Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Stanislaus Kostka

Saint Stanislaus KostkaJohn and Margaret Kostka were rich and noble, and dwelt with their four children upon the domain in Poland which had belonged to their family for centuries, when the coming birth of the little Stanislaus was known to them. The mother thought much about the child God was about to give her, and one night in a dream it seemed to her that there was a strange mark upon her breast, which, on looking closer, she found to be the holy Name of Jesus in letters of purple surrounded by golden rays. She awoke with a feeling of great gladness but thought little more of her dream, until some days later this Name of Jesus was really imprinted upon her exactly as it had appeared during her sleep. At first she was afraid and troubled, but when she grew calmer she began to think that by this sign God intended her to know that the little one whose birth she was expecting was some soul very dear to Him – an angel from heaven who should bring her great joy. She sought her confessor to tell him what had happened and to ask him the meaning of it, and, after consulting God in prayer, the holy priest told her that the sacred Name had been imprinted by a heavenly hand to announce the future sanctity of the child who would be given her, and he bid her rejoice rather than fear, and strive to make herself worthy to receive such a great blessing from God.

On the 28th October, 1550, a little son was born in the castle, who was baptized as soon as possible in the presence of all the noble Polish families who lived near, receiving the name of Stanislaus. When the ceremony was over, his godfather took him in his arms and laid him down before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, inspired, no doubt, by the Holy Ghost, whilst he himself knelt by and prayed the Almighty to make this little infant entirely His own; then, rising, he took up the child in his arms, and all the company returned to the castle to celebrate the day with great rejoicing.

The parents of Stanislaus, knowing that he was not an ordinary child, began to pray very earnestly that they might be guided to bring him up according to the holy Will of God, but it seemed, from the first, as if the little Stanislaus was taught directly froih above, for when he was old enough to understand what was said to him about Jesus and His Blessed Mother, he already knew their names, and loved them above everything. It was this grace bestowed upon him of knowing and loving God as soon as he could think and speak which, no doubt, made the life of Stanislaus so very holy as he grew up.

At four years old, the careful parents found for their little son a tutor who was both intelligent and wise, and, under his teaching, Stanislaus advanced rapidly in study, and was a most obedient and gentle pupil. At five or six years of age, this holy child would go and hide in some unused room, and, kneeling down, join his little hands and pray with tears streaming from his eyes, but they were happy tears, shed at the thought of the tenderness and love of God. The servants, passing to and fro, often saw him so wrapt in prayer that he was quite unconscious of any noise they might make around him, but they were silent about such things, fearing to interfere with one who was so very near to God. The child seemed unable to pass an instant without prayer, finding his Heavenly Father ready to hear him in all times and places, but when he was forced to join in conversation, he spoke with the sweetness of a little angel about heavenly things, and when the name of the Blessed Virgin was mentioned, his face lit up with an unearthly joy.

Many visitors came to the castle, and it occasionally happened that some word contrary to perfect purity might escape the lips of those who were at the table; then little Stanislaus trembled and turned pale with dread, and his eyes were raised to heaven with an expression of the greatest distress.

We may imagine the happiness which the parents of Stanislaus felt in watching the growth of body and the increasing saintliness of their little son, but they resolved upon bearing the pain of a separation from him when he was in his fourteenth year, that he might go to the Jesuit College at Vienna to finish his studies. His elder brother Paul was to accompany him besides his tutor and three servants, and they left the castle in the year 1564, arriving safely at Vienna, where the Fathers who directed the college received them with great kindness. The first thought of Stanislaus was as to who he might find best suited to take care of his soul, and, after asking God’s guidance, he met with one to whom he could open his heart with confidence. Hia new companions were astonished to see this holy youth before the Blessed Sacrament, his face beaming with a radiance they had never witnessed before, his soul poured out before his Lord and all earthly things forgotten; and the Fathers said, “We have in our seminary an angel under the form of Stanislaus.”

Frequently he was quite forgetful of the time which was passing and knelt on until he fell exhausted upon the ground, which roused him to consciousness of things around, and made him grieve that his human weakness should thus hinder his union with God.

In the college there was an association under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, of which Saint Barbara was the second patron, and Stanislaus wished very much to be admitted into the number, to the great delight of his fellow students, who gladly received him, and the piety of the association received new strength and freshness from his presence and words.

But this happiness was coming to an end, for during the same year Stanislaus had entered the college, the Emperor Ferdinand died, and his son Maximilian who succeeded him would no longer allow the Jesuit Fathers to have pupils in Vienna. Some of the students returned to their homes, others remained to continue their course of reading in other houses, but Stanislaus was overcome with grief – to him the college had been a most happy place, for there he had found all his soul desired. His young companions were greatly distressed at parting with him, and «ach one kept the memory of his loving, holy words and ways long after.

