Born around 1030 in the ancient city of Szczpanow in Poland,
Stanislaus went west to Liège, Belgium (or possibly Paris, France), to study
and was ordained to the priesthood. On his return, he was appointed a canon
of the cathedral in Krakow.
In 1072, he was elected bishop of the diocese and distinguished
himself as a powerful preacher, teacher of the faith and a model for his clergy.
He was always solicitous toward the poor.
Voice for Justice
After a quarrel with Boleslaus II over the king's immoral personal
life and public tyranny, Stanislaus excommunicated the intransigent monarch
in 1079. Boleslaus's response was to order his soldiers to kill the bishop.
Stanislaus was trapped in a chapel dedicated to St. Michael the
Archangel on the outskirts of Krakow. The royal guards hesitated to kill the
prelate on the holy grounds of a church building. Boleslaus showed no such reluctance.
The king entered the sanctuary and murdered Stanislaus himself.
When the news reached Rome, the pope, St. Gregory the Great, put the entire
country under interdict (forbidding the sacraments to the whole Church of Poland)
until Boleslaus stepped down from his throne.
The king fled to Hungary to find refuge with relatives and, according
to tradition, became a penitent at a Benedictine monastery. He, who was once
called Boleslaus the Bold, is sometimes listed in Polish Benedictine sources
as "Blessed Boleslaus, king penitent."
Gospel Without Compromise
The body of Stanislaus was interred in the cathedral in 1088
and the cathedral was renamed for him. In 1964, Karol Wojtyla was installed
as one of his successors in that same cathedral.
Like St. Thomas à Becket in England who challenged King Henry II,
St. John Nepomucen in Bohemia who took on King Wenceslaus IV and St. Thomas
More in England who confronted Henry VIII, Stanislaus spoke truth to power at
the cost of his own life. All these saints understood that the teachings of
Christ cannot be compromised with the needs of the state.
It is not without significance that the Communist authorities in
Poland negotiated the first visit of John Paul II in 1979 after his election
to the papacy the previous year (the ninth centenary of the death of Stanislaus).
They wanted it to occur a month after his April feast.
Everyone understood how symbolic it would have been for the former
archbishop of Krakow to be in Poland on the feast of a saint who withstood a
hostile regime in the name of the gospel. In fact, a secret memo of the Polish
Communist Party warned their activists the pope would try to make St. Stanislaus
"the patron of the opposition to the authorities and the defender of human rights."
How perceptive the memo was!
While Stanislaus is the patron saint of Poland, his popularity pervades
Eastern Europe. His name is honored in Lithuania, the Ukraine and Belarus—countries
that recently experienced political tyranny and religious persecution.
In our own day, Poles in various parts of the world are intensely
patriotic. The name of Stanislaus is honored not only as a common first name
but also as the name of many churches in the Polish diaspora.
Next month: St. Isidore (1070-1130)