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Biography of St. Faustina

Helena Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905 in Glogowiec, Poland, the third of the ten Kowalski children. Her family was very poor, to the extent that Helena and her sisters had only one "good" dress between them to wear to church! They had to share it, each girl going to a different Mass and then returning so that the next girl could wear the dress to the following Mass. At the age of 15, Helena left the school which she had been attending for three years, to work in support of her family. Already she was considering a vocation to the religious life; since the age of seven, she had heard a call to holiness deep in her soul, and understood that God was calling her to be a nun. By the time she was eighteen, she was convinced of her vocation, and asked her parents for permission to enter the convent. However, her parents refused; Helena was their favourite daughter, and they did not want to lose her.

Later, Helena wrote that after this disappointment, "I gave myself up to vanities, neglecting the call of grace." She tried to forget her vocation and began to stifle her conscience with worldly amusements. But God had great plans for Helena, and He would not permit this desertion! One beautiful night, Helena and her sister were at a dance with the other young people of the village. While she danced, Jesus suddenly appeared to her, covered with wounds, and very sad. He said to her, "How long will I put up with you, and how long will you keep putting me off?" Realizing with a sudden horror what she was doing, Helena left the dance and went to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, where she prostrated herself on the ground, begging God to tell her what to do.

Once more Jesus spoke in her soul; "Go immediately to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there." Helena wasted no time in following the command. She got up, "took care of things that need to be settled," and without saying good-bye to anyone except her beloved sister, she took the next train to Warsaw.

Once arrived in the capital of Poland, Helena asked the advice of a priest, who sent her to stay with a pious lady while she looked for a convent. But all the convents where she asked for admission sent her away. Despite her discouragement, Helena kept searching, and finally she was accepted at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, an order which took care of wayward or neglected girls. But before entering, she had to work as a servant in order to save money for the dowry which the convent required to pay for her habit and other expenses. A year later, on August 1, 1925, she entered as a postulant. On April 30, 1926, Helena became a novice, taking as her "name in religion," the name "Sister Mary Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament."

Soon St. Faustina began to receive heavenly visions. She visited Purgatory; she saw and spoke to Jesus and Mary several times. At last Jesus revealed to her the work for which she had been created: to spread the devotion to the Mercy of God. On February 22, 1931, He appeared to her as King of Divine Mercy, "wearing a white garment. One hand was raised in a sign of blessing; the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment. . .emanated two large rays, one red, the other pale." Jesus asked St. Faustina to have an image painted of Him as she saw Him, but her superiors hesitated. At last, God sent her a new spiritual director, Father Michael Sopocko, who helped her to promulgate devotion to the Mercy of God. It was Fr. Sopocko also who ordered her to write a diary of the graces she received, even though she had a hard time writing and spelling because of her scanty education. The diary was later published under the title Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Faustina.

Because of her visions, life in the convent became very difficult for St. Faustina. The other sisters in the convent often ridiculed her and openly laughed at her, saying that she was deceived and did not really see Christ. Since in their eyes she was only a poorly-educated, peasant-class nun of the second choir, (the second choir nuns were from poorer, less well-educated families; they did the humble household chores while the better-educated nuns of the first choir managed and taught in the houses for wayward girls. Today this distinction has been eliminated from the order.) they thought that she could not possibly have been chosen by God for great things. Without her realizing it, entries in her diary give a most embarassing picture of the lack of charity and holiness that can prevail even in convents where everyone is supposed to be striving to reach perfection.

Often Jesus came and comforted her. Once, on Shrove Tuesday, when she was sobbing in agony over the sins committed during the Mardi Gras carnivals, Jesus appeared to her, and clasped her to His Heart, saying, "My daughter, do not weep, for I cannot bear your tears. I will grant you everything you ask for, but stop crying!" This shows us how much the love of God for His consecrated virgins is like the love of a true spouse - His heart is even more tender than that of a loving husband.

