For Greater Things: The story of Saint Stanislaus Kostka
William T. Kane, S.J.
FOR GREATER THINGS
The story of Saint Stanislaus Kostka
by William T. Kane, S.J.
with a preface by James J. Daly, S.J.
Among Christian evidences the heroic virtue and holiness of Catholic
youth must not be overlooked. Juvenile and adolescent victories of a
conspicuous kind, over the flesh, the world, and the devil, can be
found in no land and in no age, except a Christian land and age, and
in no Church except the Catholic Church. It is of all excellences
the very rarest and most difficult, this triumphant mastery over
human weakness and human pride. It has defied the life-long
strivings of men whom the world recognizes as beings of superior
wisdom and power of will. The philosophers who have described it
most beautifully and encouraged its pursuit in the most glowing and
impressive terms remain themselves sad examples of human futility in
the struggle to disengage the spirit from the claws of dragging and
unclean influences. For the forces of evil are infinite in their
variety, insidious beyond the ability of natural sharpness to detect
and guard against, and unsleeping in the pressure of their siege
upon the heart of man. Who will explain how it comes to pass that
youth, whose callowness and inexperience are the mockery of the
world, has laid prostrate in single combat this giant of evil and
won fields where the reputations of the world's wisest and noblest
and most tried lie buried?
It is a matter of idle curiosity with us how an unbelieving
generation, ingenious in devising natural explanations (which are
most unnatural) of supernatural phenomena, would explain away the
wonder of the young Saint's life which is the subject of the
following pages. It presents to us a picture of Divine Condescension
guiding and inspiring and aiding human effort, so convincingly clear
and transparent in its smallest details and in its general effect as
to seem outside the pale of all possible mutilation and
misinterpretation by malice or skeptical analysis. Natural reaction
against sinful excess, thwarted ambitions, disappointed hopes, meek
conformity with environment, ecclesiastical manipulation of pliant
material, tame acquiescence in family traditions and arrangements,
these and all the other stock "explanations," with which a groveling
world seeks to pull down the Saints to its own dreary level, cannot
be invoked to dissipate the mystery and the glory surrounding
Stanislaus. How did he come so early in life, and in a nobleman's
family, to set such store upon spiritual values? How did his tender
and immature mind grasp with such swift sureness the one lesson of
all philosophies, that life on its material side is an incident
rather than the sum of human existence and can never satisfy
the soul's desires ? How could this mere boy have developed, so
young, an iron will which wrought that hardest of all laborious
tasks, namely, the conformation of conduct with lofty ideals? There
are supernatural answers to these and similar questions which might
be raised concerning the brief career of St. Stanislaus. We know of
no merely natural answers.
The lively and energetic style adopted in the present biography may
create a trace of mild surprise in older readers. Sanctity, it is
true, some one may say, is a very beautiful achievement in a world
of poor and, at best, mediocre performance; but, after all, the
business of sanctity is a serious business. It calls for grit and
endurance, and, as a picture, is only saved from the sordid by
spiritual motives which are unseen. If all moral life is a
monotonous warfare, the life of a Saint is warfare in the very first
ranks where the trenches are filled with water and the shells fall
thickest and the general discomfort and pettiness are at their
maximum. It is misleading and not in strict accord with known
realities, to paint the portrait of a Saint in rose color and
sunlight, diffusing an iridescent atmosphere of cheerful gayety and
The criticism is not without some foundation; but youthful readers
will not adopt it. For youth is generous, and age is crabbed. And
because Saints never become crabbed we are right in concluding that
they always remain youthful. And, to draw out our conclusion, the
lives of Saints, contrary to the popular belief, are much more
interesting to the child than they are to the man. It is a pity that
Catholic parents do not recognize this outstanding truth. No
Saint's life is dull to the average intelligent child. Grown-ups
are dull: they never yield to sublime impulses: they measure,
calculate, practice a hard-and-fast moderation, reduce the splendid
possibilities of life to a drab level of safe actuality, and pursue
ideals at a canny and cautious pace. Not so the Saints. They always
retained the freshness and confidence and generous impulses of
childhood. If God spoke to their inner ear and bade them leap
boldly forth into His Infinite Arms, spurning irretrievably the
solid footing of our spinning globe, without hesitation or question
they took the leap. And every child can see the wisdom of it. To
the child it is common sense: to his elders it is inspired heroism
or unintelligible hardihood. We have always entertained a deep-
seated suspicion that there is no child who does not think it easy
to be a Saint, so native is sanctity to Catholic childhood. Cardinal
Newman, we believe, exhorted us all to make our sacrifices for God
while we are young before the calculating selfishness of old age
gets hold of us.
Still it may not be quite clear to the inquiring mind why the
desperate difficulties of sainthood can be truthfully viewed in the
light of a breathless adventure. Learn, then, the great secret. The
love of God in the heart is the magical light which touches the
dreariness and hardship of self-thwarting with a splendor of sublime
Romance. You cannot have holiness without love. Holiness can be
either greater nor less than the love of God. Let this love faint
or grow cold, there is at once a loss of holiness, even though it
retain all its external gear. This is a cardinal truth; it is a key
which will solve many a puzzle. It will explain why fanatics and
similar oddities are not Saints, though secular history sometimes
honors them with the title.
Merely concede that the Saint possesses love for God in an
extraordinary measure and degree, and it is the most comprehensible
thing in the world that he will not only accept all tests of his
love readily, but will go forth in search of them with eager
alacrity. First and last and always the only keen satisfaction of
great love, whether human or divine, is to welcome opportunities of
proving itself in some heroic form of courage and endurance. Danger,
suffering, battling against odds, discouragement, overwork, pain of
mind and body, failure, want of recognition, rebuffs, contempt and
persecution, are no longer the subject matter of a strong-jawed
stoicism or a submissive patience but rather the quickening bread
and wine of an intense and high-keyed life. This is why the Saints,
be the provocation ever so great, never develop nerves, or
experience those melancholy and humiliating reactions which are the
natural ebb-tide of spiritual energies. This is why Saints can fast
and keep their temper sweet, can wear hair-shirts without
cultivating wry faces, can be passed by in the distribution of
honors without being soured, can pray all night without robbing the
day of its due meed of cheerfulness, can rise superior to frailties
and weaknesses without despising those who cannot, can be serious
without being testy and morose, can live for years in a cell or a
desert or a convent-close without perishing of ennui or being
devoured by restlessness, and can mingle with life, where all its
currents meet, without losing their heads or swerving a hairbreadth
from the straight line of a most uncommon and most impressive kind
of common sense.
Unless we keep before our eyes this mainspring of a Saint's life,
that life will be as enigmatical to us as it is to the world. Jesus
balked at no test of the love which He bore towards us: nay, He
devised tests passing all human imagining. Let Him make trial of our
love for Him! We are unhappy till He does! And with this daring
spirit in his heart every Saint enters upon a career of Romance in
its sweetest and highest form. And, we submit, to recur to the
literary style of the following biography, Romance is light-hearted,
light-stepping, cheerful, with the starlight on its face and in its
James J. Daly, S.J.
Chapter I ON THE ROAD
Chapter II THE PURSUIT
Chapter III EARLY DAYS
Chapter IV OFF TO VIENNA
Chapter V SCHOOL DAYS
Chapter VI IN THE HOUSE OF KIMBERKER
Chapter VII THE TEST OF COURAGE
Chapter VIII IN DANGER OF DEATH
Chapter IX VOCATION
Chapter X THE RUNAWAY
Chapter XI AT DILLIGEN
Chapter XII THE ROAD TO ROME
Chapter XIII THE NOVICESHIP
Chapter XIV GOING HOME
Chapter XV AFTERMATH
FOR GREATER THINGS
ON THE ROAD
Mid-August in Vienna, the year 1567: when Shakespeare was still a
little boy; twenty years before Philip II fitted out the Spanish
Armada; forty years before the first English colony settled in
America. The sun had just well risen, the gates of Vienna had been
opened but a few hours. Through the great western gate, which cast
its long shadow on the road to Augsburg, came a strange-looking boy.
He lacked but a month or two of seventeen years, was some five feet
two or three inches in height, had an oval face of remarkable beauty
and liveliness, jet black hair, and eyes in which merriment dwelt as
in its home. He was dressed as became a noble of the time, and in
apparel of unusual splendor and costliness; plumed bonnet, slashed
velvet doublet, tight silken hose, jeweled dagger at his girdle.
But it was odd to see so brilliant a figure on foot in the dusty
highway; still more odd that be carried a rough bundle slung on a
staff over his and that, peasant fashion, he munched at a loaf of
bread as he trudged the road.
By no means stalwart-looking, still he swung along with an easy
stride and a confident strength that many a stouter man might envy.
He was bound for Augsburg, 400 miles to the west, and he set himself
thirty miles a day as his rate of travel.
He wore splendid clothes, because he was Stanislaus, the son of John
Kostka, Lord of Kostkov, Senator, and Castellan of Zakroczym in the
Duchy of Mazovia, Poland. He ate his rough breakfast, like a
peasant, on the road, because he had just been to Mass and received
Holy Communion at the Jesuit church in Vienna. He carried a bundle
on his staff, because he laughed merrily at fine clothes and had in
the bundle a coarse tunic and a stout pair of brogans, which he
meant to put on as soon as he got well out of the city. And his face
and his eyes shone with joy, because he loved God most wonderfully
and was as happy a boy as ever moved through this dull world.
Every age has its adventurers: men who for fame, or for place, or
for money, cross wide seas, fight brave battles, endure great
hardships. The age in which Stanislaus lived was filled with them.
All the world reads with delight the story of such men. And every
decent boy who reads feels himself, if only for the moment, their
fellow in spirit, eager to do what they did and as bravely as they
But was there ever adventure finer than this, ever spirit more gayly
daring? Stanislaus Kostka, son of a noble house, a boy in years,
starting without a copper in his pocket to cross half of Europe
afoot! And for what? Not to have men say what a brave chap he was;
not to win a name, or rank, or money: but because God would be
pleased by his doing it, because God called him to do something
which he could not do in Vienna.
He felt he had a vocation to be a Jesuit. He knew his father would
not consent. He took six months to think it over, to pray for light,
to make sure it was no mere whim or fancy of his own, but the very
voice of God. And when he felt sure, he left a letter for his
brother Paul and his tutor, Bilinski, with whom he had been studying
in Vienna; he gave his money to a couple of beggars; he said, "If
God wants me to do this, He'll furnish the means"; he put on his
best attire, tied up a rough suit in a cloth, took a stout staff in
his hand, and with God's blessing upon him and His Eucharistic
Presence in his heart, stepped out cheerfully on a journey that
would stagger most men.
That is the stuff of which heroes are made. If Stanislaus had done
this for the glory of the world, we should have his praises in our
histories, we should have stories woven about him, the whole world
would cry "Bravo!" But he did it for God, and the world cannot
understand him at all: the world is silent.
An hour or so of that steady, tireless stride carried him well away
from Vienna. He slipped off his velvet and silk, put on his coarse
tunic - a shirt-like garment that came below his knees - girded
himself with a bit of rope, tied his stout shoes on his feet, and
took the road again. There were folk aplenty journeying from the
countryside to Vienna in the early morning. Stanislaus picked out
one of the poorest-looking peasants and handed him the gala dress he
had just taken off.
"I can't carry these with me, friend," he said. "Won't you please
take them? I have no use for them, and perhaps you can sell them in
And he was gone before the peasant, gaping in wonder at the rich
garments and dagger in his hands, could much more than catch a
glimpse of that bright face and those laughing eyes.
He tramped all day, and made his thirty miles. When he was hungry,
he asked some one he met for food. It is not likely that any one
would refuse the smiling, handsome boy, from whose face innocence
simply shone. But if any one had refused him, it would not have
annoyed Stanislaus. His good humor came from heaven, as well as
from his own cheery soul - and you cannot rebuff that kind of good
Night came down at last, and he was tired out. He came to an inn
and asked for shelter.
"I have no money," he told the landlord, smiling, "and I have no
claim upon you. Will you take me in?"
The landlord looked at him shrewdly a little, then said with respect:
"But what is your grace doing in such a garb?"
Stanislaus thought for a moment that he was recognized; but he put
on a bold front, and laughed as he said:
"I am not 'your grace. I am what you see me, and I have a long
journey to make."
In those days it was not unusual for even nobles to go, roughly
clad, upon pilgrimages of devotion. That Stanislaus was a noble,
the landlord was quite certain. That he might be engaged on some
such pious business, was possible. But who ever heard of a mere boy
going upon pilgrimage?
The whole affair puzzled the landlord more than a little. However,
the face of the boy reassured him. At least there could be no evil
behind that frank, brave countenance. So he shook his head, saying:
"I do not understand. But come in. You are welcome."
He gave Stanislaus his supper and a bed to sleep in.
"You shall not be the poorer for this," said Stanislaus, as he
thanked him. "You know God makes it up to us for even a cup of cold
water given in His name."
And as the boy spoke, the landlord saw his face glow when he spoke
of God and he was very glad at heart that he had given shelter and
food, to this strange boy.
Stanislaus slept soundly. But he was up with the sun, washed and
dressed quickly, and went to thank his host again before setting
"But you will have something to eat before you go?" cried the man,
as Stanislaus stood before him, staff in hand, ready for the road.
"It is good of you to offer it," the boy answered. "But perhaps I
shall find a church before long, and I must go fasting to Holy
Then the landlord marvelled again, for at that period even good
people did not go very often to Holy Communion, especially when they
were traveling hard, as Stanislaus evidently was. And his
admiration and liking grew for this boy with the merry face and the
heart so near heaven.
"At least," he said, "you must take something with you for the way."
And that Stanislaus did not refuse, but accepted gratefully, and so
parted from the kind landlord, leaving him gazing in the doorway
with wonder in his eyes.
His legs were a bit stiff and sore this second day. But the first
few miles wore that off, and he swung on his way as bravely and
gayly as before.
Meanwhile, there was a hubbub in Vienna. Stanislaus had lived in
that city about three years with his brother Paul, who was about a
year older than he, and in the care of a tutor, a young man named
Bilinski. He had left them in the early morning. As the day wore on
and he did not return home, they became uneasy. They went about all
afternoon, inquiring amongst their friends and acquaintance if any
had seen him. Only one or two were in the secret, and they kept
Unable therefore to get any trace of Stanislaus, they soon came to
the conclusion that he had fled. And, as we shall see, they had
good reason in their own hearts for guessing that from the first.
They returned to the house of the Senator Kimberker, where they were
all lodging, and taking Kimberker, who was a Lutheran, into their
confidence, they held a council of war.
It was decided that Stanislaus must have gone to Augsburg. Paul
recalled something that Stanislaus had said to him only the day
before, when he had threatened plainly to run away. And they had
heard him say, another time, that at Augsburg was Peter Canisius,
the Provincial of the German Jesuits. Of course they were going to
follow him and bring him back. But night had come on before their
inquiries and deliberations were finished. They must wait till the
Accordingly, bright and early the following morning, all three, with
one of the Kostkas' servants, drove out in a carriage over the
Augsburg road. They had four good horses and they told their
coachman not to spare the whip. They came to the inn where
Stanislaus had spent the night. They questioned the landlord.
"Have you seen a boy of seventeen, a Polish noble, pass westward
along this road yesterday or today?"
But the landlord was shrewd, and though the whole matter was beyond
him, he fancied somehow that these eager folk were no great friends
of the boy who had lodged with him. And as he trusted that boy and
could scarcely help being loyal to him, he shrugged his shoulders
"How should I know? So many travel this road."
Then Bilinski described Stanislaus and his doublet of velvet and
hose of silk and jeweled dagger. But at that the landlord shook his
head in denial.
"I have seen no such person as your graces describe," he said.
Bilinski called out to the coachman:
"Drive on. We have nothing to learn here."
But Paul said: "NQ let us turn back. He cannot have walked this far
in one day. We must have passed him on the road."
"Perhaps you could not have walked so far," said Bilinski, with a
sneer. "But Stanislaus could. Drive on!"
Forty miles or more out of Vienna, they saw a boy trudging ahead of
them, in a rough tunic, rope-girdled, with a staff in his hand. At
the noise of the hurrying wheels the boy glanced back, then quickly
turned up a lane which there entered the road. He did not look in
the least like a nobleman's son, and the carriage passed the bottom
of the lane without so much as slacking speed.
Stanislaus ran up the lane until he came to where it ended at a
rough, brawling stream. Without a moment's hesitation he put off his
shoes, tucked up his tunic, and began wading in the course of the
stream. The water was cold, the sharp stones in the bed of the
stream bruised his feet, at any moment he might fall into a deep
hole and be drowned. But he splashed and stumbled ahead, as fast as
he could go, praying to his guardian angel to have care of him. A
little farther, he knew, the highway crossed this stream by a
bridge, and there he could leave the water and regain the road.
The carriage meantime kept on and came to this bridge. But Paul had
been thinking of the young fellow who took to the lane when he saw
the carriage approach and a shrewd suspicion came into his head.
"Did you see that boy who ran up the lane?" he cried at length to
Bilinski. "I believe it was Stanislaus."
"But he was dressed like a peasant," said Bilinski. "And Stanislaus
had on a handsome suit."
They debated for a time, but Paul prevailed. Round they turned and
drove furiously back to the lane. But as the driver tried to turn
his horses into it, the animals reared and balked and refused to
enter. Blows and curses were showered on them; they merely stood and
trembled; no efforts could urge them into the lane. Then the driver
grew afraid, and cried out:
"My Lord Paul, we cannot go into this lane. And before God, I have
fear upon me! Never have the horses acted this way."
And indeed fear seized them all. They saw the hand of God in this
strange obstinancy of their beasts. Even Kimberker cried the pursuit.
"Fear God!" he said. "For this is no common mishap!"
And when they turned the horses' heads again toward Vienna, the
animals snorted and pranced and went very willingly.
And so, when Stanislaus came to the bridge, the highway was clear.
After a look about, he put on his shoes, gripped his staff afresh,
and took up again cheerily as ever his thirty miles a day to
Day after day, tired and footsore, he told off the long miles,
begging his food and lodging as he went; fearless and happy, praying
like an angel of God as he walked along.
Many were kind to him for the brave, bright spirit that shone out in
his face. Many remembered those words of our Lord, "Whatsoever you
have done unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto
me," and willingly sheltered the boy and gave him to eat. Sometimes
he turned into the fields beside the road and slept through the warm
August night beneath the open sky. Whenever he came to a church in
the morning, he heard Mass and received Holy Communion, for he
started out each morning fasting. And on the fourteenth day he
What happened there, we shall see in another chapter, and how within
three weeks this smiling boy turned his face southward and tramped
another eight hundred miles on foot to Rome. But just that will
show you something of the spirit of Stanislaus, the spirit of a
hero. All that a knight might do out of love for his lady, he did
out of love for God. He really loved God with a sort of fierce
intensity. And he wanted to show his love in deeds, just as we want
to show our love for a person by doing something, by giving
something. God had given him everything, he would give God
everything: that was the whole of his life. And with that generosity
went a fine common sense. He was not rash or headlong, acting first
and thinking afterward. He reckoned things out calmly and sensibly,
and then went ahead with a pluck and determination that nothing in
the world could stop.
God asked a fearfully hard thing of him; to leave his people, his
home; to set out afoot on an enormous journey; to undergo no end of
hardships and humiliations; to live in a strange land, among strange
people. And he did it, did it smilingly, joyfully, with a simple,
quiet bravery seldom if ever matched by any other boy in the world.
The one thing that staggers us is his reason for doing it, his great
love for God. And that is because we have not got, what we could
easily get, his secret. He prayed, he kept close in thought to God
always. God and heaven and our Lady were as familiar to his mind as
the sun and the earth and the air are to our mind's. The earth to
him was only the antechamber of heaven. He looked upon life as one
looks upon a little delay at a railway station before the train
leaves; the only important thing is to catch the train.
Bilinski and Paul Kostka went back to Vienna, much troubled at
heart. They really loved Stanislaus, for one thing, though they had
been pretty rough with him. And for another, they had to face the
anger of the Lord John Kostka, when he should hear of Stanislaus'
Shortly after they had got back, a young friend of the runaway came
to them and said:
"If you look between the leaves of such-and-such a book, you will
find a letter which Stanislaus left for you."
They looked and found the letter. It was very simple and
straightforward, a genuine boy's letter. He had run away, he said,
because he had to. He was called to enter the Society of Jesus. He
had to do what God wanted of him. He knew they would prevent him if
they could. And so he just went. He left them messages of
affectionate regard, and begged them to forward his letter to his
Bilinski sent this letter on at once. Paul also wrote, as did
Kimberker and even the servant who had gone with them in the
carriage. Each tried to shift the blame from himself, told of the
strange behavior of the horses, explained that everything possible
had been done to overtake the fugitive.
And when their letters came, there was high wrath in Kostkov. The
Lord John raved and swore. He blamed everybody, but most of all
Stanislaus and the tricky Jesuits who, he said, were back of the
whole scheme. He wrote to Cardinal Osius that he would not rest
until he had broken up the Jesuit college in Pultowa and driven
every schemer of them out of Poland. As for Stanislaus, he would
follow him across the world, if need were, and drag him back to
Kostkov in chains.
He was a great lord, the Lord John. He loved his second son,
Stanislaus, most dearly, and he loved dearly the honor of his house,
which he thought that son had stained by hi& conduct. A son of his
in beggar's garb, tramping the highways of Europe, begging his bread
from door to door! It nearly broke his heart.
He had princely blood in his veins, he was a Senator of Poland, he
might even become a king. His dearest hopes were in Stanislaus, his
second son. Paul, the eldest, was wild and unsteady. And though
there were two other sons and a daughter, none gave such promise as
Stanislaus. So that the Lord John looked chiefly to him to carry on
the great name and make it more glorious still. No wonder he raged!
Stanislaus had figured all that out beforehand. It hurt him too,
hurt terribly. But what can one do when God calls? God had made all
the Kostkas, given them name and rank. God was the Lord of Lords. It
was heart-breaking to Stanislaus to leave his father in anger. Yet
he trusted that since that was God's will - well, God would find a
way to bring peace out of all this trouble. He put all his fears and
heartache away from him, and went out to do what God wanted.
He had always done that, even when he was a little tad in the rough
castle at Kostkov. God had taught him, God had helped him
wonderfully. But more wonderful still to our eyes is the way the boy
listened to God's teaching and obeyed it.
We think things come easy to the saints. We read or hear of wonders
in their lives, which are evidently God's doing; and we say:
"Of course the saint was good and holy. But it was all done for him.
God made everything smooth. The saint was never in my boots for a minute."
And all the time we forget the things which the saint himself did,
the superb efforts he had to make.
So Stanislaus began to pray as soon as he well began to speak. Do
you think he would not sooner have kept on with his play? Do you
think he did not naturally hate the effort just as any boy naturally
He lived amongst rough men, men used to the ways of camps and the
speech of soldiers. Yet he not merely kept his own lips" clean, but
he shrank, as from a blow, from every coarse or indecent speech in
others. He did not go around correcting people. He was too sensible
for that. He was not a prig or a prude. But he knew, as we know,
that vile speech is hateful to God; and, as so many of us do not do,
he set his face against it.
Did that cost him no effort? Had he no human respect to fight
against? Think of how many times you may have grinned, cowardly, at
a gross remark or shady story of a comrade - because you were not
fighter enough to resent it! And then give this Stanislaus, who did
resent, credit for his stouter courage, his more manly spirit.
