“He is a priest after My own Heart; his efforts are pleasing to Me (…) Through him it pleases Me to proclaim the worship of My Mercy”Jesus. Diary, 1256.
“As a result of his efforts, a new light will shine in the Church of God for the consolation of souls”Saint Faustina. Diary, 1390.
Father Michael Sopoćko, the confessor and spiritual director of Saint Sister Faustina, was personally involved in the mystery of the revelations of the Merciful Jesus. God assigned to him the very important role of fulfilling the mission given to Sister Faustina. Father Sopoćko dedicated almost his entire life to this work.
Michael Sopoćko was born on November 1, 1888 in Nowosady, in the Vilnius region. He was born into a noble family fostering patriotic traditions. Despite their poor standard of living, his parents ensured that he received an elementary education. The moral values of his parents, their deep piety and parental love had a positive effect on the spiritual development of Michael and his siblings. Already in his childhood, the spiritual atmosphere which reigned in his family home awakened in Michael an ardent piety and desire to serve God as a priest.
In 1910, Michael Sopoćko began 4 year studies at the Theological Seminary in Vilnius. He could continue these studies thanks to an allowance he was awarded by the rector. He received the sacrament of his Holy Orders on June 15, 1914.
As a priest, Michael Sopoćko was sent to work in the parish of Taboryszki, near Vilnius. In addition to his clerical duties, he asked to conduct Sunday religious preaching for the young. The first year of his pastoral work was crowned with the ceremony of about 500 children receiving their first Holy Communion.
In the summer of 1915, the Eastern Front passed through Taboryszki. Despite the danger arising from the fighting, Father Sopoćko continued to celebrate all church services and participated in the lives of parishioners. He also became involved in educational activities through opening new schools in neighbouring areas, which over time led to persecution by the German occupying authorities. The Germans started consistently preventing Father Sopoćko from visiting Vilnius where he travelled to bring teachers for the new schools. Consequently, he was forced to leave Taboryszki.
In 1918, Father Sopoćko received permission from the Church authorities in Vilnius to go to Warsaw to study at the Department of Theology of Warsaw University. However, he was unable to begin his studies due to illness and the political situation in Poland. After medical treatment, he did return to Warsaw to resume his studies, but it turned out that the university was closed due to military operations. Thus, he volunteered to provide pastoral services in the military. The field bishop of the Polish Army appointed him as a military chaplain and assigned him to provide pastoral services in the field hospital that was organized in Warsaw.
A month later, Father Sopoćko asked to be sent to the military front and the Vilnius Regiment. He immediately began serving soldiers who were fighting on the frontline. In addition to his pastoral duties, he assisted the wounded, who often found themselves in difficult circumstances due to the lack of hospital facilities. Following a long, exhausting march with the fighting troops, Father Sopoćko’s own health problems resurfaced and he was referred for treatment to a military hospital where, during the many weeks of his recovery he helped with the spiritual care of the sick. When his treatment ended, he was appointed as a military chaplain in the training camp for officers in Warsaw. His duties included weekly religious and moral lectures for officers and non-commissioned officers from various regiments and holding services at two military hospitals.
In his lectures, Father Sopoćko talked about dogma and the history of church, catechism and practical moral topics with regard to military service. The moral, religious and patriotic issues he brought up in his lectures were highly-valued by his superiors. The Ministry of Defence later published them and officers were given orders to introduce his work to the cadets in their units.
Despite the on-going war, the university resumed its activities in October 1919. Father Sopoćko enrolled in moral theology and classes in law and philosophy. From that moment, he had to share his time between studies and service in the military. In addition, he was involved in organizing social work. He supervised the operations of the “Brotherly Help for Soldiers” (acting as its president), the military inn and the school for orphaned children from military families. In the summer of 1920, he witnessed the collapse of the frontline and, immediately after that, the heroic defence of Warsaw and the final victory over the Soviet offensive. Years later, in his memoirs, he described that event as an extraordinary dispensation of Divine Providence and a sign of Divine Mercy for Poland obtained through the prayers of the faithful who filled the churches that August.
While serving as a military chaplain and studying moral theology, he also undertook additional studies at the Higher Pedagogical Institute. In 1923 he received his master’s degree in theology and became even more involved in the field of pedagogy. The results of his research on the effects of alcohol on the development of abilities in youth became the foundation for his dissertation: “Alcoholism and the school-aged youth”, the crowning achievement of his studies at the Pedagogical Institute.
