Father Walter Ciszek, Warrior for Christ in Atheist Russia
Posted By Eleonore Villarrubia On July 16, 2012
“I was born stubborn.” “…I was tough, not in the polite sense of the word, but in the sense our neighbors used to use the word those days in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, when they shook their heads and called me ‘a tough.’” “I was a bully, the leader of a gang, a street fighter – and most of the fights I picked on purpose – just for devilment.”
Thusly does Father Walter Ciszek describe his youth growing up in a large working class family of Polish descent in Pennsylvania. Born in 1904, Walter Ciszek survived an incredible twenty-three years in Communist Russia, most of them spent working as a slave laborer in the frozen land of Siberia. He was, as was said of him, “resurrected from the dead” to the great astonishment of his family and his Jesuit superiors and brothers.
The self-described “tough” was pugilistic all his young life, forcing himself to engage in strenuous calisthenics for forty-five minutes every day, engaging wholeheartedly in every sport imaginable, denying himself food, even as a young man, even swimming in a half-frozen lake in November in Michigan. He gave his hard-working miner father grief a number of times as a youth, once bringing him to the point of taking the boy to the police and insisting that they send him to reform school. He delighted in cutting classes at Saint Casimir’s School, causing him to repeat a grade because of repeated incidents of “playing hookey.” His parents were Polish peasants who emigrated to this country in the 1890s to find a better life. His father worked the coal mines while his diminutive mother raised her thirteen children and taught them to become good Catholics.
It was in eighth grade at Saint Casimir’s that young Walter decided on the spur of the moment that he would become a priest. He had never been particularly pious or devoted, but he did like a challenge — any challenge — and he knew that studying for the priesthood would certainly present him with that challenge. His decision shocked his family — his father would not believe it — but the next year found him studying at the seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Orchard Lake, Michigan, where many young Polish boys from Saint Casimir’s School had preceded him. Walter’s stubbornness continued at the seminary. In his own words, “But I had to be different. Even though I was in a seminary, I took great pains not to be thought pious. I was openly scornful, in fact, of those who were. At night, when there was no one around, I used to sneak down to the chapel to pray – but nothing or no one could have forced me to admit it.”
A Shocking Change
Walter’s stubbornness had its downside. Many times at the seminary he fasted to the point of endangering his health. When one of the priests noticed his sparse diet, he commented on the fact that a student must not decide these things for himself, but needed spiritual guidance to do such penances. It took the young priest-to-be a long time to realize that obedience to superiors was an integral part of priestly training and priestly life.
After reading a biography of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, young Ciszek became very impressed by this other tough young Pole, one who walked all the way from Warsaw to Rome against the wishes of his family so that he could become a Jesuit. He was disgusted at the insipid-looking statues which depicted Saint Stanislaus as a pious-looking weakling “with his eyes turned up to heaven.” “I wanted to smash them.” The story of this young saint moved Walter profoundly and he decided he would become a Jesuit – even though his ordination was only three years away at the diocesan seminary. If he were accepted into the Society, he would have seven more years of study instead of three. But, as he described himself over and over, “I was stubborn!”
Accordingly, Walter decided completely on his own to write the Polish Jesuits in Warsaw. The return reply stated that life in Poland was very different from what he knew and encouraged him to apply to the Jesuit Provincial at Fordham University in New York. Down but not out, Walter took himself to New York by train — again not telling a soul — and sought an interview with the Jesuit provincial. Three times in one evening he presented himself at the provincial’s office at Fordham before the priest could see him. Father Kelly heard him out, including the story of the toughness of Saint Stanislaus, and the fact that he had simply made up his mind to become a Jesuit.
Father Kelly took his information. By this time Walter was twenty-four years old, and apparently the provincial took him seriously, for he told him to go back home and he would hear from him soon. Walter left filled with peace of soul, never even considering that the priest’s answer could have been NO!
A letter finally came to the Ciszek home, telling Walter to report to the Jesuit novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York, on September 7, 1928. Not until the morning he was to leave did he tell his parents where he was headed. His father was furious. He slammed his fist down and hollered “NO! You are going back to the seminary.” Walter calmly told him that he was going to the Jesuit novitiate and walked out of the house with the words “I am going to choose between God and you.” Sadly, he did not even ask for his father’s blessing.
