A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF ST STANISLAUS KOSTKA, MEMORIAL: NOVEMBER 13
AFTER ALL, GOD HAD CREATED HIM FOR SOMETHING
“Stanislaus was of a quiet nature. Very early in life he seems to have realised that nobility does not consist in showing off but in living one’s life according to God’s plan. After all, God had created him for something: he must find out just what that something was and, knowing it, he must have the strength to carry it out.
To know what he should do and to have the courage to do it, required more than human strength so he sought guidance and help from God. He could never have been satisfied with drifting through life. He was ambitious because he knew that God makes every man for greatness.
LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN SHOWING OFF
Paul (his brother) undoubtedly regarded Stanislaus’ sickened reaction to off-colour stories as prudish and childish though in reality it showed rather his strength.
Stanislaus was mature enough to realise how dangerous such stories and conversations can be. He knew that poisonous stories are to the soul what poison is to the body.
No one is likely to suggest that one who breathes in poison gas should be regarded as more adult than one who tries to prevent the gas from entering his system.
One who risks his life to save others is a hero but one who takes risks without reason is a fool.
A QUIET PERSON
As Stanislaus Kostka was a very normal boy, nothing much has been reported about his early years except some references to his habits of prayer, his consideration for others and his popularity.
He was not yet fourteen when he was sent to Vienna to study. The first eight months there seem to have been among the happiest of his life. He enjoyed the boarding school life with its regularity and opportunities for prayer and study. He enjoyed the close friendship of the Fathers and his companions. Many of these contemporaries gave evidence of Stanislaus’ holiness after his death.
He was not a great talker; his expression was calm and pleasant. He was a very modest boy. On weekdays he used to attend three Masses, the first and second before and after the first lecture and the third at the end of the morning classes. On Sunday he spent most of his time in church and heard as many Masses as he could.
HE DID NOT IMPOSE HIMSELF ON ANYBODY
Stanislaus had an extraordinary love and devotion to the Mother of God. At a later stage of his life he was asked by Father de Sa, ‘Do you really love Our Lady?’ ‘What a question, Father! Mary is my dear Mother.’ Though the Sodality of Our Lady had not yet been canonically established there was a sodality of Our Lady in the college at Vienna with St Barbara as its secondary patron.
Laurence Pacifici, who was the personal servant of Stanislaus Kostka, while also attending the Jesuit college with them, wrote of his young master later, when he himself was a Canon of San Mose in Venice: ‘Stanislaus was extraordinarily given to prayer, and though he went to the school of the reverend Jesuit Fathers, and was at that time in the class of Rhetoric, he never cared for worldly eloquence. Hence his speeches, such as students were accustomed to deliver, were generally about Our Lady, to whom he had a great devotion in the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin and St Barbara, which is held there in great reverence and of which he and many other students were members.”
Stanislaus took part in all the normal school activities, in the recreations and games, he did his work very well, prayed at any time he had free and endeared himself to all. Though the other boys knew that he differed from themselves in his long hours of prayer and his penances, they were not in any way antagonised because he did not try to impose his way of life on them and he was always most considerate and obliging.
NO INTEREST IN THE SELFISH ‘LIFE IN THE FAST LANE’
While realising that his elder brother Paul was living dangerously Stanislaus knew that he could do nothing about it so he kept his peace. Paul found fault with Stanislaus because the latter would not dress up as he did. No one at the college, neither masters nor boys noticed anything unusual about Stanislaus’ dress but then Paul wanted to be unusual. For a year and nine months Stanislaus’ health held out.
HE WAS BEING BULLIED BY HIS BROTHER
In December 1566 his health was poor. He could scarcely eat and he had to drag himself out in the morning. Stanislaus was fasting and that was making him difficult to be with. They were not sufficiently interested to realise that he was ill.
HE WAS SO ILL THAT HE LONGED FOR THE LAST SACRAMENTS
On December 18th they got a surprise. For the first time since they had come to the house they found that Stanislaus was still in bed when they woke up. One look at him convinced them that he was very ill. His face was pale and haggard. He was feverish and in obvious pain. They got doctors for Stanislaus who did not seem to achieve much. Seeing that a priest was not coming to him Stanislaus had recourse to prayer. He sought the intercession of St Barbara who was not only the patroness of his Sodality, but also the special patron of those who desire to die fortified by the Last Sacraments.
ST BARBARA APPEARED AT HIS BEDSIDE
God does not leave his most devoted friends in grave distress of soul and one night when Bilinski (his guardian) was dozing at Stanislaus’ bedside St Barbara appeared and with her, two angels, one of them holding in his hands the Blessed Sacrament. Stanislaus managed to get out of bed and to kneel down telling Bilinski to kneel too. Three times Stanislaus repeated the words, ‘Lord, I am not worthy’ and then opened his mouth to receive the Eucharist. Shortly afterwards Stanislaus was favoured with another divine visitation.