The Bishop of Vilnius, Jerzy Matulewicz, aware of the merits and achievements of the chaplain and of his theological and pedagogical background, wanted to recruit him to work in his diocese. First, he wished to entrust to him the organization of a ministry for youth. Father Michael accepted the bishop’s proposal and returned to work in Vilnius.
By virtue of an official decision made in the autumn of 1924, Father Sopoćko was appointed head of the Military Chaplaincy for the Vilnius Region, consisting of 12 independent units numbering over 10,000 men. The transfer of Father Sopoćko to Vilnius was a promotion but, at the same time, it imposed on him more obligations and greater responsibility. The pastoral work of Father Sopoćko as a military chaplain was recognized by Marshal Józef Piłsudski.
Despite his numerous pastoral duties, he continued his part-time studies at the Department of Theology of the Warsaw University working on his doctoral thesis in moral theology titled: “The family in legislation in Polish lands”. He defended his doctoral thesis on March 1, 1926. After obtaining his doctoral degree, he planned to pursue a post-doctoral degree. Performing research required knowledge of foreign languages so he started to learn German, English and French. His religious and other lectures delivered to soldiers in Russian at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Vilnius (presently the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy), were also very popular among the faithful.
In 1927 and 1928, while continuing to work as the head of the chaplaincy of the local Military District, Father Sopoćko was appointed to the prominent position of spiritual father and confessor of the seminary and the head of the Department of Pastoral Theology at Vilnius University. These new duties forced him withdraw gradually from his military chaplaincy work.
As a spiritual father, Father Sopoćko acted also at the seminary as a moderator of the Marian Sodality, the Eucharistic Association, the Third Order of St. Francis and a group of clerics in the Missionary Association of Clergy. Another service he provided at that time, and indeed during his entire stay in Vilnius, was acting as a confessor of religious sisters.
After being partially excused from the role of military chaplain, his duties, in addition to his function as the spiritual father at the seminary, included lecturing and research work. Since textbooks were scarce at that time, Father Sopoćko wrote his own academic scripts for the subjects he taught. These scripts were then copied by the students and served as learning materials for many years.
The research of Father Sopoćko was conducted mostly for his post-doctoral thesis about the problems of spiritual upbringing and formation. To collect materials for his work, in the summer of 1930, he visited various libraries in Western European countries. The journey was fruitful for both his research and his faith, as he was also able to visit places of devotion and centres of religious life.
In addition to work on his thesis, he wrote scholarly articles on pastoral theology and for a church encyclopedia, delivered scientific lectures and became engaged in journalism.
As he became more involved in his research, he asked to be excused from his duties as the chaplain and spiritual father. Both the field bishop and Archbishop eventually agreed.
In September 1932, Father Sopoćko moved into a monastery building occupied by the Sisters of Visitation where he was able to finish writing his post-doctoral thesis titled: “The purpose, subject and object of spiritual development according to M. Łęczycki.” He received his post-doctoral degree on May 15, 1934 and was nominated by the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Education as the assistant professor at Warsaw University. The title was later transferred to the Department of Pastoral Theology at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.
From 1932 Father Sopoćko was the confessor at the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, whose convent then was in Vilnius. There, in May 1933, he met Sister Faustina Kowalska who became his penitent. Their meeting proved to be the defining moment for the future of Father Sopoćko and his mission. Sister Faustina, having found in Father Sopoćko an enlightened confessor and spiritual director, began to share with him her spiritual experiences and visions of the Merciful Saviour. As there was not enough time, Father Sopoćko asked Faustina to record her inner experiences in a diary. He then reviewed the texts at his leisure.
In this way, the spiritual “Diary” of Saint Sister Faustina came into being. Sister Faustina, referring to the revelations of the Lord Jesus that she had already experienced before she came to Vilnius and then again while there, informed Father Sopoćko about the requests of Lord Jesus which included: painting the Image of the Most Merciful Saviour, undertaking efforts to institute a Feast of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter, and establishing a new religious congregation. In time, it transpired that Divine Mercy entrusted the completion of these tasks to Father Sopoćko.
