr. Peter Canasis, S.J., and together they agreed that Stanislaus ought to get even further away from his father’s political influence. They decided on Rome. In September 1567, he and two Jesuits went on foot, south through Germany and over the Alps to Italy. It took a month to reach Rome.

There Stanislaus presented himself to the head of the Society of Jesus, Father General Francis Borgia, S.J., and entered the Jesuit novititate. For the next ten months, his prayer was purified and his union with God grew more intense.

In early August 1568, Stanislaus had a premonition that he would die on August 15. He took sick on the 10th, and on the 14th he told the infirmarian that he would die the next day, but this Jesuit shrugged it off; the patient didn’t seem critically ill. Then suddenly he worsened. After receiving Holy Communion and the Last Rites, he chatted cheerfully with his fellow novices until nightfall. After they left, he prayed often, “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready!” About 3:00 a.m. his face lit up joyfully. He said Our Lady was approaching with her court of angels and saints to take him to heaven. Then he died — on August 15, the feast of Our Lady’s own assumption into heaven.

Only 36 years after his death, he was beatified. He was canonized on December 31, 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. His feast day is November 13.

Excerpted and edited from Jesuit Saints & Martyrs: Short Biographies of the Saints, Blessed, Venerables, and Servants of God of the Society of Jesus by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.