Paul Kostka and the tutor Bilinski whom they had taken with them, decided upon staying in Vienna, and Stanislaus tried to persuade his brother to select some quiet house where they could live retired and pursue their studies.

But Paul loved luxury and society, and insisted on having fine apartments to which he could invite his friends, so that poor Stanislaus was obliged to yield to his wishes; when he found himself under the roof of a heretic, which seemed to him a terrible misfortune, he only resolved to live more closely in union with God, and bore his grief with great sweetness and patience. His one happiness was to take refuge in the church of the Jesuit Fathers for prayer, where, when sought for after a long absence, he was found lying on the ground with his arms extended in the form of a cross, quite lost to consciousness. To revive him, they would speak and raise him to his feet, and when at last his eyes opened, he would smile and say, “Do not be alarmed; it is nothing; I am not ill”

It would be hard to describe the joy with which every Sunday and festival he received the Holy Eucharist, all his thoughts being lost in God and His great love, so that hearing one Mass would not satisfy him, for he remained to two or three, and then could scarcely bear to leave the Church. As soon as his recreation time came, he would hurry to spend a few moments before the Blessed Sacrament, and then return to his studies with a bright happy face.

During the night, Stanislaus gave as short a time as possible to sleep, rising always at midnight to pray, with his arms held out in the form of a cross; he would also scourge himself severely, and yet these penances never made him sad or melancholy, on the contrary, he was particularly gay andjoyous in face and manner.

The elder Kostka, seeing his brother’s wonderful devotion, began to ridicule and persecute him. College life had made him worldly and luxurious, and Bilinski, the governor of the two youths, had unfortunately become the same, quite different in every way to Stanislaus, whom they tried vainly to force into their own manner of living. Finding it impossible to turn him aside from spiritual things, Paul forgot himself so far as to begin to treat his brother with roughness, throwing him on the ground, and even striking him with a stick, in which he was joined by two young Polish noblemen, who lived with them.

This cruelty went on for two entire years, during which Stanislaus never murmured at their treatment. Afterwards, when Paul had repented of these things, and entered upon a new life, the memory of his brother’s angelic patience would bring tears of sorrow to his eyes. About this time it happened that after spending his usual time in prayer, Stanislaus had retired to bed, placing a lighted candle close by, that he might continue reading. But he dropped asleep, the candle fell upon the bed, and set it on fire, the smell of which awoke one of the household who slept in the same room, and looking towards the place where Stanislaus was lying, saw that he was surrounded by flames. His cries awoke the Saint, who rose from his bed, and it was found that although all its coverings were destroyed, the fire had not been allowed even to singe a hair upon the head of Stanislaus. In this way God showed that this holy youth was especially under His care.

During the time he lived in this place, he became seriously ill, so that he believed himself near death, and was distressed that in that house of heresy, where a Catholic priest would not be suffered to enter, he could not hope to receive Viaticum, so he turned for help to the saints in heaven. Saint Barbara had always been the object of his special devotions, and reading that she had the power of obtaining for those who loved her, the grace of not dying without receiving Holy Communion, he besought her earnestly to assist him. In answer to his prayer, Saint Barbara appeared in the sick-room, accompanied by two angels, who bore with them the Holy Eucharist, and in spite of his weakness, Stanislaus knelt down by his bed-side, and exclaiming three times “Domine non sum dignus,” received the Body and Blood of Christ with great joy, and lay down again peacefully, whilst the saint and the angels disappeared to heaven.

Still the illness increased, Stanislaus appeared to be dying, and those around his bed were watching him in great sorrow, for they grieved now that they had treated him with such unkindness. The doctors said they could do no more, his agony began, and yet God’s Will was to spare him longer; to let him suffer still upon earth, before entering into the blessedness of heaven – to have him brought back from the brink of death by the Blessed Virgin herself.

Just as he seemed about to draw his last breath, a sudden and most brilliant light filled the room, in the midst of which stood Mary with the Divine Child in her arms, Whom she placed upon the bed. Stanislaus kissing and embracing his infant Lord with reverent love, took Him in his arms, pressing Him closely to his heart, whilst the Blessed Virgin spoke, saying that he should recover, but that the life she had obtained for him, must be given to the service of God, as a member of the Society of Jesus. Having said this, Mary took the Holy Child in her arms, blessed Stanislaus, and, with a look of great tenderness, disappeared, leaving him perfectly cured.