His biographers tell us that he was simply' free from temptations
against purity. That does not mean what many may think it means:
that he was physically unlike other boys, that he had no animal
desires, that he had nothing to fight against. It means that he was
such a magnificent fighter that he had won the battle almost from
the start. It means that he was not content, as so many of us are,
with merely pushing a temptation a little aside, and then looking
around in surprise to find it still there. He was like a skillful
boxer, who wards off every blow of his adversary, so that he goes
through the contest absolutely untouched. He watched, as we are too
lazy to watch; he kept out of danger, where we foolishly run into
it; he did not wait until temptation had set upon him and nearly
battered him down before he began to resist; he saw it coming afar
off, just as we can if we look out, and he met it with a rush that
sent it again beyond reach or even sight.
OF COURSE he was the same as other boys; OF COURSE he had the same
inclinations, the same promptings of the animal man; but with them
he had more daring, more force and energy of will to cooperate with
You always find it that way. The things the saints seem to do with
ease are terrifically hard things, huge battles, regular slugging
fights. The ease, if there be any, is not in the things they did,
but in the men who did them.
You have seen skilled pianists sit down at their instruments and run
off into brisk flowing music what looks like a hopeless jumble of
notes. You may have seen an artist sketch in, whilst chatting idly,
a swift, striking portrait. Well, all really good men are artists
too; artists in fighting. And Stanislaus was one of the cleverest
and strongest artists of the lot.
He began early, just as the musician Mozart did, just as the painter
Raffaele did; and he studied hard at his art, just as all great
artists have done. He began by saying his prayers well, not mere lip
prayers, but heart prayers. He began by getting on easy terms with
God, with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, with our Blessed Lady.
He learned to talk with them as we learn to talk with our fathers
and mothers. He told them his troubles, his plans. He talked
everything over with them. And it no more made him queer or stiff
or unpleasant than talking things over with your comrades or your
parents makes you queer or stiff or unpleasant. If you believe in
God, it is the most natural thing in the world to try to take Him
into your confidence.
Then it is easy to see how, as Stanislaus grew older, he liked to
pray, he liked to talk about God and our Lady. You see, he had
grown to know them. They were not remote, far away. They were as
near to him as his own folk. They were his own folk. And it is
easy to see how, keeping in God's sight all the time, he kept his
soul clean and his heart merry.
OFF TO VIENNA
In this way Stanislaus went on until he was nearly fourteen years
old and his brother Paul was approaching fifteen. Then the Lord
John Kostka thought his boys had better continue their studies, not
at home, but at a regular school. He picked out John Bilinski, a
young man who had lately completed his college course, as tutor for
them. He gave them a couple of servants, mounted them all on good
horses, and sent them off six hundred miles or more on horseback to
You may be sure Stanislaus enjoyed the long ride. It would be
strange if he, a nobleman of the finest cavalry nation in the world,
were not a good horseman. He loved the smell of the open fields, he
loved the boisterous song of the mountain torrent. The hills and
the plains were his home, for the hills and the plains were nearer
to God than the houses of men.
In those days all travel was on foot or on horseback. The wealthy
and noble rode, the poor footed it. Great highways cut Europe from
end to end; though there were tracts in Stanislaus' country where
the roadway was only the broad steppe, where the grasses waved and
tossed like the sea, where men were few and their dwellings
scattered far apart.
They crossed great rivers, they climbed the foothills of the
Carpathian mountains. Many a night Paul and Stanislaus, with their
people, slept under the stars. Many a wild, rough border town they
passed. Many a great forest they penetrated, the home of the wild
boar and the aurochs.
And the tar burners in the forests looked up from under their matted
brows at the fair oval face of the Polish boy, and said:
"He is like a wild flower blown by the wind. He is like the violets
that laugh in spring at the sun."
And the shaggy fighting-men of the frontier villages watched him
ride through their streets, and thought:
"This is an angel. He looks toward heaven because he sees his
They crossed themselves piously as he passed. And some of the light
and laughter of his face glowed 'for a moment in their dark lives,
as a gloomy glen in the forest is brightened up by a darting ray of
He was wonderful, but he was always a boy. He was glad to feel the
good horse under him, to grip the Tartar saddle with his knees, to
feel the air rush by his cheek.
Sometimes they met poor people staggering wearily afoot along the
road. Often Stanislaus checked his horse and lightly dismounted.
"Get up, get up, old father!" he would cry. "My legs are stiff from
the saddle. I want to walk."
And though a peasant might often be afraid to accept the favor from
a noble, or be surly and churlish, the folk never were so with
Stanislaus. Up climbed the old father into the saddle, and
Stanislaus stepped out by his side.
"God give your grace long years!" said the thankful old man.
"Long years!" cried Stanislaus. I want more than that. I want
eternity. I was born for greater things than long years."
And the old man would understand; for he was of the poor, and the
poor know more of this longing for heaven than do the rich. But he
looked almost with awe at this richly dressed noble boy who had
learned even now to value life so justly. Then it was easy for
Stanislaus to talk of heaven to the old man.
"Old father, in the barony of the Lord Jesus there is no poverty or
old age or weariness. Nor is there any difference of rank there as
here, for we shall all be great lords and castellans in heaven."
"Aye, but your grace will be a hetman surely in the army of the Lord
Jesus," said the old man.
"Who knows!" cried Stanislaus. "I should love that dearly. Though
the generals in His kingdom are not always from amongst the nobles.
It may be that you will be hetman, and I a common soldier. But it is
good to be even a common soldier with Him."
"I went against the Tartars in my youth," said the old man. "Perhaps
we shall have a campaign against that dog-brother Lucifer, and Saint
Michael and Saint Wenceslaus will lead us under the Lord Jesus; and
our Lady of Yasna Gora will look on when we come back victorious!"
And so they talked on until it was time to set the old man down, and
Stanislaus mounted again to catch up with his party, which had gone
"With God!" cried the old man.
"With God!" echoed Stanislaus. 'And if you go to heaven before me,
father, do not forget to plead for me with the Lord Jesus and with
Then he clattered along the road, and shortly came up with Bilinski
Sometimes they came to districts infested by robbers, and waited to
join themselves to some larger party for protection. Sometimes they
made long stretches of many hours in the saddle, when the inns were
far apart and they could get no food on the road. Sometimes they
tarried a day or two in a little town to rest their horses.
But everywhere Stanislaus thought of God, and prayed, and when
occasion offered spoke of holy things as only he could speak.
Bilinski and Paul often laughed at him, for they were of a different
stamp. But he did not mind their ridicule, and he bore them no
grudge for it. And so, after. many days, they came at length to
Vienna, on July 26, 1564.
Vienna WAS a great city, even in those days, since for a long time
it had been the residence of the Roman Emperors of the West. It was
a Catholic city, though even in 1564, little more than forty years
after Luther's revolt, the Lutherans in the city had begun to be
The Society of Jesus had been founded in 1540, only ten years before
Stanislaus was born. But it had spread quickly. For some years now
there had been a Jesuit house in Vienna. In i56o, four years before
Stanislaus came to Vienna, the Emperor Ferdinand I had loaned to the
Viennese Jesuits a large house next to their own, which they might
use as a college. The Fathers built a connection between the two
houses, so that they became practically one. Here they received
boys from the city, from the country round about, even from Hungary
and far Poland. Here Stanislaus took up his residence.
It was a simpler, less formal sort of school than we perhaps are
accustomed to. The Fathers and the boys lived together, almost as
one big family. They ate together in one large dining hall. There
were always some of the Fathers with the boys in their games, as
well as in their studies. It was a very pleasant place, and a very
In those early days of Protestantism, Catholics, even Catholic boys,
felt that they were in a fighting situation. The attacks upon the
old faith woke new courage and devotion in those who remained
faithful to the Church of the ages. And so, filled with that spirit
of loyalty, that new earnestness which the times called forth, and
living under the example of the simple manly piety of their Jesuit
teachers, it is no wonder that the boys in the College of Vienna
were an unusually good set of boys.
They had their regular classes, in languages, mathematics, and such
science as the age knew. Latin was then the language of all educated
people in Europe, the language of courts, the common meeting ground
of all nations. Many a time, both in those days and later; a noble
proved his rank and saved himself from mischance by the mere fact
that he spoke Latin. It was not a dead language then, as it is now.
It was in current use. Greek was comparatively new in Western
schools. And though from their beginnings the Jesuits were famous
teachers, we can hardly suppose that in their new and small college
at Vienna the boys were much troubled by the speech of Plato and
Of their games it is hard to know much at this late day. Sword-play
and bouts of a soldierly sort were common enough. These boys were
almost all of noble birth; most of them perhaps looked for-ward to
the army for their profession. So they held mimic tournaments and
played games in which they hurled lances through suspended rings;
they shot with bows and arrows; and of course they had matches in
running, jumping and wrestling.
We know that Stanislaus did uncommonly well in the schools. He was
quick, had a good memory, and was too sensible to be lazy. And
though the writers of his life say nothing about it, we are quite
sure that he excelled in games and sports also. For one thing, he as
a general favorite, esteemed by all his fellows; and that must mean
that he was one with them in their play. For another, he was
naturally no dreamer or moper, but the jolliest, cheeriest sort of
boy. And finally, the boy who walked twelve hundred miles in a few
weeks must have been well accustomed to using his legs. Try thirty
miles a day on foot, day after day, you football players and
baseball players, you trained athletes, and say whether it is the
work of a weakling or of a boy who never played.
But it takes more than success in studies and in games to account
for his great popularity with the other college boys. Such success
may win a certain admiration and respect, but it does not of itself
win friends. And Stanislaus had pretty nearly every one for his
friend. To do that requires other gifts, gifts of character.
Everybody liked him, because he had such gifts. He was pious, but
not merely pious; much more than pious, he was good. That means he
was unselfish. There is only one way to make people really love
you, and that is to love them. That is what Stanislaus did; he loved
the people he lived with. He was naturally good hearted, and big
hearted. He had kept away from petty meannesses. He had fought
down his natural selfishness. He had learned not to be always
seeking his own little advantage, not to put himself forward for
praise, not to insist on his " rights," not to boast and carry a
high hand with his comrades, not to talk a lot about himself.
He had learned to forgive little offenses, and big ones, too, for
that matter. He knew all about how our Lord had suffered and put up
with things and forgiven those who hurt Him. And he loved our Lord
so much, was so much at home with Him, that almost without effort he
acted as our Lord would want him to act. He had plenty of spirit,
and a whole world of pluck and daring; but he was not quarrelsome.
Then he was as cheerful as sunshine, and he made every one else
cheerful. Why, the boys could not help loving a boy like him.
Sodalities were rare in those days; but the college boys of Vienna
had a sodality, devoted to the honor of our Lady, and under the
patronage of Saint Barbara. At their meetings; the sodalists in turn
had to address their companions, give a little talk about the
Blessed Virgin, or on some virtue, or the like.
Whenever Stanislaus' turn came, the boys were all expectation. He
was no older than most of them; indeed, younger perhaps. But he had
an older head. He had done more thinking than they, and a deal more
praying. He had no false shame or babyish timidity. If he had
anything to say, he was not afraid to say it. And he certainly had
something to say. It had come to be as easy for him to talk about
our Lady and heaven as for other boys to talk about their mothers at
home. He had treasured up stories of the Blessed Virgin's help, with
which Catholic Poland was filled. He spoke simply, unaffectedly, of
our Lady's love for us, of her power, her willingness to aid us. And
from him, though simply their school mate, the boys heard these
things eagerly. He seemed well privileged to speak, as indeed he was.
To talk about pious things, and do it acceptably, is a mighty hard
matter. You have to know how. And the first part of knowing how is
to be at home with pious things, to have thought about them, often
and long, to have woven them into your life as Stanislaus had done.
