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.
From 1932 Fr. Sopocko was the confessor for the
Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, who at that time had
a convent in Vilnius. It was here, in 1933, that he met Sister Faustina
Kowalska, who, after coming to Vilnius in May of 1933, became his penitent.Their
meeting proved to be a defining moment determining the direction taken
by the rest of his life and defining his future mission. In the person
of Sister Faustina, Fr. Sopocko met a worshipper of the Divine Mercy,
a Mercy that he himself had experienced in his own life on more than one
occasion, and for which he praised God. Sister Faustina, having found
in Fr. Sopocko an enlightened confessor and spiritual director, began
to share more deeply with him her spiritual experiences and visions.
To enable him to assess and discern their content, he asked the sister
to write down her inner experiences, and then he would look over the texts
at his leisure. In this way the DIARY
of St. Faustina came into being.
Sister Faustina, citing the revelations of Jesus that
she had already experienced before coming
to Vilnius and then later on while already there. She told Fr. Sopocko
about the requests
she had received from Jesus during her apparitions. These included instructions
an Image of the Most Merciful Savior (see Image),
to institute a Feast of Divine Mercy on the First Sunday after Easter
and to set up a new Religious Congregation (see
In March, 1934 Father Sopocko made a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land. Visiting the Holy Land was
a tremendous experience for him, which he later described in his Memoirs,
as well as in accounts in different publications. From July 1934 Fr. Sopocko
was the Rector of St. Michael's Church in Vilnius where thanks to his
efforts the first Image of the Merciful Jesus was blessed and displayed
on 4 April 1937. This followed positive assessments of the Image given
by the two commissions
of experts appointed by the Metropolitan Archbishop Jalbrzykowski of Vilnius
Sr. Faustina left Vilnius in March, 1936. Fr. Sopocko,
whilst remaining in contact with her by letter, and visiting her in Krakow,
brought to fruition the work that had been entrusted also to him.
The work of bringing the mystery of Divine Mercy closer to the world.
Fr. Sopocko pursued
this work by seeking out the theological grounds for the existence of
this Divine attribute of Mercy based on the teachings of the Church. He
also wanted to establish the basis for the institution
of the Feast that was requested in Faustina's visions. He presented the
results of his research
and the arguments for introducing the Feast in several articles in Theological
He also presented them in separate works on the subject of Divine Mercy.
In June of 1936 in Vilnius Fr. Michael published his
first brochure, "The Divine Mercy,"
with an image of the Most Merciful Christ on the cover. He sent this first
publication out to all
of the Bishops who were gathered for the Episcopal Conference in Czestochowa,
not receive an answer from any of them. In 1937 in Poznan he published
his secondd brochure entitled "The Divine Mercy in the Liturgy."
At the end of 1937 the health of St. Faustina visibly
deteriorated. Fr. Sopocko visited her at the beginning of September 1938,
and she was already practically on her deathbed (see
Sister Faustina died on October 5, 1938.
After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Fr. Sopocko decided to bring
Sister Faustina's revelations into the open. He sensed that the tragedy
of war and the connected events
had begun to confirm their contents.
Also connected with the concept of Divine Mercy was
the building of a new church in Vilnius
under that Name. In 1938 the Divine Mercy Church Building Committee was
which soon received the approval of the State Office and of Archbishop
With the outbreak of the second world-war however Vilnius was occupied
by the Soviet Army.
A new political situation followed, that brought a halt to the initiated
work, and, in the end, completely thwarted it. The Soviet Army plundered
the accumulated building materials
and the money earmarked for the construction project, kept in the bank,
was also lost.
Undaunted, even in 1940, Fr. Sopocko was still trying to obtain permission
to build at least
a chapel, but was refused.
YEARS OF OCCUPATION AND THE POST-WAR
YEARS IN VILNIUS
The difficult situation of the war, engulfing
ever wider areas of Europe, affecting the populations
of many peoples and spreading evil deepened the conviction of Fr. Sopocko
regarding the need
of God's Mercy for the world. And so he began with ever greater conviction
to proclaim the concept and ideology of Divine Mercy, which he perceived
as the hope of the world. Pastors of parishes from Vilnius, and also from
the provinces, invited him to give conferences. During Lenten devotions
in the Vilnius Cathedral, he would give homilies on Divine Mercy which
drew crowds of the faithful from all over Vilnius. The words of these
homilies resounded all over the city.
During this time, Fr. Sopocko also began working on
a treatise "De Misericordia Dei Deque Eiusdem Festo Instituendo."
about the concept of Divine Mercy and about the Feast in its honor.
He was encouraged by Cardinal August Hlond even before the war to pursue
this work at the time when Fr. Sopocko had presented the Cardinal with
his research regarding the matter of Divine Mercy. But in June of 1940
Lithuania was again taken over by the Red Army, and a month later
was merged into the Soviet Union as its fifteenth republic. Fr. Sopocko
was forced to stop meeting with the groups that he was moderating. He
was also deprived of the possibility of publishing
his treatise on Divine Mercy.
