Background of St Faustina
St Faustina was born on August 25, 1905, in Glogowiec, Poland of a poor and religious family of peasants, the third of 10 children. She was baptized with the name Helena in the parish church of Swinice Warckie. From a very tender age, she stood out because of her love of prayer, work, obedience, and also her sensitivity to the poor. At the age of seven, she had already felt the first stirrings of a religious vocation. Helen made her first Holy Communion at the age of nine, which was a very profound moment in her awareness of the presence of the Divine Guest within her soul. She attended school for only three semesters. After finishing school, she wanted to enter the convent, but her parents would not give her permission. Being of age at 16, Helen left home and went to work as a housekeeper in Aleksandrów, Lodi, and Ostrówek in order to find the means of supporting herself and of helping her parents.
Life of St Faustina as a Nun
St Faustina arrived in Płock in May 1930. That year, the first signs of her illness, which was later thought to be tuberculosis, appeared, and she was sent to rest for several months in a nearby farm owned by her religious order. After her recovery, she returned to the convent, and by February 1931, she had been in the Płock area for about nine months.
St Faustina wrote that on the night of Sunday, 22 February 1931, while she was in her cell in Płock, Jesus appeared wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart. In her diary (Notebook I, Items 47 and 48), she wrote that Jesus told her:
Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: “Jesus, I trust in You” (in Polish: “Jezu, ufam Tobie”). I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.
Not knowing how to paint, St Faustina approached some other nuns at the convent in Płock for help, but she received no assistance. Three years later, after her assignment to Vilnius, the first artistic rendering of the image was produced under her direction.
In the same 22 February 1931 message about the Divine Mercy image, as St Faustina also wrote in her diary (Notebook I, item 49), Jesus told her that he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter Sunday; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
In November 1932, Saint Faustina returned to Warsaw to prepare to take her final vows as a nun, by which she would become in perpetuity a sister of Our Lady of Mercy. The ceremony took place on 1 May 1933, in Łagiewniki.
In late May 1933, Kowalska was transferred to Vilnius to work as the gardener, here tasks including growing vegetables. She remained in Vilnius for about three years until March 1936. The convent in Vilnius then had only 18 sisters and was housed in a few scattered small houses, rather than a large building
Shortly after arriving in Vilnius, Kowalska met the priest Michael Sopoćko, the newly appointed confessor to the nuns. He was also a professor of pastoral theology at Stefan Batory University, now called Vilnius University.
When Kowalska went for the first time to this priest for confession, she told him that she had been conversing with Jesus, who had a plan for her. After some time, Sopoćko insisted on a complete psychiatric evaluation of Kowalska by Helena Maciejewska, a psychiatrist and a physician associated with the convent. This took place in 1933 and Kowalska passed the required tests and was declared of sound mind.
Sopoćko then began to have confidence in Kowalska and supported her efforts. He also counseled her to begin keeping a diary and to record the conversations and messages from Jesus of which she had told him. Kowalska told Sopoćko about the Divine Mercy image, and in January 1934, Sopoćko introduced her to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski, who was also a professor at the university.
By June 1934, Kazimierowski had finished painting the image, based on the direction of Kowalska and Sopoćko, the only Divine Mercy painting that Kowalska saw. A superimposition of the face of Jesus in the Image of the Divine Mercy upon that in the already-famous Shroud of Turin shows great similarity.
Kowalska wrote in her diary (Notebook I, Item 414) that on Good Friday, 19 April 1935, Jesus told her that he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be publicly honored. A week later, on 26 April 1935, Sopoćko delivered the first sermon ever on the Divine Mercy, and Kowalska attended the sermon.
The first Mass during which the Divine Mercy image was displayed occurred on 28 April 1935, the second Sunday of Easter, and was attended by Kowalska. It was also the celebration of the end of the Jubilee of the Redemption by Pope Pius XI. Sopoćko obtained Archbishop Romuald Jałbrzykowski ‘s permission to place the Divine Mercy image within the Gate of Dawn Church, in Vilnius, during the Mass that Sunday, and he celebrated the Mass himself.
On 13 September 1935, while still in Vilnius, Kowalska wrote of a vision about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in her diary (Notebook I, Item 476). The chaplet is about a third of the length of the Rosary. Kowalska wrote that the purpose for the chaplet’s prayers for mercy is threefold: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others.
In November 1935, St Faustina wrote the rules for a new contemplative religious congregation devoted to the Divine Mercy. In December, she visited a house in Vilnius that she said she had seen in a vision as the first convent for the congregation.
In January 1936, Kowalska went to see Jałbrzykowski discuss a new congregation for Divine Mercy. However, he reminded her that she was perpetually vowed to her current order. In March 1936, St Faustina told her superiors that she was thinking of leaving the order to start a new one that was specifically devoted to Divine Mercy, but she was transferred to Walendów, southwest of Warsaw. She reported that Jesus had said to her: “My Daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My Divine Mercy, I will make up for what you lack.”
How did St Faustina define Suffering?
52 Weeks with St. Faustina
by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle:
I thank You, Jesus, You who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of Your holy will. Let all be done according to Your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In You, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart (Diary, 343).
Canonization of St Faustina
The formal beatification of Kowalska involved the case of Maureen Digan of Massachusetts. In March 1981 Digan reported a healing, while she was praying at the tomb of Kowalska. Digan had suffered from lymphedema, a disease that causes significant swelling from fluid retention, for decades and had undergone ten operations, including a leg amputation. Digan reported that while she prayed at Kowalska’s tomb, she heard a voice saying “ask for my help and I will help you”, and her constant pain stopped. After two days, Digan reported that her foot, which had previously been too large for her shoe because of her body’s liquid retention, was healed. Upon her return to the United States, five Boston area physicians stated that she was healed, and the case was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992 based on the additional testimony of over 20 witnesses about her prior condition.
In 1965, with the approval of the Holy Office, Karol Wojtyła, then Archbishop of Kraków and later Pope John Paul II, opened the initial informative process into Kowalska’s life and virtues, interviewed witnesses and, in 1967, submitted a number of documents about Kowalska to the Vatican and requested the start of the official process of her beatification. That was begun in 1968 and concluded with her beatification on 18 April 1993. She was canonized on 30 April 2000, and her feast day is 5 October.
Prayer to St Faustina
O Jesus, You inspired Saint Faustina with profound veneration for Your boundless Mercy. Grant me through her intercession, if it be Your holy will, the grace …for which I fervently pray. My sins render me unworthy of Your Mercy, but be mindful of Saint Faustina’s spirit of sacrifice and self-denial, and reward her virtue by granting the petition which, with childlike confidence, I present to You through her intercession.
Our Father…, Hail Mary…, Glory…
Saint Faustina, pray for us.