‘A priest after My own Heart’: Blessed Michael Sopoćko

By Dr. Robert Stackpole

We often think of St. Faustina’s spiritual director, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopoćko, as merely the primary witness of her sanctity, and perhaps as the agent that God used to arrange the painting of the Image of the Divine Mercy.

But he was so much more than that! He was a true guide for her soul, and a man of enormous wisdom and courage — so much so that the Church beatified him in 2008. Indeed, he was a man of sanctity in his own right — a sanctity forged in the fires of trials and tribulations, as well as through his close relationship with St. Faustina.

Blessed Fr. Sopoćko (feast day: Feb. 15) was also a great Divine Mercy theologian, and the principal instrument that our Lord used to spread the devotion to the Divine Mercy to the ends of the earth. Jesus Himself revealed all this one day to St. Faustina, as she recorded in her Diary (1256).

Pious youth
Michael Sopoćko was born in what is now Lithuania in 1888 into a noble family, but one that had fallen into poverty. They worked out in the fields, and barely scraped together enough to survive. Yet they were a deeply devout Catholic family, as well. Young Michael was especially pious; he even built in the family home a little altar that he would use to help him pray.

Not surprisingly for such a boy, he sensed within his heart a call to the priesthood when he was just 10 years old. It was only through the generosity of the rector of the seminary in Vilnius, however, that Michael was able to study there for four years for the priesthood, and that he was finally ordained in 1914, right at the start of the First World War.

Wartime service
In 1918, Fr. Sopoćko sought to study for a degree in theology in Poland at the University of Warsaw, but illness and the worsening situation of the war forced him to delay. A year later, he signed up as a military chaplain, serving the Polish army in a field hospital during the conflict with Russia. After only a month, however, he asked to be sent to the front lines to serve the soldiers who were in the thick of the fighting. In addition to saying Mass for them, hearing confessions, and anointing the dying, he often found himself called on to organize better care for the wounded.

The Bishop of Vilnius recognized Fr. Sopoćko’s academic brilliance and pastoral zeal and appointed him director of military chaplaincies for the entire Vilnius region, responsible for the pastoral care of more than 10,000 soldiers. Father Sopoćko also worked to complete his doctorate in theology, served as spiritual director of the seminary in Vilnius, and headed the pastoral theology department at Stephan Batory University (now Vilnius University).

In all this, what do we see in Fr. Michael Sopoćko? Our Lord had fashioned him by poverty and hardship into a character of extraordinary toughness, perseverance, and courage, as well as great compassion for the suffering.

Although he was not aware of it at the time, he would need all these virtues in abundance when he was appointed in 1932 to be the confessor to the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius. There, of course, he encountered a most extraordinary holy soul and visionary, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska. 

 
Confessor duties
It was actually in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that he first met Sr. Faustina, a very humble nun who was carrying a tremendous weight on her shoulders. The Lord had begun revealing to her His message of Divine Mercy — an urgent message that He wanted her to share with the entire world. But no one would believe her, not even her superiors in the convent, nor any of her regular confessors, save one: Fr. Joseph Andrasz, SJ.

Sister Faustina, therefore, had prayed to the Merciful Jesus for a spiritual director, someone who would help her and guide her on an ongoing basis to discern and do His will. Father Sopoćko was the answer to her prayers, and eventually he became the main promoter of her revelations. It was primarily through him that she would answer the Lord’s call to spread Divine Mercy throughout the world.

Seeing Fr. Sopoćko in chapel, St. Faustina wrote, “suddenly I heard a voice in my soul say, This is the visible help for you on earth. He will help you carry out My will on earth” (Diary, 53).

Commissioning the Image
At Sr. Faustina’s insistence, Fr. Sopoćko commissioned a painting of the Image of the Merciful Jesus, and he directed her to write down all that was happening in her relationship with Jesus Christ, which she recorded in her Diary. He also supervised the printing of the first copies of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Novena, and prayers, as well as litanies that he himself arranged, based on the words and phrases that Jesus had spoken to Sr. Faustina.

Sister Faustina wrote about Fr. Sopoćko several times in her Diary, including statements about him made by Jesus Himself that she recorded, such as “He is a priest after My own Heart; his efforts are pleasing to Me” (Diary, 1256).

Such extraordinary statements from Jesus were not only a divine confirmation to Sr. Faustina that she could put her complete trust in Fr. Sopoćko’s spiritual guidance, but also a prophecy of the tremendous role that his efforts and writings would play in the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion throughout the world in the decades to follow.

Blessed Fr. Michael Sopoćko, pray for us!
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