Kostka: The Untold Story

November 14, 2019
Fr Nono Alfonso, SJ

(Homily given during the Feast Day Mass in honor of St Stanislaus Kostka in the morning of 13 November 2019 at the Ateneo Junior High School) 
Today, I am not going to tell you the story, the life of St Stanislaus Kostka, your patron saint. After all, you already know his story—how many times have you heard a Jesuit preach about him every time his feast day has come up? But do you know the story of Pawel? Pawel Kostka? Pawel of course is Polish for Paul, Paul Kostka, Stanislaus’ brother. Paul was the eldest among the seven children. Stanislaus followed him; they were separated by two years. How do you think the brothers were toward one another? Well to sum it up, Paul hated Stanislaus. Why? Because they were opposites. Paul was the worldly type, the party-goer, the loud one. Stanislaus on the other hand was the quiet one, and even at a young age was already the pious, saintly one. But Paul saw him as self righteous, as having a holier than thou attitude—Stanislaus, he said, won’t even allow nonsensical banters, what we might call today green jokes.
In their teens, the two were eventually sent to the Jesuit College in Vienna, Austria.  And there, without the parents to control him, Paul became more violent and cruel towards his younger brother. He despised so much that Stanislaus live very simply, wore simple clothing, and could fend for himself. Paul, in contrast, was ostentatious, a show-off. The Kostka belonged to nobility, to pomp and privilege, he wanted the whole world to know that. He had servants waiting on him, carrying his books for him, and every night there was partying in the boarding house that they rented. That was supposedly the life of noble men. And he would force this on poor Stanislaus, at one time obligating him to learn dance as any noble man. Worse his hatred of his brother would turn to physical violence. Some nights, while having his drinking sprees with his friends, Paul would pick on the saintly Stanislaus and beat him. Even his friends would bully Stanislaus, kicking him while he said his evening prayers. You know the story of course, one day, our saint would fall seriously ill and one night, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him to join the Jesuits. And so he did. One day, he just vanished.

Paul was beside himself with anger at the sudden disappearance or escape of his brother. With his servants and friends, they searched for him for days to no avail. Stanislaus of course was already on his way to the Jesuits in Germany and later in Rome, far from the clutches and influence of his family. He walked 1200 miles in a period of one month, a staggering, miraculous feat to this day. Empty-handed, Paul returned to Poland and suffered the ire of his parents. And of course this further exacerbated his hatred of his brother. Eventually, their highly connected father found out that Stanislaus was now in Rome, in the novitiate or seminary of the Society of Jesus. He wrote to him ordering him to return. He also wrote to the General of the Jesuits then, threatening to use all the power within his means to make the Jesuits suffer for allegedly kidnapping his son. When Stanislaus wrote back asking his father to respect his decision, that it was God’s will, Paul sprung into action vowing to bring back his brother home, even dragging him back, if need be.
Paul banged at the doors of the Jesuit Novitiate in Rome. With a cabal of men in tow and with threatening papers from Cardinals and governors, he was ready for a fight. But the novice master came out and told him what would be the greatest shock of his young life. Stanislaus, his brother, was gone! He fell ill and died four weeks ago on the feast of Assumption, August 15. Paul felt the earth beneath him crumble. The Jesuits would later tell him how no matter how short Stanislaus’ novitiate was, (10 months!) his brother was saintly, holy, good, and kind, and that in fact the Superior General decreed that Stanislaus’ virtuous life was to be written about and read in every Jesuit community, seminary, and schools. (And that is why we do this every year!)

Fr Richard Brennan, SJ, would write about what happened to Paul next. He asked to be brought to the Jesuit cemetery and “as he knelt at Stanislaus graveside, Paul broke down and cried like a child. There he realized for the first time what he had done to his brother. The sudden change was not a passing one. He understood what he had been and what he had done. Never again was he the bragging bully but lived a life of penance and reparation for the past. The change was so radical that it can scarcely be explained by the shock of the news. From that time on Paul saw his life in a completely new light and never ceased to mourn the treatment he had meted out to Stanislaus.”
Paul would live on to witness the beatification of his brother, Stanislaus in 1605. He never married, and instead “devoted himself to charitable works, prayer and penance.” At 56, Paul applied to the Society of Jesus. He was accepted to the novitiate, but before he could start, he died on November 13, 1607. Which of course is now the feast of Stanislaus Kostka.
That ends our story of Paul Kostka’s life, my dear friends. But what can we learn from this? We turn now to Stanislaus. Despite Paul, despite his family’s objection, and through the countless persecutions and hardship, Stanislaus persevered in seeking God, and in being and doing good. Like the 12 year old Jesus in the Gospel today, he simply had to be in his father’s house, doing his father’s business. At times, our efforts do not seem to amount to anything. But have faith, the good always prevails. Look at the Kostkas. Indeed, Paul Kostka’s conversion might have been the first miracle of Stanislaus. So my young friends, be good, do good, and you change the world around you. You may just be instrumental in the change or conversion of the many Pawels or Pauls in this world.