“I was born for greater things.” – St. Stanislaus Kostka
Recognized as the patron saint of the young, St. Stanislaus is proof that holiness can be a goal for all believers, no matter what their age or background. As we celebrate his birthday on October 28, we invite you to learn more about his life and legacy and discover where he is portrayed in the Basilica.
Stanislaus Kostka was born the second of seven sons in the castle of Rostkovo near Prasnysz, Poland, in 1550. His father, who served as a senator and castellan of Zakrozyn, wanted his sons to be statesmen like himself, but Stanislaus seemed meant for a different kind of life. Even as a child, he was sensitive to any kind of coarse language, practiced bodily mortification, and often would fall into religious ecstasies so intense that he would faint, especially when at church.
Hoping to guide his children to careers as statesmen, Stanislaus’s father sent him and his older brother Paul to a Jesuit college under the tutelage and supervision of Dr. John Bilinsky. Unfortunately, during their time at the school, Paul verbally and physically abused Stanislaus because of his religious devotion. At one point, the abuse was so severe that Stanislaus threatened to run away.
Visions and Vocation
While Stanislaus was at college, he experienced a brush with death that would change the course of his life. During this time, Stanislaus fell very ill and thought the sickness would lead to his death. Their Lutheran landlord, however, would not allow a priest onto his property to administer viaticum to Stanislaus. According to Stanislaus’s testimony, his patron saint, Barbara, visited him with two angels, who administered the sacrament to him. When he recovered, he was blessed with another vision, this time of the Virgin Mary handing him the infant Jesus, which he determined was a sign for him to join the Society of Jesus.
Joining the Society proved a challenge. The provincial in Vienna was afraid of Stanislaus’s father and would not receive him. But Stanislaus was determined to obey the vision God had given him; wearing ragged clothing so he would not be recognized, he set out on foot on a 350-mile journey to Dillingen in northern Germany. His brother and tutor pursued him but were mysteriously unable to overtake him even though they were on horseback, and he was not. When Stanislaus made it to Dillingen, he stayed with St. Peter Canisius before going to Rome, where, at 17 years of age, he was finally accepted into the Society of Jesus by St. Francis Borgia.
The Holy Novitiate
As a novitiate, Stanislaus demonstrated enduring humility and devotion, always dedicating himself to prayer. Not only did he perform all his duties with complete obedience, but he continued his mortifications and repeatedly fell into ecstasies after he received the Eucharist. Though his devotion and zeal astounded his novice-master Father Fazio, Stanislaus’s novitiate only lasted 10 months. In 1568, at the beginning of August, Stanislaus declared his hope to celebrate the feast of the Assumption in heaven that year. 10 days later, he fell ill. And at three in the morning on the Feast of the Assumption, he told Father Fazio he saw the Virgin Mary with a host of angels coming to carry him to glory and died.
Unaware of what had passed, Paul came to Rome a month later intending to bring Stanislaus back to Poland. The shock of his death brought Paul to reflect upon how he had mistreated him, catalyzing a profound spiritual transformation. Paul later served as the foremost testimony to Stanislaus’s beatification and at age 60, requested to join the Society of Jesus.
Known as the patron saint of the young, Stanislaus left a legacy of purity and wholehearted devotion to Christ. When venerating the relics of St. Stanislaus in the Church of St. Andrew at the Quirinal, Pope John Paul II said:
“The journey of his short life, begun in Rostkowo in Mazowsze, through Vienna and then to Rome, can be compared to a great cross-country race towards the goal of every Christian’s life, which is holiness.”
Where to Find Stanislaus in the Basilica
St. Stanislaus is depicted in Trani marble in the West Apse of the Great Upper Church, flanking the Chapels of the Joyful Mysteries, and in the Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel.
“St. Stanislaus Kostka,” The Catholic Encyclopedia.
“Stanislaus Kostka,” Jesuits Global.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.