Biography of Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek, SJ

Born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, in 1904. In 1928 he entered the Society of Jesus. After graduation from seminary in 1934 he studied at the Russicum Collegium in Rome; ordained in 1936. In November 1938 he was sent by the Vatican as an assistant to the superior of the Jesuit house in Albertyn, outside Slonim; in 1939 he was serving in the parish in Dubno. After the annexation of western Ukraine to the USSR, Fr. Walter and other Jesuit priests went to Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in Lviv and received his blessing on a clandestine missionary trip to the Urals under the guise of workers; he was appointed deputy exarch of Siberia. In March 1940, under an alias family name, he was recruited to work in the lumber industry and left for the Urals. He settled in Chusovoy, where he worked as a worker at Uglebirzhi and “over the course of a year did not carry out any missionary work, hoping to receive a regular Soviet passport so that he could go further into Siberia.” June 23, 1941 – arrested in Chusovoy on charges that “being tossed upon the territory of the USSR as an agent of the Vatican, he carried out anti-Soviet work in creating anti-Soviet Catholic organizations for the purpose of overthrowing the current system in the USSR; he carried out among those around him anti-Soviet and defeatist agitation; and he engaged in espionage against the USSR on behalf of Vatican intelligence.” During the investigation he was subjected to brutal beatings in Perm Prison, and thus forced to sign these charges; he would later recall: “If the investigator did not like my answer, he would beat me in the face so that I fell from the chair to the floor; two or three times during my month-long stay in Perm the investigator called several guards and they then brought me to the next room, covered with carpets, and sound-proofed walls. There they beat me on the head with rubber truncheons.” He was sent to Moscow for further investigation and placed in the inner chamber of the NKVD prison. August 26, 1942 – presented with the indictment. September 23, 1942 – sentenced under Articles 58-6 and 58-10 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR to fifteen years of hard labor [Special Board, USSR NKVD]. He was in Butyrka Prison until 1945 [where he was "broken" by the investigation and signed statements about the activity of the Vatican in the USSR], then exiled to the Urals where he worked as a dump truck driver. He developed clandestine missionary activity, for which he was again arrested in 1946 and sentenced to ten years in corrective labor camp. Sent to Norillag (Dudinka); in February 1947 he was transferred to Norilsk, where he worked in a brick factory. June 12, 1956 – released from the camp and banished to Krasnoyarsk [where he secretly established mission parishes. After the KGB learned of this activity, he was forcibly transferred to Abakan, a hundred miles to the south where he worked as an auto mechanic for four more years]. Released in 1963. Departed for the United States. Translator’s Note: His release was coordinated with the exchange of two convicted Soviet spies. From 1963 he worked in the John XXIII Ecumenical Center associated with Fordham University in New York. He wrote two books about his experience in Soviet Russia: With God in Russia (1964) and He Leadeth Me (1973). Died in New York on December 8, 1984, and buried at the Jesuit cemetery in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. The cause for his canonization is being led by the Diocese of Allentown. Sources: Archive of Krasnoyarsk “Memorial”; Archive of the Directorate, Ministry of the Interior, Krasnoyarsk kray; Vospominaniya sibiryakov, 1991, no. 4, pp. 75-85; Doberski, Zapiski uznika (Warsaw, 1990), pp. 45-50; Osipova (1996), p. 210; Polacy na Lotwie, p. 306; Investigatory Matter 888, Central Archive, FSB, Russian Federation; Madała, pp. 40-41
Variant Names:
Ciszek, Walter; Chishek, Iolter (Val'ter)
Shenandoah (Pa., United States); Rome (Italy); Albertyn (Poland); L'viv (Ukraine); Siberia
male; clergy and religious; survived