Is ”a gift from God for our times”, great mystic, mistress of spiritual life, prophet, who reminded the biblical truth about merciful love of God for every human being and calls to proclaim it to the world through the testimony of life, deed, word and prayer.
Apostle of Divine Mercy, Prophet of Our Times, Great Mystic, Mistress of Spiritual Life – these are the epithets usually appended to the name of Sister Faustyna Kowalska, St. Faustyna (Faustina), of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Sister Faustina is one of the Church’s most popular and widely known saints and the greatest mystics in the history of the Church.
Sister Faustina was born on 25 August 1905 in Głogowiec, Poland to Marianna and Stanisław Kowalski as the third of ten children. Two days later she was baptized with the name Helena in the parish church of Świnice Warckie. At the age of nine, she made her first Holy Communion. She attended elementary school for merely three years and then she went to work as a housekeeper in various well–to–do families in Aleksandrów and Łódź. From the age of seven, she had felt the calling for religious vocation, but her parents would not give her permission to enter the convent. However, impelled by the vision of the Suffering Christ, in July 1924 she left for Warsaw to find a place. For another year she worked as a housekeeper to save some money for a modest monastic trousseau. On 1 August 1925 she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw on Żytnia St.
She lived in the Congregation for thirteen years, staying in many houses, the longest time (she spent) in Kraków, Płock and Vilnius; working as a cook, shop assistant in baker’s shop, gardener, and portress. She suffered from tuberculosis of the lungs and alimentary system and that is why for over 8 months stayed at the hospital in Kraków – Prądnik. Greater sufferings from those which were caused by tuberculosis, she offered as a voluntary sacrifice for sinners and as the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She experienced also many extraordinary graces such as: apparitions, ecstasies, the gift of bilocation, hidden stigmata, reading into human souls, the mystical betrothal and nuptials.
Sister Faustina’s principal task was to pass on to the Church and world the Message of Mercy, a recapitulation of the Biblical truth of God’s Merciful Love for every human being, and a calling to each of us to entrust our lives to Him and to actively love our neighbour. Jesus not only revealed the depth of His Mercy to St. Faustina, but also gave her new forms of worship: the picture inscribed Jesus, I trust in You, the Feast of Divine Mercy, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the Prayer in the Hour of His Death on the Cross, the Hour of Mercy. To each of these forms of worship, as well as to the preaching of the message of Mercy, He attached great promises, on condition that we care about the attitude of trust in God that is to fulfill His will and show mercy to our neighbours.
Sister Faustina died in Krakow on October 5, 1938, at the age of just thirty–three. Out of her charism and mystical experience grew the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy which continues her mission, proclaiming the message of Mercy to the world through the testimony of life, deed, words and prayer. On April 18, 1993, the Holy Father John Paul II raised her to the glory of the altars and on April 30, 2000, numbered her among the saints of the Church. Her relics are in the Shrine of the Divine Mercy at Łagiewniki, Kraków.
The Holy Father John Paul II wrote that in the age of totalitarianisms Sister Faustina became the ambassador of the message that the only power strong enough to counteract their evil is the truth of God’s Mercy. He called her Diary a Gospel of Mercy written from a 20th-century perspective, which has helped people to survive the extremely painful experiences of these times. This message, Pope Benedict XVI has said, „The message of Mercy as the Divine Power, as God putting a check on all the world’s evil, is indeed the chief message of our times”.
1. A Blessed Child
Stanisław Kowalski and Marianna née Babel after the wedding bought a few acres of farmland in the village of Głogowiec, far away from towns and busy thoroughfares. They soon bulit there a single-storey cottage and farm buildings. All the Kowalski children were baptised in the Parish Church of St. Casimir at Świnice Warckie; here they made their First Holy Communion and attended Mass on Sundays and holy days. The parish priest, Father Józef Chodyński, made the following entry for 27 August 1905 in the parish register: „On this day, 27 August 1905, at one o’clock in the afternoon, Stanisław Kowalski, farmer, aged 40 years, came accompanied by Franciszek Bednarek, aged 35 years, and Józef Stasiak, aged 40 years, farmers of Głogowiec, presenting to us an infant of the female sex, born of his wife Marianna née Babel, aged 30, at eight o’clock in the morning of 25 August 1905 in the village of Głogowiec. The child received the name Helena in Holy Baptism administered on this day, and the godparents were Konstanty Bednarek and Marianna Szewczyk (Szczepaniak)”.
Life in the Kowalski household went on at a tranquil place marked out first by prayer and then work, never the other way round. God came first, not only on Sundays and family occasions, but every day. In the early morning Father would sing the Hours or other hymns, and when Mother rebuked him that he would wake the children, he replied that they had to learn from their youngest years that God was the most important. There were holy pictures on the walls, and a little altar stood in the middle of the bedroom, with a crucifix and two holy statues, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At night the whole family would kneel for evening prayers, in May they would sing the Loreto Litany in front of the outdoor chapel outside the house, and in October recite the rosary. On Sunday afternoons Father would take out the Lives of the Saints from the bookcase and read in the family circle.
Father supplemented his income from the farm with work as a carpenter. He was strict with himself and his children and did not tolerate even the slightest misdemeanour. Mother ran the house and brought the children up. With her inborn gentleness, she trained them from their youngest years in jobs about the house and farm, and responsibility in carrying out their duties. Although she could not read she was the one who instructed them in the faith and the principles of morality, and prepared them for their First Holy Communion.
That was the family atmosphere of little Helenka, God’s chosen one to be the prophet of our times. But there was something that set her apart from the rest of the children in the village. Her mother noticed that she loved to pray and would even get up at night and kneel down. When she tried to curb her daughter’s enthusiasm saying, „You’ll go mad if you keep getting up in the middle of the night, Helenka told her, Mummy, it must be an angel that wakes me up for prayers”.
At the age of seven she had her first undeniable experience of God’s love. “Was when I was seven, [it happened] during Vespers and Jesus was exposed in the monstrance. The Lord granted me understanding of the things of God” (Diary 1404). She prepared with deep reverence for her First Holy Communion, which was administered to her by Father Roman Pawłowski during a ceremony in the Parish Church. She returned home aware of the Divine Visitor in her soul. When a friend asked her why she was walking alone, not with the other girls, she said, „I’m not alone, I’m walking with Jesus”. Her awareness of the presence of God in her soul could be observed already in childhood, and grew throughout her life, just as did her responsiveness to the needs of others.
As a little girl she was already distinguished from others by a “sense of mercy”. She would notice the poor people and those in need around her, who came into the village for a piece of bread and a donation of any kind. Not only did she notice them, but she would also think of ways to help them. One day she held a lottery, another time she put on her mother’s old clothes and as a beggar went from house to house and the collected money gave to the parish priest for the poor. „Everyone loved her – her mother recalled – she was chosen, the best of the children. She was modest and quiet, ready to do any chore and help anyone, but at the same time cheerful and always with a smile on her face”.
Not only her parents noticed little Helenka’s goodness, and her open attitude to God and other people. „You have a good, humble and such an innocent child”, a neighbour, Marianna Berezińska, praised Helenka. Kowalska „has such a blessed child!” she used to say in the village. Her siblings and peers also saw that Helenka was someone with a different mentality, who did not go to village dances and liked to pray and read the lives of the saints. „From her youngest years she would tell us about the saints, pilgrims, and hermits who fed only on roots, berries and forest honey, her brother Stanisław recalled. When she wanted to please her father she would take the Lives of the Saints or some other religious book from our modest bookcase and read aloud. She memorised the stories of the hermits and missionaries, and the next day while out grazing the cattle would recite them word for word to us and others. She told us children that when she grew up she would enter a convent, but we laughed. We did not understand her”.
Helenka went to school in 1917, aged twelve, when the area was liberated from Russian occupation and a primary school was established in Świnice Warckie. Her father had already taught her to read, but at school she had the opportunity to learn more. She was an able pupil and a keen learner, but had to leave after just three years to make room for the younger children. The family was not well off, so like her older sisters she went into domestic service.
2. Extraordinary Light
At the age of sixteen Helenka bade farewell to her parents, brothers and sisters and left home. She went to Aleksandrów Łódzki, a town where Kazimierz Bryszewski and his wife Leokadia had a bakery and shop at No. 30 on Parzęczewska St. (now 1 Maja 7 St.) and they needed help with the housework and looking after their only son Zenek. „Mummy served customers in the shop – he recalled years later – and Helenka tidied up, helped with the cooking, and had to wash up, carry out the refuse and bring water as there was no running water. She also brought in food for employees who were provided with meals by my parents. If time allowed she would play with me. She had a lot of work, as there were four rooms in the house, the shop, and the bakery”.