When the Saint had made his thanksgivin in the church of the Jesuit Fathers for the favours granted to him, he went to his confessor and told his vision, but although the priest was much impressed by what he heard, he saw the difficulties which were in the way of Stanislaus carrying out the wishes of his Blessed Mother, as it would be impossible, in Vienna, to receive him into the Society of Jesus without the consent of his parents. Stanislaus prayed by night and day, vowing his life once more to God, and adding to it his willingness to visit every college in every country, if he might at last gain admittance to the company he loved. God answered his prayers by bringing him into the society of an Italian Father, to whom he made known all the affairs of his soul, and who, after much thought, advised him to leave Vienna for some other part.

Stanislaus knew that he had not means to take a long journey, but he was not afraid of trusting God to grant him alms on his way; he was ready to put on the meanest clothing, and bear any want, if only he might live and die in the Society of Jesus, so he prepared a dress and hat such as were worn by the poorest pilgrims. A few days later, Paul came to his room and began reproaching him, seizing him by his hair and striking him savagely, during which Stanislaus never complained. But as soon as the cruel brother loosed his hold; he said to him, “If you continue to treat me thus, I shall be obliged to free myself. You have forced me to live here against my will, and you will have to account to my father for what you have done.”

Paul, who during the two years he had illtreated his brother had never witnessed a sign of his feeling, was surprised by his firm tone, and in a fit of rage exclaimed, “Go and hang yourself, if you will; so long as you are out of my sight, I care not what may happen to you.” Stanislaus could scarcely hide the joy with which he heard these words, and hastened to the Father to tell him what had happened, and arrange for his departure, who bid him come, after Mass the next morning, for two letters with which to start upon his journey.

That night Stanislaus put all in order, made a parcel of his poor beggar’s garments, and began his prayer which lasted until the dawn of day, when he rose, and begging anew the protection of Jesus and Mary, left his room whilst his brother was yet sleeping. Calling a servant to him, he said, ” Tell Paul when he rises that I am not likely to return to breakfast, for I have received an invitation which I feel obliged to accept,” and so set forth for the house of the Jesuit Fathers.

After assisting at Mass and receiving Holy. Communion, Stanislaus sought the P&re Antoine to ask his blessing, and having obtained from him a letter to a Father of the Society in Augsburg, and one to a Father in Borne, he left the city, and when he had walked some distance, turned aside into a retired spot, to take off his own clothing, and assume the poor dress he had with him.

With childlike joy he put on a cord for girdle, to which he fastened his rosary, and then placing a shabby hat upon his head, which he had found much difficulty in getting, he walked onwards until he met a beggar, to whom he gave the clothing he had worn in the world.

When Paul Kostka received his brother’s message, and heard that he had gone out in his best clothes, he was very much astonished, but he never suspected what had really happened. Yet, as the day passed, and evening drew on, both he and Bilinski became uneasy, and sent servants to search for him in all directions. They went to the house of the Jesuit Fathers, but could hear nothing of Stanislaus, upon which Paul himself went to the college, insisting upon every part of it being searched, that he might discover his brother. But when they assured him that Stanislaus was not there, that he was not even in Vienna, and they believed him to have departed secretly, Paul remembered his own words, the last angry words he had spoken to Stanislaus, and he began to fear the displeasure of his father, when he should learn that cruelty and ill-treatment had driven his youngest son away. After a great many inquiries, news was brought that Stanislaus had taken the road to Augsburg, and then Paul Kostka and Bilinski started in pursuit of him as soon as morning came. During the night the Saint had been engaged in prayer, and as the day broke, he left the house where he had been charitably received, refusing any food, so that he might be able to receive Holy Communion if he came to some church in his way.

Having walked on all the morning, addressing prayers to the Blessed Virgin, he began to meditate upon his favourite Salve Regina, when he heard the noise of a carnage approaching, and turning his head, recognized his brother Paul.

For an instant he raised his eyes to heavert, begging help of his Blessed Mother, and continued walking quietly on, not seeing afty place where he could hide himself. But just as the carriage drew close, he perceived a little stream into which he stepped to prevent his brother seeing his face, .and reached the opposite side unnoticed. Although Paul and Bilinski had seen the figure of the beggar before them on the road, they never thought of it being the fugitive, until later, when they turned back to find out if it really was he. But coming to the edge of the stream over which Stanislaus had passed, the horses refused to move, neither blows nor coaxing would induce them to stir, and when the driver loosened the reins in despair, they turned round and galloped furiously towards Vienna, which they reached in a very short time. When Paul arrived at home a letter was found there, left by Stanislaus for Bilinski, in which he gave the reason of his departure for Vienna, desiring them to let his father know that it was God’s Will he should enter the Society of Jesus. This was sent to Poland; Paul, Bilinski, and one of the servants also wrote to the Baron Kostka, who was filled with astonish* ment at the strange news, and grieved bitterly when he found that his dear son, Stanislaus, was lost to him. But his anger fell upon those who had been charged with the care of him, and he declared that as long as he lived, no priest of the Company of Jesus should set foot in Poland, and that he would find his son, wherever he might be.

