BLESSED FATHER MICHAEL SOPOCKO
A biography based on excerpts from
THE SERVANT OF GOD, FR. MICHAEL SOPOCKO
by Father Henry Ciereszko
- Part I
Blessed Fr. Michael
Sopocko, was the confessor and spiritual director of Sister Faustina.
Through her mediation, he was directly involved with the mystery of the
by the Merciful Jesus. God assigned to him the special role of fullfeeling
the mission given
by Our Lord Jesus Christ to Saint Faustina. Fr. Michael dedicated almost
his entire life
to the accomplishment of this mission.
The beatification of the Servant of God Fr.
Michael Sopocko, wchich took place
on 28 September 2008, will serve to bring him closer to many more of the
and especially to the devotees of the Divine Mercy.
HIS CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL YEARS
Michael Sopocko was born into a noble family on November
1, 1888 in Nowosady, in present day Lithuania. From his earliest years
he was raised in a deeply religious atmosphere and a patriotic tradition.
In spite of their poor standard of living, his parents made sure that
at least an elementary education.The difficult conditions in which the
Sopocko family lived,
the arduous labor in the fields and the constant struggle for survival,
was a tough character building school of life for all the family.The healthy
morality of his parents, their deep piety
and parental and family love, had a profound and positive effect on the
of Michael and his siblings. Daily family prayer and frequent attendance
at services in the parish church 18 kilometers away, where they traveled
by horse-drawn cart, was normal practice
for the family. Receiving the holy sacraments was a significant experience
When he was a young boy he built a small altar in the house, which he
used to pray before. Already in childhood, the spiritual atmosphere which
reigned in the Sopocko home awakened
in him an ardent piety and the desire to offer himself to the service
of God in the priesthood.
Michael in his youth
STUDY IN THE SEMINARY OF VILNIUS
Michael entered the Seminary in 1910, and studied for
four years. He could not rely on any
material help from home, and it was only due to the financial support
granted him by the Rector
of the seminary that he was able continue his studies. He was ordained
a priest on June 15, 1914.
First years of priestly service near
ASSISTANT PRIEST IN TABORYSZKI
After being ordained a priest, Father Michael Sopocko,
was appointed to work in the parish
of Taboryszki, near Vilnius, in the capacity of parochial vicar. The range
of duties given him was not too heavy, so he asked to be allowed to lead
catechesim classes on Sundays for the youth.
The first year of Fr. Michael's pastoral work came to a climax with the
solemnity of first Confession and First Holy Communion, with 500 children
participating. In the summer of 1915 the German-Russian front passed through
Taboryszki. In spite of the danger from war activities, Father Sopocko
continued to celebrate all the devotional services that were prescribed
for this time.
He was also involved in the lives of his parishioners, consoling all those
who were injured
or harmed by the passing armies.
Fr. Michael amongst the participants
in the summer school for teachers in Vilnius
During his stay in Taboryszki, Father Sopocko also
became active in the field of education.
He opened new schools for children in neighboring villages for which he
was often persecuted
by the occupying German authorities even although initially these same
authorities were tolerant of his activities and even helped him materially.
Their attitude however hardened with time
and matters began to change for the worse. Finally the German authorities
began to prevent
Father Sopocko from travelling to Vilnius to bring back teachers for his
and in the end they forced him to leave Taboryszki altogether.
In 1918, Father Michael received permission from
the Church authorities in Vilnius to go to Warsaw, where he registered for
study in the Theology Department of Warsaw University However, he was unable
to begin his studies due to illness and the political situation at the time.
After his recovery he returned to Warsaw intending to begin his studies
in January 1919, but he found the university was closed as a result of the
war, so instead, he signed up as a volunteer for the military chaplaincy.
The field Bishop of the Polish army appointed him as an army chaplain,
STUDIES IN THE THEOLOGY DEPARTMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WARSAW
AND SERVICE AS MILITARY CHAPLAIN
and assigned him to pastoral service in the Warsaw Field Hospital.
After a month he requested to be moved to the military
front and immediately received a transfer
to the Vilnius Regiment where immediately he began serving the soldiers
who were fighting
on the front line. His duties consisted of saying Holy Mass and leading
devotions, as well
as hearing confessions. In addidion to his pastoral duties, he spent time
caring for the wounded, who often found themselves in difficult circumstances
due to the lack of hospital facillities.
After one particularly long and arduous march with
the fighting troops Fr. Sopocko again began experienceing difficulties
with his health and as a result, he was sent for treatmemt to a military
hospital where, during the several weeks of his recovery, he helped with
to the sick.
Following the end of his treatment, Fr. Sopocko was
assigned as the military chaplain
to a Training Camp for officers in Warsaw. His duties included weekly
religious and moral talks
for officers and non-commissioned officers of the various units, as well
as service in two military hospitals. As a military chaplain to the Training
Camp officers, as part of his talks, he raised issues of dogma and Church
history. He discussed the catechism as well as taking up actual problems
associated with military service. The religious moral and patriotic issues
he raised in his talks
were held in such high regard by his superiors that the Ministry of Defence
published his talks
and instructed the officers to introduce his work to the cadets in all
As Military Chaplain to the Training
Camp for officers in Powazki
In October, 1919, in spite of the on-going war, the
university resumed its activities.