One day she saw there an extraordinary light. She thought it must be a fire and she started shouting just when the bakers were putting the loaves into the oven. It turned out to be a false alarm. Soon after that mysterious event she returned to Głogowiec to ask her parents’ permission to enter a convent. Though they were god-fearing, the Kowalskis didn’t want to give up their best child. They gave an excuse of not being able to afford a dowry and refused permission. Helenka went into service again, this time in Łódź. First she stayed at the house of her uncle Michał Rapacki, at No. 9 in the Krośnieńska, and worked for three ladies who were Tertiaries of St. Francis. When she started the job she asked to be allowed time for daily Mass, visiting the sick and dying, and using the ministry of her mistresses’ confessor.
On 2 February 1923 Helenka was sent by an employment agency to the house of Mrs. Marcjanna Sadowska, who had a shop at No. 29 in the Abramowskiego and needed a child-minder for her three children. „Whenever I left the house – Mrs. Sadowska said of her maid years later – I could rest assured. She was better at keeping the house than I was. She was kind, courteous, and hard-working. I’ve absolutely nothing to hold against her, she was just so good. Words cannot describe how good she was. Helenka looked after her employer’s children and also after those in need, of whom there was no shortage. A sick man lived in a lumber room under the stairs in the house. Helenka cared for him not only by bringing food but also by asking a priest to look after his salvation”.
When she was eighteen she once again asked her parents’ permission to enter a convent and again was refused. “After that refusal I indulged in the vanity of life, not paying any attention to the voice of grace, although there was nothing in which my soul could find contentment. The continual calling of grace was a great torment for me, nonetheless I tried to stifle my calling with various entertainments” (Diary 8). So she did not turn down an invitation to a dance in the Wenecja Park. “As I started to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus next to me, Jesus crushed with suffering, stripped of His apparel and all covered with wounds, Who said these words to me, ‘How long am I to put up with you, and how long are you going to keep Me waiting’?” (Diary 9). Under the pretext of a headache she quickly left the company, making her way to the nearest church, the Cathedral of St. Stanisław Kostka. There she prostrated herself before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to tell her what she was to do next. “Go immediately to Warsaw, there you will enter a convent” (Diary 10). Without asking her parents’ consent she packed and went to the capital.
Helenka asked the pastor of St. James’ parish, Father Jakub Dąbrowski, for help. He directed her to his acquaintances, Aldona and Samuel Lipszyc, in Ostrówek in the district of Klembów, who needed a nanny for their children, with a note saying that he did not know the girl but hoped she would be useful. There Helenka found the refuge from which she set off in search of a convent, and once she had found it stayed for another year to save some money for a modest monastic trousseau. „I remember her wholesome, happy smile – Aldona Lipszyc recalled after many years – She used to sing a lot and I always think of her in connection with the hymn she sang most often and which I learned from her, 'I am to revere Jesus hidden in the Sacrament'”.
In the Lipszyc household Helenka was treated like a member of the family, they all loved and respected her for her hard work and cheerfulness, she had a way with children, in short – she had all it takes to be a good wife and mother. Mrs. Lipszyc tried to get her to marry. But Helenka felt her heart was so big that no human love would satisfy it. “It happened one day during the octave of Corpus Christi – she recorded the most important event of her time at Ostrówek in her diary – God filled my soul with an inner light enabling me to come to know Him as the Supreme Good and Beauty. I learned how much God loved me. Eternal is His love for me. It was during Vespers – in simple words straight from my heart I made a vow of perpetual chastity to God. From that moment on I felt a greater intimacy with God, my Bridegroom. Since that moment I have had a little cell in my heart, in which I have always dwelled with Jesus”. (Diary16).
3. “To this place I have called you”
She commuted into Warsaw from Ostrówek looking for a convent which would take her but she was turned down wherever she knocked to the gate. Finally she came to the house of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. „She looked unremarkable, slightly delayed age-wise, rather feeble figure, a maidservant and cook by profession, no dowry, not even the most meagre of trousseaus. Unexceptional, a meagre little creature, poor, nothing special about her, not very promising”. That’s how Mother Małgorzata Gimbutt described the candidate on a preliminary interview to Mother General, Mother Leonarda Cielecka, who was not very keen on admitting persons with such a background into the Congregation. Mother Michaela Moraczewska, superior of the Warsaw house, who was present during the conversation, offered to speak to the candidate herself. Through the locutory door which was ajar she saw an unpretentious girl and at first, on observing her somewhat shabby appearance, had a mind to turn her away but it occurred to her that it would be more charitable first to talk to her. During the conversation she saw the candidate in a better light and wanted to admit her, so she advised the girl to ask the Master of the house whether he would accept her. Helenka knew this meant going to the chapel. While she prayed there she heard the words, “I admit you, you are in My heart” (Diary 14). When she returned to the reception room she repeated these words to Mother Superior, who said, “If the Lord has admitted you, then so do I” (Diary 14). Helenka’s immediate entry was prevented by poverty, and Mother Superior advised her to continue for a time in service and save up for a small trousseau, testing the firmness of her vocation.
At last on 1 August 1925, the vigil of the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Angels, the day came when Helenka Kowalska crossed the threshold into the convent enclosure. “I felt extremely happy, I thought I had entered life in paradise. One big prayer of thanksgiving sprang up from my heart” (Diary 17). But already after three weeks she observed that there was little time in the convent for prayer, and wanted to “move to a stricter order.” At night, when she prayed prostrating herself on the floor, she saw the tortured face of Jesus and asked, “Who has hurt You so much, Jesus?” Jesus replied, “You will cause Me such pain if your leave this Order. Here I have called you, and to no other place; here I have prepared many graces for you” (Diary 19). She apologised to Jesus and immediately revoked her decision.
After just a few weeks in the convent Mother Superior sent the postulant Helenka along with two other sisters to Skolimów, in the suburbs, for reasons of health, which had deteriorated due to the fairly strict fasts practised in the house and in service, and also due to the spiritual experience of a new life in the convent. At Skolimów she asked Jesus whom she should pray for. In reply she had a vision of purgatory, from which she learned that the greatest torment of the souls in this misty place, full of fire was longing for God. In her heart of hearts she heard the words, “My Mercy does not want that, but justice commands it” (Diary 20). From then on Helenka prayed all the more fervently for the souls in purgatory, to help them, and God permitted her to establish a closer form of contact with them.
Mother Janina Olga Bartkiewicz, who was postulant mistress at the time, showed a big heart to young postulants preparing for the religious life, but at the same time made big demands of them and directed them firmly. Of Helenka she used to say that she had an inner life of her very own and that her little soul must be dear to Jesus. Sister Szymona Nalewajk, since she and Helenka were postulants in the same period, admired Helenka for taking all the humiliations so meekly and without grumbling. „I was amazed a junior postulant was capable of such self-restraint and goodness”, she later wrote. This conduct was inspired by Helenka’s fervent faith and concern to be like Jesus trusting in the Heavenly Father even when He was on the cross and Who was meek and humble throughout His life, loving all people with a patient, understanding, and indescribably self-sacrificing love.
Helenka spent the last months of her postulancy in the novice house in Kraków, where she arrived on 23 January 1926. The novice mistress at the time was Mother Małgorzata Gimbutt, a prayerful person and devout practitioner of the mortifications, meek and quiet, who educated the young nuns entrusted to her care above all by the example of her life. She was the tutor who prepared Helenka to take the veil and directed her in the first months of her novitiate.
4. “From today on you shall be called Sister Maria Faustyna”
„From today on you shall not be called by your baptismal name, you shall be called Sister Maria Faustyna”, Helen heard these words during the ceremony for the taking of the veil on 30 April 1926. During the ceremony she fainted twice. Sister Klemensa Buczek, who helped her take off her white dress and veil and put on the habit, thought it must have been due to the emotions associated with abandoning the world. Whereas, it turned out, God let her know how much she would suffer. She saw clearly what she was taking upon herself. The suffering lasted a minute and then God again filled her soul with great comfort.
