Marian Helper Spring 2023

We often think of St. Faustina’s spiritual director, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopoćko, as merely the primary witness of her sanctity, and perhaps as the agent that God used to arrange the painting of the Image of the Divine Mercy. But he was so much more than that! He was a true guide for her soul, and a man of enormous wisdom and courage — so much so that the Church beatified him in 2008. Indeed, he was a man of sanctity in his own right — a sanctity forged in the fires of trials and tribulations, as well as through his close relationship with St. Faustina. Blessed Fr. Sopoćko was also a great Divine Mercy theologian, and the principal instrument that our Lord used to spread the devotion to the Divine Mercy to the ends of the earth. Jesus Himself revealed all this one day to St. Faustina, as she recorded in her Diary (1256). Pious youth Michael Sopoćko was born in what is now Lithuania in 1888 into a noble family, but one that had fallen into poverty. They worked out in the fields, and barely scraped together enough to survive. Yet they were a deeply devout Catholic family, as well. Young Michael was especially pious; he even built in the family home a little altar that he would use to help him pray. Not surprisingly for such a boy, he sensed within his heart a call to the priesthood when he was just 10 years old. It was only through the generosity of the rector of the seminary in Vilnius, however, that Michael was able to study there for four years for the priesthood, and that he was finally ordained in 1914, right at the start of the First World War. In 1918, Fr. Sopoćko sought to study for a degree in theology in Poland at the University of Warsaw, but illness and the worsening situation of the war forced him to delay. A year later, he signed up as a military chaplain, serving the Polish army in a field hospital during the conflict with Russia. After only a month, however, he asked to be sent to the front lines to serve the soldiers who were in the thick of the fighting. In addition to saying Mass for them, hearing confessions, and anointing the dying, he often found himself called on to organize better care for the wounded. The Bishop of Vilnius recognized Fr. Sopoćko’s academic brilliance and pastoral zeal and appointed him director of military chaplaincies for the entire Vilnius region, responsible for the pastoral care of more than 10,000 soldiers. Father Sopoćko also worked to complete his doctorate in theology, served as spiritual director of the seminary in Vilnius, and headed the pastoral theology department at Stephan Batory University (now Vilnius University). In all this, what do we see in Fr. Michael Sopoćko? Our Lord had fashioned him by poverty and hardship into a character of extraordinary toughness, perseverance, and courage, By Dr. Robert Stackpole ‘A priest after My own Heart’ 22 Marian Helper • Spring 2023 • Blessed Michael Sopoćko