March 4 is a personally important day of the year. It has nothing to do with my longtime association with local marching and concert bands; I had never even noticed the “March Fo(u)rth” pun until people started posting about it on social media.
Rather, it is the day when the Church commemorates St. Casimir, who was the patron of my home parish. On that day in 1994, by divine providence and U.S. Mail, I also received my letter of acceptance to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Allentown.
It was a Friday in Lent, which I remember because on Friday evenings in Lent my parish had Mass and Stations of the Cross, which my mother and I usually attended together. That night we thanked the Lord for this opportunity to grow in love of Him and His Church!
My now-retired pastor, Father Ronald Jankaitis, had an important role in fostering my vocation since he came to my parish when I was 10. He also happened to lead the diocesan committee entrusted with my formation for the next nine years.
That committee assigned nearly a dozen seminarians to St. Casimir’s for summer or winter breaks. I enjoyed hanging out with them. We share memories of producing pierogi, taking altar server trips to Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, and assisting at daily Mass.
Unless you could claim Lithuanian or Polish ancestry, you might not have had reason to honor this saint. In Lent, memorials like his don’t even call for white vestments, to preserve the penitential nature of the season.
But this diminished honor would not entice Casimir Jagiellon, the third of 13 children of Polish King Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Austria. He “did not deem” his royal status “something to be grasped at” (Phil 2:5), favoring simpler clothing, his bedroom floor, and a chaste life.
Casimir was a prince of peace. Sent as a teenager to lead an unjust usurpation of the Hungarian throne, he ended the expedition at his officers’ advice and to his father’s dismay. Consigned to a castle, he continued to build his arsenal of prayer and service to the needy.
Statuary has represented St. Casimir in his royal robes and not in his penitential hairshirt. His crown is usually on his head, though sometimes at his feet. Paintings depict him kneeling before a crucifix, sometimes holding a copy of his favorite hymn, known in translation as “Daily, Daily, Sing to Mary.”
Several of the Jagiellon boys studied under the priest-historian John Długosz, whose piety inspired Casimir in particular. In this respect I can especially identify, as the beneficiary of not a few priestly exemplars whose devotion – and gentleness, erudition, humor, and yes, imperfections – have brought me to this article, itself an exercise in reverence for the priests in my life.
By Father Christopher Zelonis, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul, Lehighton. Read more articles by Father Zelonis at www.shipwrackharvest.blogspot.com.