Saint Sister Faustina and God’s Servant Father Michael Sopocko
I. Sister Faustina Moves to Vilnius
In May 1933, Sister Faustina left from Krakow to Vilnius. On her way there, she stopped in Czestochowa to visit the shrine of the Black Madonna. Looking at the holy image, she became so engrossed in prayer that the superior of the house had to send for her so that she would not miss her train. When she arrived in Vilnius, it appeared that Jesus had prepared a great surprise for His servant. During confession, she met a priest whom she had previously seen twice in her visions, and who was to become her spiritual adviser and help her in her mission. His name was Michael Sopoćko, who was confessor to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy as well as theology professor at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. During confession, Sister Faustina bared her soul to him and told him about Jesus’ orders. At first the priest treated these revelations with extreme caution. When Sister Faustina insisted, during her subsequent confessions, he considered giving up his post as the Congregation’s confessor. However, it never came to that. To make sure that Sister Faustina was not mentally ill, he sent her to psychiatrists and gathered information about her from her superiors. The results of the examination carried out by Doctor Helena Maciejewska and the opinion of the Vilnius superior, Sister Irena Krzyzanowska, and the Mother General Michaela Moraczewska were so favorable that Rev. Sopocko changed his attitude towards Sister Faustina. He decided to help her to have the image of the Divine Mercy painted.
II. Eugeniusz Kazimirowski Paints the First Divine Mercy Image
A Vilnius artist, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, was chosen to paint the image. He was an average painter and was chosen for practical reasons – he lived in the same house as Father Sopocko. Thus, from January 2nd, 1934, Sister Faustina went regularly, with her superior – Sister Irena and later Sister Borgia Tichy to Holy Mass at Ostra Brama every Saturday. Ostra Brama was the most important Shrine of our Lady, besides Czestochowa, in pre-war Poland. Our Lady is depicted without the Child, in the aureole of the sun amid is known by the name of “Mother of Mercy”. They then went on to Rossa, where Father Sopocko and the artist lived. The superior accompanied Sister Faustina while she instructed the painter. However, the painting was not as beautiful as Sister Faustina desired. Disappointed with the effect after one of her visits, she went to the chapel and cried bitterly saying: “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” It was then that she heard a voice: “Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in my grace.”
After six months the painting was finished. Father Sopocko paid the artist, took the picture to his apartment and later hung it in a dark corridor of the Bernardine Sisters convent near St. Michael’s Church, where he was the rector. Sister Faustina was deeply disappointed that the image, which was to be honored all over the world, was hidden within the convent enclosure so that nobody could see it.
The image of the Divine Mercy shows Jesus wearing a white robe. His eyes are looking slightly downwards, and His right hand is raised to the shoulder level in the gesture of blessing. His left hand, meanwhile, is holding the garment at the breast from where two large rays come out – one red, the other pale.
Jesus himself explained the meaning of these rays: “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water, which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood, which is the life of souls.
III. Permission to found a new Congregation
In May 1937, the Mother General, having consulted the general council, granted Sister Faustina permission to leave the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy if, according to God’s will she was to found a new order. This decision took Sister Faustina by surprise. She immediately felt lost, lonely, and unable to do anything. Father Sopocko, who was consulted in this matter, replied that both her confessor’s and Mother General’s permission were not valid if Sister Faustina did not get an explicit order from Jesus to leave the Congregation. At the end of Sister Faustina’s life Father Sopocko came to the conclusion that Sister Faustina was not able to start a new congregation, the same way, as she was not able to paint the image of the Divine Mercy by herself.
Due to health problems, at the end of July 1937, Sister Faustina went to Rabka for few days but she felt even worse there and returned to Krakow. Because of her deteriorating health, her job was changed from gardener to gatekeeper. The Sisters testified later, that Sister Faustina was very gentle and kind as a gatekeeper – particularly to the poor, who often came to the convent begging for food or alms. There were many of them, but Sister Faustina never refused to go to the kitchen to ask for something to eat for them although this made the cooks angry with her.
One rainy day, a poor young man, in rags and very cold, came to the gate and asked for something to eat. Sister Faustina went to the kitchen, found some soup, put some breadcrumbs in it and offered it to the beggar. As she was taking the bowl from him, she recognized Jesus, but He vanished from her sight.
When Sister Damiana visited her in the autumn of the same year, Sister Faustina said to her: “I am feeling really bad but I hope that Jesus will not surprise me because I am to die at the age of thirty-three.” However, her illness was progressing fast, and she had to stay in the hospital longer and longer. Some sisters suspected and accused her of simulating her illness.
IV. The Propagation of the Worship of Mercy
In February 1935 Jesus promised Sister Faustina that, at the hour of death He would protect everyone who had worshipped His great mercy. Soon after that, during the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus promised again to show His mercy at the time of death, to the people who would propagate the Devotion to Divine Mercy.
On Sunday, April 4th, 1937, Jesus said that people who would propagate the worship of mercy would enjoy His maternal protection during their lives, and at the hour of death, would experience the Saviour’s infinite mercy.
At the end of January 1938, Jesus addressed a special profuse promise to priests, and propagators of the Devotion. He promised to give them wondrous power and inspiration, so that on hearing them speak about this unfathomable Mercy, even hardened sinners would repent.
The last vision directed to all propagators of the Divine Mercy took place on January 28th, 1938. It was then that Jesus said: “All those souls who will glorify My mercy and spread its worship, encouraging others to trust in My mercy, will not experience terror at the hour of death. My mercy will shield them in that final battle.”