TRUST JESUS EVEN MORE!
Patti Gallagher Mansfield
In 1968 I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to begin working on campus ministry with Ralph Martin and other early leaders of the fledgling Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It wasn’t called Charismatic Renewal at the time. We were just a group of young adults who had been baptized in the Spirit and we were discovering the charismatic gifts and the power of praise. Priests and laypeople interested in what was happening among us in this new outpouring of the Holy Spirit began to attend our prayer meetings in the basement of St. Mary’s Student Center. One stocky priest in particular was so outgoing and joyful that we quickly became friends. His name was Fr. George Kosicki, CSB. I can’t remember our early conversations, but it was obvious that he was a brilliant man who had a remarkable humility. How did I know this? He apparently thought that a 21-year-old girl like me had something to share with him about God! Although he held advanced degrees in theology and biochemistry, he came amongst us as a learner, not a teacher. My only credentials were that I was present on a retreat for students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1967 based on the Acts of the Apostles. During that retreat now known around the world as the “Duquesne Weekend,” the Holy Spirit fell upon us “as by a new Pentecost.”
Those exciting and dramatic months in Ann Arbor contributed greatly to the growth of a worldwide movement that has now touched the lives of over 120 million Catholics in every country of the world. And very quickly, the zealous and dynamic Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, became a leader in this movement and was a masterful preacher and teacher.
The Fourth International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference was held in June 1970 at St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. Fr. George was the homilist of the Sunday Mass. The gospel was that of the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up and threatened them with the wind and waves crashing over their boat. Fr. George preached a memorable homily based on his visit to the church where he had been baptized, on the feast day of St. George, his patron. This particular church was no longer an active parish and Fr. George compared it to the universal Church, threatened now by the wind and waves of secular humanism. Fr. George told how he looked in the place where the sacred oils were normally kept, only to find that they were not there. He said in his distinctive booming voice, “Imagine, no anointing in the Church! How much the Church today needs the anointing, the fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit!” I heard Fr. George give numerous talks, teachings and homilies, but in my opinion, none could compare to that homily!
From 1969 to 1971 I was in Farmington, Michigan, teaching theology at Mercy High School. Weekly I would travel to Gesu Parish in Detroit to attend a prayer meeting led by Fr. George. I remember he even celebrated a mass for my friends on the theology faculty at the high school. One of them told me afterwards, “He has so much of the holy about him.” And he did! His reverence, his sonorous voice, his intensity and passion about the things of God…you couldn’t be around him without knowing that he was every inch a priest, a priestly priest who was sure of his vocation to bring God to the people and the people to God. He had a strength about him…strength of character, of mind, of spirit. That combination of the Polish and Russian heritages made him a force to be reckoned with!
Fr. George was my spiritual father and guide during those years in Michigan and even after I moved to New Orleans in 1971. He always stayed close to me and to my husband through notes and phone calls and meetings at conferences. Fr. George remained a cherished and beloved spiritual father until the Lord called him home. I felt myself to be his friend and daughter in a real way. How many notes and memos I have from Fr. George written with his own hand…a flowing, dynamic script…“To PGM from GWK.” When we would speak on the phone, I always tried to have a pen in hand so that I could make notes of his spiritual insights, which were so rich. He reminded me of my own dad who had a gruff exterior but a very tender heart. When I was suffering, Fr. George would remind me “not to waste the suffering” but to “offer it up in union with Jesus.” It was always clear to me that my suffering caused him suffering too. He had a true fatherly heart.
He traveled the world proclaiming the “Key to the Good News”: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! He taught us how to sing and live “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, Rejoice!” He exhorted us to praise: “Praise be the Lord Jesus Christ! Now and forever!” As he traveled, he witnessed the challenges of fellow clergy and he knew that without a holy priesthood, the Lord could not renew the Church. How well I remember when he decided to give up his academic career and embrace a fulltime ministry to priests. It is a sign of his radical obedience to God that he was willing to leave everything once again to help priests and bishops grow in holiness. His work at the Bethany House of Intercession, the founding of the Fraternity of Priests, as well as his times of solitude which increased as time went on, are all beautiful examples of his zeal to renew the priesthood. Fr. George was fearless in calling everyone to holiness of life. Others could enumerate the letters he wrote to those in authority expressing forcefully what needed to happen for real renewal of priestly life. I have no doubt that when Fr. George entered heaven there were a host of priests and bishops waiting for him with thanksgiving for the part he played in their salvation and growth in holiness.
