Martyrdom of Josaphat Kuntsevych by Józef Simmler, National Museum in Warsaw
Today is the Feast of St. Josaphat. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin the beautiful Basilica dedicated to St. Josaphat is one of the greatest architectural wonders in the Midwest.
St. Josaphat is a martyr who lived as a monk and the archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in modern-day Belarus. He was martyred on November 12, 1623. He was beatified in 1643 but not canonized until 1867 by Blessed Pope Pius IX. His body rests today in St. Peter's Basilica under the altar of Saint Basil the Great.
St. Josaphat was born to pious parents. His family were members of the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, under the Union of Brest in 1595, reunited with the Roman Catholic Church. As a young man, St. Josaphat declined both an apprenticeship and a marriage proposal to follow the call to the religious live. In 1604 at the age of 20, he became a monk of the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil and took the name Josaphat. In 1609 he was ordained a deacon in the Byzantine Rite. When St. Josaphat's superior was removed from his post for seeking to undermine the union with the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop fo Kiev appointed Josaphat as Superior.
St. Josaphat became a renowned priest and believed unity with Rome to be in the greater interest of the Church. He pursue great personal sanctity and helped win over a large part of the Orthodox faithful in Lithuania to embrace and accept the union with the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1617, he was consecrated as Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania.
In 1623 a priest opposed to the Union named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat as he sought to enter his residence. A mob soon emerged to defend Elias and they invaded the residence of the saint As St. Josaphat tried to secure the safety of those with him, he suffered martyrdom.
His martyrdom occurred on November 12, 1623. He was struck in the dead with a halberd while being beaten and shot. His body was thereafter thrown into the Dvina River but it was later recovered and buried in Biala, Poland. In a great miracle testifying to the power of God and the holiness of St. Josaphat, his body was found incorruptible five years after his death.
Basilica of St Josaphat in Milwaukee