INSTRUCTIONS FROM OUR LADY
This time it was Our Lady carrying the Divine Infant. Our Lady put the Infant Jesus in Stanislaus’ arms and told him he was to enter the Society that bears her Son’s name. It might be easy to question these divine apparations, in spite of the evidence, but for the fact of Stanislaus’ sudden cure. When Bilinski looked at the boy in the morning Stanislaus was awake and normal colour had returned to his cheeks. He asked for his clothes so that he could get up and go to the church to thank God for his cure but Bilinski would not let him up until he had permission from the doctors. These could not understand how the boy who had been at death’s door the previous day was now fully recovered.
HIS BROTHER’S VIOLENCE TOWARDS HIM CONTINUED
When he returned to health, his brother Paul repeatedly knocked him down, mercilessly kicked him and stamped on him so that Bilinski more than once had to drag him away and insist on him letting Stanislaus alone.
STANISLAUS WAS TOLD TO ‘CLEAR OFF’
It was after a day of particularly brutal treatment that Stanislaus had warned Paul: ‘Your rough treatment will end in my going away never to return and you will have to explain my leaving to our father and mother.’ Paul was so infuriated that he had told him to clear off, never dreaming that Stanislaus would take him at his word. The next morning Stanislaus was gone on his first long walk. Though Father Nicholas Doni his confessor was surprised, not at the fact that Stanislaus wished to be a Jesuit priest but that he was told that he could be accepted on condition that his parents accepted.
HE WAS FACED WITH A THREE-HUNDRED MILE WALK
Stanislaus’ spiritual director advised him to go to Augsburg and agreed to give him a letter of introduction to Father Canisius. How far was Augsburg? Stanislaus was faced with a three-hundred mile walk. It was early one Sunday morning when Stanislaus quietly left the house carrying the bundle of clothes that he would wear on the road.
HE LEFT EARLY ONE SUNDAY MORNING
Stanislaus never told the details of the journey to Augsburg perhaps because it was uneventful. When he got to Augsburg Stanislaus went directly to look for the Jesuit Father Provincial. He agreed willingly to admit Stanislaus on probation. He knew what Stanislaus had suffered for his ideal but wished to make sure of his obedience and humility. He sent him to work in the kitchen. Stanislaus was never more content. He wrote afterwards ‘I found heaven in the midst of pots and pans.’ To be as far away as possible from the danger of his father’s wrath Father General, St Francis Borgia, explained why he was sending him to Rome.
A DANGEROUS AND TEDIOUS JOURNEY
The journey to Rome was not only a long one but it was also dangerous. The peril of travel in those days was expressed in the saying that the would-be traveller had better do two things: make his peace with God and make his will. Stanislaus had already come a long way: from Dillingen to Munich, from Munich to Innsbruck, across the Brenner Pass to Bolzano, Salerno, Trent, Verona, Mantua and Bologna. Bologna was half-way to Rome.
ON OCTOBER 25th THEY ENTERED THE ETERNAL CITY
At last after a weary month of travelling, from September 25th to October 25th 1567 on which day Stanislaus and his companions entered the Eternal City. Truly now, was Stanislaus Kostka an experienced traveller.
Stanislaus and his companions had arrived in Rome after an incredibly fast walk. They had done over eight-hundred miles in thirty days, an average of over twenty-six miles a day. That speed would be fast for any human being. It was really astonishing for a boy of seventeen and there is no doubting its having happened.
STANISLAUS WAS NOT THE ONLY ARISTOCRAT THERE
After a few days rest St Francis Borgia allowed Stanislaus to begin his novitiate. His arrival did not cause a stir for there were many other novices and he had not even the distinction of being the only Pole nor the only nobleman in the novitiate.
HE LIVED CONSTANTLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Once he was admitted into the novitiate the hardest part of his struggle was over. He was now with others who were trying like himself to do the will of God in all things and the will of God was made clear in the minute and detailed order of time and the directions of the Master of Novices.
Those who lived with him in the novitiate had no doubts about his sanctity. His love of God and of Our Lady had that utter sincerity that cannot be hidden.
He was always kind in his dealings with others but strict and hard on himself. He prayed always and lived constantly in the presence of God. He was entirely absorbed both in God and in the task assigned to him, combining prayer and work, work and prayer.
HIS GREAT DESIRE TO GIVE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING TO GOD
His favourite topic of conversation was two-fold; he loved to speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary constantly referring to her as ‘My Mother’.
Towards the beginning of the month of August of this year, after listening to an exhortation given in our novitiate by our Father Peter Canisius, he began to be consumed with a great desire to suffer martyrdom and he no longer cared to live. The cause of Stanislaus’ death is somewhat mysterious. He was a healthy young man and physically capable of great endurance as we know.
THE SMILE OF ONE WHO WAS GOING HOME
Stanislaus became ill on the 10th August but not very seriously so. He affirmed that he would not recover but the Infirmarian told him that it would be a miracle if he died of such a mild indisposition. Yet Stanislaus affirmed that Our Lady would take him to heaven for the feast of her Assumption. He died as he had said, shortly before midnight on the 14th August, with the smile of one who was going home.
The mystery and the explanation of St Stanislaus’ life is found in the words of our Saviour to His own mother: ‘Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?'”
– This article by Fr Richard Brennan SJ was published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna” issue November 2013. For subscriptions and donations please visit http://www.donboscosmadonna.com (external link) or http://www.dbmshrine.com (external link).