The trouble with us is that we live so far removed from thoughts of
God, of His Mother, that they never cease to be strange to us. We go
blunderingly about mention of them, or we lack the courage to speak
at all. But why should they be strange or remote? We are destined
to live forever in heaven, we are the daily recipients of God's
favors, we are sheltered, protected, every way by our Lady's loving
The things that touch us most nearly are the things of the spiritual
world; they are the most thrillingly important; they are the only
really important things. We are not afraid to talk baseball, or
politics, or business. Why be afraid to talk of God's power, His
dominion over us, His love for us, our duties to Him, the helps He
gives us, the reward He holds out to us? There is only one answer:
we don't think enough about these things. There is only one remedy:
do thing about them, as Saint Stanislaus did.
IN THE HOUSE OF KIMBERKER
The house which the Jesuits in Vienna used for their boarding
college was not theirs. It belonged to the Emperor Ferdinand I, who
had merely loaned it to them. Now the Emperor Ferdinand had died on
July 25, 1564, the day before Paul and Stanislaus came to Vienna.
The new Emperor, Maximilian II, left the house with the Jesuits for
a time; but in March, 1565, withdrew it from their use. Of course,
that meant the breaking up of the boarding-school. The Fathers still
had their own residence, and they could teach a small number of day
scholars. Many of their pupils went to their homes when they could
no longer live with the Jesuits. Those who remained had to take
lodgings elsewhere in the city.
It was decided that Paul and Stanislaus should be amongst the latter
number. At once Bilinski set out with the two to get a house. In
the Platz Kiemark, a fashionable quarter of the town, there was a
splendid mansion, belonging to a Lutheran noble, the Senator
It took Paul's fancy immensely. On inquiry, they found that
Kimberker used less than half of the house, for it was a huge
building with many rooms, and that he was more than willing to rent
the unused rooms to the young Poles. Stanislaus felt a little ill
at ease over living with a Lutheran. But Bilinski and Paul pooh-
poohed at his fears, and had their own way in the matter.
So in a few days they moved in, and fitted up a couple of the vacant
rooms. Stanislaus was to live more than two years in this house,
two years filled with a great deal of annoyance and pain, and yet
blessed in wonderful ways. His difficulties began almost at once,
and they were no slight difficulties. Of course, he and Paul went
daily for classes to the Jesuits' house, and met daily the few boys
who continued their studies in Vienna. But the old companionship,
the old life of the boys in common, was gone. Only two or three of
his best friends remained, and these were scattered through the
city. He saw them for a little while after classes, he might now and
then go out with them on a holiday. But for the most part he was
thrown back upon the company of his tutor and his elder brother.
Both Paul and Bilinski liked a good time." They were far removed
from the authority of home. Bilinski, who was in charge, was only a
few years older than Paul; and whilst a good fellow in the main, was
little able, or perhaps little willing, to put much check upon him.
And Paul was a pretty gay blade. Rough, boisterous, wild in manner,
he picked companions like himself. Kimberker' 5 house soon became a
noisy place. There were dinners at which the wine went round very
freely, plenty of cards and dice, now and then brawling quarrels.
It did not suit Stanislaus at all. He was too much of a gentleman,
and too good, to act unpleasantly or resent the rough company that
Paul brought home. But he could not mix freely with them, he did
not like their talk or their manners, and he slipped quietly away
from their noisy gatherings as soon as he decently could.
And so he was left alone; and lonesomeness for a boy of fourteen is
a very unpleasant thing. He still did well in his classes, but he
was no book-worm. When he had done his duty in study, the books had
no further claim upon him, and no attraction in themselves. And yet
he kept up his wonderful brightness and cheeriness all the time; so
that Bilinski often wondered at him. And it was worth wondering at,
for there is nothing, as everybody knows, which sooner breaks down
one's spirits and brings on the blue devils than being left alone,
without friends and companionship.
How did he do it? The fact is, he refused to be alone. As his
friends in Vienna left him, he simply turned more to his friends in
heaven. And heaven came down to him. Any old vacant room in the
big, half-empty house was his chapel. And through the long, lonely
days, often through great part of the night, he prayed.
If you could have seen him pray! Imagine any good-hearted boy who
has been away from home for a long stretch, say a couple of years,
and who comes back and meets father, mother, brothers, sisters. He
may not say much, but he LOOKS a good deal, and he feels more than
any words can say. That is the way Stanislaus prayed. He just
turned to God and his Mother in heaven, with all his love in his
eyes and immense happiness in his heart. And if he spoke, or said
things to them in his mind, he could speak simply, like a little
child, because no one else would hear him and he would not need be
shy or bashful.
If you could have seen him pray, you would never think, as so many
do, that praying is a gloomy business. His face was lit up, his
eyes bright, his whole body spoke of peace and courage and joy. He
kept thinking so much about heaven that he seemed to live there in
advance. Everybody knows how, when the school year is nearly over
and vacations are at hand, there is a joyful atmosphere about the
days. Lessons do not seem so hard, though they really are just the
same old lessons. Classes seem to have more life and spirit in
them. Boys are in better temper. Every detail of work and play is
colored by expectation, as if the relief of vacation were already
foretasted. Stanislaus looked forward just that way to the Great
Vacation, to going Home forever. He knew that even the longest
life. ends soon, that all its difficulties and troubles pass away
and eternity begins; and he felt so light-hearted looking ahead to
that eternity that nothing happening here could sadden him - except
sin, and he kept away from that.
Paul and his boisterous fellows thought that Paul's younger brother
was a queer chap. But they liked him, just the same, because he was
always pleasant and smiling. He never said a word to them about
their conduct. But when they talked to him, he naturally spoke of
the things he was always thinking about. And they did not like
that. Such talk tended to stir up their consciences, even to
frighten them. And they did not want their con-sciences stirred up.
You can often see that. You may have noticed in yourself that, if
you are not living as you ought to live, any word about God or death
or heaven or our Blessed Lady irritates you, makes you feel horribly
uncomfortable. And so Stanislaus became a puzzle to them, because
they would not see. And little by little they left him alone, or
only spoke to him to tease him or make fun of him.
THE TEST OF COURAGE
Paul was the worst at this teasing; nor did it stop at mere teasing.
He was not a really bad fellow, but he was selfish, set upon having
his own will in everything, and had a very quick and fierce temper.
Stanislaus' quiet refusal to join in the noisy revels of himself and
his companions, his unaffected piety, his long hours of prayer, were
things he could not understand. They seemed a sort of standing
rebuke to him, and they constantly nettled him. Of course he sought
reasons to justify himself, as we all do when we are in the wrong.
When they were alone, he and Bilinski fell to scolding Stanislaus.
"You shame us!" Paul would cry. "You do not act like a nobleman,
but like some boorish peasant."
Then Stanislaus would be troubled. He knew he was in the right. He
simply could not stand the free ways and freer speech of Paul and
his companions. But how could he justify himself? How could he
defend his own position without at least seeming to attack his
brother's? And that last he would never do. S6metimes he tried to
smooth matters over by saying:
"We take different ways, Paul. I do not condemn yours. Why not let
me alone in mine?"
But oftenest he could only smile and say nothing. And whether he
answered or kept silence, Paul was sure to grow more irritated. Then
Bilinski tried to exert his authority.
"Your father gave you into my charge," he would say. "I order you to
act like the rest of us and not make yourself odd and shame us by
But Stanislaus knew well enough what were the limits of Bilinski's
authority and he was not at all the sort of boy to be easily bullied
by a mere assumption of authority that did not exist.
The result always was that Stanislaus continued to do what his own
conscience urged him to do, and that Bilinski and Paul felt helpless
in the face of his quiet, fearless persistence. And that made them
the more vexed with him. They nicknamed him "The Jesuit," they
mimicked him, they sneered at him. He had a pretty hot temper
himself, but he kept himself well in hand, and was always kind and
pleasant with these cross-grained comrades. He was not the least bit
afraid. Whenever he thought that speaking would do any good, he
spoke up without hesitation. Many a time, when Paul taunted him
with acting in a way to bring discredit upon his name, he answered:
"No man shames his name by trying to please God. As for what men
may think or say, that does not matter much. Do you think we shall
bother much about that in eternity?"
There were two cousins of theirs who often stayed with the Kostkas;
one of them was also called Stanislaus, the other, who afterwards
rose to high rank in his native country, was named Rozrarewski.
These sided with Paul and did their best to help him in making
Stanislaus' life miserable.
It was not long before Paul went on from words to blows. One day
Stanislaus quietly tried to answer some of Paul's sneers. Paul
sprang at him in a rage and, striking out savagely, knocked him
down. Bilinski interfered, and when he had drawn off Paul, proceeded
to scold Stanislaus as being the cause of all the trouble. Such
meanness and injustice must have made the boy's blood boil. But he
mastered himself and said nothing.
That afternoon Paul was going out riding. He could not find his spurs.
"Take mine," said Stanislaus, pleasantly, as if nothing had happened.
And Paul took them, a little ashamed, saying to himself:
"He's a decent little beggar, after all - if only he weren't so
But Paul, though he might be touched for the moment by his brother's
readiness to forgive, continued to grow even more irritated with
him. Many and many a time he struck Stanislaus; and often, after
knocking him down, kicked him and then tramped on him. And Bilinski
always took the same line, trying to make peace by blaming
everything on Stanislaus.
Now Stanislaus was very nearly Paul's equal in size, and easily his
match in strength. He lived simply and frugally, kept himself in
condition, did not over-eat and over-drink as Paul did. He could,
without much difficulty, have met Paul's brutality in kind, and very
likely have given him a good beating. And he knew well enough that
if he did so, Paul would let him alone. For when was there ever a
bully who was not also a coward?
And you may be sure he felt like doing it. He was in the right, and
knew he was. He was high-spirited and utterly without fear. And yet
he never even defended himself. lie let Paul bully him and beat him.
He endured to have himself looked upon as a coward - although you
may observe that all the time he did not budge an inch from the line
of conduct he had chosen. And why? Well, for a lot of reasons.
In the first place, he kept saying to himself, "What difference
does it make for eternity? Then, he knew his own high temper and he
would not let himself go, for fear he should commit a sin - and he
hated sin with all his soul.
And then he recalled what our Lord had suffered for him, and he
"If you will give me the courage to stand it, I'll be glad, Lord, to
suffer this much for You."
And that last was the reason why, in the midst of this real
persecution, he never lost his cheerfulness. More than that, he
never missed a chance to do Paul and his friends a good turn. He said:
"When men were treating our Lord worst, even killing Him, that was
when He was opening heaven for them. And I'm sure He would like me
to be kind as He was kind to those who treated Him meanly."
He did what he could to avoid annoying Paul. He kept out of
everybody's way when he wanted to pray. He used to wait at night
till the others were asleep, for they all slept in one great room
together, and then slip out of bed and on to his knees. Sometimes
his cousins, thinking it a great joke, would pretend to stumble over
him in the half-dark, and kick him as hard as they could.
And this went on for two years. He could have stopped the whole
matter with no trouble at all, by simply writing to his father. But
he never so much as hinted to any one at home of the way Paul and
Bilinski and his cousins treated him. He was as plucky as he was
gentle and forgiving. Although, for good reasons, he would not
quarrel, he had the tenacity of a bull-dog, he held on to the hard
purpose he had formed and nothing could beat him off.
And that is the very highest sort of courage, the courage that
endures, that has no show or heroics about it. Again I say, if he
had done all this, put up with all this, to gain riches, to make a
name for himself, the world would understand and would praise him
tremendously. It is his motive that leaves the world cold, it is the
source and reason of his courage that the world cannot understand.
Yet he was not obstinate and pig-headed, bound to do as he wished
just because he wished it. No, he was very sensible and did
everything with reason. He would not stop saying his prayers when
Bilinski and Paul objected, he would not join in gay dinners and
drinking-bouts and gambling, he would not sit and smile at shady
stories or smutty wit. He would no? do anything his conscience
forbade. But he was most ready to do anything else they wanted.
