St. Stanislaus Kostka, SJ (1550–1568)

By Bert Ghezzi

From Voices of the Saints

“I expect great things of him,” wrote St. Peter Canisius of St. Stanislaus Kostka. He certainly had in mind accomplishments like those of St. Francis Xavier and other early Jesuits. But young Stanislaus died before he could do anything. Except live for God and become a saint.

Polish nobleman John Kostka was not pleased with the spiritual inclinations of his second son. He did all he could to discourage Stanislaus’s desire for Christian service. Paul, a brother two years older than he, bullied him and tried to lure him into more worldly pursuits.

In 1564 the brothers attended the Jesuit college at Vienna, Austria. After two years Stanislaus fell seriously ill and he thought he was going to die. He wanted to receive Holy Communion, but his Lutheran landlord would not allow it in his house. However, Stanislaus reported that two angels appeared and communicated to him. He also said that the Blessed Mother came to him in a vision, encouraging him to become a Jesuit.

Thus, upon recovering, Stanislaus determined to join the Society of Jesus. With Paul in hot pursuit, he fled to Dillingen where Peter Canisius welcomed him. Then to demonstrate his determination, Stanislaus walked the 350 miles to Rome and there Jesuit general St. Francis Borgia accepted him.

Stanislaus kept a journal during his novitiate. His notes reflect both a youthful idealism and an adult commitment. Here are a few excerpts:

Consider how hard it is for a person to be separated from any place he has loved deeply. How much harder the soul will find it when the time comes to leave the mortal body, its companion so dear. And the great fear it will experience in that moment because its salvation is at stake and it must stand in the presence of the one it has so offended. If the just man will scarcely be saved, what about me a sinner?

But think of the great joy the good will feel at the thought of the service they’ve paid to God. They will be glad because they’ve suffered something for love of him back there and didn’t fix their hope and attention on the things of this world that we leave so soon. Think of the joy that the soul will feel in its escape from the prison of this body. So long has it lived in perpetual exile, expelled from its own heavenly home. How much greater its uncontainable joy and complete satisfaction when it arrives in its own country to enjoy the vision of God with the angels and the blessed.

I am so ashamed and confused because I see how many have been lost on account of a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal damnation.

I shall reflect on myself and ask: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?”

However, Stanislaus did not complete his training. Nine months into his novitiate he again became very sick. Early in the morning on the feast of the Assumption, 1568, he told a priest that he saw Mary surrounded by many angels. And shortly afterward he died. Stanislaus was only seventeen years old when he “arrived in his own country to enjoy the vision of God.”

Excerpt from Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi.