By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — More than 80 years ago, a young Polish nun had a vision of Jesus as the “King of Divine Mercy,” clad in a white garment, with rays of red and white light emanating from near his heart. She wrote in her diary that Jesus told her to “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: ‘Jesus, I Trust in You.’ 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.” Since that message was given to Sister Faustina Kolwalska in Feb. 1931, devotion to the Divine Mercy is practiced by more than 100 million Catholics worldwide.
Recently, an image of the King of Divine Mercy was installed in St. Thomas More Church’s narthex. Commissioned by Father Don Farnan, pastor, the image was designed by St. Thomas More parishioner Michael McGlinn. Faithful to the “pattern” of the vision of Jesus as He appeared to Faustina, and first painted in 1934 in Vilnius, Poland, the Divine Mercy image is 5 feet tall, reproduced on Plexiglas. The image is backlit; illuminated 24 hours a day. The wood of the Romanesque arch framing the image matches the wood and architectural shape of the tabernacle, ambry and Stations of the Cross.
“The Divine Mercy image greets those who enter St. Thomas More Church to worship,” Father Farnan said. “It is a beautiful sign of the power of God’s mercy, the one thing that many of us desire above all else.”
The Divine Mercy image at St. Thomas More hasn’t been officially blessed yet, but is sure to be by the first Sunday after Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.
McGlinn is the founder of “Face of Mercy,” a family spiritual movement whose mission is to lead youth and families into a loving, trusting relationship with God, through the mercy of Jesus under the protection of the Blessed Mother. He is a former Notre Dame University football star, a musician and producer who recorded with the likes of Genesis, the Allman Brothers and Gloria Estefan. He is now dedicated to the Divine Mercy message and works to spread that message through the U.S., through concert-talks, retreats and instructional workshops.
McGlinn will lead a “Day of Mercy” concert-talk from 1-2:30 p.m., Oct. 16, at St. Thomas More Church. Free child care will be provided, and a reception will follow in the narthex.
Through live music, multimedia presentations and story telling, McGlinn and his Face of Mercy team will reveal an intimate face of Christ to encourage families to pray together to the Divine Mercy.
“The fabric of the world is the family,” he said. “Moving the family to take up daily prayer in the home is critical. By revealing this story and the image of Divine Mercy, we reveal God’s great love for us, and hope that families will carry the message onward.”
His goal is to take “Face of Mercy” to every parish in this diocese and in the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., “to expose everyone to the spirituality, love and mercy of Christ, and lead to deeper, fuller answers to their questions.” The Divine Mercy image is important, he said, “because through the face we access the heart, the treasure of God’s heart, the healing and the mercy.”
Each attending family will receive an image of the Divine Mercy, McGlinn said. “Jesus promised that extraordinary graces will come to humanity through trust, prayer and veneration of the image Jesus gave to Faustina.”
Helenka Kowalska was born in Poland in 1905, the third of 10 children. Her family was poor but religious. Helenka first felt the call to the religious life at the age of seven. She wanted to enter a convent after she finished school, but her parents said “no.” At the age of 16, the girl started work as a housekeeper in nearby Lodz to help support her family. A year later she twice asked her parents to allow her to enter religious life, and twice they refused.
In the summer of 1924, the 19-year-old Helenka and her sister Natalia attended a dance in a park. During the dance, Helenka had a vision of Jesus suffering and rushed to a church to pray. There, she later said, she was told by Jesus to leave for Warsaw immediately and join a convent. The next morning she took a train to Warsaw, without her parents’ permission. After several weeks, she was accepted conditionally as a “lay sister” by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
For the next year, she worked as a housemaid in Warsaw, depositing her wages at the convent until she was accepted. She received her habit in 1926, and took the religious name “Maria Faustina” of the Blessed Sacrament. She made her first profession of vows in 1928, at a ceremony attended by her parents.
During her first years in the convent, Sister Faustina was transferred to several congregational houses, in Plock and later in Vilnius. In 1930, the first symptoms of tuberculosis appeared and she was sent to rest at a farm owned by the religious order. She returned to the convent in Plock after her recovery. It was there, the night of Feb. 22, 1931, that Jesus, “the King of Divine Mercy,” appeared to her. Along with instructions about the Divine Mercy image, he told her that he wanted the image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
Two years later, May 1, 1933, Sister Faustina made her final profession as a Sister of Our Lady of Mercy. Less than a month later, she was transferred to the convent in Vilnius to work as a gardener. She met Father Michael Sopocko, confessor for the sisters, and confided in him about her conversations with Jesus. After initial skepticism, and several psychiatric tests for Sister Faustina, he became her confidant and ardent supporter.
In fact, in 1934, the priest introduced Sister Faustina to the artist Eugene Kazimierowski, who painted the Divine Mercy image as she directed.
Over the next five years, Sister Faustina continued, with Father Sopocko’s help, to promote public veneration of the Divine Mercy image. In 1935, she wrote in her diary about a vision she’d had of prayers to the Divine Mercy image. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which uses a rosary during recitation, is about a third of the length of the rosary. She wrote that the purpose of the Chaplet is threefold: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others.
Her health worsened in 1936, and she spent next two years in a sanatorium in Krakow. She continued reciting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, praying for the conversion of sinners and writing in her diary. She reported numerous visions and predictions, including a “terrible, terrible war in Poland.”
Sister Faustina died in October 1938, at the age of 33. Less than a year later, her prediction of war was realized, and the archbishop allowed public access to the Divine Mercy image, which helped spread the devotion. By 1941, the devotion had reached the United States.
In the late 1950s, the Vatican suppressed Sister Faustina’s diary. In 1959, the Vatican went further and forbade the Divine Mercy devotion.
In 1965, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, later Pope John Paul II, opened an investigation to begin the process of Sister Faustina’s beatification. The case was accepted for review in 1968. Archbishop Wojtyla requested the Vatican review and remove the ban on the Divine Mercy devotions, which was lifted in 1978, the same year the archbishop was elected Pope John Paul II.
In 1978, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that Sister Faustina’s diary was no longer forbidden.
She was beatified in 1993, and canonized in 2000, the first Saint of the new Millennium. Divine Mercy Sunday is officially celebrated the first Sunday after Easter. Pope John Paul II died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
“Faustina foresaw a time when the Divine Mercy would become a movement carried primarily on the backs of the laity,” McGlinn said. “That’s what has happened. It has become a congregation of lay people, praying to spark vocations to the priesthood and religious life and prepare and renew the Church for Christ’s coming.”
Christ promised mercy to those who love and need him, McGlinn said. “Christ said, ‘Before I come as a just judge, I come as a merciful judge. Tell everyone about my immense mercy.’ What a gift to aching humanity!
“It’s a beautiful invitation for people to experience the divine mercy of Christ,” McGlinn said. “It leads to the Eucharist through forgiveness.”
The promotion of the Divine Mercy hasn’t been easy, he said. “It’s a baptism of working through mud; difficult, and full of road blocks. But, there are a lot of us out there working to move this forward. And we’ve seen a lot more people heading to confession, not just during Lent but all through the year.”
Father Farnan hopes “the community of faith at St. Thomas More will gain a deeper understanding of, and desire for, the mercy of our Divine Savior through this image, and through Michael’s apostolate to bring this message to God’s people.”
To learn more about the Face of Mercy apostolate, visit www.faceofmercy.com.