Maria Faustyna Kowalska, commonly known as Saint Faustina (born Helena Kowalska, 25 August 1905 in Głogowiec – 5 October 1938 in Kraków, Poland), was a Polish nun who has been canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She is considered to have been a mystic and visionary and is known and venerated as the Apostle of Divine Mercy.
Throughout her life, Faustina reported having visions of Jesus and conversations with him, which she wrote about in her diary, later published as the book The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. Her Vatican biography quotes some of these reputed conversations regarding the Divine Mercy devotion.
At age 20 she joined a convent in Warsaw and was later transferred to Plock and then to Vilnius where she met her confessor, Father Michael Sopocko, who supported her devotion to the Divine Mercy. Faustina and Sopocko directed an artist to paint the first Divine Mercy image, based on Faustina’s reported vision of Jesus. Sopocko used the image to celebrate the first Mass on the first Sunday after Easter – which later became known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Faustina was canonized on 30 April 2000.
Childhood and early years
She was born as Helena Kowalska, in Głogowiec, Łęczyca County just west of Łódź in Poland. She was the third of ten children of Stanislaus and Marianna Kowalska. Her father was a carpenter and a peasant and the family was poor and religious.
She stated that she first felt a calling to the religious life while attending the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at age seven. She wanted to enter the convent after completing her time at school, but her parents would not give her permission. When she was sixteen years old, she went to work as a housekeeper in Lodz to support herself and help her parents.
Joining the convent in Warsaw
In 1924, aged 19, Faustina and her sister Natalia went to a dance in a park in Łódź. Faustina said that while at the dance she had a vision of a suffering Jesus. She then went to the cathedral, where she says that she was told by Jesus to leave for Warsaw immediately and join a convent. She packed a small bag that night and took a train for Warsaw (85 miles away) the next morning, without the permission of her parents and without knowing anyone in Warsaw.
After she arrived in Warsaw, she entered the first church she saw, (St. James’ Church on Grójecka Street) and attended Mass. She asked the priest, Father Dąbrowski, for suggestions and he recommended staying with a Mrs Lipszycowa, a local woman whom he considered trustworthy, until she found a convent.
Faustina approached several convents in Warsaw, but was turned down time after time, in one case she was told “we do not accept maids here”, referring to her being penniless. Faustina could read and write and had three or four years of education. After several weeks of searching, eventually the mother superior at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy decided to give her a chance and conditionally accepted her, provided she could pay for her habit.
Faustina knew nothing about the convent she was joining, except that she believed she was led there.
During 1925, Faustina worked as a house maid for one year to save up money, making deposits at the convent through the year and was then accepted at the convent. On 30 April 1926, aged 20, she received her habit and took the name in religion of Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. The name Faustina means the “fortunate or blessed one” and may have been a feminine form of the name of the Christian martyr Faustinus. In April 1928 she took her first vows as a nun and her parents attended the ceremony. She was to be a nun for just over a decade, dying at the age of 33 on 5 October 1938.
From February to April 1929 she was sent to the convent in Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania) as a cook. Although this was a short stay in Vilnius, she would return there later and meet Father Michael Sopocko who supported her mission. A year after her first return from Vilnius, in May 1930 she was transferred to the convent in Płock, Poland for close to two years.
Life as a nun
Płock and the Divine Mercy image
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 recovery she returned to the convent and by February 1931 had been in the Płock area for about nine months.
Faustina wrote that on the night of Sunday, 22 February 1931, while she was in her cell in Płock, Jesus appeared to her as the “King of Divine Mercy” 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”. 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, Faustina approached some other nuns at the convent in Płock for help, but received no assistance. Three years later, after her assignment to Vilnius, the first artistic rendering of the image was performed under her direction.
In the same 22 February 1931 message about the Divine Mercy image, Faustina also wrote in her diary (Notebook I, item 49) that Jesus told her that he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
In November 1932, Faustina returned to Warsaw to prepare to take her final vows as a nun. On 1 May 1933 she took her final vows in Łagiewniki and became a perpetual sister of Our Lady of Mercy.
Vilnius: meeting Father Sopocko
In late May 1933, Faustina was transferred to Vilnius as the gardener. work that included growing vegetables. She remained in Vilnius for about three years until March 1936. The convent in Vilnius had only 18 sisters at the time and consisted of a few scattered small houses rather than a large building.
