Fr. Walter Ciszek begins the path to sainthood — UPDATED


A Catholic priest buried at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville cleared the first hurdle on the road to sainthood Monday, the Allentown Diocese announced.

The Rev. Walter J. Ciszek, a native of Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, attended St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church and school in Shenandoah before becoming a celebrated Jesuit priest who was held in a Russian prison for 15 years. He died in 1984.

Since 1989, after a mandatory five-year waiting period, his life has been under investigation by church officials both in the diocese and at the Vatican.

After a decade-long investigation, Ciszek’s life story in writings, sermons and actions was packed in wooden crates and shipped in 2006 to Rome for examination by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

There are still two steps, veneration and beatification, that must be completed before Ciszek is canonized a saint.

“This is exciting because it is one of our local boys making good,” said Monsignor Donald Bocian, president of the Father Walter J. Ciszek Prayer League and pastor of St. Casimir’s Church.

“But it is a very long process,” Bocian said. “I was told it could happen very quickly. I was also told the next of two steps could take three to four years.”

Ciszek was a member of the first class of Jesuits at the Novitiate of St. Isaac Joques in Lower Heidelberg Township, now known as the Jesuit Center at Wernersville. He is buried there and was nominated for sainthood in 1989.

“This breakthrough in the process is very encouraging and a testimony to the commitment and dedication of all those involved,” Allentown Bishop John O. Barres said.

From the Diocese of Allentown website:

Father Ciszek was a Jesuit missionary to the Soviet Union who was arrested as a spy for the Vatican and held prisoner for 23 years until he was returned to the U.S. in a spy exchange in 1963.

After living for a time at the Jesuit Novitiate in Wernersville, Berks County, where he wrote his memoirs, Father Ciszek moved to Fordham University in New York where he died on December 8, 1984.

According to Monsignor [Anthony] Muntone, [Diocesan Co-Postulator for Father Ciszek's Cause for Canonization], the next phase of the process involves presenting a summary of the documents by the Roman postulator, directed by an official of the congregation, together with a biography and ample “information” proving the heroic virtue of Father Ciszek.

That will then undergo an examination by nine theologians to determine if Father Ciszek exhibited in his life the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance to a heroic degree, Muntone said.

“If the theologians agree that his virtue was indeed heroic, the cause will be passed on to the bishops and cardinals who are members of the congregation for their study,” said Monsignor Muntone.

Those who are interested can also visit the Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League for more information on his life and work.

UPDATE: James Martin, SJ, over at America has even more:

By the way, in October 1963, when Father Ciszek first returned from his arduous sojourn in the USSR (and after the American Jesuits had thought him deceased, and had already celebrated Masses for his eternal rest) the first place he came was the headquarters of America magazine…. Thurston Davis, SJ, the editor-in-chief, who met him at Idlewild Airport, wrote: “In his green raincoat, grey suit and big-brimmed Russian hat, he looked like the movie version of a stocky little Soviet member of an agricultural mission.”  Father Davis’s “Of Many Things” column in our issue of Oct. 26, 1963 has just been posted here.  And Father Ciszek’s deeply moving “First Public Statement” in that same issue, is available here.

Read it all. It’s a treasure trove of history.


  1. Perhaps better to say he began the path to sainthood on November 10, 1904, when he was baptized at St. Casimir’s.

  2. I was just waiting for someone to say that! Really, I was! LOL.

  3. This is great news!! I remember hearing about Fr. Ciszek when I was only a boy.

  4. Ditto (though I “met” him college, though his two books.) The light commentary here suggests that WC is not nearly as well-known as he deserve to be, and that can be a negative factor in b/c cases.

  5. Dr. Peters,
    How well Fr. Ciszek is known may depend on where one lives and the readership of the blog. I grew up in Idaho and also have lots of family, friends and acquaintances in the Plains and Midwest, and Fr. Ciszek is well-known at least in those parts. And it is sort of funny, but my confreres and I were just discussing him the other day at dinner. I know it’s not conclusive, but there could be other reasons for the lack of commentary. Of course, it could just be wishful thinking on my part …

    For my own part, I would like to see something happy with Bp. Francis Xavier Ford of Maryknoll.

  6. Catherine says:

    This is very good news. Our family had his book “With God in Russia” in our living room bookcase, and I read it and reread it. It had a profound effect on me. I have the Ignatius Press edition of his later spiritual memoir, “He Leadeth Me,” waiting on a pile of books to read.

  7. marylouise says:

    Glory to God for all things!
    Righteous +Father Walter pray to God for us!
    “Among those who served at St. Michael’s [Russian Catholic Church NYC] during those years were Fr. Wilcock, Fr. John Geary, and Fr. Walter Ciszek, whose first visit to the chapel was on the day of his return to New York after his release from the USSR in 1963.”

  8. I’ve been to his grave at the Wernersville Retreat Center, formerly the Jesuit novitiate. The grave marker was draped in many rosaries, even back in 2002-03.

  9. Holly in Nebraska says:

    On a lark, I picked up his book “With God in Russia” at a library book sale for 50 cents. What a great story. I recommend it if anyone hasn’t read it. I want to pray for him now, but I don’t know how to pronounce his name. Help?

  10. Holly,
    I believe it’s pronounced “Chi’-zek”, with the stress on the 1st syllable. (The “i” in “chi” is short, not long.)

    His book “He Leadeth Me” is a catechism unto itself. I recommend reading “With God in Russia” first, which is written with what can only be supernatural restraint. Once you know the facts, then pick up “He Leadeth” and you’ll have the spiritual account.

    I love looking at the photo of him; his face has that same warm, deep kindness that JPII’s had.

  11. Mike Cowie says:

    I read ‘With God in Russia’ some years ago and I am now reading the profoundly moving ‘He leadeth Me’. It makes me feel so ashamed at our often cavalier attitude to our Catholic Faith. I shall pray to Father Ciszek and I would urge others to as well – that through his intercession those poor priests who, for whatever reason, have lost their Faith and Love for their Vocation are given the Grace to return, with greater zeal than ever, to their Sacred Ministry.

  12. We first started praying for Fr Ciszek when he was released from a Labor Capt in aroung 1955. My then I think his parents were dead, but his sisters prayed for him daily. I remember hearing the story of his return to the United States as a Catholic School Girl in a neighboring town, and hope he will soon be recognized as the Saint he is.

    I believe his release to the US was in return for Russian Spies,,,in the height of the Cold War,,,, and was negotiated ty Attorney General Robert Kennedy.


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