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St Józef Sebastian Pelczar
Bishop of Przemysl, Poland, Founder of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (entered heaven March 28th, 1924)
I can picture you at your little desk in your little dorm room. Hunched over, a mug of tea (do you still drink tea, or has the high tension of senior year driven you to coffee?) by your side, poring over your small stack of letters from potential employees. You’re wondering what to do after graduation. You’re frowning over it; the quandary has stolen your peace of heart. Now’s the chance, my dear nephew, to put into practice all you have learned over the last few years. Now is when the straight A’s and the Phi Beta Kappa pin can’t help you, but your Christian wisdom can. I invite you to contemplate the example of today’s saint.
It’s hard to summarize his life, because he accomplished so much. He was ordained a priest when just 22-years-old (your age, isn’t it?). And from the moment he stepped off the altar, he stepped into high gear. His first two years were as a parish priest in a small town, where he did everything. Then he went to Rome for two years, and came back with two (count them, TWO) Ph.D.s, one in theology and the other in canon law. He became a professor, then was promoted to dean of theology, and then was made rector of the famous Jagellonian University in Krakow. He was a favorite among students, because of his availability and openness as much as his sharp intelligence and pedagogical genius. But his zeal for the Church pushed him out of the comfort zone, and in addition to his heavy academic and administrative duties, he threw himself into a huge number of charitable and apostolic activities. He became president of the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Society for the Education of People; he erected hundreds of libraries, gave frequent series of free public lectures, published and distributed more than a thousand books – writing more than a few on theology, history, canon law, prayer, and spirituality himself – and even opened a school for servants. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1891 he founded the Fraternity of Our Lady, Queen of the Polish Crown to encourage religious piety and care for the poor, orphans, apprentices, and servants, especially those who were sick and unemployed. But even that wasn’t enough. He also yearned to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart, so he founded a religious congregation, the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Then, in 1899, he was made bishop, and that’s when he really got revved up. In addition to continuing much of his previous work, he organized and presided over three diocesan synods, began an intense schedule of pastoral visits; he built nurseries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, schools for poor country girls; he organized tuition assistance for the education of poor seminarians… And the list could go on. (That’s why I say it’s hard to summarize his life.)
Such a fruitful and fulfilling life is beyond comprehension for most people, because they think only in natural terms. But over the past couple years, as I know from our correspondence, you have started learning how to think in supernatural terms, how to include God in the equation of your plans and hopes and dreams. If you apply that lesson now, as you pore over your options, I am certain the Lord will enlighten you, and you will recover your peace of heart. Perhaps the following entry into St Jozef’s diary before he joined the seminary will encourage you: ‘Earthly ideals are fading away. I see the ideal of life in sacrifice, and the ideal of sacrifice in priesthood.’ Count on my prayers.
Your devoted uncle,