Shortly after arriving in Vilnius, Faustina met Father Michael Sopocko, the newly appointed confessor to the nuns. Sopocko was also a professor of pastoral theology at Stefan Batory University (now called Vilnius University).
When Faustina went to Sopocko for her first confession, she told him that she had been conversing with Jesus, who had a plan for her. After some time, in 1933 Father Sopocko insisted on a complete psychiatric evaluation of Faustina by Helena Maciejewska, a psychiatrist and a physician associated with the convent. Faustina passed the required tests and was declared of sound mind.
Thereafter, Sopocko began to have confidence in Faustina and supported her efforts. Sopocko also advised Faustina to begin writing a diary and to record the conversations and messages from Jesus which she was reporting. Faustina told Sopocko about the Divine Mercy image and in January 1934 Sopocko 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 Faustina and Father Sopocko. That was the only Divine Mercy painting Faustina saw. A superimposition of the face of Jesus in the Image of the Divine Mercy upon that in the already well-known Shroud of Turin shows great similarity. This original Kazimirowski (Vilnius) Image, which was painted under the guidance of Saint Faustina in 1934, is once again becoming the most venerated Image of the Divine Mercy.
Faustina 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 publicly honoured. A week later, on 26 April 1935, Father Sopocko delivered the first sermon ever on the Divine Mercy – and Faustina attended the sermon.
The first Mass during which the Divine Mercy image was displayed was on 28 April 1935, the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, and was attended by Faustina. This day was also the celebration of the end of the Jubilee of the Redemption by Pope Pius XI. Father Sopocko obtained Archbishop Jałbrzykowski’s permission to place the Divine Mercy image within the Gate of Dawn church in Vilnius during the Mass that Sunday and celebrated the Mass himself.
On 13 September 1935, while still in Vilnius, Faustina 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. Faustina wrote that the purpose for chaplet’s prayers for mercy are threefold: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy, and to show mercy to others.
In November 1935, Faustina wrote the rules for a new contemplative religious congregation devoted to the Divine Mercy. In December she visited a house in Vilnius which she said she had seen in a vision as the first convent for the congregation.
In January 1936, Faustina went to see Archbishop Jałbrzykowski to discuss a new congregation for Divine Mercy. But he reminded her that she was perpetually vowed to her current order. In March 1936, Faustina told her superiors that she was thinking of leaving the order to start a new one specifically devoted to Divine Mercy, but she was transferred to Walendów, southwest of Warsaw. She reported that Jesus had said to her: “If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. Secretary of My mercy, write, tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because that awful day, the day of My justice, is near.” “Souls who spread the honour of My mercy I shield through their entire life” “Tell my priests that hardened sinners will crumble beneath their words when they speak about My unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in My Heart. To priests who will proclaim and extol My mercy I will give wonderful power, and I will anoint their words and I will touch the hearts of those to which they will speak.”
“My Daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My Divine Mercy, I will make up for what you lack.”
Kraków: the final years
In 1936, Father Sopocko wrote the first brochure on the Divine Mercy devotion and Archbishop Jałbrzykowski provided his imprimatur for it. The brochure carried the Divine Mercy image on the cover. Sopocko sent copies of the brochure to Faustina in Warsaw.
Later in 1936, Faustina became ill, since speculated to be tuberculosis. She was moved to the sanatorium in Prądnik, Kraków. She continued to spend much time in prayer, reciting the chaplet and praying for the conversion of sinners. The last two years of her life were spent praying and keeping her diary.
On 23 March 1937, Faustina wrote in her diary (Notebook III, item 1044) that she had a vision that the feast of the Divine Mercy would be celebrated in her local chapel and would be attended by large crowds and also that the same celebration would be held in Rome attended by the Pope.
In July 1937 the first holy cards with the Divine Mercy image were printed. In August, Father Sopocko asked Faustina to write the instructions for the Novena of Divine Mercy which she had reported as a message from Jesus on Good Friday 1937.
Throughout 1937 progress was made in promoting the Divine Mercy and in November 1937 a pamphlet was published with the title Christ, King of Mercy. The pamphlet included the chaplet, the novena, and the litany of the Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy image appeared on the cover, with the signature, “Jesus I Trust in You”. On 10 November 1937, Mother Irene, Faustina’s superior, showed her the booklets while Faustina rested in her bed.