After less than two months of Sister Faustina’s novitiate there was a change of novice mistress (20 June 1926). Mother Małgorzata Gimbutt was replaced by Mother Józefa Brzoza, who had been trained for the office in Laval (France), which served the Foundress, Mother Teresa Ewa Countess Potocka née Sułkowska, as the spiritual model for the Congregation’s religious life and apostolic work in Poland. The Novice Mistress’ thorough training and personal experience gave her the confidence to lead the novices into the spiritual life, teaching them to know God more profoundly, to pray and practise the ascetic life, so that their piety should not be emotional and “soft” but thorough, and bring them to an ever deeper union with God through obedience, humility, a self-sacrificing love of their neighbours and a zeal for the salvation of the souls entrusted to the Congregation’s apostolic care. Sister Faustina followed the novice mistress’ instructions attentively and fulfilled all the duties allotted her with exactitude. „We were together in the novitiate for a year, recalled Sister Krescencja Bogdanik, who was a year ahead of her in her vocation. „I saw how enthusiastically Sister Faustina carried out all her duties. As I was a senior novice I had to act as her guide (“angel”). I was to bring her into the life of the community, and admired her for her quick learning. You didn’t have to tell her twice, as often happens with other novices. And you could always observe a childlike joy on her face. At this time Sister Faustina often spoke of God’s mercy”, Sister Szymona Nalewajk recollects, „while I would challenge her and stress His justice. But her arguments always won”. Her fellow nuns called her “the lawyer” because she could direct the discussion to the subject of God’s truths. They liked her and gathered around her during recreation, as her thoughts and words were focused on God and she was always cheerful.
That joy faded somewhat towards the end of her first year in the novitiate when she started to go through a period of extremely painful spiritual experiences known as the passive nights. “Towards the end of my first year in the novitiate – she recorded in her diary – it began to grow dark in my soul. I did not feel any consolation in prayer, meditation came only with much effort, anxiety started to overwhelm me. I entered more deeply into myself and couldn’t see anything but great misery. I could also clearly see the great holiness of God, I did not dare raise up my eyes to Him but cast myself into the dust at His feet, begging for mercy. Nearly half a year passed in this way and there was no change at all in the state of my soul. Our dear Novice Mistress bolstered my courage in these difficult moments. Nonetheless, the suffering was becoming more and more intense. My second year in the novitiate was coming up. My soul trembled at the very thought that I was to take my vows. I couldn’t grasp the meaning of whatever I read; I couldn’t meditate. I thought God was not pleased with my prayers. Whenever I received the sacraments I thought I was offending Him even more. Nevertheless, my confessor did not allow me to miss a single Holy Communion. God was working in a strange way in my soul. I didn’t understand any of the things my confessor said to me. The simple truths of the faith were becoming incomprehensible; my soul was undergoing torment, not finding contentment anywhere. At one point, I got a strong feeling that I had been rejected by God. That terrible thought pierced my soul right through. My soul started to die from the suffering. I wanted to die but could not” (Diary 23).
Sister Faustina was helped through these extremely painful experiences by her novice mistress, who correctly diagnosed her spiritual condition (which was not easy) and applied the right remedy. She instructed Sister Faustina to say the exclamatory prayers instead of long prayers which required a considerable amount of concentration, and thereby accept the will of God. She told her that God was still her Father although he was testing her, and that these trials were to prepare her soul for a fuller union with Him.
In these dark nights of the soul there were moments of light and joy, when God allowed her to feel His love or when Our Lady came to her aid. One such moment was the ceremony for her first vows, which was celebrated on 30 April 1928 by Bishop Stanisław Rospond. Sister Faustina’s parents came to the Łagiewniki convent. It was the first time she saw them since several years. They found her full of joy and happiness. See, Father, she said to her father, who had been so staunchly against her entry into the convent. „The One to whom I have made my vows is my husband and therefore your son-in-law„. This argument and their child’s happiness persuaded her parents and from then on they had no further objections to her life in the convent.
After taking her first vows Sister Faustina stayed for a few months in Kraków. In October 1928 the Congregation held its General Chapter, and the office of Mother General was entrusted to Mother Michaela Olga Moraczewska who was educated (a graduate of a music conservatory) and spoke several languages. She was magnanimous and devoted her entire life to the saving of souls. For 18 years she directed the spiritual and apostolic life of the entire Congregation which, following Sister Faustina’s visions, she entrusted to the care of Mary, Mother of Mercy, the Congregation’s heavenly Superior General. Sister Faustina put an immense amount of confidence in Mother Michaela, who helped her tremendously in the accomplishment of her vocation and was the woman of providence for the recognition of the mission of prophecy.
In the first years of her juniorate, that is after making her first religious profession, Sister Faustina worked in many of the Congregation’s houses. Firstly in Warsaw in the Żytnia, in 1929 she went to Wilno to replace Sister Petronela Basiura, who was leaving for her third probation; then she returned to Warsaw and the house in the Żytnia, only to be sent off to a new house on the Hetmańska in the Grochów district. In the same year she went to Kiekrz near Poznań, to take over in the kitchen for Sister Modesta Rzeczkowska, who was ill. In December of the same year she came back to the house in the Żytnia, but not for long. Things turned out in such a way, Mother General Michaela Moraczewska explained Sister Faustina’s frequent moves, „that she had to be transferred fairly often to new places, so that she worked in almost all of the Congregation’s houses. After a brief stay in Warsaw in the Żytnia and at Grochów, she was again sent off to Płock, and from there for a short time to Biała, an agricultural colony of the Płock house. Her main occupation at Płock, until her third probation, was serving customers in the baker’s shop”.
5. “Paint a picture”
It was in the convent at Płock, where Sister Faustina arrived in the May or June of 1930, that her great prophetic mission was to begin. It was Sunday, 22 February 1931. In the evening when she returned to her cell, she had a physical vision of Jesus in a white robe. His right hand was lifted up in a gesture of blessing, and His left hand was touching His breast from which two rays, a red one and a pale one, radiated out. After a while Jesus said to her, “Make Me a picture of this image in the form that you see, with the inscription Jesus, I trust in You. I want this picture venerated first in your chapel, and in the whole world. I promise that the soul that venerates this picture shall not perish. I also promise it victory over its enemies, already here on Earth, and especially in the hour of death. I Myself shall protect it as My glory” (Diary 47-48).
During her next confession she told her confessor about this incident. The priest told her to paint an image of Jesus in her soul. But as she left the confessional Jesus explained, “My image is in your soul. I want a Feast of Mercy. I want the picture which you will paint with a brush blessed in a special ceremony on the first Sunday after Easter, that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy. I want priests to preach My great mercy to sinful souls” (Diary 49-50). On Jesus’ confirmation that He meant a material picture, she informed the local superior, Sister Róża Kłobukowska, about the situation, who demanded a sign confirming the truth of the visions. Jesus said to Sister Faustina that the sign would come with the graces dispensed through the picture. Sister Faustina was not good at drawing, so she asked Sister Bożenna Pniewska for help. „I couldn’t paint, either, and I did not understand that she meant a new kind of picture, Sister Bożenna recalled, so I suggested I would offer her a choice out of the many fine holy pictures I had. She thanked me but did not take up my offer”.
Word went round in the Płock convent that Sister Faustina had had a vision. The other nuns in the community became sceptical with respect to her. Some warned her of hallucinations, others declared she was hysterical and fantasising, and yet others acknowledged that she must be close to Jesus since she was bearing all this suffering with such calm. Yet, “I decided to bear it all quietly, and not to answer questions. Some, especially the more curious ones, were irked by my silence. Others, the more thoughtful ones, said that Sister Faustina must surely be very close to God if she has the strength to bear all that suffering” (Diary 126).
But the greatest suffering was caused by the uncertainty as to where the visions came from. Her superiors directed her to priests, and the priests sent her back to her superiors. Sister Faustina wished a priest would come and resolve the question definitively and just say, “rest assured, you are on the right road, or “reject it all, for it does not come from God” (Diary 127). In this situation, she tried to avoid the Lord, and when He came she would ask, “Jesus, are You my God, or a spectre? My superiors tell me that sometimes there are illusions and all sorts of spectres. If You are my God, please bless me. Jesus made a big sign of the cross over me and I crossed myself. When I apologised to Jesus for asking that question, He replied that it had not offended Him at all. And the Lord told me that He was very pleased with my trustfulness” (Diary 54).
The lack of a permanent spiritual director and the inability to fulfil the tasks ascribed her made Sister Faustina want to back out of these supernatural inspirations, but Jesus patiently kept on explaining to her the magnitude of the work He had chosen her for. “Know that should you fail to have this picture painted and neglect all this work of mercy, on the Day of Judgement you shall be held to account for a great number of souls” (Diary 154), He told her. These words filled her soul with a terrible awe. She realised that she was responsible not only for her own salvation, but also other people’s, and so she resolved to do all in her power to fulfil His will or to make Him transfer these graces to someone else, since she was only wasting them.