Fr. Sopocko registered for study in the moral theology department, and
for additional lectures
on law and philosophy. He had to divide his time between study and military
and in addition he took up the organizing of social activities. He supervised,
an inn for soldiers called, "Brotherly Help for Soldiers' as well as organizing
for orphaned children from military families.
In the summer of 1920, Fr. Sopocko witnessed the collapse
of the front line, and immediately
after that, already in Warsaw, he lived through its heroic defense, and
the victory over the Soviet offense. Years later, in his memoirs, he judged
the event as being an exceptional directive
of Divine Providence and a sign of Divine Mercy for Poland obtained through
of the faithful who filled the churches that August.
While fulfilling his duties as an army chaplain and
studying in the moral theology department,
he also registered for a higher degree in education. In 1923 he received
his master's degree
in theology and became even more involved in the field of pedagogy. The
results of his research into the effects of alcohol on the learning development
of the youth became the basis for his diploma work, "Alcoholism and School-aged
Youth," the crowning achievement of his studies
in the Pedagogical Institute.
MILITARY CHAPLAINCY AND
THE SOCIALIO-DIDACTIC WORK IN VILNIUS
The Bishop of Vilnius, Jerzy Matulewicz, knowing the
merits and achievements, as well as the theological and pedagogical background
of Fr. Sopocko, wanted to have him work in his diocese. Firstly he wished
to entrust him with the organization of a pastoral ministry for young
who were not at school and for college-aged adults.
Father Michael accepted the bishop's proposal and decided to return to
Vilnius. There he was formally appointed as Director of the Military Chaplaincy
for the Vilnius Region, which consisted
of 12 independent units, numbering over 10,000 sodiers altogether. The
transfer of Fr. Sopocko
to Vilnius was a promotion, but, at the same, time it imposed on him more
and a greater responsibility.
Michael Sopocko as a military
In union with the conference of military chaplains,
Father Sopocko decided that in addition
to sacramental ministry, the chaplains should also give talks on religion
and morals at least twice
a week in every unit. He also took on the task designated by the bishop
to organize the youth ministry for young adults. And with the help of
teachers specially invited by him, he managed
to set up several Fraternities of Polish Youth.
With the coordinators and members
of the Youth Association, (Vilnius, 1926)
Despite the many responsibilities of his pastoral
work, Fr. Sopocko continued his theological studies by distance learning,
preparing his doctoral work on moral theology entitled,
"The Family in Law-making in Poland." He submitted his thesis
in the Theology Department
of the University of Warsaw on 1 March 1926. Because his research work
required a knowledge
of foreign languages, he also studied German, English and French.
After obtaining his doctorate, he prepared for a further
post doctoral degree. In 1927 and 1928, while continuing to work as director
of the chaplaincy of the local Military District, Fr. Sopocko
was appointed to the prominent position, of spiritual director of the
Seminary and head
of the Pastoral Theology Department at the Vilnius University. These new
him to gradually withdraw from military chaplaincy work.
SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR OF THE METROPOLITAN
AND PROFESSOR OF THE STEFAN BATORY UNIVERSITY IN VILNIUS
As a Spiritual Director and Professor
together with the seminarians of the Seminary in Vilnius.
Work in the seminary and the role of Spiritual Director,
for which he was not theoretically prepared, and even surprised to have
been given, eventually began to suit him. As Spiritual Director, Fr. Sopocko
was also the moderator of the Marian Sodality, the Eucharistic Association,
the Third Order of St. Francis and the Union of Seminarians Associated
with the Mission Clergy. Another service he performed during this time,
and indeed during his entire time in Vilnius,
was that of confessor for the religious order of sisters, hearing confessions
of religious sisters.
After being partially relieved of the role of military
chaplain, his duties in addition to his function
as Spiritual Director in the Seminary included giving lectures and carrying
Since books and manuscripts for teaching were scarce in those times, Fr.
to write his teaching material by hand for the subjects he taught. These
scripts were copied
and used by the students as study aids for many years. The research of
Fr. Sopocko was mostly connected with his post-doctoral thesis, on the
problem of spiritual upbringing and formation.
In the summer of 1930 Fr. Sopocko visited various libraries in Western
to collect materials for the research work he had undertaken.
The journey was fruitful for both his research and
his faith. He was able to visit places of devotion and centers of religious
life as well as the libraries. While working on his post-doctoral thesis,
Fr. Michael was also writing articles and lectures related to his research
within the scope of pastoral theology, and articles for church encyclopedias.
He presented research reports and took up journalism. Becoming more and
more involved in research, Fr. Sopocko asked to be relieved
of his duties as Military Chaplain and of the post of Spiritual Director,
to which both The Field Bishop and Archbishop eventually agreed.
In September 1932, Fr. Michael moved into a monastry
building occupied by the Sisters of Visitation where he was able to finish
writing his post-doctoral work. His thesis was called:
"The Purpose, Subject and Object of Spiritual Formation according
to M. Leczycki."
On the basis of this work, he qualified as assistant professor on 15 May
1934. The Ministry
of Religious Confessions and Public Education nominated him as Assistant
at the University of Warsaw, and this title was then forwarded to the
of Pastoral Theology at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.
of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.
>> Fr. M. Sopocko Biography part II
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