As her health deteriorated at the end of 1937, Faustina’s reported visions intensified, and she was said to be looking forward to an end to her life. In April 1938, her illness had progressed and she was sent to rest in the sanatorium in Prądnik for what was to be her final stay there.
In September 1938, Father Sopocko visited her at the sanatorium and found her very ill but in ecstasy as she was praying. Later in the month she was taken back home to Kraków to await her death there. Father Sopocko visited her at the convent for the last time on 26 September 1938.
Faustina died at the age of 33 on 5 October 1938. She was buried on 7 October and now rests at the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Poland.
Devotion to Divine Mercy
Spread of the devotion
On 24 June 1956, Pope Pius XII blessed an Image of the Divine Mercy in Rome, the only one blessed by a Pope before the Second Vatican Council. In 1955, under Pope Pius XII, the Bishop of Gorzów founded a religious order called the Congregation of the Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Merciful Redeemer, to spread devotion to the Divine Mercy. Under both Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII, writings on devotion to the Divine Mercy were given imprimaturs by many bishops, making it an approved devotion. Cardinals Adam Stefan Sapieha and August Hlond were among those who gave their approval. During the papacy of Pope Pius XII, Vatican Radio broadcast several times about the Divine Mercy.
Before her death Faustina predicted that “there will be a war, a terrible, terrible war” and asked the nuns to pray for Poland. In 1939, a year after Faustina’s death when Archbishop Jałbrzykowski noticed that her predictions about the war had taken place, he allowed public access to the Divine Mercy image which resulted in large crowds that led to the spread of the Divine Mercy devotion. The Divine Mercy devotion became a source of strength and inspiration for many people in Poland. By 1941 the devotion had reached the United States and millions of copies of Divine Mercy prayer cards were printed and distributed worldwide.
In 1942 Jałbrzykowski was arrested by the Nazis, and Father Sopocko and other professors went into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. During that period Sopocko used his time to prepare for establishment of a new religious congregation based on the Divine Mercy messages reported by Faustina. After the war, Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and helped the formation of what is now the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. By 1951, thirteen years after Faustina’s death, there were 150 Divine Mercy centers in Poland.
On 6 March 1959, the Holy Office (with the agreement of Pope John XXIII) issued a notification that forbade circulation of “images and writings that promote devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina” (emphasis in the original). The negative judgement of the Holy Office and concerns about heresy were based on reasons that included the use of a faulty French or Italian translation of the diary. The ban remained in place for almost two decades. Nevertheless, it was with Ottaviani’s approval that Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków began in 1965 the informative process on Faustina’s life and virtues. In 1978, under Pope Paul VI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reversed the ban on circulation of her work, issuing a new notification that rescinded the previous one. It decreed: “This Sacred Congregation… declares no longer binding …the quoted ‘notification’ .”. “Also, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that, “with the new ‘notification’ … there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy.”
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 Faustina’s life and virtues, interviewed witnesses and in 1967 submitted a number of documents about Faustina to the Vatican, requesting the start of the official process of her beatification. This was begun in 1968, and concluded with her beatification on 18 April 1993.
The formal beatification of Faustina involved the case of Maureen Digan of Massachusetts. In March 1981 Digan reported a healing, while praying at the tomb of Faustina. Digan had suffered from Lymphedema (a disease which causes significant swelling due to fluid retention) for decades, and had undergone 10 operations, including a leg amputation. Digan reported that while praying at Faustina’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 shoe became too large for her because her body stopped undue liquid retention. Upon her return to the United States, five Boston area physicians stated that she was healed (with no medical explanation) and the case was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992 based on the additional testimony of over twenty witnesses about her prior condition.
Faustina was beatified on 18 April 1993 and canonized on 30 April 2000. Her feast day is 5 October. Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter (which is the first Sunday after Easter Sunday). The fact that her Vatican biography directly quotes some of her reputed conversations with Jesus distinguishes her among the many reported visionaries.[clarification needed] The author and priest Benedict Groeschel considers a modest estimate of the following of the Divine Mercy devotion in 2010 to be over one hundred million Catholics. Pope John Paul II said: “The message she brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies. Jesus said to Sr Faustina one day: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to the Divine Mercy.'”