I am flying into LAX Saturday, renting a car, driving up to the Central Coast for a couple of nights to visit dear friends, and then heading for St. Andrews’ Abbey in Valyermo for a first-week-of-Advent retreat.

I’m nervous and excited!

Meanwhile, my thoughts have turned to one of my all-time favorite saints or soon-to-be saints: Servant of God Walter Ciszek. I wrote about him in Magnificat years ago:


Fr. Walter Ciszek, S. J. (1904-1984) was born to a large Polish Catholic family in the mining town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. As a youth he headed up a street gang and proved so incorrigible that his father once went to the police and asked them to put him in reform school.

Instead, young Ciszek developed a private, secret desire to be a Jesuit priest. Mulishly stubborn, he was accepted into seminary, studied in Rome, and was ordained in 1937. He felt a passionate call to go to Russia, but was instead assigned to Albertin in eastern Poland. When the Russians invaded and closed the Jesuit mission down, Fr. Ciszek, with permission from his order, snuck across the Russian border. There, he worked in a lumber camp for a year: learning the language, quietly performing baptisms, absolutions, and anointings, and—some of the happiest moments of his life, he would later recall—celebrating clandestine Masses in the woods with a priest friend.

Arrested one night, he was sent to the notorious Lubianka Prison and charged with being a Vatican spy. Much of his five years there was spent in solitary confinement. In He Leadeth Me, a spiritual classic, he tells of praying that the Holy Spirit would provide a clever retort to put his interrogators smartly in their place. Instead, in one particularly grueling session, he finally broke and numbly signed page after page of trumped-up charges.

Back in his cell, he was devastated. He, who had prided himself on his strength, had been broken. It struck with the force of revelation: for all his prayer and self-discipline, he had still been relying largely on himself. The episode was a “purgatory” that “left me cleansed to the bone” and marked a turning point after which he abandoned himself completely to God’s will.

He was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor at a Siberian work camp. Often in the sub-arctic cold during lunch break, he and his fellow believers secretly celebrated daily Mass: “[T]hese men would actually fast all day long and do exhausting physical labor without a bite to eat since dinner the evening before, just to be able to receive the Holy Eucharist—that was how much the Sacrament meant to them in this otherwise God-forsaken place.’

Released from Siberia in 1955, he worked as an auto mechanic and served as village priest. In 1963 he was exchanged for two Soviet spies and, after twenty-three years, Fr. Ciszek came home. The twinkle in his blue eyes was intact, yet “in many ways, I am almost a stranger.”

This mischievous Pole, tender of heart and tough as nails, evokes St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Both were fiercely sure of their vocations; both underwent a decisive second conversion; both suffered long, hard, and humbly for love of Christ.

In solitary confinement, in the labor camps, Fr. Ciszek learned at last what Thérèse did in her Carmelite cell: “Each of us has no need to wonder about what God’s will must be for us; his will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day.”

I’m re-reading He Leadeth Me and shared a few thoughts on this video:


  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    I love Fr. Ciszek.
    Have you seen the book
    With God in America?
    It’s about his life after he came back and has talks,. .and letters that he wrote and some spiritual direction that he gave. Very good.

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    Have you seen the book With God in America ?
    It is about Fr. Ciszek’s life in America and has retreat talks that he gave to nuns, letters that he wrote and spiritual direction that he gave. He continued to grow in living God’s will everyday and helping others to do so too.

    Thank you for your writing and talks. I love you
    Love & prayers
    Mary Anne Konizeski

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    Great. I have to remember this. Ron v. God.

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    What a good combo of things! Thanks, Heather. Love hearing what you’re enjoying.

  5. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Two votes for Fr. Ciszek’s “God in America”: it is on The List! Thanks, everybody…

    I live my own somewhat Joseph Cornell-like life…the whole phenomenon of sitting in front of my laptop, uploading a video to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL (that I even have a YouTube channel is obviously insane–no concept of graphics, music, lighting, marketing…), and sending my little musings out to the universe feeds something deep in my heart…

    From the Office of Readings yesterday, Feast of St. Andrew: “When I came among you it was in weakness and fear, and with much trepidation. My message and my preaching had none of the persuasive force of ‘wise’ argumentation, but the convincing power of the Spirit. As a consequence, your faith rests not on the wisdom of men but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

    This is my version, or part of it, of visiting the prisoner, tending the sick, offering a glass of water…Blessed Advent…we are almost there–

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Hi Heather, I echo the previous writer regarding the unique combination of people. I was not familiar with the soon to be saint Cizsek however given his life he deserves sainthood. Your final message was just great. When Kay and I get into soup she sometimes reminds me that she’s not the enemy. It’s always me not them. Enjoy your retreat. Mick

  7. I do not even know how I ended up here but I thought this post was great I do not know who you are but certainly youre going to a famous blogger if you are not already Cheers

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Welcome, Nigel, don’t you love when you go down an online rabbit hole and come upon something that actually “resonates” (overused, but still apt)! I’ve been blogging for years and am not remotely famous but I probably do better this way…Thank you for the vote of confidence and there’s lots to explore on my site.


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