Stanislaus reached Augsburg safely, but the Father he sought was not there, and in spite of his long and weary journey, he started once more to a town some miles farther, where he hoped to find him. On the road he came to a church in which a number of people were collected, and he entered it, in the hope of receiving Holy Communion, but to his great grief found that he was amongst Lutherans. Bursting into tears at the sight of that place in the hands of heretics, he was praying earnestly for their conversion, when there became visible to himself only, a company of angels radiant with glory, amongst whom was one, more majestic than the rest, who bore in his hands the Holy Eucharist, and gave Communion to Stanislaus, whilst the others ranged themselves around him in adoration. Then the heavenly visitors vanished, leaving the young Saint weeping for joy, and after spending a short time in thanksgiving, he rose with new strength, And arriving soon at Dillinghem, found the Jesuits* college, and Father Canisius, who received him gladly. Knowing how much pleased God is by His servants bearing courageously great trials of their humility, this Father sent Stanislaus to the school which the Jesuits had at Dillinghem, to act there .as a servant in the kitchen. But finding this young man so obedient and humble, after a few weeks of these trials to prove the strength of his goodwill, he was sent to the college at Rome to receive the habit. Before the day of his clothing, he received a letter from his father reproaching him bitterly, to which Stanislaus replied, by the desire of his superiors, in which he gave his reasons for choosing the religious life, and begged for his father’s blessing. Then he prepared for the happy day when he was to obtain his great desire of being admitted into the Company of Jesus. Once really a novice, Stanislaus was filled with joy; his face shone with happiness, and he appeared to advance daily in perfection, giving edification to all by an exterior life, which proved the purity of his soul But although he was so happy and peaceful, Stanislaus felt an intense longing to leave the earth, and the thought of death was his greatest joy, even begging God that it might come soon. The Feast of the Assumption being at hand, he fixed on that day as that upon which he longed to die, and with the simplicity of a child he wrote a letter to the Blessed Virgin, begging her to get this grace for him, then folding the paper, he covered it with tears, and placed it next to his heart. In the morning, at his Communion, he begged Saint Lawrence to convey what he had written to his Blessed Mother. We are not told in what way Mary received the request of her child, but from that moment he felt a perfect assurance that his prayer was heard. On that day he went from the altar to undertake the humblest duties in the kitchen, having begged the permission of his superior, but in the evening, to his great delight he began to be feverish and ill, and by the afternoon of the 14th of August, he became so much worse, that the Fathers believed in his approaching death. Then he begged leave to die upon the ground, but the superior refused this, and would only permit him to be placed upon a little mattress. Here he made his confession, and received Viaticum, and when they asked him if he was willing to live or die, according to God’s holy Will, he replied, “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.” Three times over he made his confession, and then lay peacefully, with his eyes raised to heaven, or turned towards a little image of the Virgin, which he pressed to his lips from time to time. After midnight, he began to fail fast, and took leave of his companions, begging their pardon for any offence he might have given them; then, with the crucifix in his hand, he called the saints to his assistance, especially those to whom he had a particular devotion, and kissed the Feet of Jesus upon the cross constantly. Suddenly his face changed, and a wonderful radiance rested on it, as he gazed earnestly first at one side and then at the other, for a vision was granted him of his Blessed Mother, surrounded by a group of virgins, who had come to bear him to heaven^ and it was this which gave the look of rapture to his face. The master of novices bending towards the dying Saint, just heard the first few faint words which told of the radiance which was visible to him, and as the sun rose upon the Feast of the Assumption, he breathed his last, and was taken from earth to heaven.

They scattered flowers around his body to show how pure and spotless his life had been, and in his hand was placed a rosary, and the little image ofour Lady, which had been so precious to him; then all the Fathers and brothers of the Company came to kiss his hands and feet, shedding many tears at the loss of their holy novice, whose short life of eighteen years left behind so sweet a memory amongst all who had ever known and loved him.

– from Stories of the Saints for Children, by Mary F Seymour