Rest in Peace, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC (1930-2021)

Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the world-renowned expert on the life and spirituality of St. Faustina — the man who smuggled photographic images of the pages of St. Faustina’s Diary out of Communist-occupied Poland in the 1970s and later documented her beatification and canonization miracles — died Thursday, Feb. 11, from illness related to COVID-19.

He was 90.

He drew his last breath at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As God would have it, he died on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was Our Lady of Lourdes who, in 1858, appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous and identified herself thusly: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

“There are two days when Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception is celebrated: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrated on Dec. 8, and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes,” said the Very Rev. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, the provincial superior of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. “The Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the Marian Fathers’ Congregation, prepared her special son to enter into the Father’s House on her special feast.”

The Lord prepared Fr. Seraphim for eternal life throughout his whole life, Fr. Kaz said. In the minutes before his death, Fr. Seraphim received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharistic Jesus, the food for the journey. He also received the Apostolic Pardon through the holy mysteries of our redemption for the release from all punishments in this life and in the life to come.

An Integral Figure in the Church

Born Aug. 30, 1930, in Adams, Massachusetts, Fr. Seraphim professed his priestly vows as a Marian of the Immaculate Conception on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 1956.

+ + + Here are photos from his First Mass and from his First Holy Communion. + + +

Side by side with Blessed Michael Sopocko, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Faustina herself, Fr. Seraphim stands as a central figure who helped make the Divine Mercy message and devotion the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church.

He held various administrative roles in his Province and in the Congregation's Generalate in Rome, as well as pastoral roles in Eastern Rite parishes in Australia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

Together with Archbishop George Pierce, SM, and Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, Fr. Seraphim served as a core member of the Bethany House of Intercession for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; a spiritual renewal movement for Catholic clergy in the 1970s, serving priests from all over the world. In 1979, a year after Pope St. Paul VI lifted the ban on Sr. Faustina's writings and elements of the Divine Mercy devotions, Fr. Seraphim was called from Bethany House to head the Divine Mercy Department at the Marian Helpers headquarters in Stockbridge.

In that position, he wrote a series of articles for Marian Helper magazine and supervised the production of various books, pamphlets, and audio-visual materials dealing with Sr. Faustina's writings, especially on the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

Father Seraphim served as vice postulator for North America in the canonization cause of Sr. Faustina, an assignment he held for more than 20 years. He spent more than three years in Rome, making a significant contribution to the successful conclusion of Sr. Faustina’s beatification and canonization processes.

He was likewise a first-hand witness to Maureen Digan and her son’s miraculous healings attributed to Faustina’s intercession that opened the way for her beatification in 1993. He was a coordinator of the efforts that served to verify, not only that miracle, but the second, as well, which made it possible for Sr. Faustina to be declared a saint on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Jubilee Year 2000 as the first saint of the New Millennium, “God’s gift to our time,” in the words of Pope St. John Paul II.

Father Seraphim served as theological advisor for the award-winning video docudrama “Divine Mercy — No Escape” and for the devotional video “Sister Faustina: The Promise of Mercy.”  He also played a significant role in the production and narration of a video released in 1992, “Sister Faustina: The Apostle of Divine Mercy.”  Then, from November 1991 to October 1995, he served as director of the Association of Marian Helpers under the honorary title “Father Joseph.” In this capacity, he supervised the scripting and production of another video, “Time for Mercy,”  released in 1994 by the Marians and produced by Drew Mariani and his company, Marian Communications Ltd. In October 1995, Fr. Seraphim was assigned to full-time promotion of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, participating in Divine Mercy retreats, conferences, and symposia primarily through the Marian Fathers' John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.

While serving as rector of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship elevated the Shrine to its national status.

Father Seraphim worked closely with Mother Angelica, who embraced the Divine Mercy message and devotion and spread it far and wide through her Catholic television network, EWTN.

In 2005 he participated in the international symposium in Krakow, Poland, that gave rise to the World Apostolic Congresses of Mercy. He participated in all four as an active participant and an inspiring speaker.

He assisted in the growth and development of such Divine Mercy apostolates as Mother of Mercy Messengers, headed by Joan and Dave Moroney; Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, founded and directed by Dr. Bryan Thatcher (active in over 40 countries); and Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, founded by Marie Romagnano. He participated in all of the healthcare apostolate’s 16 conferences.

The Lord, in His mercy and love, was faithful to Fr. Seraphim and graciously helped him at every stage of his work in the promotion of the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Father Seraphim always relied on the unfathomable mercy and kindness of our Lord, in whom he trusted completely. And he was never disappointed.

A Boy from Adams

You could say Fr. Seraphim was born into this historic role.

