She was a poor carpenter’s daughter, initially turned away from religious life, later thought to be crazy. But Jesus had a plan for St. Faustina: to proclaim his Divine Mercy to the world, and she succeeded.
Helena Kowalska was born on Aug. 25, 1905, in Glogowiec, northwest Poland, the third of ten children in a poor family. Her father was a carpenter and had poor social status; the family often struggled to make ends meet.
She developed a deep faith and devotion in childhood, and at 16 expressed a desire to join a religious order. Her parents forbade it, and she was forced to find work as a maid to help her family financially.
When she was 19, Helena was at a dance with her sister and had a vision of Jesus. She left the dance and went to a nearby church, where the vision continued and Jesus instructed her to go to Warsaw immediately and join a convent. The next morning, without telling her family, Helena made the 85-mile trip to Warsaw. She came upon a church and went to Mass, and afterward the parish priest told her where she could find lodging until she could find a religious order.
She went from convent to convent, but was turned away each time, possibly because she appeared to be poor. Finally, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy told her she could join — but with a catch. She had to pay for her own habit. Helena got a job as a maid, saved her money and was finally able to join the order. On April 30, 1926, she took her final vows, taking the religious name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament.
She worked as a cook for the order, traveling to many convents around Poland. In 1930, while in Plock, she became ill, possibly with tuberculosis, and was sent away to rest. When she returned to religious life in 1931, she had her another life-changing vision of Jesus on Feb. 22. This time he revealed to her that he was the King of Divine Mercy, appearing to her in a white robe with rays coming from his heart.
Sister Faustina wrote in her diary about the experience: “In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, ‘paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'”
Sister Faustina also describes that during that same vision, Jesus explained 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.” Not being an artist, Sister Faustina searched for years to find someone talented enough to bring her vision to life on canvas.
She was soon transferred to Vilnius, where she met Fr. Michael Sopocko. He was the confessor to the convent, and when Sister Faustina told him about her visions, he thought she was mentally ill. He had her examined by a psychiatrist, but she passed all of the evaluations, proving her sanity. Fr. Sopocko realized that her visions were real, and became a great supporter of the message of Divine Mercy. He introduced her to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski who was able to translate her vision by painting the Divine Mercy image that is on display in the cathedral in Vilnius today.
Fr. Sopocko encouraged Sister Faustina to keep a diary so there would be a written record of all of her conversations with Jesus. On Good Friday in 1935, Jesus told her that he wished the image to be publicly honored. On April 26 of that year, Fr. Sopocko gave his first sermon on the Divine Mercy. A few months later, Sister Faustina composed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. By 1937, the Divine Mercy devotion had become popular and novena cards with the image were printed and widely distributed.
Sister Faustina had developed a desire to start her own congregation devoted to Divine Mercy, but her wish was denied. She was sent back to Warsaw and in 1936, fell ill again. She was sent to a hospital in Krakow, where she spent her last days in prayer. By the end of her life, her visions of Jesus became more frequent and intense. She passed away on Oct. 5, 1938 and is buried at the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow.
“The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul” remains a popular best seller in Catholic circles.
She was canonized by fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II, on April 30, 2000. He was an active promoter of the devotion, leading to it becoming more popular in the later part of the twentieth century. He later died on April 2, 2005, the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday.
St. Faustina’s feast day is Oct. 5.
Learn more about Divine Mercy Sunday here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Mercy_Sunday
Read her official Vatican biography here: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20000430_faustina_en.html
Here’s an article by the National Catholic Register with facts about St. Faustina: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/what-jesus-says-about-divine-mercy?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ncrtraffic&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI687Z36Xe6AIVEBgMCh2LxApTEAMYASAAEgJYY_D_BwE
Learn more about the artist who brought St. Faustina’s vision to life here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugeniusz_Kazimirowski
The Knights of Columbus made a short film about her life. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLEN7gZ67F0
This concludes Our Lenten Journey series on the saints for this year. We hope you have enjoyed it. To see other saints featured in the series, browse http://thedialog.org/category/catechetical-corner/