Becoming a Son of Saint Ignatius
True to form, the young Jesuit novice allowed his innate stubbornness to get him nearly evicted from the novitiate at in New York. He simply refused to follow every little rule and regulation; nor would he show any outward piety. He preferred “to keep the corners a little rough.” One day, Father Weber, the novice master, called him into his office and told him that he should leave the Society. Walter was stunned, shooting back almost at a shout, “I will not!” Father Weber very nearly got physical with him at that point, but allowed time for both tempers to cool. Walter broke down in tears over the thought of being expelled from the Society. Apparently Father Weber saw enough appropriate raw material in his novice to give him a second chance after a good talking-to. In retrospect, the young man’s learned toughness and hard-headedness would serve him in good stead during his years of imprisonment and labor in the brutal Soviet system. But we get ahead of our story.
In early 1929, during one of his daily talks to the novices, Father Weber read a letter from the Holy Father, Pius XI. In it, the Pope spoke of the terrible persecution of religion going on in communist Russia. He told of the closing of all the seminaries, both Orthodox and Catholic, and the fact that all the bishops and priests were sent to labor camps. Children were forbidden to be taught religion and the properties of the churches were confiscated and turned into government buildings, with their priceless books, relics, and liturgical items destroyed. The Holy Father’s intention was to create a college in Rome specifically for preparing priests to work in Russia at some future date when it was possible to get good men into the godless country.
As he listened to the letter, something stirred within Walter’s breast: HE would be one of these priests. He felt God calling him by way of this papal letter. We do not have to guess that the young seminarian wasted no time to pay a visit to the headmaster’s room to volunteer for this service in Russia. He still had a year and a half to go to first vows; so in an attempt to modulate his eagerness, Father Weber simply told Walter that he must spend the rest of his time in prayer and study: prayer to determine God’s will for him and study in order to reach that point.
Immediately upon taking vows, the young Jesuit wrote the Father General in Rome volunteering for the Russian mission. At that time, Jesuit priests had to complete their studies after ordination. There were an additional two years referred to as the Juniorate during which time further studies in the humanities and philosophy were undertaken. The General answered that after he completed the Juniorate, his candidacy for the Russicum would be considered. The future Father Ciszek was overjoyed and redoubled his physical training to prepare him for the difficult work in Rome. Near the end of his second year, he received a letter from the General in Rome telling him to report there in the fall for his theological studies and the work at the Russian College. He sailed for Rome in the summer of 1934 a very happy young man.
The next three years in Rome were very intense. Coupled with his study of theology, he had to learn the Russian liturgy as well as the Latin, Russian language, history, customs — just about everything Russian. Eventually he learned French and German well enough to hear confessions in those languages besides his English, Polish, and Russian. Ordination finally came on June 24, 1937, then first Mass in the Oriental Rite at the Basilica of Saint Paul, over the apostle’s grave. Finally, his dream would come true! Sadly, his parents had died by this time and his brothers and sisters were unable to attend.
His two good friends at the Russicum, Fathers Makar and Nestrov, were of the Jesuit Polish Province. They were assigned to work with Poles of the Eastern Rite in Albertin, Poland, not far from the Russian border. Father Ciszek waited for his appointment. Finally, he was called in by the General himself, with whom he had corresponded several times, but had never met. Father Ledochowski sadly told him that the time was not prudent to send priests into Russia just then; so he would join his good friends at the mission in Poland until the opportunity to enter Russia presented itself. He was sorely disappointed, but being in eastern Poland was at least close to Russia — and he would love working with his two good friends and the holy Polish people.
Father Ciszek arrived in Albertin, Poland, in November, 1938, as rumors and rumblings of war were beginning. Czechoslovakia had just been dismembered and Hitler was moving. Rumor had it that secret Nazi troops were already in Danzig ready to grab it from within. Russia was mobilizing on the eastern frontier. Poor Poland was again in the middle of two giant aggressors and at the mercy of both. The American Embassy wrote Father Ciszek telling him to leave Poland while he could, but he loved his flock and remained where he was. In the tiny village of Albertin, he was both country curate and seminary professor.
Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Warsaw was surrounded and being bombarded. Residents, especially Jews, and the Polish army were fleeing to the East. Albertin, being close to the Russian border, was invaded by Russian troops who took over the small seminary and school building at the Eastern Rite mission. Father Ciszek was confined to a small part of the property, but still allowed to say Mass. Of course, the atheist Communist soldiers had no respect for church property and eventually dismantled the library and destroyed the statues. Finally, the church itself was invaded and the Blessed Sacrament desecrated. Father Ciszek knew that it was time to leave.
