V O C AT I O N S
Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek: A Life in Service O
n October 12, 1963, American-born Jesuit Fr. Walter Ciszek (1904–1984) arrived in New York after 24 years in Russia, much of it spent in captivity in Siberian labor camps and Soviet prisons. To add to the intrigue surrounding this extraordinary Jesuit’s life, Fr. Ciszek’s daring release—a complicated prisoner exchange—was negotiated with the help of President John F. Kennedy just one month before the president’s tragic assassination. Although Fr. Ciszek’s life reads like a Hollywood script, his experience results from one simple question: Will you devote your life to the service of others? Father Walter Ciszek answered the call by going to the Soviet Union. Today, Jesuits are working around the globe on the frontiers—from building schools in Malawi to aiding migrants at a small border town between the United States and Mexico. That’s the spirit of the Society; that’s the spirit of service. To commemorate his inspirational life, the Society of Jesus has chosen to highlight Fr. Walter Ciszek and the theme “Life in Service” for November’s National Jesuit Vocation Month.
A quarter century after his death, Fr. Ciszek’s life is still inspiring those considering a Jesuit vocation, and soon even more people may learn of his legacy. This past March, the Vatican gave its formal approval for the canonization process for Fr. Ciszek to begin.
My aim in entering Russia was the same from beginning to end: to help find God and attain eternal life. In his memoir describing his years in Russia, He Leadeth Me, Fr. Ciszek wrote, “My aim in entering Russia was the same from beginning to end: to help find God and attain eternal life.” By devoting his life to serving God and his people, Fr. Ciszek succeeded in both goals. The Chicago-Detroit Province has collaborated nationally to promote the life and vocation of Fr. Walter Ciszek throughout the month of November. For more information, visit www.Jesuit.org/Ciszek.
Upon returning to the US in 1963, Fr. Walter Ciszek (center) was greeted by numerous family, friends, and clergy at a welcome home gathering.
A year after joining the Jesuits in 1928, Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, was asked by Pope Pius XI to travel to Rome to prepare to work in Russia. When war broke out in 1939, Fr. Ciszek entered Russia illegally and was arrested. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. He made a triumphant return to the US in 1963, after 24 years of captivity.
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