The Life of St. Maria Faustina
HER EARLY YEARS
St. Faustina Maria Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905, the third of ten children of a poor, pious Catholic family in small Polish village. She was baptized two days later as “Helena.” At the early age of seven, Helen first heard the voice of God calling her to the religious life. When she approached her parents with her desire, her parents quickly disapproved. As a result, in trying to adhere to the will of her parents, she tried to stifle and ignore the call.
Helena would help around the house with the chores in the kitchen, milking the cows, and taking care of her siblings. She began her primary education when she was 12 years old, due to the closing of the schools in Poland during the Russian occupation. She was only able to complete three trimesters. In the spring of 1919, all the older students were notified that they had to leave the school, in order for the younger students to come in.
At the age of 14, she began working outside the home to earn money in order to support herself. However, when she was sixteen, her prayer life had grown to such an extent that work and sleep became difficult, and she left her job as a housekeeper. Again, she went to her parents to leave and enter a convent, they said no, citing financial difficulty as their reason.
After another refusal by her parents, she abandoned her spiritual life to an extent and began to live a worldly life: buying fashionable clothes, attending dances and parties, all in an attempt to ignore the call she felt deep inside.
At the age of 20, while dancing at a party on night in Lodz, where she was currently living, Jesus appeared to her, stripped and covered with wounds. Everything surrounding her disappeared and she only saw Jesus, who asked her, “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting me off?” (Diary 9). She ran to the cathedral to pray.
In Lodz's Cathedral, St. Faustina heard these words from our Lord: "Go immediately to Warsaw, and there you will enter a convent." She got up from prayer, went to her house and as best she could, confessed to her sister what had happened. She asked her sister to say goodbye to her parents on her behalf, and with only one dress and nothing else, she arrived in Warsaw. She asked the Blessed Mother to guide her and to let her know where to direct herself. That is how she arrived at St. James the Apostle Church in the outskirts of Warsaw. After mass ended, she spoke to a priest who sent her to Mrs. Lipzye, a very Catholic woman, and she lodged with her. During her stay with the Lipzye family, she visited various convents but all the doors were closed to her. She asked the Lord not to leave her alone as she sought an answer to her prayer, but the Lord wanted to teach her that He always answers our prayers in His time, not in ours. St. Faustina directed herself to the doors of the Mother House of the Congregation of the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy on Zytnia street, in Warsaw, where the Mother General interrogated her. Mother Micaela told her to go ask the Lord of the house if He accepted her. St. Faustina went to the Chapel and asked the Lord if He accepted her and she heard in her heart: "I accept you, you are in My Heart." She addressed the Mother General and told her what she had heard, and the Mother responded, "If the Lord accepts you, I also accept you; this is your house."
Nonetheless, a few weeks after her entrance, she felt a strong desire to leave and find another, stricter order that dedicated more time to prayer. However, Jesus appeared to her again, tortured and wounded and said to her, “It is you who will cause me this pain if you leave this convent. It is to this place that I called you and nowhere else, and [it is here] I have prepared many graces for you” (Diary 19).
In the beginning of 1926, Saint Faustina was sent to the novitiate in Józefów (St. Joseph’s Place) in Cracow-Lagiewniki, to end her postulancy. On April 30th she took the religious habit of a novice and received her new name: Sister Maria Faustina. During this ceremony, the Lord revealed to her the magnitude of her future sufferings and all to which she was committing herself. This lasted for a short while, and the Lord filled her with great consolation.
Saint Faustina suffered the majority of her novitiate with constant inner struggles. She couldn’t meditate, nor feel God’s presence. She suffered great torments and temptations, even inside the chapel. On more than one occasion, while she was in Mass, she felt she was blaspheming against God, she was not happy with anything. Even the simplest truths about the faith were difficult for her to understand.
During all this time, Saint Faustina was not alone. She had the help of her Directress of Novices, Sister Joseph Brzoza, who saw in her great graces coming directly from God. Even though, Saint Faustina felt at that moment totally abandoned by God, Sister Joseph would tell her: “know dear sister that God wants to have you very close to Him in Heaven. Have great trust in Jesus”.
During her third year in the Novitiate, it was revealed to her what it meant to be a Victim Soul. She wrote in her Diary: " Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” (Diary #57)
After taking her temporary vows, for the next 8 years she lived in many different convents of the order – Warsaw, Vilnius, Walendow, Plock, and some others. Finally in 1936, she returned to the convent in Cracow, where she remained for the rest of her short life on earth. In this convent of Cracow-Lagiewniki, Saint Maria Faustina completed her novitiate, professed her first vows and her perpetual vows, served as a cook, gardener, doorkeeper, and spent the last years of her earthly life.