“Russia in the Spring”
Although the American Embassy warned him again to leave Poland, he forgot all about leaving upon the unexpected appearance of his two buddies from the Russicum, Nestrov and Makar. They saw the great movement of Poles to the east as an opportunity to enter Russia as workers in the Urals. As they discussed that possibility, Father Ciszek became excited and agreed with his friends that at last, they could enter Russia and begin their dream of a lifetime. They secured permission from their superior in Lvov, who declined to allow Makar to accompany them. They were to enter Russia as paid workers, for the Russian war machine was gearing up and needed many thousands of workers in the lumber camps of the Ural Mountains. Polish passports were provided them, along with false identities (Father Ciszek became Wladimir Lipinski, a family man who lost his wife and children in a German bomb attack in Warsaw.) They received the blessing of Archbishop Shepticki, a gift of a huge loaf of bread baked by the sisters and a pound of fatback, and off they went on a worker train — which meant they were herded into boxcars — to the Urals. They had 150 rubles (about fifteen dollars) between them. That would have to last until they arrived at their destination of Chusovoy in the Urals — a trip that took two weeks. It was March 15, 1940. Little did the good Jesuits know what would lie ahead.
Upon arrival at Chusovoy, they were transferred to a mining town fifty miles away. Their food had been sparce for the entire trip, but now they waited for transport for three days with nothing to eat before being brought to their final destination. It was a rude awakening, especially for some of the families who sought the “workers’ paradise” inside Soviet Russia. Father Nestrov was assigned to office work, but Father Ciszek was put to work stacking huge logs. It was back-breaking work, but since he had punished his body all of his life, he was able to handle it. From time to time they were able to teach the children and teenagers about God, or stroll into a wooded area to say a quick Mass, but they never revealed that they were priests. Only to those who were ill in the Chusovoy hospital did Father Ciszek reveal his priesthood that he might comfort them in their final illnesses or bolster their wavering faith.
As war neared, many of the workers were inducted into the army. They worked all day and sometimes drilled until one or two in the morning. They were put into squads. Father’s squad was told it would leave for Leningrad on June 19. It was paramount that the Russian Army hold Leningrad. Then one morning before the mobilization, the Russian Secret Police (NKVD) invaded the barracks and the two priests and three others were arrested as German spies. Off to the Chusovoy jail they went. Their life as free men was at an end — for Father Ciszek, his captivity was to last twenty years.
Life as a Prisoner Begins
When they were arrested and their belongings confiscated, the greatest piece of “evidence” used against them were the following items: two bottles of white Mass wine, a bag of tooth powder (white), cotton and some childish scribblings of a young boy that Father Ciszek was helping to learn his alphabet. These items were called in turn “nitroglycerine,” “gun powder,” “packing” to make bombs, and “secret messages” from German handlers. On these grounds, they were accused of spying for the Germans. As it turned out, hundreds of people were being arrested, even children. Many of the “suspects” were summarily shot. The Russians were skittish now that Germany was invading, and anyone could be considered an “enemy of the state.”
From Chusovoy, the prisoner was brought to Perm, a larger city. Now the interrogations began in earnest. One pattern emerged in all his years of confinement in prisons: the same questions were asked over and over again in a hundred different ways, hours and even days at a time. Every time he was brought in for an interrogation session, the expert attempted to get him to admit to his guilt as a spy — first, for Germany and later, when he was formally charged, as a spy for the Vatican.
Another striking feature from the beginning was that during his very first interrogation, the official knew that he was really not the Pole Lipinski, but an American Roman Catholic Jesuit priest named Walter Ciszek. Father’s only assumption was that his identity was revealed by someone to whom he had told of his priesthood in the hospital in Chusovoy — but he never could figure out how they knew his real name. The possibility was that Father Nestrov had revealed it under questioning. He never learned the truth.
Another never-ending feature of every prison and later in the slave labor camps of Siberia was the paltry diet. Needless to say, it was at close to starvation level — half a loaf of bread, a few spoons of sugar and some boiling water for breakfast, a bucket of kasha (a kind of cooked cereal), and some weak soup to be shared by the group in a cell for supper. It amounted to about a cup of soup and two or three spoonfulls of kasha for each prisoner. The diet rarely, if ever, varied. If it did, it was usually for the worse. One trick the prisoners quickly learned was to save part of their breakfast bread for a snack at some point in the day. Father Ciszek describes the never-ending hunger in graphic terms, even dreaming of food and thinking of nothing but the next meal.
