08/2001 – Fr. Justin Figas

August 2001

We honor Father Justin Figas, founder of the Father Justin Rosary Hour heard on radio and via the Internet throughout the world. Click here to visit the Father Justin Website

Father Justin’s vision of a radio program that would speak to a wide audience took shape in 1926. New immigrants would listen to Father not only on religious matters but on matters of life, the needs of the world and people’s daily cares. He spoke to them in their own language with love, kindness and determination.

Father Justin’s vision, creativity and spirit took his message beyond a small radio station in Buffalo, New York to a worldwide audience. Currently Father Justin is under consideration for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

The following is a biography of Father Justin by Rev. Michael H. Burzynski, Ph.D. Former Associate New York State Chaplain – Knights of Columbus. This biography of Father Justin Figas was first published in “The Rosarium,” the monthly newsletter of the Father Justin Knights of Columbus, Council 5670, between January and April of 1997.

Michael Figas was born in McClure, Pennsylvania on June 24, 1886, the feast of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. His parents were immigrants from Poland, and both Polish and English were spoken in his home; however he was an American citizen by birth. Michael Figas attended parochial school about four miles from his home. He was reported to be an excellent student, particularly excelling in religion which consisted of the memorization and recitation of passages from the Baltimore Catechism and Bible history. He was also an avid reader of both American and Polish authors. These literary pursuits stimulated his interest in and love for Polish culture. Poland was an occupied territory at the time, being divided between Germany, Austria and Russia. He was an ardent American supporter of Polish re-unification and independence.

In 1900, at the age of 14, Michael Figas enrolled in Saint Francis College in Trenton, New Jersey. During vacation, he worked in the coal mines around McClure. In 1903, Michael entered the Novitiate of the Conventual Franciscans, commonly known as the Black Franciscans from the color of their habits, and was given the religious name of “Justin.” He completed his novitiate and studied Philosophy at Saint Francis College in Trenton, New Jersey, and went on to study Theology at the Seraphic College in Rome. On July 17, 1910, he was ordained a priest in Rome by His Eminence Raphael Mary Cardinal Del Val, who was the Protector of the Franciscan Order. He remained in Rome for another year, completing a Doctoral Degree in Sacred Theology.

Upon his return to the United States, Father Justin was assigned as an assistant pastor at Saint Josaphat Basilica in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he remained for three years. In 1914, he was reassigned to Corpus Christi Parish in Buffalo, New York, and given the additional responsibility of being Franciscan Friars are a religious order, and as such have a system of government which takes responsibility for them across dioceses. The local administrative units are known as Provinces, which would be similar to a Diocese for the diocesan clergy. The Province to which Father Justin belonged was the Saint Anthony Province, and it covered much of the Eastern United States and Midwest. Father Justin frequently traveled away from Buffalo, but he spent most of his priestly life in the Diocese of Buffalo. At an international meeting of the Franciscan Order, known as a General Chapter, held in Rome in 1921, Father Justin was elected as the Secretary General of the entire Franciscan Order throughout the world, but humbly turned down the election so that he could return to Buffalo, and continue his work as Secretary of the Province. In 1923, Father Justin was chosen as the Provincial, or chief religious superior, of the Saint Anthony Province. He held this job for a remarkable 16 years, until 1939. During his tenure as superior, he was able to found several institutions including Saint Joseph Cupertino Novitiate in Ellicott City, Maryland; Saint Hyacinth Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts; and notably for the Buffalo Diocese, Saint Francis High School in Athol Springs, New York. During this same period, he pioneered a new field of ministry for which he would be most fondly remembered: radio broadcasting.

The Father Justin Rosary Hour had very humble beginnings. In 1926, the Kolipinski Brothers Furniture Company sponsored a half-hour Polish Variety Program in Buffalo. Being religious people, the Kolipinski brothers wanted a spiritual dimension to be added to their weekly broadcast. Therefore, they invited the superior of the Franciscans at Corpus Christi, Father Justin Figas, to deliver a five-minute spiritual message each week. The popularity of the religious message soon eclipsed that of the Polish Variety Program, with people constantly contacting the Kolipinskis to request that more time be given to Father Justin. In 1927, Father Justin started his own one-hour radio program, dedicated to the Blessed Mother, which he called the Rosary Hour. It was always broadcast live.

The program’s format was compelling. In the spirit of its origins, the program was broadcast in the Polish language. After an opening theme-song, the “Rosary melody,” Father Justin gave a twenty-five minute informal talk. The talk was spiritual in nature, but Father Justin never hesitated to discuss problems of the day and gave what could be called a Catholic perspective to life in America. At the half-hour, Father Justin conducted his famous question and answer sessions, where he imparted his wisdom and fatherly advice. Questions which were posed in Polish were answered in Polish, and English questions were answered in English, with equal facility. Visiting choirs sang during the intervals of the program, and it ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament being imparted by a guest priest.

It was in the Rosary Hour that the particular holiness of Father Justin shown forth. He was able to see into the heart of every question, and gave answers which people realized were not only the opinions of a wise and educated man and priest, but those of a person who truly had the love of God deeply planted in his heart, and one who responded to that love with sincerity and a particular God-given wisdom. In numerous Polish-American households, the children were gathered around the radio each Sunday afternoon and told to listen to Father Justin, “because he is a saint.”

The Rosary Hour became a network program in 1931 when it carried across six stations. By 1954, the number of stations increased to fifty, and had reached seventy-two at the time of Father Justin?s death in 1959. The Rosary Hour continues to be broadcast throughout the United States and Canada to this very day.

As well as the Rosary Hour, Father Justin established a Rosary Hour League, to finance the radio apostolate. Father Justin also was the author of several books describing his travels and missions to various parts of the world on behalf of the Franciscan Order and the Rosary Hour apostolate. He wrote several articles for local newspapers, and founded the Seraphic Chronicle, which was a monthly magazine. He also established a guild which eventually resulted in the construction of Saint Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga, New York.

Father Justin Figas, OFM Conv., was called home to God on October 23, 1959, the feast of the great Franciscan Saint, John of Capistrano. He continued to work on the Rosary Hour until his death. He was buried in Saint Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga, NY. His great holiness and influence were reflected in the fact that the program continued to be known as the Father Justin Rosary Hour, long after his passing and that the next Knights of Columbus Council to be founded in the area would be known as the Father Justin Council. His work in electronic evangelization placed him far ahead of his times, and his informed faith and care of those in need made his life exemplary and worthy of imitation. We are sure that he is receiving the just reward for his labors in God’s vineyard, and we pray that he will soon be numbered among the saints of the Catholic Church.

One Response to 08/2001 – Fr. Justin Figas

  1. Karen Queeno says:

    Hi, I just read your article about the Kolipinski Brothers radio show, because I was telling my daughter about her great grandfather, Alexander Pietek. Alexander was the first Polish radio broadcaster in Buffalo, and emceed the Kolipinski show. Alexander was actually a salesman and manager at Kolipinski Brothers furniture.

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