Tomorrow, October 5th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Faustina, one of my favorite saints. I have spent many months pondering over the beautiful words in her Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul and she has become a heavenly friend of mine. In honor of her special day, I am sharing a free downloadable coloring page of St. Faustina as well as a short biography I wrote about her for Divine Mercy for Moms: Sharing the Lessons of St. Faustina. May her beautiful life touch your soul!
Sr. Maria Faustina was born Helen Kowalska in 1905 to a poor family in Głogowiec, Poland, the third of ten children. She was a very pious and prayerful young girl and had a special place in her heart for the sufferings of others.
Young Helen knew she was called to religious life as early as age seven. She grew in holiness despite the fact she couldn’t always attend Sunday Mass; the family only owned one Sunday dress, which was shared by the girls. Helen learned to read and write from her father and later went to school. Although she was a good student, she was forced to leave school after only two years to make room for younger students. At fourteen she moved in with another family to become a domestic servant. It was there she received a vision of a bright light and felt called to join the convent.
Her parents at first did not want her to join the convent, so she went back to work as a housekeeper. But Jesus was persistent in his call: when she was eighteen, Helen experienced a vision of Jesus, who asked of her, “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” (Diary of St. Faustina, 9) After being refused by several orders, Helen was accepted into the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw in 1925; it was then that she took her religious name: Sr. Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Initially she felt called to leave this order to join a stricter order, but Jesus made it clear to her that she was where he wanted her to be. Faustina made her vows with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and served as a cook, gardener, and doorkeeper. She stayed in several different convents, but mainly at the convents in Kraków, Płock, and Wilno (now Vilnius, capital of Lithuania). During much of her life in the convent she was in ill health, as she suffered from tuberculosis, a terrible disease of the lungs. However she never complained about her suffering, instead offering it to Jesus for the poor souls in purgatory. She had a very meek and humble manner, and the sisters described her as always having “childlike joy on her face.”
In 1931, she was staying at the convent in Vilnius when she received the vision of Jesus as described above. Jesus instructed her to have him painted as she saw him and to see that the portrait was spread around the world. When she first reported this request to her confessor, he told Faustina that Jesus just wanted her to paint his image in her soul. However, in another vision Jesus confided that he wanted a material image created.
Faustina asked a sister in the convent to paint the likeness for her. This sister declined, but word spread around the convent that Faustina was receiving visions. While a few of the sisters believed in her extraordinary experiences, St. Faustina wrote in the Diary that many “began to speak openly about me and to regard me as a hysteric and a fantasist, and the rumors began to grow louder” (Diary of St. Faustina 125). Some of the sisters were very cruel and humiliated her publicly, but Faustina kept her peace and never uttered anything in her defense. She was soon blessed with a spiritual advisor, Fr. Michael Sopoćko, who would help her fulfill her mission.
After a doctor evaluated Faustina’s physical and mental health and vouched for her sanity, Fr. Sopoćko helped find an artist, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, to paint the picture under Faustina’s direction. She visited the artist each weekend to instruct him and was dissatisfied with his first efforts. The painting was changed several times by Kazimirowski. In 1934, the painting was almost finished, but Sr. Faustina was still not pleased. She went to the chapel and cried. “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” she asked Jesus. In response she heard, “Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace” (Diary, 313). Sr. Faustina accepted the painting, saying, “It is not what it should be, but that’s how it must remain.” The Divine Mercy Image was first displayed publicly on the Friday after Easter in 1935 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Ostra Brama in Vilnius, where Fr. Sopoćko gave a sermon about Divine Mercy. While he was preaching, Sr. Faustina saw the Image come alive, and the “rays pierced the hearts of the people gathered there.”
Jesus continued to appear to St. Faustina and reveal his mission for her to spread the message of his mercy throughout the world. There were no external signs of her great mysticism; she was obedient and cheerful and did her daily tasks with great love. St. Faustina also suffered greatly. She underwent a great “dark night of the soul,” a deep spiritual pain experienced by some as they grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. What we know of her experiences is recorded in her Diary, which she continued to write until she died in 1938 from tuberculosis. She was only thirty-three.
Copyright 2016 Michele Faehnle. This excerpt from Chapter 1 of Divine Mercy for Moms is published with the kind permission of Ave Maria Press.