St Stanislaus Kostka SJ

On 15 August 2018 the Society of Jesus celebrates the 450th death anniversary of St Stanislaus Kostka (1550-1568). His liturgical feast day is celebrated on 13 November.

The biography of St Stanislaus Kostka is a compelling account of a young man craving to become a Jesuit against all odds; a ‘saint in a hurry’ who maintained the motto “I am born for greater things” in the spirit of the “magis”.

Stanislaus was born on 28 October 1550 at his ancestral home in Rostkovo, Poland, into a noble and wealthy family. With his older brother Pawel he was sent to the Jesuit College in Vienna in 1564. During this time Stanislaus began to discern a strong vocation both to the priesthood and to the then relatively new Jesuit Order. He began to devote time regularly to prayer and practised self-discipline, dressing very plainly for a nobleman, and avoiding society.

In December 1565, Stanislaus fell seriously ill, and was on the brink of death. He recovered miraculously. He confided to his spiritual director that all the remedies prescribed by the doctors proved useless. Our Lady came to visit him placing the Christ child in his arms. He regained his health, and took this as a sign that God desired him to enter the Society of Jesus.

The Jesuit Provincial Superior of Austria was happy to admit Stanislaus to the Society but required his father’s permission. Stanislaus, knowing his father had more exalted plans for him, determined to seek entrance into a Jesuit province out of bounds of potential family interference. He set his sights on Germany. 

Early on the morning of 10 August 1567, bearing a letter of introduction from his confessor, Stanislaus, still aged only sixteen, set out to walk the long distance disguised as a mendicant. He walked the highways and by-lanes, sleeping in the fields and begging for food, accepting humiliations and uncertainties, crossing the whole of Austria from east to west, 520 kilometres in two weeks! He arrived at the Jesuit residence in Augsburg, where he hoped to find St Peter Canisius, the Jesuit provincial of Upper Germany. However he found that Canisius lived in Dillingen, 50 km further on. Without resting he took another two days to reach Dilligen, where he finally met Canisius.

Canisius was impressed by this determined youth. However, in order to ascertain that he would adapt to religious life, Canisius set him the character test of performing menial jobs alongside the servants, for a few weeks. In this Stanislaus exceeded expectations and so Canisius admitted him as a Jesuit and made arrangements for him to proceed to Rome accompanied by two Jesuit students. In September, the trio set off on foot for the 1,000-km trek, arriving in Rome on 25 October, where Stanislaus presented his letter from Canisius to the Superior General, St Francis Borgia. In the letter Canisius said of Stanislaus: “We hope for great things from him.”

Stanislaus was admitted to the novitiate on 28 October 1567, his seventeenth birthday. He was among the first novices in the first novitiate that opened in Rome that year. He impressed everyone by his exceptional holiness and humble service.

In early August 1568, he had a premonition that he would die on 15 August. He developed a malarial fever on the 10th, but the brother in charge of health saw no reason to be unduly concerned. On 14 August, things suddenly took a turn for the worse. Early morning on the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption Stanislaus announced that the Blessed Mother was approaching with angels to take him to heaven. He died peacefully. When his body was exhumed three years later it was found to be incorrupt.

Stanislaus was the first Jesuit, together with Aloysius Gonzaga, to be declared Blessed. He is the Patron of Jesuit novices.

Written by Hedwig Lewis

Hedwig Lewis SJ is the author of “Profiles in Holiness, Brief Biographies of Jesuit Saints”, and several other books.  Contact: [email protected]