Saint Faustina Kowalska (Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Born: 25 Aug 1905 in Głogowiec, Poland
Died: 05 Oct 1938 in Kraków, Poland
Beatified: 18 Apr 1993 by Pope John Paul II
Canonized: 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II
Feast: 05 Oct
Faustina was born Helena Kowalska on 25 Aug 1905 to Stanisław Kowalski and Marianna Kowalska, the third of ten children. Her father was a carpenter and a peasant. The family was poor and religious.
She felt a calling to the religious life at the age of 7 while attending the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. (A consecrated host is placed in an elaborate container called a monstrance which is then displayed on the altar at church.) After she completed her schooling, she only went to school for three years, she sought her father’s permission to enter the convent but he refused.
In 1924 she went to a dance at a park in the city of Lodz with her sister. While there she had a vision of Jesus suffering and immediately went to the cathedral to pray. According to Faustina Jesus told her to immediately go to Warsaw, about 65 miles away, where she was to join a convent.
Helena visited a few convents but was turned away because of her low status. After searching a few weeks the mother superior of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy accepted her conditionally. On 30 Apr 1926, at the age of 20, she received her habit and took the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. (Faustina is Polish for ‘little fortunate one.’ It is also the feminine form of Faustinus, a man martyred by the Romans in 120 AD.) Over the next few years she was transferred between several of the order’s convents.
Faustina arrived in the city of Plock in May of 1930. It was around this time that signs of an illness, later thought to be tuberculosis, started to become apparent. She was sent to a farm owned by the order to recuperate and eventually returned to Plock.
The Divine Mercy Image
On Sunday night, 22 Feb 1931, Jesus appeared to her in her room in the convent. He referred to Himself as the King of Divine Mercy. He wore a white robe with red and pale rays emanating from His heart. Jesus told her: “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: “Jesus, I trust in You” (“Jezu, ufam Tobie“). I desire that this image be venerated (honored, not worshipped), first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.” Jesus also said that He wanted the image to be blessed on the Sunday after Easter which was to be designated the Feast of Divine Mercy.
Note: This is not to say that the image has the power to save us. It does not. By venerating the image it helps to focus us on Jesus who can save us. The purpose of the image is to increase out trust in Him as the source of mercy.
Unfortunately painting was not one of Faustina’s skills and no one at the convent could or would assist her. It wasn’t until three years later that she was able to find someone who, under her direction, would create the image. In the meantime Faustina returned to Warsaw to prepare for her final vows which she received on 01 May 1933. Afterwards she was sent to Vilnius.
At Vilnius Faustina met Father Michael Sopoćko who had just been appointed the nuns’ confessor. When she went to him for confession she told him about the message Jesus had given her and the priest sent her for a psychological evaluation. She was examined and found to be completely sane.
It was Father Sopoćko introduced her to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski who created the painting following her instructions. Today this is known as the image of Divine Mercy. On Good Friday, 19 Apr 1935, Jesus instructed Faustina to have the image made public. On 26 Apr Father Sopoćko delivered a sermon on Divine Mercy. Sister Faustina was in attendance. Two days later the image was revealed to the public.
On 13 Sep 1935, Sister Faustina received a message in which she was given the Divine Mercy Chaplet. (A chaplet is a short prayer said using rosary beads.) This was to become a part of the Divine Mercy devotion.Father Sopoćko began to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy in 1936. He produced a brochure with the image on it and began distributing them with the permission of the archbishop.
Faustina recorded the messages from Jesus in a diary entitled Divine Mercy in My Soul. It has been published in book form and is available online at https://archive.org/stream/St.FaustinaKowalskaDiary/divine-mercy-in-my-soul_djvu.txt
In 1936 Faustina’s illness returned and she was sent to a sanitarium. She spent her last two years there praying and writing in her diary. On 23 Mar 1937 she had a vision of devotion to Divine Mercy spreading around the world.
Faustina died on 05 Oct 1938 at the age of 33. She was buried on 07 Oct.
Devotion to Divine Mercy
In 1942 the archbishop was arrested by the Nazis and Father Sopoćko and some others went into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. Father Sopoćko used his time to prepare for establishment of a new religious congregation based on the messages. It is now known as the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy.
Despite this, things did not go well for the devotion. A bad translation of Faustina’s diary was circulated and it was found to contain heresy. Unfortunately none of the investigators could read it in the original Polish. The diary was condemned in 1959 and the image suppressed.
In 1965 Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków, later Saint Pope John Paul II, began an investigation into the diary. No error was found in the Polish version and, on 15 Apr 1978, the ban was lifted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now pope, John Paul II beatified and, later, canonized Sister Faustina and established the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The Message of Divine Mercy
There really is nothing new about the message of Divine Mercy. It is a reminder more than a revelation. Its message is the same message as the New Testament. God, through Jesus, is pouring out His mercy. There is coming a time, however, when this will stop and Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The answer is to put your trust entirely in Jesus. If we do so, we will receive the free gift (grace) of His mercy.
Text © 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.