Eventually, he was brought by train to Moscow. He was given a “hotel room” at the prison with the most dreaded name, Lubianka. In fact, Lubianka had formerly been a hotel. The rooms were large and clean, and the chimes of the Kremlin clock could be heard throughout the day. Nevertheless, it was a prison, and it seems that they had decided to place him in solitary confinement until he admitted to his “crimes” of spying for the Vatican. The interrogations began in earnest. The only human beings he ever saw at Lubianka were his guards, the doctors — all women — and his interrogators. The torture was the awful sameness of each day and the dread of being called out for endless versions of the same questions. After a year in solitary, Father Ciszek was convicted of the charge (no trial, of course) and sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in Siberia. To him, it was a relief. At least he would have the company of other prisoners there and would be doing physical work. Perhaps he could function as a priest again.
But it was not to be, not yet, at least. For four more years he was subjected to the same brutal, boring routine — questionings, loneliness and wondering “how much longer?” There were times when he was put in a “box” — a small, hot (or cold, depending on the season), windowless room where he could only sit. Sometimes he remained in the “box” for days at a time. It was meant, naturally, to break a man, but Father’s innate stubbornness and his total faith in Divine Providence kept him from cracking. He “said Mass” in his mind daily, recited the prayers of Saint Ignatius Loyola and prayed three Rosaries daily – one in Latin, one in Polish and one in Russian. He spent time polishing the beautiful wood floors of his room — twice a day — just to keep himself in good physical shape, and kept track of the days by the chimes of the clock in Red Square. These days he referred to as “Lubianka University,” for he was allowed to read books from the prison library — Russian classics mostly. He devoured these, knowing he would learn more about Russia and her people.
During these interrogations they tried to lure him with a trip to Rome with the intention of having him spy for them on the Vatican. He was never even tempted. He saw Nestrov twice in this last confinement at Lubianka, the last time shortly before they led him off to Siberia, wearing no shoes — only his heavy socks. His prayer for his old friend was that he would survive. He never heard of him again.
Off to Siberia
He was put in a jail car at the Moscow railroad station. Throughout his time in the labor camps and en route to them, he found two basic classes of prisoners: the criminals and the political prisoners like himself. He hated being thrown in with the criminals, for even the guards were afraid of them. They stole anything they could get their hands on, including other prisoners’ food and clothing. They would pull a knife and use it with no compunction. On a couple of occasions, however, the gang leader took a liking to him and became, in effect, his protector. Father seemed to have this odd effect on the bad guys; perhaps it was his innate toughness. He attributed it to God’s Providence.
First, they were brought to Vologda to a prison that held the laborers until enough of them were available to send to a work camp farther into Siberia. At last, he got a pair of shoes before boarding the boxcar for the 2,500 mile trip to Krasnoyarsk — two sizes too big. It was summer and the enclosed boxcars were stifling hot. At Krasnoyarsk, the prisoners were examined by doctors – also prisoners. Father’s doctor was Polish. When Father said to him in Latin, “Polonis sacerdos” (“Polish priest”), the good doctor made a sincere effort to keep him on his staff, but because of his “crime,” he was forced into the work brigades.
From Krasnoyarsk, they were sent up the Yenesei River in the huge tug Stalin with the men in the broiling hot and fume-filled hold of the tug and a line of barges filled with tractors, machinery, hardware, cattle, and produce for a the trip. It took weeks to get to Dudinka, their Siberian destination. During the trip there was a huge fight between the thieves and the political prisoners which resulted in the guards gunning down a number of the thieves. The men were sick from breathing in the tug fumes and being kept in the extreme heat of the boat’s hold.
As hot as they were for weeks, on arrival in Dudinka — inside the Siberian Arctic Circle, after all — they were exposed to extreme cold with wind and even snow at that time of the year. And it was only July! The guards there were already in their heavy ankle-length woolen coats.
The Soviets knew that there were practically unlimited resources to be had in the Siberian wasteland. All that was necessary was that they be mined. The new Russia had a voracious appetite for these precious natural resources, particularly with the war effort under way. The men sentenced to hard labor would be the means to extract the coal, oil, and other ores from the Siberian wasteland. Needless to say, it was killing work, especially on the starvation rations they were given. At Dudinka, the men could also work extra jobs to earn more food. A job in the kitchen was treasured, as there was always food to steal as well.