Saint Faustina was a simple religious without many studies. Based on outward appearance, none would have known of the deep mystical life that she led. She faithful went about her duties, kept mostly silent, and was always kind, cheerful and charitable toward all. She was completely abandoned to the will of God and was very valuable to Him. Her life is characterized by her deep trust and obedience to the Lord. She was a model of religious obedience and submission, always submitting all her visions and mystical experiences to the direction of her superiors and confessors. Her deep mystical life and union with God was revealed during her life to only a few superiors and confessors. The depth of this union was known to all only after her death, revealed by the contents of her Diary, which the Lord had instructed her to write. To her, the Lord Jesus confided a great mission: to make known the message of Divine Mercy to the whole world. The Lord said to her: “In the Old Testament I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people. Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart.” (Diary #1588). As well, “You are the secretary of My mercy; I have chosen you for that office in this and the next life (Diary, 1605)... to make known to souls the great mercy that I have for them, and to exhort them to trust in the bottomless depth of My mercy” (Diary, 1567).
The mission that the Lord entrusted to St. Faustina, however, cost her very much. She suffered greatly in fulfilling her mission as the Apostle of Mercy. In her novitiate, she was visited by painful mystical experiences and underwent a dark night of the soul. She also was very weak physically her whole life, and was often plagued by severe illness, which hospitalized her for months at a time. She suffered many spiritual and moral suffering related to the mission to which she had been entrusted. Many people, including her sisters, believed she was delusional and crazy because of her deep communion with God and her desire to have the image painted and propagated. As well, the Lord allowed her sisters to often misinterpret her intentions and true state of health; this caused her deep sufferings, for she was often look upon as weak and one who was feigning illness. For years, she did not have a confessor or spiritual director that understood the workings in her soul, and this left her in an almost constant state of confusion. The Lord asked her to found a new congregation (which never happened in her lifetime). Because of all these requests that Jesus placed on her (the image, the feast day, and the congregation), she was often doubted by her superiors, priests, and bishops. She was a “sign of contradiction” just like her beloved Spouse. She became a victim soul, suffering for the salvation of sinners; this entailed diverse sufferings which included the “passive night” of the spirit and hidden stigmata. Often she would take on spiritual battles and punishments in order to save sinners and prevent people from committing mortal sins. She also prayed and suffered greatly for the souls in purgatory. Eventually, she contracted tuberculosis, and finally succumbed to the disease, physically ravaged by its effects on October 5, 1938 at the age of 33 years. She died physically exhausted, but united mystically with God, totally mature in spirit, and in the odor of sanctity. She had lived thirteen of her 33 years in the convent. Her funeral took place two days later, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary, which in that year was the First Friday of the Month.
The mission of Saint Faustina consisted of three tasks:
First, proclaiming and bringing the world closer to the truth of the merciful love of God for every human being, as revealed in the Scared Scriptures.
Second, imploring God’s mercy for the entire world, and particularly for sinners, through the practice of the new forms of devotion to The Divine Mercy asked for by the Lord Jesus.
Third, initiating the apostolic movement of Divine Mercy whose devotees and apostles shall bring about a religious renewal among the faithful in the spirit of this devotion, namely, acquiring an attitude of childlike trust in God and actively living the commandment of love and mercy toward one’s neighbor.
In obedience to her spiritual director, she wrote a diary of about 600 pages in which she gives account of the revelations she received on the Mercy of God. The devotions and methods proposed are as follows:
1. Veneration of the Image of the Divine Mercy
The pattern for the image was revealed to St. Faustina on February 22, 1931. From her Diary: “In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand [was] raised in the gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale...After a while, Jesus said to me, Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You (Diary 47). I want this image…to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the feast of my Mercy (Diary 49).” He promised to her, “By means of this Image I shall be granting many graces to souls” (Diary 570).
2. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
This prayer is a powerful took of intercession in order to atone for sin and appease the justice of God. God promises that those who say this with faith, confidence and trust in His Mercy will obtain their requests, especially those requests related to the graces of conversion and peaceful deaths. About the chaplet, the Lord told St. Faustina, “When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul” (Diary 811)…”It pleases me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet” (Diary 1541)…”If what you ask is compatible with my will” (Diary 1731).
3. The Great Hour of Mercy
The Hour of Mercy is 3pm. This is the hour that Jesus died on the Cross, and it is the moment in which “Mercy triumphed over justice” (Diary 1572). Jesus asked St. Faustina, at this hour, to immerse herself in His mercy asking it to cover the whole world, especially sinners. Jesus promises, “In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking” (Diary 1572). Prayers at this hour should be addressed to Jesus, they should appeal to His mercy and the merits of His passion, and they should be made at 3pm in the afternoon.
4. The Feast of the Divine Mercy
This devotion ranks the highest in the all the forms of devotion to the Divine Mercy. Jesus asked Sr. Faustina to have this Feast of Divine Mercy instituted on the first Sunday after Easter Sunday. This Sunday is to be a time of great graces for all, especially sinners. The Lord promises, “…whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment” (Diary 300). As well, “On this day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy…Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (Diary 699).
