Saint of the Day – 15 February – Blessed Father Michał Sopoćko (1888-1975) Priest, Apostle of Divine Mercy, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Vilnius University, Founder of Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus, Chaplain during WWII. He is best known as the Spiritual Director of Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938). Patronage – Białystok.
Michał Sopoćko was born on 1 November 1888 in Nowosady (Juszewszczyzna), then under Imperial Russia. The Czarist authority persecuted the Catholic Church as well as both the Polish and Lithuanian people within in its territories. In the Sopoćko family, of noble lineage, the Polish and Catholic traditions were conserved and developed. The young Michal matured in this religious and patriotic atmosphere. Motivated by a desire for unconditional service to God, the Church and humanity, he entered the Major Seminary in Vilnius. On 15 June 1914, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Franciszek Karewicz.
For four years (1914-1918) he worked as a parochial vicar in Taboryszki, where he opened two mission churches at Miedniki and at Onżadòw, as well as various schools.
As informed by someone that the German authorities may arrest him, he left the parish and went to Warsaw. There he became a military chaplain for the Polish army. While dedicated to his ministry as chaplain, he enrolled as a student in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Warsaw and from which he obtained a doctoral degree. At the same time, he graduated from the National Pedagogical Institute. In 1924, he became a co-ordinator of the regional military chaplaincies, based in Vilnius.
In 1927, Archbishop Romuald Jalbrzykowski entrusted to him the responsibility of being Spiritual Director for the Major Seminary. During this same period he taught for the faculty of Theology at Stefan Batory University, also in Vilnius. He eventually requested the Archbishop to release him from both the military pastoral care and from the seminary duties. His desire was to dedicate himself entirely to theological pursuits. In 1934, he received the title of ‘docent’ in pastoral theology. While teaching, he never forgot the importance of pastoral service. He was rector of St Michael Church and also served as confessor for Religious Sisters.
One of the most significant events of Fr Sopoćko’s life occurred in 1933, when he became the Spiritual Director of Sr (now Saint) Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of Sisters of Mary Mother of Mercy. He continued to assist the Saint after his transfer to Łagiewniki and where she died on 5 October 1938. As her confessor, he undertook a thorough evaluation of Sr Faustina’s mystical experiences concerning devotion to the Divine Mercy. Following his advice, she wrote of these in her “Diary.” To this day this remains a spiritual classic.
The Divine Mercy devotion became a life-giving inspiration for Fr Sopoćko. Due to his assistance and under the direction of Sister Faustina, the artist Eugeniusz Kazimirowski painted the first portrait of Jesus as the Divine Mercy.
Fr Sopoćko wrote extensively on the subject of the Divine Mercy and, in 1938, he established a committee charged with building the Divine Mercy Church in Vilnius. However, this attempt had to be halted due to the onset of World War II. But despite the war and German occupation, Fr Sopoćko persisted in his efforts to promote the devotion to the Divine Mercy.
Filled with zeal, he constantly helped those who were oppressed and threatened with extermination, for example, numerous Jewish people. Fortunately, he managed to avoid arrest and imprisonment. In 1942, along with his fellow seminary professors and students, he was forced to go into hiding near Vilnius. He remained concealed for two years. Yet it was during that very time when Fr Sopoćko played a major role in establishing a new Religious Congregation. According to the revelations of Sr Faustina, this Congregation was to promote love for the Divine Mercy. After the War, he wrote the Congregation’s constitution. And he became actively engaged in the growth and development of what we know as the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy.
In 1947, Archbishop Jałbrzykowski, for two years at Białystok with his diocesan Curia, sought that Fr Sopoćko come to the same city. He accepted a position as professor in the Archdiocesan Major Seminary. There he taught pedagogy, catechetics, homiletics, pastoral theology and spirituality. Additionally, he continued to further the apostolate of the Divine Mercy. He also made serious efforts to obtain official approval for the Divine Mercy devotion from the Church authorities. Fr Sopoćko worked tirelessly on the biblical, theological and pastoral bases by which to explain the doctrinal truth concerning the Divine Mercy devotion. His publications were translated into numerous languages including: Latin, English, French, Italian and Portuguese.
Fr Michal Sopoćko died on 15 February 1975, in his apartment on Poleska Street. He was popularly acclaimed for his sanctity. He was buried in the parish cemetery in Białystok. Following the inauguration of the process for his Beatification, his body was moved to the Church of the Divine Mercy (30 November 1988)…vatican.va
Fr Michal’s cause for beatification was started at the Vatican in 1987. In 2004, St Pope John Paul II issued a decree on the virtues of Father Sopoćko. In December 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved of a miracle through his intercession. His solemn beatification took place on Sunday 28 September 2008, at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Białystok.