By Mel Mantanona
John Kuncevic, now known as St. Josaphat, was born in 1580 in Vladimir, a region in Central and Eastern Europe between southeastern Poland, southwestern Belarus, and western Ukraine. He was born into the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church that was then not in union with Rome.
At a young age, his mother introduced him to icons and he was instantly captivated. An icon is a religious work of art, typically a painting representative of God, the saints, or sciences from the bible. Still in his juvenile years, he experienced very clearly a spark of fire enter his heart that came from the side of the wounded Christ.
This phenomena changed his life and he began to study the Church rituals and psalms. He gained a longing to feel poverty and death for Jesus Christ. When he was a little bit older and was sent away to study the family business, he spent most of his free time reading about the saints.
When he was 15 years old, the bishops of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Churches decided to unite with Rome to establish full communion with the pope. This unification was called the Union of Brest. In full union with Rome, the Eastern Rites were kept. It was then that John entered the Basilian Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilno while taking the name Josaphat.
In the order, he found himself lacking sufficient spiritual direction and would endure severe mortifications of reparation for the priests of his order and for those who did not agree to the union with Rome. When he was about 29 years old, he was ordained into the priesthood and began his ministerial work of caring for the needy and homeless while also preaching and giving spiritual direction. His work impacted others so much that over 60 men entered the order inspired by him.
He assumed superior positions of not only his monastery, but also sister monasteries, and eventually became the archbishop of Plock. Once appointed as archbishop, he immediately began to reform the priests in his diocese and strived for complete union with Rome with schematic preachers who opposed the reunion.
Tension arose and Josaphat was slandered against for his persistent advocation for communion with Rome. During a mob brawl outside his residence, two of his enemies attacked him with battle-axes, shot him, stripped him, gave him to the dogs, and later threw him into the river. Following his death, thousands returned to full union.
His devotion and perseverance for Christian unity is something that no rite in the church could ever forget. His actions and death helped spur many people to come back to the Catholic faith. He died a martyr of the church and remains a great intercessor for unity.
Information and photo from The Basilica of St. Josaphat