In November 1932 Sister Faustina left Płock and returned to Warsaw for the “third probation” and to prepare for her perpetual vows. Her superiors sent her first to the Congregation’s house in nearby Walendów, where an eight-day annual retreat was just starting under the direction of the Jesuit Father Edmund Elter, a professor of ethics, homiletics and rhetoric at the Gregorianum University in Rome. During confession, he assured her she was on the right road, and that her relationship with Jesus was neither hysteria, nor delusion, nor daydreaming. He advised her to be true to these graces, urging her not to stay away from them but to entreat God for a spiritual director who would help her in understanding and carrying out Jesus’ wishes. After the retreat, she returned to Warsaw full of gratitude and spiritual joy to prepare during her third probation, along with two other sisters, under the direction of Mother Małgorzata Gimbutt, for the making of her perpetual vows.
Towards the end of April 1932 she came to Kraków for an eight-day retreat which was to be followed by her perpetual vows. “When I recall – she confessed – that in a few days’ time I am to be made one with the Lord by my perpetual vows, my soul is inundated with such unimaginable joy that I just can’t describe it at all” (Diary 231).The ceremony for her perpetual vows was conducted by Bishop Stanisław Rospond on 1 May 1933. Sister Faustina, during this ceremony, commended to Jesus the whole Church, her Congregation, her family, all sinners, the dying and the souls in purgatory. She thanked Jesus for the unfathomed grace of being the bride of the Son of God and implored Our Lady for special care, reminding her of a new claim to her love. ”O Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, You, O Mother, are now my Mother in a very special way, because Your beloved Son is my Bridegroom, so we are both Your children. For Your Son’s sake, You have to love me” (Diary 240). The Bishop bestowed on her a ring with the name “Jesus” engraved on it as the sign of eternal nuptial. From that moment her union with God was closer than ever before. She felt that she loved God and was loved in return.
6. Fulfilled requests
After her perpetual vows Sister Faustina stayed in Kraków for almost a month, taking advantage of the service of Father Józef Andrasz SJ, who like Father Edmund Elter had confirmed her in the belief that the visions were genuine and advised her to remain faithful to the grace of God and to be obedient. Towards the end of May 1933 she was directed to Vilnius. On her way to Vilnius she made a stop at Częstochowa to entrust Mary her life and mission, which she received from God.
In Vilnius Sister Faustina was to work in the garden, although she had not any experience in this duty. She accepted God’s will in a spirit of faith, trusting that Jesus would help and bring her in touch with people who would tell her when and what to do to make beautiful flowers and wholesome fruit and vegetables grow in the garden. But this wasn’t her biggest worry. She was anxious to fulfil the mission Jesus had given her. She waited for the priest He had promised and the chance to have the painting of the Merciful Jesus made according to God’s will. “The week for Confession came – she recorded in her diary – and, to my joy, I saw the priest whom I knew before I came to Vilnius. I had seen him in the vision. Then in my soul I heard these words, ‘This is My faithful servant; he will help you carry out My will here on Earth’.” (Diary 263). It was Father Michał Sopoćko, who lectured in pastoral theology in the Faculty of Theology of the Stefan Batory University, and in educational studies in a teachers’ training college. He was spiritual director and chaplain in the Vilnian archdiocesan seminary, and confessor to numerous religious congregations, including the Antokol house of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy for their confession week.
An experienced confessor, Father Sopoćko first tried to get to know his penitent, and not be misled by any delusions, hallucinations or fantasies deriving from human nature. He consulted Mother Superior Irena Krzyżanowska, asking for information concerning Sister Faustina’s religious life and asked for an examination to be done of her physical and mental health. When all the opinions, including a psychiatric examination carried out by Dr. Helena Maciejewska, turned out in Sister Faustina’s favour, Father Sopoćko still deferred for some time. He couldn’t quite believe it all and make up his mind; he prayed and while keeping the particulars of the visions and penitent fully confidential sought the advice of knowledgeable priests. Finally, as he later disclosed, „More out of curiosity rather than conviction as to the authenticity of Sister Faustina’s visions, I decided to have the picture painted. I got in touch with Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, an artist who lived in the same house as I and undertook to paint the picture, and with Mother Superior, who allowed Sister Faustina to visit him twice a week to instruct him on the details of the painting.”
The painting of the first picture of the Merciful Jesus started very discreetly at the beginning of January 1934. Mother Superior Irena Krzyżanowska wrote, „So as not to attract other sisters’ attention to Sister Faustina’s inner experiences, every Saturday morning I would go with her to Holy Mass at Ostra Brama, and afterwards we would visit the artist, who was given detailed instructions by Sister Faustina how to paint the picture of the Merciful Jesus. He did his best to follow all her requirements.”
The painting of the vision Sister Faustina had had three years earlier at Płock gave rise to several fundamental questions which Father Sopoćko put to Sister Faustina, and she in the simplicity of her heart passed them on to Jesus, who explained, “My gaze from this picture is like My gaze from the cross” (Diary 326), Jesus explained, “The two rays stand for blood and water. The pale ray stands for the water which justifies souls; and the red ray stands for the blood which is the life of souls… Happy is he who shall live in their shadow, for the just hand of God shall not reach him” (Diary 299). But there were still some doubts as to the inscription. Father Sopoćko requested Sister Faustina to ask Jesus about that, too. She wrote in her diary, “Jesus reminded me, as He had told me the first time, that the words ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ must be in the inscription” (Diary 327).
After a few months, in June 1934, the work on the painting was drawing to a close. But Sister Faustina was not pleased, although the artist and Father Sopoćko did all they could to render as faithful an image of Jesus as possible. When she returned to the convent chapel, she complained to Jesus, “Who’s going to paint You as beautiful as You are?” (Diary 313). In a response she heard: “It is not the beauty of the paint nor of the brush, but My grace that makes this painting great” (Diary 313).
When the painting was completed Father Sopoćko put it up in a dark corridor in the Observantine Convent next to St. Michael’s Church, of which he was rector. „It was a picture with a new content, he recalled, and that is why I could not display it in a church without permission from the Archbishop, whom I was embarrassed to ask or, even more, to explain its origins.” But Sister Faustina, urged on by Jesus, demanded it be put up in church. In the Holy Week of 1935 she told Father Sopoćko that this was what Jesus wanted and insisted it be set up for three days in the Ostra Brama gate, where a triduum of ceremonies was to be held before the first Sunday after Easter to mark the close of the Jubilee of the World’s Redemption. „Soon afterwards I heard that this triduum was indeed to be celebrated – Father Sopoćko wrote – and Canon Stanisław Zawadzki, parish priest of Ostra Brama, invited me to deliver a sermon. I agreed on condition that the painting be put up to decorate the window of the arcade. It looked impressive there, and attracted people’s attention more than the image of Our Lady over the gate.”
But the joy of those days for Sister Faustina was the fact that Jesus’ requests had been fulfilled. The Mercy picture had been put up for public worship in the most important place in the whole of Vilnius, the Shrine of Our Lady of Ostra Brama and on that day which Jesus pointed out as the Feast of Mercy. Father Sopoćko had preached a sermon on the Divine Mercy, during which Sister Faustina saw Jesus in the painting assume a living form, and His rays penetrate into the hearts of the people gathered for the ceremony, making them happy. He said to her, “You are the witness of My mercy; forever and ever you shall stand before My throne as a living witness to My mercy” (Diary 417).
7. New tasks
The joy brought by the accomplishment of Jesus’ requests, the painting of the picture and its display for public veneration on the first Sunday after Easter, the envisaged Feast of Divine Mercy, did not last long because already in May 1935 Sister Faustina felt intuitively that there would be new tasks which she was very anxious about. When once instead of praying she started reading a religious book, she heard an inner voice, “You shall prepare the world for My final coming” (Diary 429). These words stirred her deeply, and although she pretended not to have heard them she understood them but for the time being did not tell anyone of them.
On the Feast of Pentecost, 9 June 1935, in the evening, when she was in the garden, Jesus gave her a new task: “You and your companions shall beg for mercy for yourselves and for the world” (Diary 435). Like the biblical prophets, she started enumerating her inadequacies and excusing herself that she was not capable of accomplishing this work. Jesus paid no attention to this and did not withdraw His directive, but encouraged her, saying, “Do not be afraid. I shall complete all that is wanting in you” (Diary 435). But she wasn’t sure she had understood His words correctly, that she was to found a new congregation, neither had she been told explicitly to inform her confessor of this, so for the next twenty days she remained silent. Only during a discussion with her spiritual director Father Sopoćko did she disclose that “God wants a congregation to preach Divine mercy to the world and to pray for Divine mercy for the world” (Diary 436). During this conversation she saw Jesus, who confirmed that this was His will, saying, “I want such a congregation” (Diary 437). Her repeated protests that she felt unable to meet such a demand were of no avail. On the next day during Mass she saw Jesus, who yet again said that He wanted such a work founded as soon as possible. In a mystical experience after Holy Communion she received a blessing for the task from the Holy Trinity. This proved such an encouragement that it seemed to her nothing would be too difficult, and in an inner act she agreed to carry out God’s will although she knew it would mean great suffering for her.