For instance, he had been used to give his rich clothes away to the
poor, and dress very simply. Bilinski and Paul insisted on his
dressing as became his rank, and he yielded readily. Bilinski
wanted him to take dancing lessons, and he took them, and learned to
dance very well. He was not keen about any of these things, because
he reckoned they would not count for much in eternity. But neither
was he foolish, nor a fanatic, nor one who saw evil where no evil
was. He was simply a level-headed boy, who figured out the business
of life clearly and convincingly, and who had the courage of a hero
in living up to his convictions.
IN DANGER OF DEATH
Two years of loneliness; when his brother and his cousins and his
tutor, who should have been his comrades, were his persecutors; two
years in which he was always under a strain, always having to
control his anger, to be patient and sweet-tempered amidst a
thousand vexations; two years, moreover, in which the bodily
exercise he was used to, and which he needed as every growing boy
needs it, was cut down to a minimum; two such years would have
broken the health even of a grown, strong man. And Stanislaus was
not a grown, strong man, but a boy of sixteen. It is remarkable
that he should have held out so long. It shows what courage and
goodness and trust in God can do. But finally, towards the end of
November, 1566, his body and brain could stand it no longer. He
fell sick, with fever.
He was not a baby. He did not complain, or even tell any one that
he felt unwell. He kept to his feet for weeks, trying to go on as
usual with his work and his prayers. The feast of Saint Barbara, who
had been the patroness of the boys' sodality in Vienna, was drawing
near. Stanislaus prepared for it with particular care and devotion.
Saint Barbara was the patroness of a happy death and her clients
always besought of her the special grace of receiving the Holy
Viaticum when dying.
December 4th, the feast of the Saint, came and passed. Stanislaus
grew weaker, his fever increased. About the middle of the month he
had to keep his bed, and his condition quickly became serious. Then
Bilinski and Paul forgot their anger against the boy. They called in
the best physicians of the city, they spared no pains or expense.
The servants, who had always loved this gentle master, were all
kindness and attention. But despite the efforts of all, Stanislaus
became steadily worse.
He was entirely at peace, not at all afraid. Yet he felt that death
was coming near. He prayed whole hours, smiling gladly in talk with
our Lord, with the Blessed Virgin, with his guardian angel. He was
ready, even eager, to go home. The evil spirit wondered at this boy
of sixteen, who had fought him off so bravely through his life and
who was dying now so fearlessly.
One day, when his people and even the servants had left him for a
little while, Stanislaus saw an enormous black dog with glaring eyes
and hideous foaming jaws rush across the room toward his bed. The
door was closed. It was impossible for the beast to have entered
the room in any ordinary way. Stanislaus had no notion how it could
have come there. But if he was frightened for the moment, he did
not lose his wits. With an effort, he sat up in bed and made the
sign of the cross. "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost!"
he cried aloud. Instantly the huge, snarling dog fell to the floor
with a thud as if struck by a sword. But after a few moments he
sprang up again, and first circling the room, came crouching to the
bed, howling as no mortal dog could howl, making ready to spring at
the sick boy. Again Stanislaus made the sign of the cross. Again the
terrible dog was stricken to the floor. A third time he came, only
to be beaten back in the same way. And then, standing with bristling
hair and horrible cries in the middle of the room, he vanished from
sight. Stanislaus fell back on the bed, fearfully exhausted, and
with tears in his eyes thanked God for his deliverance.
The shock of this dreadful incident prostrated him. He failed more
and more. The doctors, coming several times a day, shook their
heads in despair.
"We can do no more," they said, "the end is now only a question of
For seven days and nights Bilinski sat by his bed, snatching only a
few hours' sleep now and then, for he feared that Stanislaus might
die any moment.
Yet in all this long time they had brought no priest to the dying
boy. Every day he begged them earnestly that he might receive the
Holy Viaticum. But they lied to him. Bilinski said:
"You will soon be well. The doctors will cure you. Don't think of
death or go frightening yourself."
"I am not afraid," said Stanislaus. "But I know I am dying. Do not
let me die without Holy Communion."
But Bilinski still put him off, and tried to tease him jokingly with
charges of cowardice.
The fact was, Bilinski and Paul were afraid of their Lutheran
landlord, the Senator Kimberker. His anti-Catholic prejudice was
intense. They feared he might put them, sick boy and all, out of his
house, if they dared to bring a priest and the Blessed Sacrament
That was a hard trial for Stanislaus. But he met it as he had met
every difficulty, bravely, hopefully, cheerfully. He remembered
Saint Barbara, of whom he had asked 'the grace of not dying without
the Holy Viaticum. He renewed his prayers for her intercession. He
laid his whole case with confidence before God, and with confidence
Bilinski still sat by his bed, watching anxiously. The day passed,
the light failed, darkness and night came on. Stanislaus all the
time had lain quiet, his face smiling as ever, his lips moving in
prayer. Suddenly he turned to Bilinski, radiant, glowing with joy.
"Kneel down, kneel down!" he said, in a clear but low voice. "Two
angels of God are bringing the Blessed Sacrament, and with them
comes Saint Barbara!"
Then, worn out though he was by his long sickness, Stanislaus raised
himself, knelt on the bed, and struck his breast as he three times
"Lord, I am not worthy!"
Then he raised his face, and opening his lips received his
sacramental Lord. Bilinski looked on with awe and almost terror,
unable to say a word. Stanislaus, when he had received the Blessed
Sacrament, lay down again in bed and began his thanksgiving.
He was more than ever ready for death now. But still death held off.
All the next day he passed in quiet. The doctors said:
"Now is the end. He may die at any moment."
But he was not to die yet. Toward evening our Lady herself came to
him, carrying in her arms the Infant Jesus. The sick boy looked up
in wonder and delight. There was his Mother, smiling at him, and in
her arms the laughing Infant. The divine Child stretched out His
little hands to Stanislaus, and Stanislaus, sitting up in his bed,
took Him into his arms.
What passed in his soul then, what joy filled his heart, we cannot
know until we shall come to heaven and taste for ourselves of that
And the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus spoke to him and
comforted him. But Stanislaus was too overcome to say anything.
Only tears streamed down from his eyes as he pressed the Infant
Savior to his breast.
Our Lady said to him:
"You must end your days in the Society that bears my Son's name.
You must be a Jesuit."
But so soon as he had taken the Infant into his arms, Stanislaus felt
that the fever left him, his strength came back, the blood coursed
through his body with a new sense of vigor and vitality.
Then our Lady received her Child back from his hands, smiled at him
and blessed him, and so vanished from his sight.
Stanislaus called for his clothes, dressed and got up. Bilinski and
Paul and the doctors were astounded.
"It cannot be!" they cried.
"But you see that it is," said Stanislaus. "I am as well as ever.
Our Lady and the little Jesus came and cured me. And now I must go
to the church and thank them."
Nor did the fever return. He was entirely recovered.
The house in which this occurred is now a sanctuary, and in the room
in which Stanislaus had received such favors from God an altar
stands, and above it a statue of the Saint.
When our Lady came to cure Stanislaus, she told him absolutely that
he must become a Jesuit. That was not the first idea Stanislaus had
had of his vocation. Even some months before his illness he had
felt himself drawn to enter the Society of Jesus. But now, all
doubts removed, he made a vow in thanksgiving to obey our Lady's
He went to his confessor, the Jesuit Father Doni, and told him of
the vision of the Blessed Virgin and her order to become a Jesuit.
Father Doni believed him readily enough, but he said:
"I can do nothing myself in the matter. You must go to the
Provincial, for only he can admit you. But I am afraid there will
Stanislaus was not merely afraid, he was quite certain, there would
be difficulties. However, he assured Father Doni:
"Even if there be no end of difficulties, still I shall be a Jesuit.
Since our Lady has commanded me, she will find a way."
The Provincial, Father Laurence Maggi, received Stanislaus kindly,
of course, yet with anything but encouragement. There had been
trouble for the Society shortly before, though in another place,
because of some novices admitted without their parents' consent. The
Provincial did not wish to risk having a like disturbance brought
about his own ears.
"But the Blessed Virgin will take care of the whole business,
Father," said Stanislaus. "She will quiet any opposition my father
Well, the Provincial was willing to believe that too. But he knew
that God wants us to use our own common sense and not to act rashly
and then rely upon Him, or upon our Lady's intercession with Him, to
get us out of scrapes. So he had to give the only answer which
prudence could give, to all Stanislaus' petitions.
"You must either get your father's permission, or you must wait
until you are of age and your own master."
Now, Stanislaus was quite certain his father would not hear for a
moment of his becoming a Jesuit. On the other hand, he did not want
to wait four or five years until he should come of age. He had that
peculiar courage, which many people cannot understand at all, the
courage to be afraid. He was very much afraid, afraid to trifle with
God's grace, afraid lest if he did not take the favor now when it
was offered him, it might not be offered another time.
He thought of another means of persuading the Provincial. The
Apostolic Legate of Pope Saint Pius V to the court of the Emperor at
Vienna was Cardinal Commendoni. This Cardinal had been Nuncio, and
afterwards Legate, to Poland, and had come from Poland only a year
or so before. He was well acquainted with the Lord John Kostka and
with Stanislaus. When he came to Vienna, Paul and Stanislaus had
visited him, and Stanislaus had made the Cardinal, as he did most
people, his friend.
So he went to Cardinal Commendoni. He figured hopefully that, as
the Cardinal was the Pope's representative, he could easily impose
his will on the Jesuit Provincial; and of course he would do so as
Commendoni welcomed the boy, listened to him attentively, marvelled
at his unaffected goodness and at the heavenly favors shown him.
Stanislaus told him of the distressing obstinacy of the Provincial.
"But how about your father?" the Cardinal asked.
"Oh, my father is more hopeless than the Provincial," Stanislaus
answered. "If I so much as mentioned the matter to him, he would
bring me back to Poland, and I should have no chance at all."
As Commendoni knew the Lord John pretty well, he said nothing to
that. But he thought to himself that Stanislaus was fairly accurate
in his forecast.
After a moment's thought, he said:
"You certainly have a right to follow your vocation. God's will
comes before even your father's. But it is not going to be easy.
However, I shall speak to the Father Provincial, and do what I can."
Stanislaus went away with good hopes. He was to return in a few days
to hear the result of Commendoni's plea. But when he came back to
the Cardinal, he found only another disappointment. The Provincial
not merely was as stubborn as ever, he had even won the Cardinal to
his way of thinking. It was too risky to admit him, it was
Most boys might have given up after that. Stanislaus did not give
up. He was quite sure of what God wanted, and difficulties simply
did not count. lie was called to be a Jesuit, and a Jesuit he would
be. If he could not gain admission into the Society in Vienna, well,
he would try elsewhere.
But even with his mind fairly made up, he sought more guidance. A
young Portuguese Jesuit, Father Antoni, had lately come to Vienna as
preacher to the Empress Maria. Every one was talking about his
ability, his prudence, his zeal. Stanislaus went to him, and laid
his troubles before him.
Father Antoni took some little time to think it all over, then
decided very definitely. He called Stanislaus to him.
"Do you understand," he asked, "what it will mean to go away, to
leave your people, to live in a strange country?"
Stanislaus said, yes, he understood perfectly.
"And that you are closing the door on your return, that in no case
will you ever be received again at Kostkov?"
Yes, Stanislaus knew that too.
"And that you will have to go an immense journey on foot, with
plenty of hardships; to find at the end of it a life that is not
easy, to live at the beck and call of another, to do menial work, to
endure humiliations, to sacrifice everything that the world holds.
Stanislaus smiled at him. He had reckoned it all out, he had "counted
the cost" long before, he was ready.
Then, in God's name, go! " said Father Antonie "And may God be with
you in all. I'll give you letters to Father Canisius, the Provincial
in Augsburg, and to Father Francis Borgia, the General, who is in
Then Stanislaus was happy. At last he was in a fair way to obey the
command of God, which our Lady herself had brought him. Father
Antoni spoke with him longer, pointed out in detail many of the
difficulties that awaited him, gave him counsel for the road. Then
he went to write the letters of introduction, and Stanislaus went
back to Paul and Bilinski and their blows and sneers, to get ready
for his tramp.