In Adams, a mill town in northern Berkshire County, Massachusetts, he grew up in the tall shadows of the large, double-spired, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, built brick-by-brick by Polish immigrants, including his own kin.

In the mid-1940s, the church was the first in the western hemisphere to have a Divine Mercy Image enshrined within it. It was also the home parish of another man who would eventually become key to spreading the Divine Mercy message around the world: Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, who established the Mercy of God Apostolate on Eden Hill in nearby Stockbridge, now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. It was the pastor at St. Stanislaus, Fr. Edmund Kempinski, who helped pull together the down payment that helped the Marian Fathers purchase the property in Stockbridge.

Father Seraphim recalls first hearing about Divine Mercy when he was a boy of 13 or 14.

“When Fr. Walter came home for vacation one time, he visited my parents,” Fr. Seraphim recalled in an interview several years ago. “He told them the story of St. Faustina. He also mentioned how in 1931, our Lord appeared to St. Faustina in a vision and told her to paint His Image as He appeared to her and include the signature, ‘Jesus, I trust in You!’”

That Image is now known as the Image of Divine Mercy.

“Jesus promised that the soul that will venerate this Image will not perish," Fr. Seraphim said. "He said He desired that this Image be venerated, first in St. Faustina's chapel, and then throughout the world" (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 47).

Father Seraphim recalled that his parents obtained a copy of the Image, "and we hung it in our house. That's how I found out about Divine Mercy."

Father Seraphim recalled that Fr. Kempinski one time invited the Marian priest Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski to speak to the priests at St. Stan’s about St. Faustina and her Divine Mercy revelations. It was Fr. Jarzebowski who first brought Divine Mercy materials from Poland to the United States during World War II. He was given the material by St. Faustina’s confessor, Blessed Michael Sopocko.

"Our pastor was really moved by what he heard and accepted what Fr. Jarzebowski was saying," Fr. Seraphim recalled. "He believed that he, too, should display the Image of the Divine Mercy publicly so it could be venerated. At some point in the mid-1940s, the Image was enshrined in St. Stanislaus — the first Image of the Divine Mercy enshrined in a parish church in the western hemisphere."

Today, countless churches worldwide have the Divine Mercy Image enshrined within them, as Christ requested.

Father Seraphim said he, too, was greatly inspired by the Marian Fathers and the message of Divine Mercy.

"I knew in high school that God was calling me to the priesthood as a Marian," he said. "And dedicating my life to spreading Divine Mercy, a work entrusted to the Marians, turned out to be God's plan for me."

Spreading the word about Divine Mercy became the all-consuming focus of Fr. Seraphim's life work. As written in the Diary, Jesus not only revealed the message of the Divine Mercy to St. Faustina but also put upon her the incredible responsibility to spread that message to the world. How could that be done, the obscure Polish nun wondered? She trusted, and God eventually called upon various people to help fulfill the call.

In helping St. Faustina achieve the seemingly impossible task of sharing her revelations with the world, God chose people such as Blessed Michael; Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II; his successor, Pope Benedict XVI; the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy; the Marian Fathers, who were entrusted as official promoters of the message; Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, who became involved in the Divine Mercy movement in the 1940s; and, of course, Fr. Seraphim.

At a celebration marking Fr. Seraphim’s 80th birthday 10 years ago, Bob Digan said, "Father Seraphim is a living sign of God's presence in this moment of time."

Bob Digan should know.

About Those Miracles

Let's back up to the seminal year of 1979, the year Fr. Seraphim was appointed by Rome to be vice postulator in North America of Sr. Faustina's canonization cause, and the year a guileless, self-deprecating Marine veteran named Bob Digan first learned about the Divine Mercy message. He was spellbound. The prophetic revelations of St. Faustina seemed perfectly suited to meet the needs of our times — and the needs of his own suffering family.

Bob's wife, Maureen, had an inoperable disease, lymphedema. His son, Bobby, had been born brain-damaged and had a severe seizure disorder that left him unable to communicate well or to move freely.

When Bob learned of Fr. Seraphim and how he had been put in charge of Sr. Faustina's canonization cause, he packed up his family and drove three hours to the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge. Once seated in Fr. Seraphim's office, Bob announced that he had received a "collect call" from God to bring his family to Poland, and as a favor for making that trip, God would heal both Maureen and Bobby. Bob then looked squarely at Fr. Seraphim, and in his thick Boston accent, said, "We want you to witness the miracle."

Together with Fr. Seraphim and Victor Daniello, a friend of the Marians, the Digans made their improbable spiritual journey to the tomb of the little-known nun in Communist-controlled Poland. And indeed, two healings occurred. Bobby suddenly became a playful child, energetic like he had never been before, and Maureen's disease disappeared. It was Maureen's healing that led to Sr. Faustina's beatification in 1993.