On Friday, 13 September 1935, Sister Faustina had a vision in her cell of an Angel who was sent down by God to punish the earth. Seeing this sign of God’s wrath, she started begging the Angel to hold off a while for the world to do penance, but when she stood before the majesty of the Holy Trinity she did not dare repeat her plea. But in her soul she felt the power of Jesus’ grace and started to entreat God in the words which she heard in her heart and which later became part of the Chaplet to the Divine Mercy. Then she saw the powerlessness of the Angel, who could not administer the just punishment for the sins of mankind. On the next day when she entered the chapel Jesus instructed her once more how she was to say the prayer on an ordinary rosary. „First, say one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed; next, on the Our Father beads you will say ‘Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world;’ and on the Hail Mary beads you will say these words, ‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’ At the end, you will say these words three times, ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world” (Diary 476). This is the prayer for the appeasing of God’s wrath.
In the next visions Jesus made great promises to Sister Faustina in connection with the trustful reciting of the Chaplet. He promised the grace of a blessed and tranquil death not only to those who say the Chaplet, but also those at whose deathbed others will say the Chaplet. „Anyone who says the Chaplet just once, even should he be the most hardened of sinners, shall receive grace from My infinite mercy” (Diary 687). He said, “When they say this Chaplet, it will please Me to grant everything they shall ask for” (Diary 1541). These and other promises Jesus made would be fulfilled only if the practices He had recommended were accompanied by an inner attitude of trust in God combined with an active love of one’s neighbour.
In the Vilnian period Jesus returned to the issue of the establishment of the Feast of Divine Mercy in the Church. He reminded Sister Faustina that He wanted it celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter, for souls were still being lost despite His bitter Passion. That day was to be the refuge for all souls, especially the poor sinners. “On that day the depths of My mercy are open; I pour out a whole sea of graces on souls that approach the fount of My mercy. Any soul that makes its Confession and receives Holy Communion will have its sins and its punishment completely remitted. On that day are open all the Divine floodgates through which graces flow; let no soul fear to approach Me, even if its sins be as scarlet” (Diary 699). Priests were to preach sermons on God’s loving mercy for Man and make their hearts trust in Him, thereby enabling them to draw on the fountainhead of Divine Mercy. “Mankind shall not find peace and contentment until it turns with trust unto My mercy” (Diary 300), He told Sister Faustina.
8. Dark nights
Along with the new tasks, there now came a second stage of anguishing purification known as the passive nights of the spirit. The background to and instrument whereby God effected this in Sister Faustina’s soul was the work for the implementation of the concept of a new congregation. At first Sister Faustina thought that Jesus wanted her to leave her mother Congregation and found a contemplative order. It was with this in mind that on 21 March 1936 she left Vilnius. On her way to Walendów she stopped at Warsaw, where she had the opportunity to discuss the matter with Mother General Michaela Moraczewska, in whom she had always been able to confide. Having listened to Sister Faustina, Mother General said that for the time being it was God’s will that she should stay in her Congregation, where she had made her perpetual vows, but she also expressed an opinion that the work of mercy which Jesus was entrusting to her must be very beautiful, since it was meeting with so much opposition from Satan. However, she advised her not to hurry with the foundation of a new congregation, for if the idea indeed came from God, then it would be accomplished in its time.
After a few weeks’ stay at Walendów she went to the Congregation’s house at Derdy, which was just a kilometre away where she cooked for the small group of sisters and over thirty charges. „Her kitchen help – Sister Serafina Kukulska recalled – was a girl with a very difficult character, a convert, whom no-one ever wanted to work with. But with Sister Faustina the girl changed and was never the same again. That was the quiet, godly influence Sister Faustina had on sinful souls”. There was not much work for her to do at Derdy, and Sister Faustina felt as if staying in this house was almost like a holiday. But soon she had to leave for Kraków, where there were better medical facilities for the treatment of tuberculosis. She also hoped that coming to that house would mean the final accomplishing of God’s plans concerning the foundation of a new congregation.
Although she had already realised that the new “congregation” would be a great work in the Church, comprising men’s and women’s congregations as well as lay associations, as she wrote to Father Sopoćko in April 1936, she was still convinced that her role in this was to found a contemplative order. On arriving in Kraków she met with Father Andrasz, who advised her to keep praying and exercising acts of self-mortification until the Feast of the Sacred Heart, when he would give her an answer to this question. However, under heavy inner pressure, Sister Faustina did not wait until the feast-day but told Father Andrasz during her weekly confession that she had decided to leave the Congregation. Her Cracovian spiritual director observed that since she had taken the decision she would be taking the full responsibility on herself. At first she was happy to be leaving, but on the next day was overwhelmed by darkness and felt she had lost God’s presence, so she decided to put off this move a little until her next meeting with her confessor.
At first Mother General had not consented to her leaving the Congre- gation and had warned Sister Faustina to beware of delusions and imprudent moves, but now that she was travelling to Kraków for a visitation, on 4 May 1937, she said: “Up to now, I have always held you back, but now I leave it entirely up to you; if you want to leave, you can do so; if you want to stay in the Congregation, you can stay” (Diary 1115). Sister Faustina decided to leave and straightaway write to the Holy Father to dispense her from her vows. But yet again she was overwhelmed by such darkness that she returned to Mother General’s room to tell her of her tribulation and struggle.
This was her last attempt to leave the Congregation, but the spiritual struggle continued. She wrote in her diary, “No one would be able to understand all the suffering and anguish I’m going through; neither am I able to describe it, nor can there be any greater suffering. The suffering martyrs go through is no greater, for at such times death would bring me relief; there is nothing I can compare this suffering with, this endless dying of the soul” (Diary 1116). Her soul was being purified in the crucible of spiritual battle. Her mind, will, memory, emotions and all her senses were submitting to God more and more harmoniously and preparing her soul for full union with Him. God never sends suffering that is unbearable, she used to say, for the greater the suffering, the greater God’s grace. In the darkness of the passive nights God was granting her moments of respite and great joy. “I suddenly saw Jesus, Who said these words to me, ‘Now I know that it is neither for the graces nor the gifts that you love Me, but because My will is dearer to you than life; that is why I am uniting with you more closely than with any other creature.’ At that moment, Jesus vanished. The Divine presence flooded my soul; I know I am under the glance of the Mighty One. I immersed completely in the joy that comes from God. For the entire day without intermission, I lived immersed in God” (Diary 707-708).
In June 1937 she made a record in her diary of the final shape of the work which was one but had three hues. The first hue comprised the souls separated off from the world, which would burn in immolation before the Divine Majesty, begging for mercy for the whole world and prepare it for the Second Coming of Christ. The second hue would be the active congregations, which would combine prayer with acts of mercy and make the merciful love of God present in an egoistic world. The third hue could be made up of all the people who by daily acts of mercy on behalf of their neighbours, by their words and prayers and for the love of Jesus would fulfil the tasks of this work.
The achievement of this objective not only brought Sister Faustina the greatest amount of suffering, but also led her to full union with Jesus, to what is generally referred to as mystical betrothal and mystical marriage. Purified in the passive nights, the powers of her soul no longer put up any opposition: her reason and will longed only for God and whatever He longed for. The Lord brought her into the world of an ever closer union with Him, preparing her for receiving the grace of mystical marriage. “Right at that moment, I was transfixed by the Divine light, and I felt I belonged solely to God; and I experienced supreme spiritual freedom, such as I had never had any idea of before” (Diary 1681). Now only a very thin veil of faith separated her from the union with God to which the saints accede in heaven.
9. “I send you out to the whole world”
In the Cracovian convent Sister Faustina received the rest of the prophetic mission. In October 1937 Jesus gave Sister Faustina another form of worship of the Divine Mercy. He asked her to hold the moment of His death on the cross in veneration. “At three o’clock, beg for My mercy, especially for sinners, and immerse yourself, even for a short moment, in [contemplation on] My Passion, particularly when I was left forsaken at the moment of death. That is the hour of great mercy for the whole world” (Diary 1320). In His next apparition He gave the details for this type of worship. He asked Sister Faustina to do the Stations of the Cross at the hour of His death, but if duty prevented this, to come to the chapel for a short moment of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and if even that was out of the question, to devote a brief moment to prayer wherever she was. With trustful prayer at three o’clock in the afternoon, offered on the merit of His Passion, is connected a promise of all graces which would be granted to the petitioners and all for whom they prayed, naturally provided that the grace asked for was in agreement with the will of God, i.e. that it is good for that person from the perspective of eternity. “Whatever you ask for at that hour, for yourself and for others, will be granted you; at that hour grace came upon the whole world – mercy superseded justice” (Diary 1572), He assured Sister Faustina.
