Fr. Walter Ciszek begins the path to sainthood — UPDATED


A Catholic priest buried at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville cleared the first hurdle on the road to sainthood Monday, the Allentown Diocese announced.

The Rev. Walter J. Ciszek, a native of Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, attended St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church and school in Shenandoah before becoming a celebrated Jesuit priest who was held in a Russian prison for 15 years. He died in 1984.

Since 1989, after a mandatory five-year waiting period, his life has been under investigation by church officials both in the diocese and at the Vatican.

After a decade-long investigation, Ciszek’s life story in writings, sermons and actions was packed in wooden crates and shipped in 2006 to Rome for examination by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

There are still two steps, veneration and beatification, that must be completed before Ciszek is canonized a saint.

“This is exciting because it is one of our local boys making good,” said Monsignor Donald Bocian, president of the Father Walter J. Ciszek Prayer League and pastor of St. Casimir’s Church.

“But it is a very long process,” Bocian said. “I was told it could happen very quickly. I was also told the next of two steps could take three to four years.”

Ciszek was a member of the first class of Jesuits at the Novitiate of St. Isaac Joques in Lower Heidelberg Township, now known as the Jesuit Center at Wernersville. He is buried there and was nominated for sainthood in 1989.

“This breakthrough in the process is very encouraging and a testimony to the commitment and dedication of all those involved,” Allentown Bishop John O. Barres said.

From the Diocese of Allentown website:

Father Ciszek was a Jesuit missionary to the Soviet Union who was arrested as a spy for the Vatican and held prisoner for 23 years until he was returned to the U.S. in a spy exchange in 1963.

After living for a time at the Jesuit Novitiate in Wernersville, Berks County, where he wrote his memoirs, Father Ciszek moved to Fordham University in New York where he died on December 8, 1984.

According to Monsignor [Anthony] Muntone, [Diocesan Co-Postulator for Father Ciszek’s Cause for Canonization], the next phase of the process involves presenting a summary of the documents by the Roman postulator, directed by an official of the congregation, together with a biography and ample “information” proving the heroic virtue of Father Ciszek.

That will then undergo an examination by nine theologians to determine if Father Ciszek exhibited in his life the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance to a heroic degree, Muntone said.

“If the theologians agree that his virtue was indeed heroic, the cause will be passed on to the bishops and cardinals who are members of the congregation for their study,” said Monsignor Muntone.

Those who are interested can also visit the Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League for more information on his life and work.

UPDATE: James Martin, SJ, over at America has even more:

By the way, in October 1963, when Father Ciszek first returned from his arduous sojourn in the USSR (and after the American Jesuits had thought him deceased, and had already celebrated Masses for his eternal rest) the first place he came was the headquarters of America magazine…. Thurston Davis, SJ, the editor-in-chief, who met him at Idlewild Airport, wrote: “In his green raincoat, grey suit and big-brimmed Russian hat, he looked like the movie version of a stocky little Soviet member of an agricultural mission.”  Father Davis’s “Of Many Things” column in our issue of Oct. 26, 1963 has just been posted here.  And Father Ciszek’s deeply moving “First Public Statement” in that same issue, is available here.

Read it all. It’s a treasure trove of history.

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