John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. He is especially interested in moral theology and the thought of John Paul II.
Sr. Wanda Boniszewska (1907-2003) was a Polish nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Angels, who offered herself for the sanctification of priests. Beginning in the 1930s, she bore the stigmata. From 1950-58, she was held in a Soviet prison camp in the Urals. She was then repatriated to Poland. She died March 2, 2003 in Konstanciń, a suburb of Warsaw.
I learned of Sr. Wanda shortly after her death when I read Ukryta stygmatyczka (“The Hidden Stigmatic”), a book by the late Father Jan Pryszmont. With limited experience in the theology of spirituality and learning that Father Pryszmont lived perhaps 15 minutes away from me in Warsaw, I paid him a visit.
I’m told Pryszmont was her confessor. I had heard of him as a professor at the Academy of Catholic Theology (now the Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński University) in Warsaw. Boniszewska and Pryszmont had apparently met in Vilnius. Lithuania’s forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union and Sr. Wanda’s being a Polish nun both contributed to her internment. But that’s another story.
Pryszmont showed me her massive (600 page) spiritual diary, a typed manuscript of which he preserved, and shared with me some photographs of Sr. Wanda’s stigmata. I also noted that the preface to his book had been written by Henryk Cardinal Gułbinowicz, the Archbishop of Wrocław, who knew Sr. Wanda from his youth. While I understood that discussion of the case about her sanctity still remains only preliminary, the fact that a seminary/university professor and a cardinal archbishop took it seriously gave me cause to look at it that way, too.
What has impressed me most about Sr. Wanda was her mystical experience of suffering, which she offered in reparation for priestly sins and to deepen priestly holiness. In some sense, helping priests was the charism of her order: the Congregation of the Angels had been founded in Vilnius in 1889 to assist priests in pastoral work in places where that work was impeded. Nineteenth-century Vilnius was part of the Russian Empire. But Sr. Wanda’s experiences were of a whole other dimension.
At the direction of her then confessor, Fr. Czesław Barwicki, Sr. Wanda noted on April 22, 1941, how she had accepted Christ’s call that she suffer for priests: “The sufferings come to me for the infidelity of those who are called to their particular Divine services—for example, priests and members of male and female religious orders—and for their giving scandal to others. … My sufferings for priests and for religious orders dates from Holy Thursday 1934, but they were not constant. Only in 1935 did the Most Beloved One desire constant suffering for priests. The sufferings were painful, [but] more so spiritual. In successive stages, I experienced the whole of Christ’s Passion on my body. ... The Most Beloved One Himself put those persons who needed support before the eyes of my soul, giving [me] to understand the state of their souls and what was most displeasing to Him in them…”
Sr. Wanda recorded what she understood as mystical revelations to her. Many of them were about priests and what Christ wanted of priests. Here are some, translated for the first time by me:
“You give me nothing. You are my property. Live my life. You have no right to live the life of the world. A constant cross and the Eucharist—that is your life. … In Holy Mass, it is not you but I, you are ministers of grace, do not sully me with sins. Do not defile my tabernacle, [for] I dwell in you. I have a right to you. You do not see me, but you feel my presence. Everything you do flows from the Eucharistic cross. I chose a dwelling place not on the cross nor in the tabernacle nor in the host but in you.”
“I want your love. I demand the summit of highest perfection from religious priests, and you are ice.”
“I want your love. I want your total giving, a truly obedient self-giving as I gave myself on the cross. I want to pour out my desire on priests; I want them also to desire.”
“Priests are turning away from me toward worldly illusions. They are tearing themselves out of my heart.”
“Why do I remain in the tabernacle, for whom? At whose voice do I come? I am obedient. I want the hearts of pure priests.”
“Everyone whom I loved, I enlightened. Now I demand of them sacrifice.”
“Routine faith, you lack love for the Beloved; hearts divided toward false Lovers, a false attachment to worldly things, an ignoring of poverty, administering [goods] without the superior’s knowledge, you have no self-denial, a lack of humility, a wasting of graces. ... I am not the king of their hearts but a beggar. My love is not satiated.”
“A priest is the salt of the earth. A priest is the sun of earthly souls. A priest is not his own property. He is mine. I alone only have a right to him.”
A priest “must constantly drown in my love, in sacrifice unto destruction. He must constantly die to himself, as I die for souls, so as to open heaven for them. He must have a strong and unshakeable faith, resistant to storms, with his trust and strength in the cross. A priest should be according to my mind and desire.”
“I want to remove those weeds from priestly hearts; otherwise, I cannot be the Gardener. I cannot sow virtues, I cannot … reap a harvest ... The priest is the property of God. He is to bring thousands behind him. Otherwise, St. Peter will not let him into heaven.”
And, attributing this to the Blessed Mother: “I gave the Son of God to the world. I born all the insults the world gave him in my suffering soul. Today, each bishop and each priest is my son. From them I bear a double suffering.”
Sr. Wanda has a very strong “clerical” perspective – she is acutely aware of the dignity of the priesthood that comes from being an alter Christus. The priest is “another Christ” and that for Sr. Wanda, far from being any excuse for self-exaltation, was the basis upon which a priest needed in humility to understand the dignity of his vocation. Noblesse oblige.
Sr. Wanda was also acutely aware of God’s abiding love for His priests: “Do not think, O priestly soul, I would leave you. My love in the Eucharist is burning, constantly burning, especially for you. O priest, only on the cross will you persevere, you will persevere in me. … I am better than you think. I am a father above all fathers.”
As we look upon the scandal, filth, and devastation that the clerical sexual abuse scandals has been wreaked on the Church in the United States, especially in 2002 and 2018-19, it’s time we realized that this assault on priestly dignity and its consequent compromise of ecclesiastical authority demands supernatural intervention. At the very least, priests should take to heart what Sr. Wanda recorded as Jesus’ messages about the state of the priesthood. If Vatican II taught us anything, it taught us about the call to holiness, a call about which we have been lax.
I would also suggest that we might ask Sr. Wanda’s prayers for the purification of the Church in our country. She has a nexus to our land: her father had spent some time in the United States and, according to Fr. Pryszmont, was able with his American earnings to buy farmland in Europe. Let us ask her prayers that the American presbyterate emerge from the current crisis with a deep and unshakeable awareness that each and every one of its members is “not his own” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) but Christ’s and Christ’s alone.
All opinions expressed herein are exclusively the author’s.