To reap the benefits of these great graces, one must have trust in God’s mercy, be in the state of sanctifying grace (gone to Confession), and receive Holy Communion.
5. The propagation of the devotion to the Divine Mercy
To those that spread the honor of the Divine Mercy, Jesus promises to “shield through their entire life as a tender mother her infant, and at the hour of death I will not be a Judge for them, but the Merciful Savior” (Diary 1075). Spreading the honor of this to others does not necessarily mean many words (though it does require speaking about it). It primarily means living it. This means living in a spirit of faith and trust in God, and being merciful and kind in your actions and attitudes toward others.
THE SPREADING OF HER MESSAGE
Her body was placed in the common grave in the Community Cemetery in Krakow- Lagievniki. Later in 1966, during the investigative process to gather information on her virtues, her remains were transferred to the chapel. Sister Faustina’s mission really began after her death, just as she had announced it would.
One day in 1935, Saint Faustina wrote to her spiritual director: "There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago" (Diary 378).
This did happen. On March 6, 1959, the Holy See, because of inaccurate information that was presented to it, prohibited the distribution of images and writings that propagated the devotion to The Divine Mercy as proposed by Saint Faustina. As a result of this action, there was a period of silence for about 20 years regarding the devotion. Then on April 15, 1978, the Holy See, after a careful examination of some original documents that were not available before, overturned their decision and again permitted the practice of the devotion. The man who was prominently responsible for this turnaround was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Cracow, the diocese in which St. Faustina was born. On October 16, 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla was elevated to the Chair of Peter under the name “Pope John Paul II”.
On March 7, 1992, the “heroic” virtues of Sister Faustina were declared; on December 21, 1992, a cure that came about through her intercession was declared “miraculous”; and on April 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II had the honor of declaring the Venerable Servant of God, Sr. Maria Faustina, “Blessed.”
In 1997, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Blessed Faustina in Poland, and called her: “The Great Apostle of Mercy in our times.” The Holy Father said at her tomb: “The message of The Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me... and which in a sense forms an image of this Pontificate.”
On March 10, 2000, the date of the canonization was announced after the acceptance of the second miracle obtained through her intercession. The Secretary of the Mercy of God was elevated to the altars by the Holy Father on April 20, 2000, Divine Mercy Sunday. She was the first saint to be canonized in the year 2000 and also in the new millennium. On this occasion the Holy Father pronounced that the Second Sunday of Easter would be known from then on as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
On June 29, 2002, H.H. John Paul II, established that Divine Mercy Sunday should be enriched with a plenary indulgence.
SHRINE OF THE DIVINE MERCY
On the hill of Lagiewniki, next to the city of Cracow, is the Shrine of The Divine Mercy. It used to be the old chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. There, in a side altar underneath an image of The Merciful Jesus, are the mortal remains of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, to whom Pope John Paul II gave the name, “Apostle of the Divine Mercy.”
During World War II the chapel was open to the public. From that time forward, her remains have been visited by people of all societies: by those who desired to ask for her intercession, others in thanksgiving for a favor received, or others simply to pray. The devotion to the Divine Mercy became a great sign of fortitude and hope for many, especially for those in concentration camps in and beyond Poland. As time progressed, the devotion was spread by soldiers and refugees around the whole world. The Novena, the Litanies and the Chaplet were soon translated to other languages. The central areas of the devotion’s spread are France, USA and Australia.
In the year 2002 John Paul II returned to Cracow and consecrated the New Basilica of Divine Mercy, which was constructed next to the original Shrine and the Convent of the sisters. There are plans to build a Retreat House, a Pilgrims House, and a parking lot. Following are some words from the Homily given by His Holiness:
"I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.
“I have come to Lagiewniki to dedicate this new church. I am convinced that this is the special place chosen by God to sow the grace of his mercy. I pray that this church will always be a place where the message of God’s merciful love is proclaimed; a place of conversion and repentance; a place for the celebration of the Eucharist; a fountain of mercy; a place of prayer and of constant appeals for mercy for ourselves and for the whole world. I pray in the words of Solomon: ‘Have regard to the prayer of your own servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, hearkening to the cry and to the prayer which thy servant prays before you this day; that your eyes may be open night and day towards this house... Hearken to the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray in this place. Hear in heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive’ (1 Kg 8:28-30).
“I firmly believe that this new church will always be a place where people will come before God in Spirit and truth. They will come with the trust which accompanies all those who humbly open their hearts to the working of God’s merciful love, to that love which is stronger than even the greatest sin. Here, in the fire of divine love, human hearts will burn with desire for conversion, and whoever looks for hope will find comfort” (John Paul II, 8/17/2002).
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