He was going to run away. But he was not going to sneak away. He
was just as kind and forgiving to Paul as he had always been. He
bore him no ill-will for his three years of abuse, now that he had
determined upon a course of action, which would free him from a
continuance of it. He had often felt angry over Paul's treatment of
him, but he had kept down his anger under his vigorous will.
But now he made up his mind that Paul would receive something of a
shock the next time he had resort to his now almost habitual
amusement of beating his younger brother. Meantime, he bought a
peasant's tunic and a pair of rough shoes that would be serviceable
for his long march.
It was not long before something or other Stanislaus did or said
woke Paul's easily aroused rage. He began with oaths, of which he
seemed to possess a pretty stock. He worked himself up into greater
and greater heat of temper - a substitute for courage with many
people. Finally he sprang at Stanislaus. Formerly, on such
occasions Stanislaus was so busy holding his own temper in check
that he could do little else, he stood almost like a statue. But
this time Paul felt there was something wrong. Stanislaus was
looking straight at him. When he leaped to strike him, Stanislaus
quietly and skillfully thrust him aside. Paul stumbled, staggered,
recovered himself. But when he looked again, fear took hold of him.
He was afraid of what he saw in Stanislaus' eyes. The younger boy
spoke quietly, coolly.
"That will be about enough," he said; "I've put up with your
cowardice and brutality for three years. I'll stand it no longer.
Since I cannot have peace here, well,. I'll look for it somewhere
else. You can answer to our father, and tell him how it happened."
Paul was still frightened. The situation was extremely novel to him.
The turning of the worm! What would happen next! He was afraid at
first that Stanislaus was going to give him his long-due payment,
and he had no stomach to face the reckoning. He had not noticed
before how wiry and strong Stanislaus looked. But when he saw that
the boy made no movement, only spoke in that quiet voice, he plucked
up a little courage. He began to bluster and swear.
"You'll go away, will you?" he cried. "What the devil do I care? Go,
and be hanged to you!" - that was the gist of it, only a trifle more
"Don't forget! " said Stanislaus. " Send word to father. I'm
certainly going away."
Paul was waxing eloquent again, but Stanislaus turned on his heel
and walked away. Nor did the bullying big brother venture to follow
him. He contented himself with calling him hard names which he could
not hear, and muttering savagely to himself for some time. But,
naturally, he did not believe at all that Stanislaus was really
going to run away9 He looked upon the words as an empty threat.
And so it was all over. Stanislaus sighed a sigh of relief. There
was nothing ahead of him now save the road to Augsburg. He said his
prayers tranquilly and went to bed.
Morning came, or the dawn that precedes the morning. Stanislaus got
up, selected his finest suit of clothes, and dressed. His first care
was to write the letter for Paul and his father. This he put between
the leaves of a book.
The servants, of course, even in the primitive housekeeping of the
Kostkas, slept in another room than the big common apartment of
their masters. Stanislaus went to the bed of one of them, named
Pacifici, who was rather particularly devoted to him, and who
afterwards became a Franciscan. He shook Pacifici and woke him. The
servant rubbed his eyes sleepily, then gazed in astonishment at the
brilliant figure standing in the half-light beside his bed. What was
the Lord Stanislaus doing, dressed in this unusual finery, at such
an unearthly hour!
"Listen," said Stanislaus, "I am going out for the day. I have
received an invitation which I must accept. I am going now. If
Bilinski or the Lord Paul ask for me, tell them that."
"I will, your grace, I will," said Pacifici. But he was almost too
astonished to speak.
Stanislaus left the room and the house. He walked quickly to the
Jesuit church, where he heard Mass and received Holy Communion. At
Mass he met a young Hungarian, with whom he had been very intimate.
He beckoned him aside and whispered:
"Wait for me a minute. I just want to say a word to Father Antoni."
Then he hurried away, but was back shortly at his friend's side,
eyes dancing, lips smiling, hand outstretched.
"I have just bid Father Antoni good-by," he said, with a little
excitement. "I am running away. I am going to Augsburg' to ask
admission into the Society of Jesus. I told Paul yesterday that I
should not stay with him, and I have written a letter and put it in
a book. Do not tell any one what I tell you now. But after a few
days, please go and point out the letter to Paul."
His friend listened with wonder. Going away!' Going to Augsburg!
"But how?" he asked. "Not on foot?"
"On foot, to be sure," answered Stanislaus gayly. "Do you think I
have a horse secreted about me? Or could I take one of ours and wake
"And you will be a Jesuit, and teach, and never ride a good horse
again, and give up your people and your place in the world!"
"I shall be a Jesuit, if I can," said Stanislaus. "As for what I
shall give up, well, I'd have to give it up when death came,
wouldn't I? And since God wants it, I'd sooner give it up now."
But he had not much time for talk. Day was growing; he must be off.
He got his friend's promise about the letter, bade him good-by
heartily and cheerily, and turned his face towards the Augsburg
road. What happened else that day we have already seen, and how Paul
and Bilinski followed him, and how he got away, and how he did walk,
bravely, gayly, in less than two weeks the four hundred miles to
It was well on in the afternoon of August 30th or 31st when
Stanislaus arrived at Augsburg. The town was strange to him. He had
to ask his way to the Jesuit house.
"I want to see Father Canisius," he told the porter at the door.
"I have a letter of introduction to him."
The porter was very sorry, but Father Canisius was not in Augsburg.
Stanislaus' heart fell. Not in Augsburg! His four hundred miles on
foot for nothing! It was a terrible disappointment.
"Wait a moment," said the porter, "until I call one of the Fathers."
As Stanislaus waited, he kept asking himself, "What shall I do? What
shall I do now?" And for a little while he could not think clearly.
He felt almost sick. But he was not the kind to be discouraged long,
and before the porter returned with the Father he had made up his mind.
"Since Canisius is not in Augsburg, well, I'll go to whatever place
he is in.
The Father who came was all regrets. Canisius had gone to
Dillingen. But would not Stanislaus come in, and at least rest a
few days before seeking him further? No, Stanislaus was going on -
"How far is it?" he asked. "And can you point me out the road?"
"It is about thirty-five miles," the Father answered. "But you
can't go on this evening. You must be dreadfully tired."
Yes, he was tired, but not so tired that he could not go to Dillingen.
It is only a little way, after all," he said, smiling as he always
smiled. But he stopped to eat something with the Jesuits, both
because he was hungry, and because it would be discourteous to
refuse all their kind offers.
One of the lay-brothers had to go on business to Dillingen, so he
hastened to accompany Stanislaus. It is from his testimony that we
know what happened on the way.
Before the sun had quite set, he was on the road once more. He
slept in a field that night. He was up early the next morning, and
stepped out bravely, fasting, and hoping for a chance to go to Holy
The evening before, he had left Augsburg a good many miles behind.
A few miles more in the early morning brought him to a little
village. From some distance he saw the spire of its church. He
hastened his steps, lest Mass should be over before he reached the
When he came to the church, he saw through its open door a scattered
little congregation at their prayers. He entered quickly, sank to
his knees, and dropping his face between his hands began to pray.
But somehow the place felt strange. After a bit he looked about him,
and saw with astonishment that he was in a Lutheran church. The
Lutheran heresy was still young and kept up many Catholic practices.
It was easy to be deceived.
He felt a little shocked. He had been preparing to receive Holy
Communion, and now he should have to go without. But as he looked
about, the church to his eyes glowed with light. Out of the light
came a troop of blessed angels and drew near to him. He was
frightened, delighted, all at once. Then he saw that one of the
angels bore with deep reverence the Blessed Sacrament, and that God
had granted his desire for Holy Communion. He received It with
quiet joy, but simply, humbly, for he knew that this miracle of Its
coming to him was as nothing to the miracle that there should be any
Blessed Sacrament at all. Since God had stooped to leave us His
Flesh and Blood, the manner in which He gave It was of quite
It would have astounded us to be in his place in the little Lutheran
church that morning. We try to fancy how we should feel, if we too
saw a host of angels approach us. Yet every day we may avail
ourselves of that more wonderful miracle, before which even visions
of angels pale - the miracle of having God Himself for our Meat and
That day brought him to Dillingen and Peter Canisius, the "Watch-dog
of Germany," as he was called, for his vigilance against heresy.
Canisius read the letter of Father Antoni, and listened to
Stanislaus' story. It was all quite wonderful. As the boy talked,
Canisius looked at him and studied him: not quite seventeen, lively,
handsome, full of spirit and daring, quick in speech, eager,
You might call Canisius a man of war, an old veteran. His hair had
grown gray in battles of the soul, in fighting back heresy, in
strengthening weak hearts through that age of trial. He knew the
value of enthusiasm, but he knew its weakness, too.
"A very taking lad," he thought to himself. "He flashes like a
rapier. But will his metal stand hard use?"
It was the thought of common sense. He did not mistrust Stanislaus.
But, on the other hand, what did he know about him? He had not much
to go by as yet; only Antoni's letter, and the boy's engaging
presence. He would take no definite step about admitting Stanislaus
into the Society until he did know more.
"Yon want to be a Jesuit?" he said, with thoughtful brows. "When?"
It was on Stanislaus' tongue to say, "Now, at once." But he
hesitated a moment, and said instead, "As soon as you think fit."
You are a stranger to us, you know," Canisius went on, smiling a
little, but pleasantly. "And before we admit men amongst us, we
need to know that they have something more than a mere desire to
join us.. That takes time to find out. Are you willing to stop in
the college here for a while?"
Stanislaus answered promptly, "Of course I am."
"Not as a student," said Canisius. "But as a servant?"
"As anything you want," Stanislaus agreed.
"Well, come with me," Canisius said, and he led the way to the
"Here's a new cook," he said to the brother in charge. "At least,
he may have in him the makings of a cook. Can you give him
something to do?"
It was not a very encouraging reception, although it was not so bad
as it may sound, condensed as it is in these pages. Neither was it
meant to be encouraging. It was meant to test.
Stanislaus was as cheerful as a lark. He rolled up his sleeves,
smiled at the brother, and waited orders. The brother smiled back,
"First, I think you will have something to eat. Then we shall see
The Jesuit college at Dillingen, Saint Jerome's, was a big place and
numbered many students. Many students mean many cooks and servers at
table and servants about the house. Stanislaus took his place
amongst a score of such. He washed dishes, helped prepare food,
swept, scrubbed -whatever he was told to do. He ate with the
servants, took his recreations with them. And he went about it all
as simply and naturally as if he had been doing nothing else all his
His jolliness and kindness won him friends on all sides, as they had
always done. He kept up his prayers, you may be sure; ran in to
visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament whenever he was free to do
so; made all he did into a prayer. And of course that irritated some
of the other servants, just as it had irritated his brother Paul.
And so he had no lack of teasing and petty insults. But he just
smiled his way through them and kept on.
He was perfectly happy, entirely confident that he was doing God's
will. As for the work, he chuckled to himself at the idea that
Canisius thought this a test! He would willingly do a thousand
times harder things than that for Almighty God. And after all, he
said, it really was not so hard. Many a better man than he had to
work much harder, at much more unpleasant tasks. And what would it
matter in eternity, if he scrubbed pots and pans and floors and
windows all his life? The only thing that mattered was to please
God, and just now this sort of work was what pleased God.
THE ROAD TO ROME
Canisius kept Stanislaus at his work in the kitchen and about the
house for a couple of weeks. He noted his cheerfulness, his love of
prayer, his readiness to do any sort of work, and best of all, his
simplicity, his entire lack of pose. He saw that this Senator's son
made no virtue of taking on himself such lowly tasks, and he knew,
therefore, that he was really humble.
Then he called the boy to him. He said:
"If I admit you into the Society here, your father may still annoy
you. It is better you should go to Rome and become a novice there.
I shall give you a letter to the Father General, Francis Borgia. In
a few days two of ours are to go to Rome. You can go with them."