Sister Faustina continued to keep her diary in Kraków, recording not only Jesus’ words and her extraordinary mystical experiences, but also deeply moving contemplation on the mystery of Divine Mercy. The over eightmonth period of illness and two spells in Prądnik Hospital was a good time for writing, and a major part of her spiritual writings was done in Kraków. This was also when she underlined the words Jesus had said, as instructed by her Vilnian spiritual adviser.
Jesus’ request that she proclaim His Mercy to the world occurs time and again throughout the diary. It was an exhortation Sister Faustina heard many times: “Tell the world of My mercy, of My love. The flames of mercy are burning Me; I want to pour them out onto human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept My mercy. Do what is in your power to spread the worship of My mercy; I shall complete whatever is wanting in your capacity. Tell distressed humankind to come up and cling to My Heart, and I shall fill it with peace. Tell them, O My daughter, that I am love and mercy itself” (Diary 1074).
This task was of special importance, since Jesus attached such great promises to it. He said, “I protect souls that spread the worship of My Mercy throughout their lives, as a loving mother protects her baby; and at the hour of their death I shall not be a Judge unto them, but their merciful Saviour” (Diary 1075). He promised special graces to priests who preached the truth of God’s merciful love for mankind. He would bless their words and endow them with such great power that even the most hardened of sinners would repent.
Sister Faustina fulfilled this mission not only by the witness of her own life and the writing of her diary, in which she revealed God’s extraordinary merciful love for each human being, but also through her everyday relations with her neighbours. One day, Sister Eufemia Traczyńska recalled, „when we were peeling apples at work in the bakery Sister Faustina came in. We were sitting on a bench and she came up from behind, put her arms around our shoulders and put her head between our heads. Sister Amelia, who had a very sensitive conscience, asked her, 'Sister, how come, when you try so hard but over the week you still commit such a lot of sins. What can you do about it?’, 'Well’, said Sister Faustina, 'if you have a yard then what with walking across it all week it’ll get dirty, but come Saturday you sweep it and clean it up and it’s spotless. So when we go to confession our souls are spotless and we have nothing to worry about. Jesus will take care of it'”. In her everyday contacts Sister Faustina was able to interpret life’s troubles in a spirit of living faith and see God’s goodness in everything. She would often tell the sisters and charges about God’s love of mankind and about the tremendous value of doing good to one’s neighbour. One day passing by the chapel she said to Sister Damiana Ziółek, „I heard that Jesus said that at the Last Judgement He would judge people only on their mercy, for God is Mercy, so by doing or failing to do merciful deeds you are casting a verdict on yourself”.
As Jesus told her, His request that God’s merciful love for mankind be preached is the last recourse for many souls, which are being lost notwithstanding His bitter Passion. It is also the means to establish peace in human hearts and between nations: “Mankind shall not find peace and contentment until it turns with trust unto My mercy” (Diary 300). And it is to prepare the world for His second coming. “No-one can deny that God is infinitely merciful; He wants everyone to know that. Before He comes again as Judge, He wants souls to learn that He is the King of merc” (Diary 378), Sister Faustina wrote in her diary.
Our Lady faithfully accompanied Sister Faustina and spoke to her on the prophetic mission. “In the morning, during Meditation – Sister Faustina recorded – I was overwhelmed by the presence of God in a special way, seeing God’s immense greatness and, at the same time, His coming down to His creatures. Then I saw Our Lady who said, ‘O, how God likes the soul that faithfully follows the inspiration of His grace. I gave the world its Saviour, and you are to tell the world of His great mercy and prepare the world for His second coming, when He will come not as a merciful Saviour, but as a just Judge. O, that day is terrible. The day of judgement has been determined, the day of God’s anger, the angels tremble at the thought of it. Tell souls of His great mercy, while there is still time for mercy; if you should remain silent now, you shall be held responsible on that terrible day for a great number of souls. Do not be afraid of anything, be faithful right unto the end. I feel compassion for you’.” (Diary 635).
The mystery of Divine Mercy took up the central position in Sister Faustina’s life and apostolic work. In accordance with the words of Jesus and His Mother, not only was she to live by it herself, reflecting it in her heart and works, but she was also to let the whole world learn of it. It was yet another task which seemed to transcend her capabilities. After all, she lived in a convent and was only a simple nun performing prosaic duties; she had neither extensive relations with other people nor any opportunities to disseminate this message in the world at large. But it was to her that Jesus addressed these amazing words: “Under the Old Covenant I sent prophets to My people with thunderbolts. Today, I am sending you with My mercy to the whole of mankind” (Diary 1588). She firmly believed all He said would happen, though sometimes she had no idea as to how it would come about. However, she knew that the convent chapel at Łagiewniki in Kraków would become the shri- ne for the worship of the Divine Mercy. She told Sister Bożenna Pniewska, who regretted that the Łagiewniki chapel was available only for the sisters and their charges, „There will soon come a time when the convent gate will be wide open and people will come here to pray to the Divine Mercy”.
10. To the House of the Merciful Father
Tuberculosis, which had not been diagnosed until her stay in Vilnius, was ravaging Sister Faustina’s body. It had attacked not only the respiratory system but also the alimentary canal. Her superiors sent her for treatment to a sanatorium in the municipal health institution in Kraków. Her first period of treatment lasted nearly four months from December 1936 (with a break for Christmas). Already on her third day there she had evidence of the efficacy of the Chaplet to the Divine Mercy Jesus had given her. She woke up during the night and realised that a soul was asking her for prayer. When she entered the ward next day she saw that one of the patients was dying and heard that the agony had begun during the night at the hour when she had woken up. In her soul she heard Jesus’ words: “Say the Chaplet I have taught you” (Diary 810). She fetched her rosary, knelt by the dying person’s bedside and started saying the Chaplet with all the powers of her spirit, asking Jesus to fulfil the promise He had made regarding the Chaplet. Suddenly the dying person opened her eyes, looked at Sister Faustina, and died with an extraordinary calm on her face. And Jesus said: “I shall treat every soul that says this Chaplet as My glory, and I shall grant it My defence at the hour of death; also those at whose deathbed others say the Chaplet shall be granted the same indulgence. When people say the Chaplet at a dying person’s bedside, God’s anger is placated, and unfathomed mercy embraces the soul, and the depths of My mercy are moved, for the sake of My Son’s sorrowful Passion” (Diary 811).
That is how Sister Faustina’s hospital ministry for the dying started. Though seriously ill herself, often so ill that she had to leave Mass, she always noticed others, who needed help. And when her superior forbade her these visits to the bedsides of the dying on account of her own poor health, she would offer up her prayers and acts of obedience for them, which as Jesus had taught her meant more in His eyes than great deeds undertaken wilfully. She also helped not only those who were dying in the sanatorium, but thanks to the gift of bilocation also those dying in another part of the hospital or even hundreds of miles away. This happened on several occasions, when a relative or one of the sisters, or even someone she had never known was dying. For the spirit space does not exist.
At the hospital she experienced a lot of extraordinary graces. Already in the first days, when she suffered much because for nearly three weeks she had no access to confession, “This afternoon, Father Andrasz came into my isolation room and sat down to hear my Confession. He didn’t say a word to start with. I was extremely happy, as I desperately wanted to make my Confession. I opened up all my soul, as usual. Father gave a detailed answer to all my questions. I felt wonderfully happy at having been able to confess everything. He asked me to say the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus for my penance. When I tried to explain that I had a problem with saying this Litany, he rose and granted me absolution. Suddenly, there was a great brilliance around him and I saw that it wasn’t Father Andrasz at all, but Jesus. His apparel was as bright as snow, and all at once He was gone. At first, I was a bit anxious, but after a while peace entered my soul; but I noticed that Jesus heard my Confession in the same way as my confessors. Nonetheless, during this Confession something was wondrously penetrating my hear” (Diary 817).
Along with great physical and spiritual suffering there were also vast graces, which Sister Faustina did not divulge to anyone except her confessors. But occasionally someone was a witness to them. „One day I went to Prądnik to visit her – Sister Kajetana Bartkowiak recollected – I knocked on the door. She always used to say, 'Come in, please’, but this time there was no answer though I knocked and knocked. I thought she must be in her room and lying in bed, as she was ill, so I opened the door and went in. Then I saw her all different, changed, and levitating over the bed, gazing into the distance as if she were looking at something there. I stood next to the bedside cabinet on which there was a little altar set up and was overwhelmed with terror, but a moment later she came round and said, 'Ah, Sister, you’ve come, I’m glad, do come in'”. Informed of this, Mother Superior Irena Krzyżanowska forbade her to speak about it, and this is how Sister Faustina’s extraordinary spiritual life was kept secret.
