Photo: Joseph P. Sarago
Before Jeff (right) began his quest to evangelize through a Divine Mercy "app," he and his daughter Payton (center) started a project of sending Divine Mercy prayercards to parishes throughout the United States. Jeff's parents, Maria and Vern, are longtime Divine Mercy devotees. Above, they help stuff envelopes.
An 'App' So Apt
By Felix Carroll (May 20, 2011)
Extraordinary things can happen when one lays in a hospital bed with a serious health scare. Maybe the mind cannot outrun the alarm of dying unprepared. Maybe the heart cannot escape the remorse for days wasted. Then maybe complete clarity comes regarding life and how to live it.
This all happened to Jeff, a 52-year-old attorney from western New York who probably didn't give himself enough credit for the good he had already done for Jesus. Still, he occupied a hospital bed late last summer due to an abnormal heart rhythm, and he did a lot of thinking there. His mortality smacked him in the face, and the ensuing clarity came down to this:
• God is real;
• His mercy is "the best deal around";
• he wished to go to heaven when the time came, and to that end he realized that in this life Christ holds us accountable; and
• Christ demands from us deeds of mercy.
"Demands." That's the word Christ uses, as recorded in the Diary of St. Faustina, which Jeff knew well (see Diary entry 742).
Jeff came up with a couple ideas:
First, get better, which he did.
Second, do everything within his power to help the world get better, too — spiritually — to change lives through the spread of the message of The Divine Mercy.
"Without God's mercy," Jeff says, "we wouldn't be able to 'make the cut,' but with it, we have the opportunity to be saved."
Jeff was thinking big by means of the diminutive. This being the digital age, he saw the powerful opportunity to evangelize through those little electronic gadgets — iPhones, Droids, etc. — that have all but magnetically attracted the eyes of the masses. What better way? His plan was to see to it that a Divine Mercy "app" (or "application") be developed and made available free of charge — which he eventually did, in a partnership with the Marians that seemed to have formed through Divine Providence. How else to explain it?
On the first day of 2011, the Marians — through funding from Jeff — launched the Divine Mercy app. The easy-to-navigate app provides the full menu of information on the Divine Mercy message and devotion, the spirituality of St. Faustina, and the history of how Divine Mercy has spread.
"Without Jeff, I don't think the Marians would have been able to do this, financially" says Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, who serves as "Fr. Joseph, MIC," director of the Association of Marian Helpers. "His generosity is helping us to spread the message of Divine Mercy to many more people throughout the world.
"The digital age is here," Fr. Michael continues, "and that puts the burden on the Marians and believers everywhere to double our efforts to reach people, to communicate and form a dialogue with them, and to inspire them with the greatest message the world has ever known."
Even before his illness, Jeff was no slacker when it came to mercy and evangelization. When troubles befell the parents of his goddaughter Payton, Jeff agreed to take guardianship of her. He then adopted Payton, now 10. Last summer, Jeff and Payton began a project called "Spreading the Word." Together they would spend about a half hour nearly everyday stuffing stacks of prayercards into envelopes and mailing them randomly to parishes around the country. They sent out thousands of prayercards. Payton's classmates joined in as well. The hope was the prayercards would fall into the hands of those who needed them most.
"I've been a firm believer in Divine Mercy for most of my adult life," Jeff says. "It has helped me through some difficult times in my life, personally and professionally. I still have by my computer this beat-up Divine Mercy card that I had 20 years ago. It helps keep me grounded."
He says, "I try to impress this upon Payton and to stress to her our obligation to give back and do for others."
Back last summer when Jeff left the hospital steadfast in his intentions to develop the Divine Mercy app, he soon discovered that a Divine Mercy app already existed. The app was being administered by a man who was earning several hundred dollars a month from sales.
"But Divine Mercy is free," Jeff thought to himself. So he decided to pursue making a Divine Mercy app available for free.
He made calls and sent e-mails seeking guidance from organizations such as the EWTN and the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. In the meantime, Jeff had also located the man who owned the rights to the original Divine Mercy app. The man agreed to sell the rights over to Jeff for the right price. In fact, Jeff was less than two hours away from wiring the money to the man when he received a phone call from Fran Bourdon, executive director of the Association of Marian Helpers. Mr. Bourdon says the timing was "a miracle." Jeff says it must have been God's will.
Jeff no longer had cause to purchase the man's app. Instead, he and the Marians agreed on an arrangement in which Jeff funded their own app. The arrangements were hammered out between Jeff and Fr. Michael in the days before Fr. Michael's priestly ordination last October. Again, surely this was all the work of Divine Providence because one of the first projects Fr. Michael had already put on his agenda was to develop a Divine Mercy app.
"Clearly it was all meant to be," says Jeff.
Father Michael and Jeff have also agreed to develop a Rosary app as well. In addition, Jeff has begun his own website — a Facebook-style prayer site called CircleofPrayers.com.
When it comes to works of mercy, says Jeff, "you do it to the level you can. It doesn't have to be grand. It doesn't have to be expensive. It can be as easy as extending a hand or a good word, something that you're making a difference somewhere or helping someone. I've learned that just as long as you have the right intention for doing it, and you're doing it for Christ, and you're not expecting anything in return, that just grows. It has a good snowballing effect; that's how mercy works."
Such says the man with an abnormal heartbeat, the man with an extraordinary heart.
To enjoy the Divine Mercy app, you need to have an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or Android. If you've got one of the Apple mobile devices, then you simply go to the App Store, type in "Divine Mercy," and download the app. Android users can download the app here.