The historic Polish church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Rochester is home to a relic of Pope John Paul II
Early in the days of this blog we visited St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Rochester, NY. The church is a beautiful work of art in what was once the Polish neighborhood of the city.
The church itself is fantastic and has a rich history. Within the last few years it became home to a special piece that holds a history all of its own. Kathleen Urbanic is a historian for the church as well as a member. She’s also the author of Shoulder to Shoulder, the story of Polish Americans in Rochester, NY 1890-2000.
We knew there was no better person to tell the story of the relic at St. Stan’s of Pope John Paul II. Many thanks to Kathy for sharing her knowledge here with us and also being the first guest author on the site!
Shrine To The Black Madonna
Visitors to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church often feel drawn to a shrine in the north transept. This particular shrine honors Our Lady of Czestochowa – Poland’s Black Madonna – and Blessed Pope John Paul II. In this 104-year-old structure whose beautiful interior has changed little over the decades, the shrine is a new and compelling spiritual oasis.
Created in 2008, the shrine features an icon of the Black Madonna written in Poland by renowned icon artist Anna Torwirt. (Icons are said to be “written” because they offer a window into the spiritual realm and are only be created in an attitude of prayer. Like carefully constructed poetry, they are written from the heart.)
Beside the icon is a portrait of Pope John Paul II painted by artist Cameron Smith of North Carolina. The Holy Father’s eyes meet the gaze of visitors to the shrine and he leads them with a gentle gesture to the Blessed Mother.
Pope John Paul II Relic
Resting on the altar, in the very center of the shrine, is an extraordinary item: a relic of Pope John Paul given to the parish by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow and the late Holy Father’s close friend.
The relic is a small piece of cloth from one of Pope John Paul’s cassocks with a drop of blood. The drop was taken from a vial drawn during the pope’s last stay in the hospital. The relic itself is encased in a reliquary in the form of a cross.
Importance Of Relics
The veneration of saints’ relics is an ancient custom in the Roman Catholic Church. The practice dates back to the reverence shown at the graves of early Christian martyrs. Sometimes misunderstood or regarded as superstition, relic veneration serves as a reminder to the faithful. Relics are a remembrance of the holiness of saints and the ways they cooperated in God’s work on earth.
Parishners don’t worship the relic itself, nor the saint. Its purpose is to draw the mind and heart to closer to God. Veneration of relics is a tradition not only in Christianity but also in some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism.
The relic of Pope John Paul in St. Stanislaus Church is remarkable because it contains a drop of his blood. It serves as a very real reminder of his life on earth and a sign of his spiritual presence to those who ask him to intercede for their needs today. For parishioners at St. Stanislaus — the spiritual heart of Rochester’s Polish community — the relic signifies the close, personal relationship many feel with this beloved Polish Pope who helped changed the course of history in their homeland.
The relic is designated “first-class” because it is blood that was drawn directly from Pope John Paul. (Second and third-class relics would simply be items that came in contact with the remains of a saint or another relic.)
A Special Gift For St. Stanislaus Kostka
Few churches in the United States – or even around the world – have received the privilege of housing a first-class relic of Pope John Paul. Cardinal Dziwisz, who was the pope’s personal secretary for almost 40 years, sent the relic in 2011. The Cardinal’s gift was in response to a request by our parish for a remembrance that could be placed at the shrine.
A book on a stand beside the shrine gives testimony to the faith of those who visit. Prayer intentions – some written in English, some in Polish, a few in other languages – present poignant evidence of the troubles people face in their lives and the hopeful hearts they bring with them to this place.
June 2, 2013
*This post previously appeared on ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com