Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament, OLM, popularly spelled Faustina (born as Helena Kowalska; 25 August 1905 in Głogowiec – 5 October 1938 in Kraków, Poland), was a Polish Roman Catholic nun and mystic. Her apparitions of Jesus Christ inspired the Roman Catholic devotion to the Divine Mercy and earned her the title of “Apostle of Divine Mercy”.
Throughout her life, Faustina reported having visions of Jesus and conversations with him, of which she wrote in her diary, later published as The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. Her biography submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints quoted some of these conversations with Jesus regarding the Divine Mercy devotion.
At the age of 20 years she joined a convent in Warsaw, Poland, was later transferred to Płock, and then to Vilnius where she met her confessor Father Michał Sopoćko, who supported her devotion to the Divine Mercy. Faustina and Sopoćko directed an artist to paint the first Divine Mercy image, based on Faustina’s vision of Jesus. Sopoćko used the image in celebrating the first Mass on the first Sunday after Easter. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II established the Feast of Divine Mercy on that Sunday of each liturgical year.
The Roman Catholic Church canonized Faustina as a saint on 30 April 2000,considering her a virgin and mystic. She is venerated within the Church as the “Apostle of Divine Mercy”.
A diary of about 700 printed pages!
The handwritten pages of Kowalska’s diary turned into about 700 printed pages which were published as the book Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul. The book reflects her thoughts, prayers and her reported visions and conversations with Jesus on Divine Mercy. Kowalska’s Vatican biography quotes some of her reported conversations with Jesus from her diary.
It records the last four years of her life. It reveals the depths of her spiritual life and illustrates the high degree of her soul’s union with God. The Lord endowed Sister Faustina with tremendous graces: the gift of contemplation, a deep knowledge of the mystery of the mercy of God, visions, revelations, the hidden stigmata, the gifts of prophecy and of reading human souls, and also the rare gift of mystical espousal.
The image of Divine Mercy
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” (in Polish: “Jezu, ufam Tobie”). I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.
Not knowing how to paint, 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.
Meeting Fr. Sopoćko
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 Sopoćko, the newly appointed confessor to the nuns. Sopoćko was also a professor of pastoral theology at Stefan Batory University (now called Vilnius University).
When Faustina went to Sopoćko 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 Sopoćko 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, Sopoćko began to have confidence in Faustina and supported her efforts. Sopoćko also advised Faustina to begin writing a diary and to record the conversations and messages from Jesus which she was reporting. Faustina told Sopoćko about the Divine Mercy image and in January 1934 Sopoćko introduced her to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski who was also a professor at the university.
By June 1934, Kazimierowski had finished painting the image based on the direction of Faustina and Father Sopoćko. 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 Sopoćko 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 Sopoćko 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: “My Daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My Divine Mercy, I will make up for what you lack.”
The final years
In 1936, Father Sopoćko 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. Sopoćko sent copies of the brochure to Faustina in Warsaw.
Faustina’s chapel at her resting place, the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki.
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 Sopoćko 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.