Feast Day : October 5
Patronage: Warsaw, Plock, and Krakow, Poland; Vilnius, Lithuania
Also known as: Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament
Faustina Kowalska was born Elena Kowalska in Glogowiec, a small village west of Lodz, Poland, on August 25, 1905. She was the third of 10 children. When she was seven, during the celebration of Vespers, at the time of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, God called her to the religious life. After her First Communion, she went to confession every week and never missed Sunday Mass with her family. Her extraordinary holiness was manifest in the miraculous obedience the family cattle paid to her. From the ages of 12 to 14, Elena attended public school. At 16, she began to work as a housemaid in Lodz. Then a few weeks before her 20th birthday, in the summer of 1924, she had a vision of Jesus in his Passion. He chastised her for her spiritual sloth and ordered her to join a convent. After being rejected by several religious orders, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw on August 1, 1925. In her year as postulant, Elena’s guardian angel showed her purgatory in order to excite her devotion to the poor souls waiting there. On April 30, 1926, she entered her novitiate; she took the veil and was given the religious name Maria Faustina, to which she added, “of the Most Blessed Sacrament,” as was her congregation’s custom. On that occasion, Jesus revealed to her all that she would suffer for his name. The following year, he gave her a vision of potatoes changed into roses to teach her how pleasing was a lowly work done for His love. During the last six months of the novitiate, Faustina passed through a dark night of the soul. At the end of that mystical experience, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus appeared to her in a dream and foretold her final perseverance, her future heroic sanctity, and her canonization. On April 30, 1928, she took her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Faustina spent the next 10 years in various houses of her order, working as cook, gardener and porter. She had a special devotion to Mary Immaculate and to the Eucharist and reconciliation, which gave her the strength to bear all her sufferings. She suffered in secret, with only her confessors and some of her superiors aware of what she was going through. Fortunately, she kept a diary in which she recorded the details of the visions and stigmata that began to visit her with increasing frequency. Since she was barely literate, she wrote phonetically, without punctuation, filling almost 700 pages. A poor translation reached Rome in 1958 and the work was judged heretical. However, when Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) became archbishop of Krakow, he ordered a better translation made, and the Vatican reversed itself, declaring that the diary proclaimed God’s love. The diary was published as Divine Mercy in My Soul. Despite her profession, the darkness that had come upon Faustina during her novitiate did not leave her. So challenging were some of her experiences that her confessors and superiors could not at first believe God was treating her in such a manner. On one occasion, Jesus commanded her to adore him in the Blessed Sacrament for one hour on nine successive days, praying in union with Mary and all the while attempting to make the Stations of the Cross. On the seventh day, she had a vision of Mary, standing between heaven and earth, dressed in a bright garment. Fiery rays issued from her heart, some ascending heavenward, others falling upon Poland. Faustina received several striking communications from Jesus in the 1930s. In the most important of these, He sent her a message of Divine Mercy and asked her to spread it throughout the world. She was to be an instrument for emphasizing God’s plan of mercy for all of humankind and a model of how to be merciful to others, living her entire life in imitation of Jesus, as a sacrifice. To assist in this project, Jesus asked that a picture be painted of Himself with an inscription reading, “Jesus, I Trust in You.” Faustina commissioned this painting in 1935. It shows a red and white light shining from Christ’s Sacred Heart. Faustina died October 5, 1938, in Krakow, Poland, of tuberculosis, but her work was picked up by others, thanks especially to Divine Mercy in My Soul. A movement of priests, religious and lay people inspired by her experiences was organized under the name, Apostles of Divine Mercy. The movement was approved in 1996 by the archdiocese of Krakow, and has since spread to 29 other countries. Faustina’s congregation, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, operates the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland. The order opened its first house outside Poland—in Boston, Massachusetts—in 1988. In Eden Hill, Massachusetts, there is a National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, run by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Faustina is credited with interceding in two miraculous cures that led to her beatification in 1993 and canonization in 2000. In the former, she caused a cure of a woman who suffered Milroy’s disease, a hereditary form of lymphedema; in the latter, she caused the cure of a priest’s heart condition.