In July 1934, Father Sopoćko became a rector of St. Michael’s Church in Vilnius, which turned out to be of significant importance in the future. In that church, thanks to his efforts and at a definite request of Lord Jesus, the first Image of the Merciful Jesus was blessed and displayed on April 4, 1937. Sister Faustina left Vilnius in March 1936. Father Sopoćko, through correspondence and meetings with Faustina in Cracow, worked on their common task to bring the mystery of Divine Mercy closer to the world.
Father Sopoćko, on the basis of Church doctrine, searched for the theological grounds of the existence of this Divine attribute of Mercy and for the grounds to institute the Feast of Divine Mercy that was requested in Faustina’s visions. He presented the results of his research and the arguments for introducing the feast in several articles, in theological periodicals and in separate works on the subject of Divine Mercy. In June 1936, Father Sopoćko published in Vilnius his first brochure “Divine Mercy” with the Image of the Most Merciful Christ on the cover. He sent that first publication to all bishops gathered at the Episcopal conference in Częstochowa, however, he did not receive an answer from any of them. He published his second brochure titled “Divine Mercy in the Liturgy” in 1937 in Poznań.
The concept of Divine Mercy also required the construction of a new church of Divine Mercy in Vilnius. In 1938, the construction committee was created and was pretty soon approved by the regional administration office. However, the outbreak of the war and Soviet occupation of Vilnius resulted in a new political situation which destroyed that work. The Soviet Army plundered the gathered construction materials. The money to finance the construction, set aside in banks, was also lost. In 1940, Father Sopoćko was still trying to obtain permission from the occupying authorities to build at least a chapel, but he was turned down. The difficult situation of the war engulfing Europe, affecting the population of many nations and the spreading evil, made Father Sopoćko evermore convinced that the world needed Divine Mercy. Thus, he became even more eager to proclaim the concept of Divine Mercy, which he perceived as the rescue for the world. Parish priests from Vilnius, and also from neighbouring areas, were inviting him to give lectures. During the Lenten devotions at Vilnius Cathedral, he delivered homilies on Divine Mercy which drew crowds of the faithful from all over Vilnius and echoed widely all over the city.
At that time, he also began working on the treatise “De Misericordia Dei Deque Eiusdem Festo Instituendo” on the concept of Divine Mercy and the necessity to have a feast in its honour. He was encouraged even before the war to pursue that work by Cardinal August Hlond, to whom Father Sopoćko presented his research on Divine Mercy.
In June 1940, Lithuania was once again under the occupation of the Soviet Army and, a month later, was merged with the Soviet Union as its fifteenth republic. Father Sopoćko was forced to discontinue the meetings of the organized groups that he was supervising. He was also deprived of the chance to publish his treatise on Divine Mercy. Jadwiga Osińska, who was an expert in classical philology, came to his aid and took care of his treatise. With the help of her acquaintances, she copied it in secret. Then she made sure that the copies reached people who were able to leave Vilnius. This way, the work of Father Sopoćko reached many countries and, particularly, came into the hands of bishops in Europe and throughout the world.
Because he was proclaiming the concept of Divine Mercy and spreading its devotion, Father Sopoćko was wanted by the Soviet authorities. Warned by a Registration Office worker, he was able to evade arrest and left Vilnius to avoid danger. When it was safe, he returned and resumed lecturing at the seminary where, in spite of difficult material and housing conditions, the new academic year 1940/41 began. He moved back to St. Michael’s Church where the Image of the Most Merciful Saviour was still displayed and surrounded by ever-greater devotion.
On June 22, 1941 the German-Soviet war broke out. Vilnius soon found itself under a new occupation. The Jewish people were subjected to a particular discrimination. Father Sopoćko supported them financially as well as spiritually. For such actions he could have faced serious consequences, including execution. The Gestapo finally traced his activities and he was even arrested for a couple of days.
At the end of 1941, the terror of the German occupation intensified. On the last Sunday of Advent, under a pretence of an alleged epidemic, all the churches in Vilnius were closed down. On March 3, 1942 the Germans started widespread action against priests. They arrested professors and seminarians, as well as almost all of the priests working in Vilnius. At the same time, the Gestapo also set a trap at the apartment of Father Sopoćko. Warned by his housekeeper, he escaped and managed to reach the Archbishop’s office to inform him of the danger. He asked to be released from lecturing at the seminary and for the Archbishop’s blessing to go into hiding.