The first stage of her hospital treatment ended in March 1937. Her health slightly improved, Sister Faustina returned to Łagiewniki Convent. But already in April she suffered a relapse. In July her superiors sent her to the Congregation’s house in the spa resort of Rabka, but the sharp mountain climate was not good for Sister Faustina, she felt worse and had to leave after thirteen days. But she took with her St. Joseph’s assurance that he was very much in favour of the work of Mercy entrusted her by the Lord. He promised her his special help and protection, but asked her every morning to say “three Our Fathers and one prayer which the Congregation said in honour of St. Joseph”. From henceforth Sister Faustina knew that she was supported in the carrying out of the mission not only by the Blessed Virgin but also St. Joseph. Other saints and angels, whose company and assistance she had often enjoyed, also lent a helping hand.
On her return from Rabka Sister Faustina was given a lighter duty, in the entrance lodge, than her previous job in the garden. Here she had plenty of opportunities to perform acts of mercy to various people – vagrants, the unem- ployed, hungry children – who called at the lodge gate asking for assistance. In each of them she tried to discern Jesus Himself and out of love for Him did good works for all of them. One day Jesus came up to the gate „in the guise of a poor young man. This scrawny young man, in dreadfully tattered clothes, barefoot and without a hat – as Sister Faustina described the incident – was freezing, as it was a cold and wet day. He asked for something hot to eat. But when I went down to the kitchen, I didn’t find anything for the poor, yet after a while, I found some soup, which I heated up, crumbled a bit of bread into it, and gave it to the poor young man. He ate it. The moment I took back the cup from him, he let me know that He was the Lord of Heaven and Earth. When I recognised Him, He disappeared from sight. When I went indoors, and thought about what had happened at the gate I heard these words in my soul, ‘My daughter, the blessings uttered by the poor as they leave your gate have reached My ears; they are thankful to Me, your mercy within the bounds of obedience pleased Me, so I descended from My throne to taste the fruit of your mercy’.” (Diary 1312).
The first months of 1938 saw a further deterioration in Sister Faustina’s health, and her superiors decided to send her to Prądnik Hospital again after Easter. The Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart, who worked as nurses in the hospital, prepared a room for her, but in the evening one of them informed her that she would not have Holy Communion the next day because she was exhausted. “In the morning, I did my Meditation – she noted in her diary – and prepared for Holy Communion, even though I was not going to receive it. Suddenly, when my love and longing had reached a peak, I saw a Seraph standing next to my bed, who gave me Holy Communion, saying the words, ‘Behold, the Lord of Angels.’ When I had received the Lord, my spirit sank in the love of God and in wonder. It happened again for 13 days, but I was never sure that he would bring me Holy Communion on the next day” (Diary 1676).
She continued to make entries in her diary almost to the end of June. She noted down the words of Jesus, her prayers, contemplation and the more important events, including her last three-day retreat given her by Jesus Himself before the Feast of Pentecost. Every day He gave her a subject for contemplation and points for meditation. He preached conferences on spiritual struggle, sacrifice, prayer, and mercy. Sister Faustina was to contemplate His love for her and love of one’s neighbour. Under such direction her mind had no problems with comprehending all the mysteries of faith, and her heart burned with the living flame of love. On the Feast of Pentecost she renewed her religious vows. Her soul was in special communion with the Holy Spirit, whose inspiration filled it with indescribable ecstasy, and her heart was flooded with thanksgiving for such vast graces.
The other sisters who visited her in hospital noticed her radiant happiness. „I often visited her – Sister Serafina Kukulska recalled – and always found her cheerful, even happy, and sometimes as if radiant, but she never disclosed the secret of her happiness. She was very happy in Prądnik and never complained that she was suffering. The doctor, the nurses, the patients – they were all very good to her”. Sister Felicja Żakowiecka visited Sister Faustina twice a week. During these visits she spoke with Dr. Adam Zylber on Sister Faustina’s condition. The doctor said it was very bad. Sister Felicja was surprised that the doctor allowed her to go to Mass despite her poor condition. Her condition was incurable, he replied, but Sister was an extraor- dinary nun, so he did not take any notice of that. Others in her state would never rise, but he had seen her holding on to the wall as she walked to the chapel.
Sister Faustina’s health was deteriorating all the time and the end of her life on earth was approaching. Aware of this, she took her leave of the community. In August 1938 she wrote a letter to Mother General Michaela Moraczewska: „Dearest Reverend Mother, I feel this is our last conversation on earth. I feel very, very weak and am writing with a trembling hand. I am suffering as much as I can bear. Jesus does not ask you to suffer beyond your capacity. The grace of God is as great as the suffering. I put all my trust in God and His holy will. I am filled with an ever greater longing for God. I do not fear death, my soul abound in great peace. She expressed her thanks for all the good she had received from Mother General and the Congregation, she begged forgiveness for her transgressions against the rule, she asked for their sisterly love, prayer and a blessing in the hour of death. She concluded the letter with the words, Farewell, Dearest Mother, we shall each other at the feet of God’s throne. And now praised be the Divine Mercy in us and through us.”
It was at Prądnik Hospital that she spoke for the last time with her Vilnian spiritual director, Father Sopoćko, who was in Kraków in early September 1938 and had the opportunity to visit his extraordinary penitent before she died and hear instructions directly from her relating to the work of Mercy which Jesus had initiated through her services. Sister Faustina told him that his chief concern was to be the establishment of the Feast of the Divine Mercy in the Church and not to worry too much about the new congregation, and that there would be signs which would let him know what to do in this matter. She said that she would soon die and that she had finished all she had had to write and pass on. After having said good-bye to Sister Faustina he left her room, but on his way out remembered that he had not left her the booklets with the prayers to the Divine Mercy Jesus had given her. When he returned and opened the door to her room he found her levitating over the bed and absorbed in prayer. „Her eyes were fixed on an invisible object, and her pupils slightly dilated, for some time she did not take any notice of me, and I did not want to disturb her and was intending to leave, but soon she came round, noticed me and apologised for not hearing me knock or enter. I gave her the prayers and said good-bye, and she said, 'See you in heaven’. The last time I visited her, on 26 September in the Łagiewniki Convent, she did not want to talk to me, or perhaps she couldn’t any longer, saying she was in communion with the Heavenly Father. Indeed she gave the impression of a supernatural being. I no longer had any doubts that what she wrote in her diary about Holy Communion being administered to her in hospital by an angel was absolutely true.”
On her return from hospital (17 September 1938) Sister Faustina waited in the convent’s infirmary for the moment of her passage from this world to the Father’s House. The Sisters took turns in keeping a vigil by her bedside. The superior of the house, Mother Irena Krzyżanowska, like to visit her there, and observed Sister Faustina’s great calm and a strange charm about her. The tension regarding the accomplishing of the work of Mercy entrusted her by the Lord had gone. „There will be a Feast of Divine Mercy, I see it, all I want is to do God’s will”, she told Mother Superior. Asked by her if she was pleased to be dying in our Congregation she replied, Yes. „You’ll see that the Congregation will be solaced by me”. Shortly before she died she sat up in bed and asked Mother Superior to come up closer. Then she whispered, „Jesus wants to elevate me and make me a saint. I observed a profound gravity in her, and had a strange feeling that Sister Faustina took this assurance as a gift from the Divine Mercy, without a trace of pride”, Mother Irena recalled.
On the afternoon of 5 October 1938 Father Andrasz arrived at the Łagiewniki Convent and for the last time granted Sister Faustina absolution and administered the Sacrament of the Sick. That day at supper time a bell was heard. The sisters in the refectory got up from table and went upstairs, where Sister Faustina was lying in her room. By her bedside were the chaplain, Father Teodor Czaputa and Mother Superior Irena Krzyżanowska, while the rest of the Sisters stood in the corridor. Together they said the prayers for the dying, after which Sister Faustina told Mother Superior that she would not die yet. The sisters went down to the evening service. Sister Eufemia Traczyńska, a young nun in her juniorate, had heard from Sister Amelia Socha that Sister Faustina was bound to become a saint. Sister Eufemia wanted to see how saints die, but she could not exactly count on her superior granting her permission to attend a sister dying of tuberculosis. She prayed to the souls in purgatory to wake her when the time came for Sister Faustina to die. „I went to bed at the usual time, Sister Eufemia recollected, and was soon asleep. Suddenly someone woke me up. «Sister, if you want to be by Sister Faustina when she dies, get up now». I knew at once it was an error. The sister who had come to wake up Sister Amelia had gone to the wrong cell and woken me instead. I woke Sister Amelia, put on my overall and bonnet and dashed to the infirmary. Sister Amelia arrived after me. It was around eleven at night. When we got there Sister Faustina as if opened her eyes and gave a faint smile, and then bowed her head and … Sister Amelia said that probably she had just died. I looked at Sister Amelia but said nothing. We continued to pray. The Candlemas candle continued to burn.”
