Fr. Seraphim Michalenko was vice-postulator of the cause for St. Faustina Kowalska.
Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who for more than 20 years was Vice Postulator for North America for the Canonization Cause of St. Faustina Kowalska, died February 11 at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was 90 and had contracted COVID-19.
Fr. Seraphim’s long career of promoting the Divine Mercy message includes having smuggled photographic images of the pages of St. Faustina’s Diary out of Communist-occupied Poland in the 1970s.
According to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Seraphim also served as Rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, both located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
“He was a witness to the first miracle attributed to St. M. Faustina’s intercession that opened the way for her beatification in 1993, as well as the coordinator of the efforts that served to verify that miracle and a second one which made possible the adding of the Religious Sister to the list of saints on April 30, 2000,” the Marians said on their website.
Born August 30, 1930, in Adams, Massachusetts, Fr. Seraphim was one of 11 children of John and Victoria (Betleja) Michalenko, who immigrated to the United States in 1921 with their eldest daughter. John was a Ruthenian Catholic from what is now Slovakia and Victoria a Roman Catholic from what is now Poland.
Seraphim Michalenko grew up attending St. Stanislaus Kostka church, which had beenbuilt by Polish immigrants. In the mid-1940s, the church was the first in the western hemisphere to have a Divine Mercy image enshrined in it.
It was also the home parish of another man who would eventually become key to spreading the Divine Mercy message around the world: Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, who established the Mercy of God Apostolate on Eden Hill in nearby Stockbridge, now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. It was the pastor at St. Stanislaus, Fr. Edmund Kempinski, who helped pull together the down payment that helped the Marian Fathers purchase the property in Stockbridge.
Fr. Seraphim recalled first hearing about Divine Mercy when he was a boy of 13 or 14.
“When Fr. Walter came home for vacation one time, he visited my parents,” Fr. Seraphim recalled in an interview several years ago. “He told them the story of St. Faustina. He also mentioned how in 1931, our Lord appeared to St. Faustina in a vision and told her to paint His Image as He appeared to her and include the signature, ‘Jesus, I trust in You!'”
Fr. Seraphim was ordained a priest on Pentecost Sunday in 1956. He was a member of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Province of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. With licentiate degrees from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (The Angelicum) and the Pontifical Institute of Eastern Church Studies (The Orientale) in Rome, he lectured for several semesters in the Department of Theology at the Catholic University of America and served in seminary and formation positions for the Marians.
Fr. Seraphim also held various administrative roles in his St. Stanislaus Kostka Province and in the Congregation’s Generalate in Rome, as well as pastoral roles in Eastern-rite parishes in Australia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. He served as a core member of the Bethany House of Intercession for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, a spiritual renewal movement for Catholic clergy in the 1970s, serving priests from all over the world.
During the 1980s, after the Holy See lifted the ban on Sr. Faustina’s writings and forms of Divine Mercy devotions, Fr. Seraphim was called from Bethany House to head the Divine Mercy Department at the Marian Helpers headquarters in Stockbridge. In that position, he wrote a series of articles for the Marian Helpers magazine, and supervised the production of various books, pamphlets, and audio-visual materials dealing with The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion and Sr. Faustina’s writings.
Witness to a miracle
Before Fr. Seraphim surreptitiously photographed Sr. Faustina’s diary and smuggled it out of Poland, there had not been an English edition. There wasn’t a Polish version either, other than Faustina’s original manuscript. Fr. Seraphim’s first order of business was preparing the Polish version of the Diary, and then he and others in Stockbridge worked on the English translation, first published in 1987.
Fr. Seraphim was appointed vice postulator for the cause in 1979. Soon thereafter, a man named Bob Digan came to see him. Digan had learned about the Divine Mercy devotion and felt that prayers to Sr. Faustina could help his own family. His wife, Maureen, had an inoperable disease, lymphedema, and his son, Bobby, was born brain damaged and had a severe seizure disorder that left him unable to communicate well or to move freely.
Digan told Fr. Seraphim that he and his family planned to travel to Poland, where he believed God would heal both Maureen and Bobby. Digan told the priest, “We want you to witness the miracle.”
So Fr. Seraphim and the Digans made their way to the tomb of the little-known nun in Communist-controlled Poland. And there, Bobby suddenly became a playful and energetic child, and Maureen’s disease disappeared. It was Maureen’s healing that led to Sr. Faustina’s beatification in 1993.
Fr. Seraphim was also involved in the case in 1995 of Fr. Ron Pytel, a Baltimore priest who was miraculously healed from an inoperable heart defect through the intercession of St. Faustina. Fr. Seraphim helped guide the process of gathering medical records and witnesses’ accounts connected with the healing. Together with Fr. Pytel, Fr. Seraphim presented the case to the Vatican, and it was accepted as the miracle needed for St. Faustina’s canonization.
Fr. Seraphim served as theological advisor for the award-winning video docudrama Divine Mercy — No Escape and for the devotional video Sister Faustina: The Promise of Mercy. He also played a significant role in the production and narration of a video released in 1992, Sister Faustina: The Apostle of Divine Mercy.
Then, from November 1991 to October 1995, he served as director of the Association of Marian Helpers under the honorary title “Father Joseph.” In this capacity, he supervised the scripting and production of another video, Time for Mercy, released in 1994 by the Marians in conjunction with Marian Communications Ltd., which won a First Place Gold Camera Award in international competition for outstanding creativity in the production of Audio Visual Communications.
In October 1995, Fr. Seraphim was assigned to full time promotion of The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion, participating in Divine Mercy retreats, conferences, and symposia.
He was a familiar face to EWTN viewers from his appearances on instructive and inspirational programs dealing with The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion.
Fr. Seraphim is survived by a sister, Sr. Victoria Michalenko, of the Community of the Mother of God of Tenderness in Danbury, Connecticut.
He was predeceased in 2017 by a sister, Sr. Sophia Michalenko, author of a highly regarded biography of St. Faustina.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, February 20, at 9 a.m. at The Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Burial will take place in the Marian Fathers Cemetery. Due to the concerns about COVID-19, attendance is limited. The Mass will be live-streamed at www.thedivinemercy.org.