St. Stanislaus Kostka
Two of Poland’s favorite saints bear the name Stanislaus. I have already told you the story of St. Stanislaus, the martyred bishop of Cracow. The other was a young Jesuit, St. Stanislaus Kostka.
Kostka was second of the seven children of Senator John Kostka. John engaged a scholar, Dr. John Bilinski, as a tutor of Stanislaus and his elder brother Paul. From the start, Stanislaus was unusually devout, and especially upset by the coarse talk that he heard even at home. The father would laughingly warn less sensitive visitors not to repeat certain stories in the hearing of his second son: “He would faint!” Paul, on the other hand, was more worldly in outlook.
When Paul was 16 and Stanislaus 14, Senator Kostka sent them to study in Vienna with Dr. Bilinski as chaperon. Stanislaus loved the piety of the Jesuit house where they resided. Unfortunately, the emperor took the house away from the Jesuits eight months later, and the Polish students had to find other lodging. Paul talked Bilinski into moving into the home of a Lutheran. Stanislaus was displeased, and with good reason. When he fell seriously ill two years later, the Lutheran landlord would not admit a priest to give him the last rites. At times when his health was better Stanislaus kept up his devotional practices. Infuriated by this pietism, Paul nagged him unmercifully, and Bilinski, by failing to intervene, became an accomplice in the persecution. One day when Paul had been bullying him with special meanness, Stanislaus warned him, “This will end in my running away and not coming back. Then you will have to explain to our father and mother.”
Eventually the younger Kostka made good his threat. Acting on a message he had from the Blessed Virgin, he decided to enter the Jesuits. He first approached the Jesuit provincial at Vienna on the matter, but this priest feared to incur Senator Kostka’s wrath. So Stanislaus, disguised in a vagrant’s garb, set out without farewells and walked 350 miles to Augsburg, Germany. Paul set out in hot pursuit, but never overtook him. At Augsburg young Kostka asked the German Jesuit provincial, St. Peter Canisius, to receive him into the Society of Jesus. A fortnight of observation was enough to convince Canisius that Stanislaus would be an ideal candidate, so he told him to go down to Rome. There, in 1567, the Jesuit general superior, St. Francis Borgia, received the 17-year-old into the Jesuit order. Stanislaus had meanwhile received an angry letter from his father, threatening to oust the Jesuits from Poland if his son did not come home. The son replied dutifully but firmly that he was following God’s call.
Stanislaus Kostka was a Jesuit for only 10 months, but by following his resolution to make each day perfect, he reached in that short time the heights of holiness. Prophetically informed, it seems, that he would die on the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1568, he did breathe his last on that day at the age of 18. From his death onward, he was hailed as a saint.
Unaware of his brother’s death, Paul Kostka stormed down to Rome in September, intent on forcing the Jesuit novice to return home. Shocked to find that Stanislaus was already dead, Paul began to have compunction for the way he had treated him when living. Experiencing a complete change of heart, Paul Kostka was eager to testify to Stanislaus’ holiness 30 years later when the cause for his beatification was opened. Dr. Bilinski also bore witness: “The blessed boy never had a good word from Paul. And we both knew all the time the holiness and devotion of all that he did.”
Indeed Paul Kostka himself entered the Jesuits at age 60. His motive was evidently to make reparation for having belittled God’s graces to others.
Do we ourselves ever scorn the piety of those who, as they should, make God their chief concern?
--Father Robert F. McNamara