Victor would later recall Fr. Seraphim's crucial role in the miraculous events at Faustina's tomb.

"He made sure Maureen followed Christ's instructions on how to obtain His mercy," Victor said. "He urged her to make a good Confession and receive the Eucharist. He pressed that upon her. He was very priestly, very fatherly, leading her — and me, for that matter — to a deeper understanding of Divine Mercy. He embraced the Digan family as his own."

Victor continued, "Bob asked 'Would you come to Poland?' and Fr. Seraphim said 'yes.' That's what he's done his whole life. He's said 'yes' to God. And I believe that's why God has chosen Fr. Seraphim to fulfill such an important role, to be an ambassador of Divine Mercy."

Father Seraphim was also involved in the case in 1995 of Fr. Ron Pytel, the Baltimore, Maryland priest who was miraculously healed from an inoperable heart defect through the intercession of St. Faustina. Father Seraphim helped guide the process of gathering medical records and witnesses' accounts connected with the healing. Together with Fr. Pytel, Fr. Seraphim presented the case to the Vatican.

Why Fr. Seraphim?
Here's the simple answer: Father Seraphim shows the character that God most admires. God wants to show His greatness through the humble. Period.

Through his subsequent writings and talks, and his role overseeing the Marians' publication of Divine Mercy materials sent from Stockbridge throughout the world, Fr. Seraphim became one of the most renowned experts in the world on Divine Mercy and the life of St. Faustina.

He would talk about Divine Mercy. Easy.

He would talk about St. Faustina. Easy.

But he was always reluctant to say much about himself.

Once asked, “Why does he suppose he was chosen as vice postulator?” he responded, "Because there was nobody else.”

Was he pleased to have played such a major role in helping Divine Mercy become the greatest grassroots movement in Church history?

"Not because of me," he said, a tad bit annoyed. "It's on account of St. Faustina!"

‘Be Merciful’
The man who smuggled the Diary of St. Faustina out of Poland and documented her beatification and canonization miracles would often summarize the heart and soul of the call to live Divine Mercy.

"When we look into the Scriptures, we see three foremost commands from God. 'Be holy because I, your God, am holy,' and our Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount, 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.' And we say, 'How can we be holy as God and perfect as God, when the Scriptures themselves say no one but God is holy; no one but God is perfect?'"

Father Seraphim would point to a passage in Luke's Gospel: "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

"So if you want to be holy as God is holy and perfect as God is perfect, we have to be merciful as God is merciful," he would explain. "And how is that? That great convert and writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton defined mercy as 'loving the unlovable and pardoning the unpardonable,'" something that is possible for us only by the grace of God.

Father Seraphim held that the revelations of Divine Mercy are particularly tailored to our times.

“The Lord makes clear in Scripture that when He returns, He's not going to deal with sin, because He's done that once and for all,” Fr. Seraphim said. “When He comes again, it's ‘to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him’ (Heb 9:28). So when people ask me why is the message of Divine Mercy important for the world today, the answer is simple: Through the message of Divine Mercy, our Lord is preparing us for His final coming.

“He told the great prophet of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina, in one of a series of revelations in the 1930s: ‘Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My Mercy’” (Diary, 300).

Father Seraphim hastened to add, “We who wish to stand ready and eagerly await Him should not forget [St. Faustina’s] promise to us: ‘Poor earth, I will not forget you,’ she wrote. ‘Although I feel that I will be immediately drowned in God as in an ocean of happiness, that will not be an obstacle to my returning to earth to encourage souls and incite them to trust in God's mercy. Indeed, this immersion in God will give me the possibility to boundless action’” (Diary, 1582).

Father Seraphim said, “May our going ever deeper into St. Faustina's life and writings, and our counting on her promised help, bring about what our Lord so much desires from us and needs from us to be able to fulfill His divine will in us: boundless trust in Him who is the unfailing Divine Mercy in Person.”

We have many things to share about Fr. Seraphim, particularly his teachings. We will do so in the coming days and weeks. For starters, here are two videos that give a glimpse of this wonderful apostle of Divine Mercy: 

WATCH Fr. Seraphim and the late Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, back in 1994

 

WATCH Fr. Seraphim explain the meaning of mercy:

 

You might also like...

[Jesus said,] “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.” (Mk 10:14; see also 1 Tim 2:4).

On Dec. 28, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children in Bethlehem whom Herod slaughtered in fear of the newborn King (see Mt 2:16-18). And every year, we are reminded to pray both for those children who die before being baptized and to ask their prayers for us and for our intentions.

Let me say that again.

Envy can creep into our hearts, even within the Church, even among people laboring in the vineyard.

Meekness - steadfast meekness, courageous meekness - is the means by which hearts can be converted.