Hedwig Osinska, who was an expert in classical languages, came to his
aid and took care of
the literary aspect of the treatise. With the help of her acquaintances,
she took it upon herself
to copy the work in secret. Then she would send it to different people
who had the possibility
of leaving Vilnius. In this way, Fr. Sopocko's work was able to reach
and particularly was able to fall into the hands of Bishops in Europe
and throughout the world.
Fr. Sopocko became a suspect of the Gestapo because
he was proclaiming the ideals of Divine Mercy and spreading its devotion.
Prewarned by a Registration Office worker, he was able to evade arrest
and he left Vilnius to avoid danger. When the threat had passed, Fr. Sopocko
returned to Vilnius and began teaching in the Seminary, where, in spite
of the difficult material conditions and problems with locale, the new
academic year 1940/41 began. He once again lived
at St. Michael Church, where the Image of the Most Merciful Savior was
still displayed surrounded by ever greater devotion.
Even before the war, Fr. Sopocko had taken up instructing
those Jews in the truths of the Catholic faith who were coming forward
to the Church. The fruit of his efforts was the baptism of some 65 individuals.
When on 22 June 1941 the German-Soviet war broke out, Vilnius soon found
itself under new occupation. The Jewish people were subjected to particular
Fr. Sopocko by also assisting the Jewish people both materially and spiritually
in a very dangerous activity that could result in far-reaching consequences
for him, including
the loss of his life. The Gestapo had uncovered some tracks of his activities
and even held him under arrest for several days.
At the end of 1941, the terror of the German occupation
intensified. On the last Sunday of Advent, owing to an alleged epidemic,
all the churches in Vilnius were closed down, and arrests followed.
On 3 March 1942 the Germans started a widespread hunt for priests. They
and students of the seminary, as well as almost all of the priests who
were working in Vilnius.
Soon after this Archbishop R. Jalbrzykowski, was himself also arrested
and detained in the Convent of Marian Fathers in Mariampole.
On the day of the arrests in the seminary, the Gestapo
also set a trap for Fr. Sopocko
in his apartment. But, forewarned by his housekeeper, he was able to escape.
to reach the Archbishop's office, where he informed the Archbishop that
the Gestapo was searching for him, and he requested to be released from
teaching in the seminary. Fr. Sopocko also asked
for the Archbishop's blessing for the time that he was going to be in
hiding. The refuge
was provided by the Ursuline Sisters who sheltered him in a rented house
in the forest,
two kilometers from the town of Czarny Bór.
Fr. Sopocko in Czarny Bór at the Ursuline
Through the mediation of some trusted people, Fr. Michael
obtained a falsified identity card
under the name of Waclaw Rodziewicz and he became known as a gardener
and carpenter, making simple tools and furniture, for the local people.
Every day, he would celebrate Holy Mass early in the morning, after which
he would spend a lot of time on prayer and personal reflection. Every
few weeks he would also go to the Sisters' Convent in Czarny Bór
to hear confessions,
while at other times he busied himself with research work, based on literature
provided by Hedwig Osinska his long time collaborator and her friends.
In the fall of 1944, despite the exceptionally difficult
conditions, Archbishop Jalbrzykowski ordered that the seminary resume
its activity and Fr. Sopocko returned to Vilnius to assume his assigned
duties. To keep the seminary going, in addition to his regular responsibilities,
he would travel
with other professors and seminarians to country parishes every Sunday
to collect donations
of agricultural produce.
Fr. Sopocko also undertook pastoral work outside of
Vilnius, often taking advantage
of the opportunity to make known the idea and concept of the Divine Mercy.
In the beginning,
the authorities of the Lithuanian Republic, despite their anti-religious
the pastoral activity of priests. However, they gradually began to limit
their work particularly tightening up on the granting of permission to
catechize youth and children. Fr. Sopocko held courses in secret, but
eventually word of these meetings reached the authorities who summoned
him and he was faced with the real danger of having sanctions brought
which did not exclude deportation and exile to Siberia.
Coinciding with these events, in July 1947 Fr. Sopocko
providentially received a call from Archbishop Jalbrzykowski, who was
staying in Bialystok, asking him to come and work in that
part of the Archdiocese. He decided to leave Vilnius as quickly as possible,
the time granted for the repatriation of Polish people from Lithuania
was coming to an end.
Wishfully hoping that his parting from Vilnius would
be short -lived, Fr. Sopocko left for Bialystok
at the end of August 1947, on the very last transport of Polish people
from Lithuania going to Poland. Before his departure he visited the Chapel
of Our Lady of Mercy in "Ostra Brama"
(The Eastern Gate of the city).
- FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF MERCIFUL JESUS
Upon his arrival in Bialystok, Fr. Sopocko reported
to Archbishop Jalbrzykowski to receive
his commission for his new appointment. At the end of September, he went
for a few days, where Hedwig Osinska and Isabel Naborowska (the first
of the Congregation founded by Fr. Sopocko) were organizing the beginnings
of religious community life. This was his first meeting with the sisters
since they had left Vilnius.
From that time he had kept in constant touch with the sisters, giving
and spiritual support, and keeping watch over the development of the Congregation
of which he was founder (see The
Father M. Sopocko with his spiritual
>> Fr. M. Sopocko Biography part II
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