Poland has no shortage of Saints. Saint Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), Saint John Cantius and Saint Maximilian Kolbe are some prominent examples. Another Polish Saint, who reportedly had visions of Jesus Christ Himself, is Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska.
Born in Głogowiec, Poland in 1905, Helena Kowalska was stirred from an early age to join religious life. At the age of seven, she already knew she wanted to be a nun, though her parents didn’t support the idea. Still, religious life drew her like a magnet, and her parents would ultimately prove unable to counter its force.
At age nineteen, while attending a dance, Helena had a vision of Christ, who told her to drop everything and immediately travel to Warsaw to join a convent. It was a testament to her faith and piety that she set off for the capital in obedience. She joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and received her habit and religious name of Faustina in April 1926.
In 1930, Sister Faustina was transferred to a convent in Płock, Poland, an assignment that would have an inconceivable impact on her life and on Roman Catholics everywhere.
One February night, Sister Faustina was in her room when she said Jesus appeared to her, dressed in white, with red and white rays emanating from His heart. He told her to paint an image of the way He appeared, signing it with the phrase “Jezu, ufam Tobie” (Jesus I trust in you). Initially, few took her story seriously. It wasn’t until after Sister Faustina took her final vows in 1933 and was transferred to Vilnius (today the capital of Lithuania) that she was able to begin fulfilling Christ’s request of her.
While working as a gardener in Vilnius, as part of that city’s convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Sister Faustina met Father Michael Sopoćko, who was the nuns’ confessor. She told him about her conversations with Jesus, and he was initially skeptical, going so far as to order that Sister Faustina undergo a complete psychiatric evaluation. After taking all the necessary tests, she passed and was declared mentally sound.
After that, Father Sopoćko was fully dedicated to helping Sister Faustina complete the mission given to her from above. He tasked an artist, Eugene Kazimierowski, to paint a picture based on Sister Faustina’s vision of Christ.
At one point, Sister Faustina had written in her diary that Christ elaborated on His image proclaiming,
The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. (Diary of Sister Faustina, 299)
The artist painted the original Divine Mercy image, which today can be visited in Vilnius. It is meant as a “vessel” to remind people to continuously ask for God’s infinite mercy.
Painting the image wasn’t enough, however, as Sister Faustina had received further instructions from Christ to ensure that it would be publicly venerated and that the second Sunday of Easter become a feast day called Divine Mercy Sunday. Unfortunately, Sister Faustina would not live to see all of this come to fruition.
In 1935, she had another vision, which inspired her to write the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a rosary-based prayer recited by faithful Catholics to this day. Not very long after, Sister Faustina was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to a sanatorium in Krakow, Poland. She died on October 5, 1938. She had reportedly spent her last moments praying in ecstasy.
The Road to Public Veneration
Before her death, Sister Faustina had predicted a terrible war. World War II more than fulfilled that prediction. Despite this, veneration of the Divine Mercy image was spreading across the globe. Father Sopoćko, who had gone into hiding during the war, founded a new religious congregation afterward, based on the Divine Mercy message. Today it is called the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy, and the image is recognized by Catholics everywhere, whether or not they know the story behind it.
In 1965, Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Krakow began the investigation to determine whether Sister Faustina could eventually become a saint. In April 1993, Wojtyła, now Pope John Paul II, beatified Sister Faustina. Seven years later in 2000, he canonized her a saint. From that point forward, the Catholic Church declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday.
Based on words that Christ reportedly told Saint Faustina, Catholics believe that souls who receive Holy Communion and go to Confession on that day receive a full pardon for their sins. With that, Christ’s request of Saint Faustina was fulfilled, 62 years after her death.
For more information on Saint Faustina Kowalska, what Christ told her and everything associated with Divine Mercy, please visit https://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/mercy/backgr.htm