At the same time, Faustina’s health, never strong, began to deteriorate quickly. Unfortunately, the other nuns did not believe she was truly ill and thought she was only trying to get out of having to work hard. Eventually, the superior of the convent gave her the task of gatekeeper, since the work Faustina had been doing in the garden was becoming too difficult for her. This new duty gave St. Faustina the chance to practice mercy to others, since she was now in contact with the poor people of the city, and those who came to beg at the convent door. She listened to the tale of their miseries with kindness, and used tact in giving them what they needed, so that they would not be embarrassed. Once, Jesus Himself came to the door as a poor young man, and asked for food. St. Faustina gave him some soup and bread, and after eating it, Jesus revealed Himself to her, and told her that He had come down from His heavenly throne to "taste the fruits of her mercy." Her spiritual director, Father Sopocko, assisted her in having the Divine Mercy image painted. He used his own money to have copies of the image, together with the Chaplet of Mercy, printed on leaflets for wide distribution, and some of the superiors became convinced that she was telling the truth. The images were publicly displayed in Cracow and in Vilnius, and people began to come to pray before them.

Jesus also revealed to St. Faustina that He wanted her to found a "Congregration which will proclaim the Mercy of God to the world, and, by its prayers, obtain it for the world." Again, St. Faustina’s superiors would not give her the permission necessary to leave the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy to found the congregation which Jesus was requesting, since she had already made her final vows binding her for life to the order she had originally entered. The poor nun asked God how she could possibly do what He asked of her, since she had to obey her superiors. Jesus reassured her, saying that His Will would always be done, and telling her not to fear. Every time she tried to leave the convent, either her health failed or her mind became so darkened that she didn’t know what to do, and her spiritual directors always put things off until her situation improved. This conflict between what Jesus was telling her to do, and what her superiors, who were the voice of God’s will for her, told her to do, was one of St. Faustina’s greatest crosses. In fact, she died without ever leaving the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy.

St. Faustina’s obedience was put to the test many times. Her superiors did not always agree with what Jesus asked her to do; once, when Faustina went to Mother Jane to ask for permission to make a certain sacrifice which Jesus had requested, the Mother scolded her and told her she was not allowed to make the sacrifice. As St. Faustina turned away, she saw Jesus standing in the doorway. He told her that He was been present during the interview, and that simple obedience was much more pleasing to Him than all the sacrifices and prayers possible. Throughout her life, her Divine Spouse always encouraged her to obey completely.

In 1936, St. Faustina became so ill that her superiors sent her to the sanatorium in Pradnik. (The cause of her illness was not at that time stated by the doctors, but it seems to have been tuberculosis.) There, she seized the opportunity to speak of God’s mercy to those who visited her, and to the other patients in the hospital, many of whom were not Catholic. She spent much time in prayer, reciting the Chaplet of Mercy and praying for the conversion of sinners. Towards the end of her life, Jesus told her that her prayers were so pleasing to Him that He could not resist them. He continued to speak to her of the Divine Mercy, calling her His "secretary."

The next two years of St. Faustina’s life were spent working as much as she could between visits of the sanatorium and time spent sick in bed in the convent. By June of 1938, she could no longer write in the diary, and it became obvious that she would not live much longer. St. Faustina died on October 5, 1938. The task of spreading the message of Divine Mercy, already well begun, was continued by her spiritual director, Father Sopocko, who outlived her by almost thirty-eight years. Faustina had never been able to found the religious order which Jesus had asked for, but she had left clear rules for the life of the prospective community, and at last in 1941, the order, now known as the Institute of Divine Mercy, was founded. In 1958, the Holy See issued a document condemning the work of Divine Mercy, because St. Faustina’s diary was misinterpreted by theologians who did not take into into consideration her lack of education which resulted in poor spelling and punctuation, and many unclear sentence constructions that suggested heretical teachings. Father Sopocko was harshly reprimanded, and all his work was suppressed. The archbishop of Cracow, however, permitted the nuns to leave the original picture hanging in their chapel so that those who wished to continue to pray before it could do so.

It was through the intervention of Karol Woytyla, then the archbishop of Cracow and the future Pope John Paul II, that a new investigation into the life and diary of St. Faustina was finally launched, and the devotion to the Divine Mercy was once again permitted. St. Faustina was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000.

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