He left Vilnius in disguise and escaped to the convent of Ursulines in Czarny Bór, four kilometres from Vilnius. The Sisters accommodated him in the house they were renting on the outskirts of the forest. The Gestapo searched for him all over Lithuania, asking for him especially in presbyteries and among priests. With assistance from trusted people, he obtained an identity card issued in the name of Wacław Rodziewicz and, thereafter, was regarded as a carpenter and cabinet-maker making simple tools and equipment for local people. Every morning he celebrated Holy Mass. After that he had plenty of time for prayer and personal reflections.
Every few weeks he visited the house of the Sisters in Czarny Bór to hear confessions. Moreover, he did some research based on literature provided by Jadwiga Osińska and her friends.
In the autumn of 1944, despite the exceptionally difficult living conditions, Archbishop Jałbrzykowski ordered the seminary to resume its activities. Following two years in hiding, Father Sopoćko returned to Vilnius to resume his duties. To keep the seminary working, every Sunday he travelled with other professors and seminarians to countryside parishes to collect donations of farm produce to support students at the seminary. Father Sopoćko undertook pastoral work also outside Vilnius, using this to spread the concept of Divine Mercy.
Initially, despite their anti-religious attitude, the authorities of the Lithuanian Soviet Republic tolerated the pastoral activities of priests. But, over time, they gradually started to restrain their work, particularly, the catechization of youth and children. Church meetings were held in secret, but somehow news that they were being organized reached the government. Father Sopoćko was summoned and faced the real possibility of having sanctions brought against him, including deportation to Siberia.
In July 1947, Father Sopoćko received a providential invitation from Archbishop Jałbrzykowski, already living in Białystok, to come to work in Poland. Thus, he decided to leave Vilnius as soon as possible, especially granted that at that time the repatriation of Polish people from Lithuania was ending. Father Sopoćko left for Białystok at the end of August 1947, with the very last transport of Poles leaving Vilnius. Before his departure, he visited the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy in the Gate of Dawn. On arrival in Białystok, he reported to Archbishop Jałbrzykowski to receive his commission for his new appointment.
At the end of September 1947, he visited Myślibórz for a few days where Jadwiga Osińska and Izabela Naborowska, the first mothers of the Congregation founded by Fr. Sopoćko, were organizing the monastic community life. It was their first meeting since the sisters left Vilnius. From that time, he remained in constant touch with the sisters of the new Congregation, providing them with advice and spiritual and material support.
In October 1947, the new academic year began at the seminary in Białystok. Father Sopoćko taught the same subjects that he had taught in Vilnius: catechetics, pedagogy, psychology and the history of philosophy. His work at the seminary was not limited solely to teaching. He was also a confessor of the seminarians and conducted for them numerous retreats. At the same time, he also pursued pastoral, religious, social and educational activities. An important part of his activities was his educational programmes promoting sobriety in society.
But his most engaging and important activity was spreading the devotion to the Divine Mercy, to which he was ardently devoted and to which he remained faithful to the very end. He was not discouraged by Church authorities resistant to approve the devotion or by the incorrect, grass-roots spreading of the devotion due to inaccuracies in some publications. Father Sopoćko tirelessly corrected errors and explained the theological bases of this cult.
In Białystok, as in Vilnius, Father Sopoćko was the confessor of religious sisters. Amongst others, he listened to confessions of sisters from the Congregation of Missionaries of the Holy Family, who then resided on Poleska Street. Bringing his spiritual services there, Father Sopoćko took the opportunity to provide his priestly services to local people. Thanks to his efforts, on November 27, 1957 on the Solemnity of Christ the King, a chapel under the invocation of the Holy Family was consecrated in the religious house of the sisters.
Upon his retirement Father Sopoćko moved permanently to the Sisters of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, where he conducted his pastoral work. His rich personality, his spirituality and authority, resulting from his extraordinary life experience, accompanied by a great personal modesty, attracted the faithful.
Towards the end of the 1950s, Father Sopoćko undertook an initiative to build a church, this time in Białystok. Thanks to his efforts, a plot of land was purchased with a house on it. He covered almost half of the cost with his savings. He planned to build a shrine under the invocation of Divine Mercy. However, once again he had to come to terms with the failure of his intentions.
