He Loved To The End: The Martyrdom Of Pallottine Priest Blessed Józef Stanek SAC

he loved to the end!

Józef Stanek was born on 04 Dec 1916 in Łapsze Niżne (Poland) and baptised the following day. During the sixth year of his life he lost his parents.

Having finished his studies in the secondary school of the Pallottines in Wadowice, he entered the Society in 1935 and made his first consecration in l937. Ordained priest during the 1941 Nazi occupation, he dedicated himself to pastoral work and at the same time attended clandestine university courses in sociology in Warsaw. After the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising (01.08.44), aimed at liberating the city from the invader, he became chaplain to the insurgents.

He met the pastoral and charitable needs of those in want with uncommon dedication. He did not take advantage of the opportunity offered to him to save himself by crossing the river Wisła on a barge. He gave up his place to a wounded man while he remained on board with those under siege, in order that they not be deprived of pastoral care. Then realising that a continued uprising made no further sense, he did everything possible to save the maximum number of people.

For this reason he also tried to negotiate with the occupying forces. He was arrested by Nazi soldiers when he went to the German command to organise the surrender of the insurgents and the following day, 23 Sep 1944, was hung before the eyes of the people amassed in the place of execution. He was only 28 years of age. In Warsaw, on 13 Jun 1999, he was proclaimed blessed by [St] John Paul II, along with 107 other martyrs of that Church.

Ryszard Czugajewski, a writer, one of the greatest promoters of the Cause of Beatification, published a book on Fr Stanek entitled “He loved to the end”. This title can be regarded as a synthesis of his spirituality. His pastoral zeal was seen in every priestly service carried out over the course of three years in the very dangerous circumstances of the Nazi occupation and the persecution of the Church and, on the other hand, the awakening of patriotism in the people of Warsaw who organised the resistance in various ways. Numerous witnesses note that the fundamental motivation behind the activity of Fr Józef was love for God.

Among others Fr Józef Dąbrowski, a Pallottine confrere and colleague from their time of study, declared:

“Considering the life of Fr Stanek from the perspective of today, I am convinced that he felt obliged to live guided always by an exceptional love for God and that God… prepared him for the heroic offering of his life in defence of the faith and of the nation”.

The extremely difficult situation in which he found himself after the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising revealed in a striking way the heroism of his love for neighbour when, as chaplain to the insurgents and without using weapons, he sacrificed himself in continual danger for his life, in order to bring pastoral and charitable help to the dying, the wounded and to all who were suffering. His love for neighbour showed itself in an extraordinary way in a fact referred to by Mrs Stanisława Żórawska, an eye-witness to his death. She recounts how Fr Stanek did not take advantage of the afore-mentioned possibility of  saving  his  life  “because  he  believed that, as a priest, he was useful to the combatants, to the insurgents,  to  people who were suffering and in agony”.

Fr Józef Warszawski sj, a chaplain himself captured with the other insurgents, recounted what followed:

“A long line of people emerged…from the depths of the ruins. They were heading towards us…preceded by German uniforms, after which came a priest….Finally I was able to make out that it was the Pallottine, Fr Józef Stanek. [Nazis] were hitting him in the face with their fists, beating him until he reached our lines. While doing this they shouted out their Nazi beliefs with the words: ‘These are the most evil! Not the English! Not the Jews! But these with the black skirts! These are the devils!’…Pulling him here and there, they pushed him towards the nearby ruins… and so he died –  because of hatred of the faith and in reprisal”.

Another eye-witness, Mrs Halina Darska completes the picture, saying:

“On 23 Sep of the year 1944, before midday, the insurgents in Czerniaków who were still alive, together with the civil population, were gathered by the Germans among the ruins of a factory in Solec. I saw a priest by a wall, wearing a habit, but without shoes, bareheaded. The people who were already there informed the others that it was the priest “Rudy” (i.e. Fr Józef Stanek)… Two girls were brought close to the priest… After a short time the priest and the two girls were taken among the ruins of the pavilion, where – from iron beams – some of the insurgents were already hanging. The Nazis began to speak with the three of them, but we could not understand what they were saying… At the moment when they led us away from the ruins, the nooses were already being put on the necks of the girls and the priest and the ropes were already being hoisted up. The priest visibly lifted one or possibly both of his hands as if he wanted to greet, bless or absolve all present in the pavilion of the factory, not less than two hundred people. This image of the priest has remained in my memory….Fr Józef held his hand aloft as in the gesture of giving a blessing and moved his lips as if he were praying. He was in absolute silence, calm, fully resigned to death”.

The body of the martyr, by order of the military, was left for some time on the gallows in order to frighten the people who were forced to pass close to it.

According to eye-witnesses, from the very beginning of Jozef’s life a constant commitment to dedicate himself entirely to the glory of God was notable. He distinguished himself by great trust in God and radiated this to others. He tried to convince  those close to him to themselves entrust everything to Divine Providence and, if necessary, to accept even death with dignity, believing that this was not futile but rather that it should be a message for others.

The wide circle of people who knew Fr Stanek and those who were present at his execution, always interpreted his death as a martyrdom for his faith and his country. All of the witnesses called during his cause gave voice to this conviction. Different graces obtained from God have also been attributed to his intercession. His liturgical memorial, together with that of blessed Józef Jankowski, is celebrated on June 12.

Jan Korycki sac – Rome – ITALY