BLESSED FR. MICHAEL SOPOCKO
1933 was a year of hardship, misery, and the unexpected. For many countries, it was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. In Russia, severe famine claimed the lives of several million people. Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Nazi Germany and opened his country’s first concentration camp, Dachau. In the United States, the Southern Great Plains suffered through 38 dust storms, one powerful enough to rip the topsoil from South Dakota’s farmlands. But an event of inestimable importance that went largely unnoticed occurred during this year of turmoil in the city of Vilnius, in what is now Lithuania. One man, an energetic priest and brilliant theologian, Fr. Michael Sopocko, was appointed Confessor to the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
Fr Sopocko did not know it, but he had been given a mission by God that would have a greater impact upon the world then, now, and in the future than all the political and socio economic upheaval that was and still is prevalent worldwide. His mission was to support, guide, and collaborate with an extraordinarily holy soul, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament, whom he met in the Confessional of that Convent in Vilnius.
Additionally, he was to help fulfill God’s plans of Mercy that were being revealed to her mystically, plans to remind the world of God’s Merciful love toward everyone, and plans for the promotion and entreating of God’s Mercy for the whole world. The Divinely appointed time had arrived for an astonishing outpouring of grace. As St. Faustina wrote in her Diary, “In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart.” (Diary 1588) She also wrote, “ You will prepare the world for My final coming.” (Diary429) and, “Speak to the world about My mercy ... It is a sign for the end times. After it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fountain of My mercy.” (Diary 848)
So, who was this Fr. Michael Sopocko, this priest who St. Faustina recorded Jesus as saying, “He is a priest after My own Heart; his efforts are pleasing to Me…Through him I spread comfort to suffering and careworn souls. Through him it pleased Me to proclaim the worship of My mercy. And through this work of mercy, more souls will come close to Me than otherwise would have, even if he had kept giving absolution day and night for the rest of his life, because by so doing, he would have labored only for as long as he lived; whereas, thanks to this work of mercy, he will be laboring till the end of the world.” (Diary 1256)
Early in his priesthood, Fr Sopocko opened two mission churches as well as various schools. He was a military Chaplain, a prolific author who wrote several articles for religious publications on the topics of pedagogy, catechetics, homiletics, pastoral theology and spirituality. His publications were well read and widely distributed, and were translated into Latin, English, French, Italian and Portuguese.
He was a well known Confessor and Spiritual Director, and respected Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Stefan Bathory University in Vilnius. His scholarly research of Biblical and theological texts explained and supported the doctrinal truth concerning the Divine Mercy Devotion, and his efforts to obtain official approval for the Divine Mercy Feast Day and Divine Mercy Devotion from the Church authorities were tireless. In short, Fr. Michael Sopocko was a remarkably tenacious, gifted, and holy priest.
Initially skeptical of the validity of the revelations from Jesus that St. Faustina related to him, and in need of more time to evaluate her claims than was available when he visited the convent, Fr Sopoko required Sr. Faustina under obedience to write down in notebooks her mystical experiences. These notebooks, six in all, became what we now know of as her Diary. It was after much prayer, prudent reflection, intense research, and a positive psychiatric evaluation by a prominent psychiatrist, that he believed in the authenticity of St. Faustina’s experiences, a belief that caused him to dedicate the remaining years of his life, 42 in all, to spreading and promoting the message of Divine Mercy.
He was the first to believe in St. Faustina, and understand that the salvation of the world depended upon God’s Divine Mercy. Fr. Sopocko also found the artist Eugene Kazimierowski, who painted the original Divine Mercy Image, and would even pose as Jesus for the artist. It was through Fr. Sopocko that the Divine Mercy Image was first displayed before the public at the entrance to the City of Vilnius, the Ostra Brama, on the first Sunday after Easter, 1935, effectively the first Divine Mercy Sunday, while he preached the message of Divine Mercy. Fr. Sopocko encouraged and guided St. Faustina in the few short years that followed this event until her death in 1938.
After St. Faustina died, Fr Sopocko contemplated the message of Divine Mercy interwoven throughout Sacred Scripture and the Church’s theological tradition. He studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and through them was able to confirm St. Faustina’s revelations about God’s greatest attribute being mercy. He repeatedly and tirelessly made the academic and theological case for the Feast of Divine Mercy. He preached about Divine Mercy and he taught about Divine Mercy while World War II raged on.
In 1942, by fleeing to an Ursuline convent a few miles outside of Vilnius, he narrowly escaped deportation to a concentration camp. For two years he masqueraded as a gardener for the Sisters and a carpenter for the townspeople. However, in 1944 he was forced to flee Lithuania altogether and relocate in Bialystok, Poland. It was there that he founded the religious order of the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus, taught in the Archdiocesan Major Seminary, and continued to ponder and spread the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
Fr. Sopocko was no stranger to suffering. In 1958 he was forced to retire from his priestly duties and from giving talks to large audiences due to a damaged facial nerve. In 1962 he was injured in a car accident. Though in poor health and retired from the public, he published a four volume magnum opus entitled The Mercy of God in His Works from 1959 to 1962. Perhaps his greatest suffering was the result of the 20 year long ban placed on the Divine Mercy message and Devotion that he proclaimed and worked for so diligently. The ban, due to a faulty translation of St. Faustina’s Diary into Italian, was lifted in 1965 when a young Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, encouraged an official investigation into St. Faustina’s life and virtues.
Fr. Michael Sopocko and St. Faustina both were heralds of the Message of Divine Mercy, the Message that Our Merciful Lord reserved for ushering in the New Evangelization in this, the third millennium. Fr. Michael Sopocko, the second Apostle of Divine Mercy, as he was named in St. Faustina’s Diary, died in February 15, 1975 in Bialystok, Poland. He was declared Blessed on September 28, 2008 at a special Mass at the Church of Divine Mercy in Bialystok, Poland. His feast day is February 15.
We are blessed in the diocese of Colorado Springs to have Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko’s first class relic available for veneration each Saturday morning at the 8:00am Mass and Holy Hour at St. Patrick Church.