Perhaps no other priest had a greater impact on my relationship with Our Lady than Fr. George Kosicki! In some mysterious way, when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Duquesne Weekend, I received this grace in union with Mary. However, without any background in theology, I didn’t know how to express this reality. Fr. George helped me learn how to do that. In fact, he dedicated his book Born of Mary to my husband and me. When, in 1981, Al and I read Fr. George’s book, The Spirit and the Bride Say “Come”, it was one of the greatest graces in our lives. We welcomed the message to consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and to promote this consecration. Fr. George and I led three days of intercession at the Ark and the Dove Retreat House just before the Silver Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Fr. George brought a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Gazing at this image in the very chapel where I had been baptized in the Spirit 25 years earlier, I wrote the prayer, “Make of Me a Tilma.”
Fr. George began to organize Marian conferences at Franciscan University of Steubenville and he often invited me to speak on the program. The rest of the speakers were usually priests and theologians, but in his humility, Fr. George trusted me to join their ranks. One time he even told me that in listening to the tapes afterwards, he liked my talk the best! I felt sure he only said that to encourage me. Fr. George was a great affirmer of the gifts of others and quick to acknowledge the talents of laymen and laywomen. Only a very secure and loving priest can do that!
We shared many friends in common: Fr. Harold Cohen, SJ, Fr. Jim Ferry, Fr Michael Scanlan, TOR, Fr. Francis Martin, Fr. Tom Forrest, CSsR, Sr. Isabel Bettwy. Many of these friends were involved in those Franciscan University conferences where people were formed in the life of the Spirit in union with Mary, the Spouse of the Spirit. All but one of the friends listed here are already enjoying (or soon to enjoy) the face-to-face vision of the Lord Jesus in heaven. Fr. George Kosicki was a spiritual giant among spiritual giants.
Fr. George told me of his love for the Divine Mercy from his youth when his mom had a picture of the Divine Mercy in their home. As a young boy, he could not have imagined that he would become one of the world’s foremost authorities on St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy message. When I would speak with Fr. George, he would quote by heart passages from the Diary of St. Faustina along with the number where I could find them! He was a walking encyclopedia of mercy! Those Marian conferences became conferences on “Mary, Mercy and the Eucharist” and again he included me on many occasions. I knew Fr. George’s brother, Fr. Bohdan Kosicki, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit from my years at Mercy High. At one of those “Mary, Mercy and the Eucharist” conferences, I had a chance to meet their sister, Rosalie. When Rosalie died, Fr. George gave me her relic of St. Faustina. How can I express what this gift means to me! Today on my dresser, in Fr. George’s hand is printed in capital letters, “TRUST JESUS EVEN MORE!” It is a constant call from this great Mercy priest to go further and deeper in my love for Jesus: “Jesus I trust in You!”
I have many sweet memories of visiting with him at the Little Sisters of the Poor toward the end of his life. I was not in Michigan often but when I came, a dear friend from my days at Mercy High, met my plane and brought me to Fr. George. The last time I saw him I asked the question, “Have any of your family been here recently?” His answer, “You mean besides you?” If I needed any proof of his spiritual fatherhood and love for me, there it was.
At a moment of transition in Fr. George’s life, as I was praying for him, I had a mental image of him passing through a field of wheat with a sickle in his hand. He was wielding that sickle forcefully, clearing a path for others. I believe that this is what has happened both in his life and in his death. He is a trailblazer, always on the move, always going forward in the things of God. He has gone before us to show us the way. How? Through prayer, through trust in God’s mercy, through radical openness to the Holy Spirit, through consecration to Our Lady, through praise, through faithfulness, through suffering. May this great man of God intercede for all of us who loved him so much. And may he intercede for his fellow priests and for the Church which stands in such need of God’s mercy!