During a retreat with fellow priests in 1958, Father Sopoćko suffered damage to a facial nerve. From that time, speaking aloud to large audiences was very exhausting for him. Moreover, he was in a car accident in February 1962 in Zakopane (Poland), while participating in a conference of theology professors. This also had an adverse effect on his health. Thus, he was forced to retire. This caught him by surprise. He had always been active and engaged in numerous activities and duties, and for the first time (excluding his time of hiding in Czarny Bór) he had unlimited time at his disposal.
While performing his priestly duties in the Chapel on Poleska Street, he resumed work on the treatises on the concept of Divine Mercy. As well as some new ideas, he collected a large amount of existing material. While working on his treatises, he launched himself diligently into writing. As a result, he completed several works, with a four-volume work “God’s Mercy in His Works” being the main one. It was translated into English and published thanks to the generosity of people committed to the matter of Divine Mercy living in the West. The first volume was published in London in 1959 and the others in Paris in the 1960s.
An important event boosting the commitment of Father Sopoćko was the constant development of the Divine Mercy devotion and the interest of theologians. Another significant incentive encouraging him to his missionary work for the benefit of Divine Mercy was the commencement of the beatification process for Sister Faustina Kowalska by the Cracow Archbishop Karol Wojtyła. The informative phase started in 1965. Father Sopoćko was involved as a witness.
Father Sopoćko lived to celebrate a beautiful jubilee of 60 years of priestly service. That celebration, according to the feelings and opinions of many participants, was a much belated moral reward for the venerable priest who had done so much for the cause of God, especially in the matter of spreading the Divine Mercy devotion.
A sign of recognition of the manifold meritorious works he accomplished for the Church and the Białystok Archdiocese was his appointment as an honorary Canon of the Chapter of the Metropolitan Basilica. It was granted in 1972, near the end of his life.
Throughout his life, Father Sopoćko was a man of action based on a strong spiritual foundation. When his physical ability deteriorated and ailments struck, the spiritual domain became the base of his commitment and service to God and His message.
A quotation from his “Diary” constitutes a testimony of how he understood his final service:
“Old age should be treated as a vocation to greater love of God and neighbour. God has new plans for the elderly, plans of deepening the human being by revealing to him, face to face, his inner life. The only effective action that we are capable of is prayer. In that active passivity everything is being prepared, everything is being decided, everything is being worked out. Heaven will be praying the “OUR FATHER.”
Despite efforts to spend his final years in the main house of the founded Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus in Gorzów Wielkopolski, Father Sopoćko decided otherwise because of his health problems which prevented him from adapting to a new environment. So, he remained in Białystok until the end of his life. He did not live to see the approval of the new forms of the cult of Divine Mercy by the Church and died on a Saturday evening, February 15, 1975 in his room on Poleska St., on a feast day of Saint Faustinus, the patron saint of Sister Faustina Kowalska.
In 1959, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (presently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), prohibited propagation of images and documents presenting the Divine Mercy cult in forms provided by Sister Faustina, due to incorrect translations being spread. Father Sopoćko humbly obeyed that decision, devoting himself mainly to scientific work, proving the theological foundations for that cult.
It was not until three years after the death of Father Sopoćko – April 15, 1978 – that the Notification prohibiting spreading the new forms of the Divine Mercy cult was annulled. “The Sacred Congregation, having considered the numerous original documents unknown in 1959, the profoundly changed circumstances, as well as the opinions of many Polish Ordinaries, announces that the prohibitions in the quoted Notification are no longer binding”.
“Write that by day and by night My gaze is fixed upon him,Jesus. Diary, 86.
and I permit these adversities in order to increase his merit.
I do not reward for good results but for the patience
and hardship undergone for My sake”
“There will be as many crowns to form his crown,Jesus. Diary, 90.
as there will be souls saved by this work”
“At the feet of Jesus I saw my confessor and behind him a great number of the highest ranking ecclesiastics clothed in vestments the like of which I had never seen except in this vision; and behind them, groups of religious from various orders; and further still I saw enormous crowds of people which extended far beyond my vision. I saw two rays coming out from the Host, as in the Image, closely united but not intermingled; they passed through the hands of my confessor and then through the hands of the clergy and from their hands to the people, and then they returned to the Host…”Saint Faustina. Diary, 344.
All rights reserved: © Text compilation – Urszula Grzegorczyk
Consultation – Sister Maria Kalinowska, The Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus.
© Translation: Ewa Olszowa, Copyediting: Matthew Vinall