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BLESSED FATHER MICHAEL SOPOCKO
(1888-1975)

A biography based on excerpts from the book
THE SERVANT OF GOD, FR. MICHAEL SOPOCKO
by Father Henry Ciereszko

Biography - 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 revelations given
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 faithful,
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 Michael received
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 spiritual development
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 for Michael.
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 Vilnius


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 schools
and in the end they forced him to leave Taboryszki altogether.


STUDIES IN THE THEOLOGY DEPARTMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WARSAW
AND SERVICE AS MILITARY CHAPLAIN

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,
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 spiritual ministry
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 units.

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 service
and in addition he took up the organizing of social activities. He supervised, as president,
an inn for soldiers called, "Brotherly Help for Soldiers' as well as organizing a school
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 the prayers
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 people
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 obligations
and a greater responsibility.

Michael Sopocko as a military chaplain

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 duties forced
him to gradually withdraw from military chaplaincy work.

SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR OF THE METROPOLITAN SEMINARY
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 out research.
Since books and manuscripts for teaching were scarce in those times, Fr. Michael had
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 European countries
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 Professor
at the University of Warsaw, and this title was then forwarded to the Department
of Pastoral Theology at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.

Among students of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.

 

 

 

FORWARD >> Fr. M. Sopocko Biography part II

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