Father Ciszek’s first job was as a coal-loader in the mines. The huge chunks of coal that had been extracted came down a chute and he was responsible for distributing it evenly in the hold of a ship. The workers could not stop for a second for fear of being buried in a mountain of coal. It was brutal, muscle-searing work that lasted twelve hours a day; the atmosphere was filled with coal dust.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Father Ciszek was able to begin functioning as a priest again here. He and another priest, a Pole, Father Casper, were able to sneak bread for their hosts and make wine from raisins pilfered from the kitchen. They tried to say Mass for the men once a week, distribute Holy Communion secretly and hear confessions on the run. He was grateful to God that he was able to see to the spiritual needs of his “flock.”
On the River
When the coal boats had to pull out because the river was freezing, Father’s brigade was moved to pulling logs out of the river. It was dangerous and back-breaking work. The lumber had been floated upriver the previous summer for use in the mines of Norilsk. By this time, the river was ice and as much as two feet of snow fell each day. The laborers had to spread dynamite over a section of the frozen river, set it off, and when the ice broke up and the logs floated to the top, they had to remove them from the water. These were two to three foot diameter logs as long as twelve yards. The men were working in the river in minus thirty degree weather for twelve hours a day. Their hands froze after an hour’s work because the “winter” suits they wore became waterlogged. Many men slipped and fell into the water never to resurface. It is amazing that any of them survived the ordeal. Fortunately, by November, the weather worsened and the work had to end for the winter.
Next came a year in the coal mines of Zapadnaya at the base of the highest mountain in Siberia, the source of the coal. It was not uncommon for the mine roof to cave in and bury a crew or for an explosion of the coal dust to take life and limb. Next came digging out 250 pound barrels of chemicals that were frozen into the ground, putting them on sleds to move them elsewhere. Every job was made more difficult by the extreme weather, but they worked the same twelve hour shifts and got the same starvation rations. Once he was beat up viciously and put in a box for stealing bread as it was being delivered. Many of the prisoners, notably the thieves, would mutilate themselves by chopping off a finger or even a hand to get out of the brutal work. Desperate men indeed.
In 1947, Father Ciszek was selected to be part of a work crew to build lodging in the area of Norilsk. The work was a bit easier; the men had somewhat more freedom; he and another priest, Father Victor, were able to say Mass for the men who wanted it. Throughout his imprisonment and subsequent years living and working in Russia, the so-called “godless” society was never entirely “godless.” He found faith everywhere; those who were hungry for Mass and the sacraments were willing to risk discovery and punishment. He could never refuse to speak of God and minister to “his people,” whoever they were at the time. When there was more than one priest, they formed “parishes” in the camps and covered for each other when Mass was being prayed.
Another big project the slave laborers built was a copper factory. The Soviets were extracting the ores of Siberia and building factories on the sites to do the extracting work. It is a fact that Russian industry in Siberia was built with slave labor.
There were several times that Father Ciszek got somewhat of a break from the killing work schedule by doctors who took pity on him or knew he was a Catholic priest. During these times he worked in the prison hospital or in the kitchen. The rations were better and it was warmer in the winter than mining or lumbering. He credits these respites for the return of his health when it was at a low ebb.
Probably the most frightening time he experienced was the prison revolt in the prison camps surrounding the town of Norilsk. It was March, 1955, and rumors were flying about the death of Stalin and unrest among the prisoners at the slave labor camps all over Russia.
Naturally, the leaders of the revolt were the criminals. In his book, With God in Russia, Father Ciszek goes into great detail about the revolt at the camps around the town of Norilsk. The prisoners demanded better rations, shorter work hours, and a break in the day’s work for some kind of food. They also wanted the numbers on their uniforms to be removed and to be known by name instead of number. The criminals had nothing to lose and it was among them that the casualties were the heaviest. Their only weapons against the armed guards were bricks and clubs and the occasional knife, and when it got really out of hand, the army regulars would be called in to crush the “rebels.” The outcome, of course, was a foregone conclusion, many dead. Those criminal leaders who were not killed in the final assault on the camp committed suicide in gruesome ways rather than being caught by the soldiers. The revolt lasted more than a month.