The funeral took place on 7 October, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Not only the sisters but also their charges and even the farm hands came down to pray in the crypt where Sister Faustina’s coffin stood. One of them was Janek, who was said to be lapsed. He stood by Sister Faustina’s coffin and cried, so great was the impression she had made on him that apparently after the funeral he was converted. There was also Jadzia, a blind charge, who told of her unusual experiences. After the funeral service, which was conducted by Father Władysław Wojtoń SJ attended by two other priests, the sisters themselves carried Sister Faustina’s coffin down to the community’s cemetery in the garden.
Sister Faustina had achieved the fullness of union with God and sang a hymn in honour of His unfathomable Mercy. For us on earth she left a promise: “I shall not forget you, O poor Earth, though I feel I shall immediately sink completely in God, as in an ocean of bliss; but it will not prevent me from coming back to Earth and fortifying and encouraging souls to trust in Divine mercy. In fact, being submerged in God will give me unlimited scope for action” (Diary 1582).
11. “My mission will not end at my death”
Sister Faustina’s prophetic mission was kept strictly secret during her lifetime. No-one knew about it except for Father Michał Sopoćko, Father Józef Andrasz, and some of her superiors. After her death, when World War Two came, Sister Faustina’s Vilnian confessor Father Sopoćko disclosed the name of the initiator of the devotion to Divine Mercy, which was spreading. His disclosure was followed by the same in the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Mother General Michaela Moraczewska visited all the Congregation’s houses and spoke on the great mission for which God had chosen Sister Faustina. „What most struck me about Sister Faustina, she wrote after her death, and still strikes me today as an extraordinary phenomenon, especially in the last months of her illness, was her absolute self-oblivion for the sake of the dissemination of the worship of Divine Mercy. She never showed the slightest doubts as to the authenticity of her mission nor fear of death, she was absolutely engrossed in the leading light of her entire life – the devotion to Divine Mercy.”
During the terrible war years the devotion to the Divine Mercy spread rapidly, bringing a ray of light and hope into the darkness. As the devotion became more and more widely known the opinion of Sister Faustina’s sainthood grew as well. Pilgrims started to come to her grave in the Łagiewniki Convent and pray for her intercession. In the convent chapel Father Andrasz blessed another picture of the Merciful Jesus painted in accordance with Sister Faustina’s instructions and started special services in honour of the Divine Mercy. They were attended by crowds from the City of Kraków and its environs. One of the people who came to worship before this image was Karol Wojtyła, a young labourer from the Solvay quarry which neighboured on the convent, who had already become familiar with the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms of worship prescribed by Sister Faustina. After his ordination on the third Sunday of each month he celebrated Divine Mercy services in this chapel.
In 1965, as the Bishop of Kraków, he initiated a diocesan process for raising of Sister Faustina to the glory of the altars. This required a great deal of courage, as ever since 1959 there had been a notification by the Holy See in force prohibiting the spread of the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms prescribed by Sister Faustina. The notification had been issued owing to an erroneous translation of her diary and resulting inappropriate forms of worship. Under Communism maintaining contact between Poland and the Holy See was not at all easy, and so it was difficult to refute the Holy See’s objections to the writings of Sister Faustina and the forms of worship. This period, which Sister Faustina had foretold, contributed to the theological analysis of her writings and the making of the right foundations for the practise of the devotion. Clear on the point that this situation was no obstacle to the initiating of a beatification process, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła lost no time and completed the diocesan stage, sending the documentation up to the Rome, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints continued to examine the heroic virtues of Sister Faustina, and later the miracle wrought at Sister Faustina’s grave for Mrs. Maureen Digan from the USA.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, 18 April 1993, the Holy Father John Paul II raised Sister Faustina to the glory of the altars. During his homily in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, he referred to her words, “I clearly sense that my mission will not end upon my death, but will only begin then” (Diary 281). And he observed, „That’s exactly what happened. Sister Faustina’s mission continues and is bringing wondrous fruit. How marvellously her Divine Mercy service is making its way around the world and winning so many human hearts! It is undoubtedly a sign of our times – a sign of our 20th century. Alongside its achievements which have by far eclipsed those of previous ages, the balance of the century now drawing to a close also carried deep anxiety for the future. Where, if not in Divine Mercy, will the world find rescue and the light of hope? People of faith feel this perfectly well!”
After examining by the Holy See the next miracle of healing Father Ronald Pytel of Baltimore, MD, from incurable disease of the heart, the Holy Father John Paul II numbered her to the group of saints of the Catholic Church. The canonisation ceremony was held on the Feast of Divine Mercy, 30 April 2000, in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, and was attended by bishops and priests, nuns, and huge crowds of pilgrims from all over the world. Thanks to a satellite television link religious and lay pilgrims gathered in the Łagiewniki Shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków could participate in the ceremony. Several decades earlier the event had been described by Sister Faustina: “I saw myself in Rome, in the Holy Father’s chapel, while at the same time I was in our own chapel, and the ceremony celebrated by the Holy Father and the entire Church was closely connected with our chapel and, in a special way, with our Congregation; I was participating at the same time in the service held in Rome and in our chapel. Since our ceremony was so closely linked with Rome, I don’t exactly know how to distinguish [between the two ceremonies], but that’s what I saw and that’s what I’m writing. I saw Jesus exposed in a monstrance on the great altar in our chapel. The chapel was decorated for a feast day, and on this day it was open to everyone, anyone who wanted [to attend]. The crowds were so huge that I couldn’t see an end to them. They were all taking part in the ceremony with great joy, and many received what they had asked for. The same ceremony was being held in Rome in a beautiful church, and the Holy Father and all the clergy were celebrating it; and suddenly I saw St. Peter standing between the altar and the Holy Father. I couldn’t hear what St. Peter said, but I realised that the Holy Father understood him…” (Diary 1044).
During that ceremony, held in the Jubilee Year, the Holy Father founded the Feast of Divine Mercy for the entire Church and passed on to the world the prophetic mission of Mercy for the third millennium of faith. „I pass it on to all people, He said, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren”. Two years later he made his second pilgrimage as Pope to the Łagiewniki Shrine, and in the basilica church he had just consecrated entrusted the whole world to the Divine Mercy. He said that he wanted the message of God’s merciful love preached here thanks to the mediation of Sister Faustina to reach all the earth’s inhabitants and fill their hearts with hope. He wanted that message to radiate out from Łagiewniki to the whole of Poland and the entire world, and Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled that a „spark which would prepare the world for Jesus’ final coming” would issue from this place (cf. the Diary, 1732). He asked people to kindle that spark of God’s grace and to transmit the fire of mercy to the world. For it was in Divine Mercy that the world would find peace, and mankind happiness.
Today there is probably no country left without an image of the Merciful Jesus. The Feast of the Divine Mercy has entered the universal Church’s liturgical calendar for good. The Chaplet to the Divine Mercy is recited even in obscure languages, and the prayer at the hour of Jesus’ death on the cross, the Hour of Mercy, is becoming more and more popular. The Apostolic Movement of Divine Mercy, the “congregation” based on Sister Faustina’s mystical experience and charism which Jesus asked her to found, today comprises a variety of congregations, associations, confraternities, apostolates and individuals joining in the accomplishment of her mission. They are bringing the message of Mercy into the world through the witness of their lives, works, words, and prayer. The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy has fully adopted Sister Faustina’s prophetic mission, and on 25 August 1995 recognised her as its Spiritual Foundress. Theologians inspired by Sister Faustina are examining the mystery of Divine Mercy; apostles of Divine Mercy from her school are training in the attitude of trust in God and mercy for their neighbour, love of the Eucharist and the Church, and learning the true veneration of Our Lady of Mercy. Many churches dedicated to the Divine Mercy, the Merciful Jesus, or St. Faustina are being founded in Poland and throughout the world. Numerous new Divine Mercy shrines have sprung up to preach the truth of God’s merciful love for each human being. Sister Faustina’s mission certainly did not end at her death. It is continuing and bringing forth wondrous fruit.
From the book of sr. M. Elisabeth Siepak ISMM
“A Gift of God for Our Times”
Translated by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa
Prepared by sr. M. Diana Kuczek ISMM