(Editor’s note: Saint Joseph’s College Alumnus Michael Collins wrote this remembrance of the premier Puma, Fr. Len Kostka, C.PP.S. Fr. Kostka, who served at the college for 65 years, died in December at the age of 104. As the college looks to find new ways to continue its mission, we thought it would be good to share Collins’ thoughts about one who carried that mission with him so long and so well.)
Fr. Leonard Kostka, C.PP.S. was a great teacher, priest, theologian, chaplain, friend, mentor and Puma. I had the privilege of taking two of his Core courses while I was a student at Saint Joseph’s College.
I still recall how he started his first Core lecture in August of 1979. He began in a most self-deprecating way: “This has been quite a year for me. I turned 65, my mom died, and I lost all my teeth. And then with a smile he went on: “And now we begin as we begin all things, ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’” His lectures were thought-provoking, with wide-reaching and rich content; but I think the part of teaching he enjoyed most was the intellectual give-and-take with students. He was so energized by firing up and expanding the minds of college students.
Alpha – The Beginning
Fr. Kostka was born in Chicago on March 1, 1914, and was baptized at St. Finbarr Catholic Church, located at 14th and Harding, in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. While Leonard was still a young child, his family moved to Detroit where he was raised. His dear mother was a Catholic and was the reason he was raised a strong Catholic
He loved sports and competition. He loved playing sports while a student at St. Joe’s and throughout his life. He was also the chaplain for countless Pumas sports teams. Imagine all the great pep talks he gave to the teams before they went on to do their best in athletic competition.
Fr. Kostka, like so many Missionaries of the Precious Blood, served as a military chaplain. He was very proud of his service in the U.S. Navy in World War II and beyond. He always related so well to veterans. He admired veterans and their sacrifices. He spoke their language.
Our conversations after I graduated from Saint Joseph’s College were very expansive. He was constantly thinking about our Lord and the mysteries of our faith. I used to see him pacing in Schwieterman House saying his Office. That was the only time he would not be interrupted. Outside of his devotion to prayer, he always made time for people, to listen, to offer advice, optimism, friendliness and humor, to instruct on his deep knowledge of faith and devotion to the Precious Blood. He was not an ivory tower theorist; he strove to apply lessons of faith to daily life. He understood sin and forgiveness and the profundity of evil in the world. He would call out evil for what it was, but also had a tender heart of forgiveness and understanding.
When I asked him how I could learn to pray better, he could go on for several hours with ideas. He said to me: “Imagine you are sitting across from Jesus and he is sitting across from you. Like a good friend, have a conversation with him.” He also suggested: “Imagine walking through the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. You tell him your troubles, then you listen as he tells you His (His troubles were much greater indeed).”
A Selfless Missionary
He was fascinated in a deep way with the mysteries of the Precious Blood.
He evocatively recalled, “One drop of his Precious Blood will save the world from sin.” He said: “Jesus, Lord, cleanse unworthy me, your Blood of which one drop is ransom for the entire world’s guilt. Billions of people in the world. Billions of sins every day. That image of the pelican feeding her young is a symbol of Christ. That is God’s nature. That is the vastness of God. Blessed are those who wash their robes in the Blood of the Pascal Lamb. The Blood of the Lamb is a sign for you. ‘This is my Blood’—we will share in the Divinity of Christ. So we should get to Mass.”
It bothered him that more people didn’t go to Mass. “Do this in memory of me. We have the Mass and we don’t appreciate it. Once baptized the Trinity dwells within.” He asked me a great rhetorical question: “Do you think Jesus is coming today?” He answered himself: “Yes, at the consecration.”
He would often express himself with a rapid symbiosis of ideas from all he pondered: “Jesus had a body and he took it with him into eternity. Dear God, a puzzling word. Enlighten me. Give me the courage to believe.”
Fr. Len definitely took the long game in his thinking, mellifluously emphasizing: “Buildings will fall and the mountains will crumble, but you go on forever. Your soul goes on forever. The only thing permanent in the Church is you and me.”
He felt so renewed when he visited the Grotto at St. Joseph’s College. “The Grotto is a reminder to slow down. For God everything is now. Pray for the dead. Pray for their souls.” He was very observant of the beauty of the world, saying: “Nature is the fingerprint of God.”
When I spoke to him of a difficulty I was having, he offered some positive ideas. He concluded by intoning a quote from St. Theresa of Avilla: “Let nothing disturb you.” He went on to add, “Don’t worry—God is still in charge.”
Omega — In the End
Henry Brooks Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence will stop.” And so it is for Fr. Len. God had a special plan for him. His 104 years were an inspiration to so many. He was a treasured pebble cast into the pond, whose ripples will go on for eternity. His life was God’s great gift to us. He was a great teacher.
(Michael Collins, a 1981 graduate of Saint Joseph’s College, is a sales, strategy and business development professional. He currently resides in Chicago.)