Stanislaus was delighted. He was come into quiet waters at last.
But Canisius spoke further:
"First, however, you must get some decent clothes. Your old tunic,"
he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "might do well enough for a
noble, but not for a future Jesuit."
So the college tailor made Stanislaus a simple, neat suit of
clothes. And about September 20th he set out for Rome. He went on
foot, of course; in the company of Jacopo Levanzio, a Genoese, and
Fabricius Reiner, of Liége.
They struck south through Bavaria to the Tyrolese Alps. By what pass
they crossed the Alps we do not know. But Stanislaus saw first from
afar the white peaks, with their everlasting snows, shining in the
sun. Then he went up and up, into cooler and rarer air, where one's
lungs expand and one's step is light and buoyant, but where one gets
tired more easily than in the plains. High up in the passes he felt
the cold of Winter, although it was as yet early Autumn.
Then he came down the southern slopes of the great mountain-wall
that locks in Italy, and with him came the headwaters of great
rivers. He came down through bare rocks, then through twisted
mountain-pines, then through green and lovely valleys, and so into
the plains of northern Italy. He saw the mountain torrents leap and
flash, and grow always bigger and stronger. He saw them slack their
speed and widen their beds in the upland valleys. He saw them grow
sluggish, tawny with mud, in the plain.
He saw the many spires of Milan's wonderful cathedral as they drew
near the city. And when they tarried there a little while for rest,
he saw the famous armor made there, hung up for show in little shop-
windows. He passed great cavalcades of nobles and soldiers, and
marvelled at their straight, slim rapiers, so different from the
heavy Polish saber. He heard Italian speech for the first time, and
tried to get at its meaning through his Latin.
But he and his companions had not over-much time for observing. They
were traveling pretty swiftly. From Dillingen to Rome is a matter of
about eight hundred miles. They left Dillingen September 20th; they
reached Rome October 25th. That figures out to an average of about
twenty-two miles each day. Then, if you remember that they had to
climb mountains the first part of the way, that there were delays
entering towns, delays of devotion when they came to great churches,
you can see that many a day they must have equaled or surpassed
Stanislaus' thirty miles a day from Vienna.
But it was pleasanter. for Stanislaus than his first great tramp.
Now he had two good companions, with whom he could speak easily and
familiarly of the things nearest his heart. He had none of the
uncertainty about the result of this journey which he had had about
his former journey. He found shelter and friendship in many Jesuit
houses on the way.
As the three went on they lightened the road with pious songs, they
heard Mass and received Holy Communion whenever occasion offered,
they knelt by many a wayside shrine, a crucifix, or statue of our
Lady, scattered everywhere through Catholic Italy.
It did not take the two Jesuits long to appreciate Stanislaus and
delight in his company. He was so light-hearted, so merry in all
the discomforts and hardships of the long road, so thoroughly and
simply good. They wondered at his physical endurance, at the ease
and buoyancy with which the lad of seventeen kept up that hard
march, day after day.
The grasses of the Campagna were brown and brittle, the trees sere
and yellow in the Autumn, when they came to the Eternal City, the
center of the world then as now. The saintly General Francis
Borgia, busy as he was with the cares of the widespread Society,
found time to welcome the three travelers, and to hear Stanislaus'
wonderful story in full.
And this time there was no hesitation or delay. Stanislaus entered
his name in the book containing the register of the novices, on
October 25, 1567. Three days later he received his cassock and
entered at once upon his noviceship.
There were so many novices in Rome then that no single house of the
Jesuits there could hold them all. So they were scattered through
three houses, each one spending a part of his two years' noviceship
successively in each house. Stanislaus went first to the Professed
House, then called Santa Maria della Strada, and afterward the site
of the famous Gesu, one of the notable churches of Rome. From there
he passed in time to the Roman College, then to the Noviciate proper
at Sant' Andrea.
The Society of Jesus was then in its early youth, in the midst of
that first brilliant charge against the ranks of heresy without, and
against the huge sluggish inertia so striking within the Church itself.
He was fellow-novice with Claude Acquaviva, son of the Duke of Atri,
and afterwards one of the greatest Generals of the Society, which he
ruled for thirty years. With him were also Claude's nephew, Rudolph
Acquaviva, who died a martyr; Torres, a great theologian; Prando,
the first philosopher at the University of Bologna; Fabio de' Fabii,
who traced his descent from the great Roman family of that name; the
Pole, Warscewiski, formerly ambassador to the Sultan and Secretary
of State in Poland, who first wrote a life of Stanislaus; and many
more, distinguished for birth, learning, holiness.
Most of these were a great deal older, too, than Stanislaus. Many
of them had already made their names familiar to men. Yet the boy
of seventeen, who came quietly and modestly amongst them, was
somehow soon looked up to by all. They felt the force of something
in him which made him their superior. Heaven was wonderfully near
him. He was not old-fashioned; he was always a boy, unconscious of
anything unusual in himself; not solemn nor impressive nor austere
in manner. All that he did, he did with perfect naturalness; for to
him the supernatural had become almost natural.
Most of us, perhaps, think of the saints as men and women who
accomplished visibly great things. Saint Paul, Saint Augustine,
Saint Patrick, Saint Theresa, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Francis
Xavier: such names as these come first to our minds when we think of
"a saint." Yet the fact is that the greater number of saints are men
and women who never did anything that the world would consider great
or striking. Saint Joseph was of that sort. Even the Blessed Virgin
lived and died in obscurity, made no stir in the world.
Sanctity is measured not so much by what one does as by how one does
all things. Externally a saint may not differ at all from other
people. It is his soul that is different.
And so, a visitor to the Professed House in Rome in 1567, meeting
Stanislaus Kostka, would see a handsome, pleasant-looking Polish boy
of seventeen, with his sleeves rolled up above his elbows, with an
apron over his cassock, carrying wood for the kitchen fires, washing
dishes, serving at table, sweeping corridors and rooms.
He got up at half past four, or five o'clock, every morning. He
spent half an hour in meditation, in thinking over some incident in
our Lord's life or some great truth, as that death is near to each
of us, that this life is only the vestibule of eternity, that our
whole business in life is to do what God wants us to do, or the like.
After that came Mass and, once or twice a week, Holy Communion and
his thanksgiving. Then breakfast, taken in silence. He read in a
spiritual book for half an hour or so after breakfast, then went to
the kitchen or the dining hall or the scullery, where he set to work
under the orders of the cook.
In the course of the morning there might be a talk or instruction
from the priest in charge of the novices. There surely would be one
or more visits to the chapel. When the hour for dinner came,
Stanislaus probably served at table, taking his own meal later.
After dinner there was an hour for recreation, when the novices
walked and chatted in the garden or about the house.
The afternoon, like the morning, was taken up with lowly work, with
prayer, and a little reading or instruction. Toward evening, he
again spent half an hour in meditation. Then came the evening meal,
another hour of recreation, a little reading in preparation for next
morning's meditation, and examination of conscience as to how the
day had been spent, and then bed.
Two or three days a week, this routine was broken. Sometimes the
novices walked out into the country to a villa, where they had games
and ate their dinner. At other times they left their work to go
with one of the Fathers to some church or other, upon business.
It was a quiet, humble life, full of peace, near to God, hidden away
from men. In this life the novices had to continue for two years,
before they took upon themselves the obligation of vows, and before
they began the long studies that prepare a Jesuit for his work.
During those two years they tested their vocation, making sure that
God really called them to that life; and they tested their own wills
to see if they were ready to endure what such a life demanded of them.
Stanislaus did just what the other novices did, did nothing out of
the ordinary. Yet, of course, he was different from the others; he
was a saint. What was the difference? Just this: they did things
more or less well; he did things perfectly. If he prayed, he put his
whole mind and soul into his prayer. If he worked, he obeyed orders
absolutely, because in doing so he was obeying God.
There is in the Jesuit noviciate at Angers a series of paintings
portraying incidents in the life of Stanislaus. In one he is shown
carrying on his arm two or three bits of wood towards the kitchen.
Underneath is written, "He will err if he carry more."
The painting commemorates an occasion when Stanislaus and Claude
Acquaviva were put by the cook to carry wood and told to carry only
two or three pieces at a time. Acquaviva, when the two came to the
wood-pile, said laughingly:
"Does the cook think we are babies? Why, we can each carry twenty or
thirty of such little pieces of wood."
"To be sure we can," Stanislaus answered. "But do you think God
wants us to carry twenty or thirty pieces now? The cook said two or
three, and the cook just at present takes the place of God to
And so it was in everything. He studied singly to see what would
please God most, and no matter how trifling seemed the command he
did just that, with all his heart.
No one ever heard a sharp word from him, or saw him take offense at
anything, or act in the least way out of vanity or selfishness.
And, of course, he was entirely unconscious that he was different
from the rest. He knew he was trying to do his best in everything,
but he supposed every one else was doing the same. And with all his
earnestness and exactness, he was as simple and boyish as he had
One day Cardinal Commendoni, the Legate to Vienna, and a great
friend of Stanislaus, came to Rome and hurried over to the Roman
College to call upon Stanislaus. Stanislaus, as soon as he heard of
his arrival, ran off to meet him just as he was, sleeves rolled up,
apron on, straight from the scullery - just as any boy would do.
He was in everything perfectly at ease; content in his little round
of little tasks; going ahead toward heaven without any show or
heroics. He was doing just exactly the little things that God wants
us to do, and he was entirely happy in so doing.
It is true he had never been really unhappy in his whole life.
People who keep close to God never are. They have hard things to
put up with; they may be poor, or fall sick, or lose their relatives
or friends by death; they may have to fight very strong temptations.
They feel all these things as keenly as others feel them. But they
do not become unhappy. We may say they have a world of their own to
live in, that their inmost lives are spent in that world, very
little touched by the changes and accidents of the outer world. They
see that there is an outer world, but they choose deliberately to
ignore it; they will not go into it.
You know that if you go down deep into the sea, as men go in
submarines, you find calm there always, even though a storm be
raging up above and the waves toss with angry violence. So if you
once get inside your life, under the surface, in the heart of life
where God is, you will find calm there also and a certain peace
which is as near as we can come to entire happiness in this world.
But though Stanislaus had learned this secret, and had therefore
always kept his soul merry, he was happiest of all during the time
of his noviceship. The very air around him breathed of God and
heaven. His life there was really an unbroken prayer. He was like
a swimmer who has been fighting his way through nasty, choppy,
little waves, going ahead surely, but with great difficulty, and who
comes at last into long, quiet, rolling swells, where his progress
is delightful, where he can make long, easy strokes and feel
pleasure in the very effort.
And as he was young and ardent, he was in danger of overdoing
things. Prayer, even when it is a joy, is always hard work for us
poor mortals. Stanislaus gave himself so heartily now to praying
that he ran risk of losing his strength and health. So his
superiors, being sensible men, stepped in and moderated his energy.
He was made to work more and pray less, told to be prudent, to
husband his strength for future work. And, of course, he did as he
But God had special designs on Stanislaus. He was never to use his
health and energy in work as a priest or teacher. Indeed, his work
was nearly over, though it had been so brief. He had no long career
before him on this earth; he was going home, and going soon.
When Stanislaus had been a novice nine months, Peter Canisius came
one day to Rome on business. At this time Stanislaus was living in
the noviciate proper, Sant' Andrea on the Quirinal. Of course the
novices were all keen to see and hear the great Canisius, the man
who had done such superb work in Germany. And whatever curiosity
they had was satisfied, for Canisius came to the community at Sant'
Andrea and gave a little sermon or talk.
It was the first of August, the month always most dangerous to
health in Rome. Just for that reason, perhaps, the old Romans had
made the beginning of that month a time of feasting and boisterous
holiday. And an old proverb had come down, "Ferrare Agosto - Give
August a jolly welcome"
Canisius took this proverb for his text, but turned it to say, "Give
every month a jolly welcome, for it may be your last."