Because he was a part of the revolt, he and other survivors were led out to the stone quarry where he feared they would all be gunned down. Instead, they were made to live and work in the hot — and never-ending — Arctic summer sun for twelve hours a day. The stone was used to build the town and its factories as a part of the opening up of Siberia. The conditions were brutal and he was afraid that he would finally crack. However, when he reminded himself that God had allowed him to survive all these years, he once again placed himself in the hands of God’s Providence and was able to calm down.
Nearing the end of his fifteen-year term, he served one more stint in the coal mines until a doctor friend insisted that he be released from that duty. His next round was much easier, working in the horse stables. Whatever was his work assignment, he never stopped functioning as a priest, always marveling at the fact that, even among these hardened men, he found a lively faith in God.
Then one day in early April, 1955, he was called into the office and told that he would be released in ten days. His sentence still had three more months to run, but he had earned early release! He was stunned. For the first time in almost twenty years, he would be a (partially) free man. Although he was out of prison, because of the nature of his “crime,” he would be restricted as to where he could live and work.
A “Free” Man
During the next three years, he lived and worked in nearby Norilsk, in Krasnoyarsk, and in Abakan, all towns and cities in Siberia. He was free to work, but was always under surveillance. His travel was restricted although he was able to function as a priest. In fact, he was approached several times by Catholics asking if he knew of any priest in the area. The Communists were doing their best to shut down churches, and one of their excuses was that there was no priest available. He and a few other priests who worked at other jobs during the day had vibrant “parishes” in these cities. They baptized, married, and offered Masses. Their Easter and Christmas Masses were jammed both with people who also came to share their best prepared food. It was occasions such as those that prompted the Communist regime to evict him from the first two cities. He was accused of “stirring up the people.”
At one point during these years, he wrote both his surviving sisters (one of whom was a religious sister) and his Jesuit superiors to let them know that he was alive, well, and out of the camps. He had no way of knowing if the letters got through until he received a communication from his married sister saying that she was trying to arrange a trip to Moscow and could he meet her there. (Moscow was one of the places that he was not allowed.) He informed the American Embassy in Moscow of his whereabouts and that he wished to see his sister. He had been told all along that he would never leave the Soviet Union and was encouraged to become a Russian citizen. This he always refused because he knew it would be a trap. He never admitted to not being an American citizen.
On the Way Home at Last
In the summer of 1959, Father Ciszek received a letter from the American Embassy telling him to write a petition to the Soviet Foreign Office requesting repatriation to the United States. His first request was denied.
Finally, one sunny day in September, 1963, he was called into the office of the state garage in Abakan where he worked as a mechanic and introduced to a KGB agent. After all of his experience with the Soviet Secret Police, he could spot them a mile away! The man strung him along for some time, but eventually he was told that he would be traveling to Moscow. No one told him why, nor did he ask. He just decided to play along with their games. His natural assumption was that he may be meeting with his sisters in the capital city.
After several days in Moscow playing tourist, his “handler,” Kuznetsov, finally told him to spend all the money he had in his pockets except for ninety rubles. He had about four hundred rubles on him. He almost went crazy spending money in the big GUM department store buying junk! He bought a fancy expensive meal. He even went to visit Lenin’s tomb.
The next morning Kuznetsov picked him up at his hotel and brought him to the airport. Father was totally at a loss to know what was happening. He was introduced to one Mr. Kirk who addressed him as “Father Ciszek.” He was astounded! He had not been called “Father” in all his years in Russia. Kirk turned out to be the representative of the American Embassy. There was a younger man named Makinen, another American being released from Russia along with Father. Both were released in exchange for a couple who had been convicted of spying for the USSR in the United States.
Before he boarded the plane, his constant companion of the past few days, Kuznetsov, told him that he could stay in Russia if he really wanted to. The man actually seemed to be sincere. His last sight of Russia was the city of Moscow beneath the wings of the aircraft. His Russian odyssey had finally ended.
On to Sainthood
Father Ciszek lived and worked in the Jesuit houses at Fordham University and in Scranton, Pennsylvania, until his death on December 8, 1984, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. He became spiritual adviser to those who sought his counsel. He is buried in the Jesuit cemetery in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, at the seminary where he was ordained a priest.
On May 20, 2012, Father’s cause for canonization was sent to Rome. There is no doubt that he led a heroic life as a prisoner of the brutal, atheistic Communist system in Soviet Russia, never losing sight of God’s hand in his life and the thousands of lives he touched in that godless land. Servant of God, Father Walter Ciszek, pray for us!