After the talk, the novices, according to custom, discussed amongst
themselves what had been said. It came Stanislaus' turn to speak.
"What Father Canisius has just told us is a holy warning for all, of
course. But for me it is something more, because this month of
August is to be really my last month 'upon earth."
To be sure, no one paid special attention to this strange remark.
Novices often say things that will not bear too much analysis.
Particularly no one would look seriously upon what Stanislaus had
said, since he was at the time in perfect health.
Four days later, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, Stanislaus had
occasion to go with the great theologian, Father Emmanuel de Sa, to
the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. For there the beautiful feast
is kept with singular ceremony, as that church is the one connected
with the origin of the feast. Each year, during Vespers on August
5th, a shower of jasmin leaves sifts down from the high dome of a
chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, to commemorate the miraculous snow
in August which marked out the spot where the church was to be built.
As they went along, de Sa turned the talk to the coming feast of the
Assumption of our Blessed Lady. Stanislaus spoke with delight, as
he always spoke of our Lady.
"When our Lady entered paradise," he said, "I think God made a new
glory for His Mother, and all the saints made a court about her and
did reverence to her as we do to a king. And I hope," he added;
"that I shall be up there myself to enjoy this coming feast."
Again his words were not taken at their face value. Father de Sa
thought he spoke of being in heaven in spirit for the feast.
The practice, now common, was new then, of alloting to each in the
community as special patron some particular saint whose feast
occurred during the month. Stanislaus had drawn Saint Lawrence for
his patron. The feast of the Saint is celebrated on August 10th.
Stanislaus, who had clear intimations of his quickly approaching
death, and was eager to go to heaven, asked Saint Lawrence to
intercede for him that his home-going might be on the Feast of the
Assumption. He got permission to practice some penances in honor of
the Saint. He prepared for the feast with unusual devotion. On the
morning of the 10th when he went to Holy Communion, he carried on
his breast a letter he had written to our Lady. It was such a
letter as a boy, away from home, and homesick, might write to his
mother, asking her to bring him home.
After breakfast, Stanislaus, still in entire health, was sent to
work in the kitchen, where he spent the rest of the morning, washing
dishes, carrying wood for the fire, helping the cook generally.
But by evening he was decidedly unwell. To the fellow-novice who
helped him to bed he said quietly, "I am going to die, you know, in
a few days."
Claude Acquaviva hurried to him as soon as he learned he was ailing.
Father Fazio, the novice-master, also came. Stanislaus told each of
the favor he had begged from our Lady, and that he hoped strongly
his request would be granted.
That was on the evening of Wednesday, the 10th. He appeared to be no
better or worse on Thursday and Friday. But Friday evening he was
moved from his ordinary room to a quieter place in a higher story of
the house. Those who went with him noted that before he lay down,
he knelt on the floor and prayed a while and made the sign of the
cross over the bed, saying, "This is my deathbed."
Now they began to believe him and were frightened a little. So
Stanislaus added, with a smile, "I mean, of course, if it so please
He continued in about the same condition until Sunday, August 14th.
That day he said to the laybrother who was taking care of him:
"Brother, I'm going to die to-night."
The brother laughed at him, and said:
"Nonsense, man! Why, it would take a greater miracle to die of so
trifling a matter than to be cured of it."
But by noon of that day Stanislaus became unconscious. Father Fazio
was with him at once and administered restoratives. Very soon
Stanislaus was himself again, bright and smiling as ever. Father
Fazio began to joke with him.
"O man of little heart!" he said. "To give up courage in so slight
Stanislaus answered, "A man of little heart I admit I am. But the
sickness, Father, is not so very slight, since I'm going to die of it."
And, indeed, he began to fail rapidly. By evening the death-sweat
stood out upon him, the vital warmth little by little withdrew from
hands and feet to the citadel of his heart. When the last light of
day was gone from the sky, he made his confession and received the
Holy Viaticum. A great many of his fellow-novices were present, and
some wept. He was a good comrade, they did not want to see him
depart from them.
Then he received Extreme Unction. He made the answers to the
prayers himself. Afterward he confessed again, in order to receive
the plenary indulgence granted for the hour of death. And after that
he talked for a little time, kindly and cheerfully, to those about
him, and bidding them good-by, turned his mind and his heart to heaven.
Three Fathers stayed with him through the silence of the night, when
the rest had gone to bed. Most of the time he prayed, either aloud
with his watchers, or silently by himself. He left messages to his
more intimate friends, and asked the Fathers to beg pardon for any
offense he had given.
During the evening he had begged to be laid on the bare ground, that
he might die as a penitent. Toward midnight, as he still asked it,
they lifted him on the little mattress of his bed and placed him on
it upon the floor. There he lay, very quiet, whilst midnight tolled
from the great churches of the city. The Fathers knelt beside him,
praying silently with him, or giving him from time to time the
crucifix to kiss.
At length, about three o'clock in the morning, he stopped praying,
and a great joy shone in his face. He looked about him from side to
side, and seemed with his eyes to ask his companions to join him in
reverencing some one who was present.
Father Ruiz bent over and asked him:
What is it, Stanislaus?
"Our Lady!" he whispered. "Our Lady has come, just as in Vienna."
Then he seemed to listen to voices they could not hear. His lips
moved silently, forming inaudible words. His eyes were bright and
joyful. He stretched out his arms, fell back, and died with a smile
upon his lips. Our Lady had come for him, and with her he went
home. Dawn was breaking on the Feast of the Assumption, 1568.
Stanislaus lacked six or eight weeks of being eighteen years old
when he died. He had not been a preacher or writer or engaged in any
public work. Only a handful of people in Rome so much as knew of
his existence. Yet no sooner was he dead than crowds flocked about
him as about a dead saint.
The General, Francis Borgia, ordered the body to be put into a
coffin, which was an unusual thing at that time, and to be buried at
the right hand of the high altar in the church.
Meantime the Lord John Kostka still raged in Poland. He had written
a most severe letter to Stanislaus shortly after Stanislaus arrived
in Rome: a letter full of threats and anger, to which Stanislaus had
replied kindly and affectionately, explaining to his father that he
had to follow God's call at any cost
But the Lord John was not to be so easily put off. He ordered his
eldest son, Paul, on to Rome, with power to bring back Stanislaus to
his home at Kostkov.
Paul traveled in some state and with no great haste. He reached
Rome in the middle of September, 1568, to find that God had been
beforehand with him, and that Stanislaus had indeed already gone
home, to heaven.
He had been greatly impressed at the time of Stanislaus' flight from
Vienna, by the incidents which seemed to show God's direct guidance
and protection in regard to his brother. Now, when the Fathers led
him to the still new tomb of Stanislaus, he broke down utterly and
cried like a child. He stayed a time beside the tomb, and when he
came forth he was a different Paul.
Every one was talking with admiration of Stanislaus and of the
marvels that had surrounded his life and death. Paul hurried back
to Poland with his story, at once sad and joyful. The heart of the
old Castellan was moved. He had lost a son, but he had gained a saint.
A year later appeared two short Lives of Stanislaus, one in Polish
by Father Warscewiski, his fellow-novice, another in Latin. All
through Poland the devotion to the young novice spread rapidly.
Soon authoritative "processes" toward his beatification were drawn
up under the care of the bishops of various places in which
Stanislaus had spent his short years.
Thirty-six years after his death, Pope Clement VIII issued a brief
(February 18, 1604) in which he declared Stanislaus "Blessed" and
granted indulgences on the anniversary of his death.
But long before this the Lord John had died, and his youngest son,
Albert, struck by sudden congestion of the lungs before his father's
body was laid to rest, died also, and was buried in the same grave
Of the four sons only Paul was left. From the day he stood by the
tomb of Stanislaus, he had changed entirely. Bitter remembrance of
his harshness and brutality to the dead saint was with him always
and urged him to a life of penance and prayer. He never married,
but passed his days largely at the castle of Kostkov in retirement
with his widowed mother.
He busied himself in constant works of charity, spending his great
fortune in helping the poor and in establishing hospitals and
building churches. He wore himself out in prayer and labor and
fasting. Men marveled at him, and many sneered at him, as he had
once sneered at Stanislaus.
But those long, hard years were not unhappy for him. He and his
mother, Margaret Kostka, had learned Stanislaus' secret of
happiness, and lived in spirit in that bright home to which
Stanislaus had gone.
Then Margaret died, and Paul was alone. He had wished to withdraw
from the world altogether. But he felt unworthy to ask admission
into a religious order. However, realizing at length that his death
could not be far distant, and that he could at worst be a burden for
only a very short time, he wrote to Claude Acquaviva, who was then
General of the Society of Jesus, and begged that he might at least
die in the Society to which Stanislaus had belonged. Acquaviva
readily dispensed with the impediment of age and ordered the
Provincial of Poland, Father Strinieno, to receive him.
Paul hastened to the royal court, then at Pietscop, to settle his
worldly affairs before taking up his residence in the noviceship.
But scarcely had he completed his arrangements, when fever seized
him, and he died after a few days' illness. He died November 13,
1607: the very day of the month afterwards fixed as the feast of
Bilinski, too, the tutor of Stanislaus, showed in after life the
fruit of Stanislaus' prayers. He became Canon of Pultowa and Plock
and lived holily. It was his privilege to bear testimony to many
events in the life of Stanislaus, and he was a very valuable witness
in the "processes" for his pupil's beatification. When death came,
Stanislaus appeared to him in vision, consoling and encouraging him,
and he died in great peace.
All this time the people of Poland had been eager in their
devotion to the Blessed Stanislaus. Many cures and miracles had
been wrought through his intercession. In 1621, under the Polish
king, Sigismund III, and again in 1676, under Yan Sobieski, the
Poles won pronounced victories over Turkish armies which far
outnumbered their own, and attributed these preternatural successes
to the prayers of Stanislaus.
The whole nation, through its kings, repeatedly petitioned that
Stanislaus might be declared their Patron. This was at first
refused, as only canonized saints were given the title of Patron
of a nation. But Clement x granted the request in 1671, setting
aside the decree which forbade it.
The Church is slow in declaring any one a saint. It was not until
December 13, 1726, one hundred and fifty-eight years after the
death of Stanislaus, that Benedict XIII solemnly celebrated his
canonization in the Basilica of St. Peter. It was a double
ceremony, for it was also the occasion of the canonization of
Saint Aloysius, who had been born in March of the same year in
which Stanislaus died.
* * * * * * * * *
This little account has not done justice to the life of Stanislaus
Kostka; and, indeed, it is very hard to do justice to it. He was
a most human and lovable boy, but he was besides a wonderful,
bright being that eludes the grip of our common minds. He was a
citizen of heaven, who lived here amongst us, kindly and
companionable indeed, during eighteen years of exile. To try to
describe him is like trying to describe a star in the far sky of
That love for God, of which we speak so brokenly, which at its
best in us is so small and cold, was the soul of his soul, the
inner core and substance of his life. Here, in the misty country
of faith, he had something of that radiant and rapturous union
with God which all of us, as we hope, shall one day have in
All the sweet and strong twining of our hearts about father and
mother and relatives and dear friends, all that binds us in
affection to those we love in life, was multiplied and made many
times stronger in his rare nature and lifted up by God's grace to
fix itself upon God, the infinite Goodness, the supreme Beauty.
God was not a mere Name or a Power to him, not even the mere Lord
and Master of all: God was his friend, his dearest intimate, his
sure, strong, patient, loving counselor; whose presence was with
him, waking and sleeping; whose interests were nearest his heart;
whose commands it was a delight to obey; whose slightest wish and
beckoning was eagerly watched for and joyously followed.
To catch the secret and true meaning of his life, one must feel how
that love for God thrilled through him, was his. courage in action,
his endurance in suffering, his sweetness and kindness in all
dealings with other men. It was his life. And when we have said
and realized that, we have come nearest to knowing who and what
really was Stanislaus Kostka.
Back to Full Books