Photo: Felix Carroll
Happy Birthday, Sisters!
By Chris Sparks (Nov 7, 2013)
The religious congregation whose most famous member is St. Faustina turned 150 this past year, and they've certainly been celebrating!
"The jubilee celebrations officially began Nov. 1, 2012 — exactly on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation — in the motherhouse in Warsaw at Żytnia Street, and more specifically in the chapel, which was built by the foundress, Mother Teresa Ewa Potocka née Sułkowski," said Sr. M. Elżbieta Siepak, OLM, the public relations officer for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, in an interview translated by Sr. Caterina Esselen, OLM. Today, this chapel is a parish church.
On Nov. 1, 1862, the date accepted as the "birthday" of the Polish congregation, Archbishop Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński consecrated that same house and chapel in Żytnia Street, the house through which St. Faustina would later enter the congregation.
"As a prelude to this event, celebrations were held in Wilanów, where the Foundress Mother Teresa Potocka died, and in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, where she was baptized," continued Sr. Siepak. "The jubilee celebrations were organized in every convent of the congregation in Poland and abroad, as well as in other places connected to its history, including Rydzyna — the former estate of the nobles Sułkowski where the foundress spent her childhood and youth — and Lvov and Vilnius, where the sisters ran Mercy Houses for girls and women in need of deep moral renewal until 1945. Commemorative plaques dedicated to Mother Potocka and to St. Faustina were mounted and blessed in Wilanów, in the church of the Holy Cross and the Church of Divine Mercy on Żytnia Street in Warsaw and Rydzyna (both in the castle and the church).
"The jubilee celebrations were usually presided over by the bishops of the dioceses in which there are convents of the Congregation, because a jubilee of the congregation is a time of grace and mercy for the local church as well," said Sr. Siepak. "Each station of the Jubilee Year was also an excellent opportunity to become more acquainted with the history of the congregation, of each convent and particular ministry of the sisters, as well as to meet with collaborators, apostles of Divine Mercy, benefactors and friends."
Among a host of other initiatives, the Generalate in Warsaw opened a multimedia museum dedicated to the foundresses of the congregation, its spirituality and apostolic ministry. The congregation's Misericordia publishing house published several books in Polish related to the history of the congregation, including a biography of Mother Teresa Potocka, Memories about Saint Faustina, and the guide In the Footsteps of Saint Faustina.
"But the greatest fruits of the Jubilee are hidden from human eyes and cannot be measured," said Sr. Siepak. "In this time of grace and mercy, God bestowed many graces on individual sisters, our religious communities, the congregation and upon all who are touched by the ministry of deeds of mercy, word and prayer."
And those touched by the ministry of the congregation include millions of Divine Mercy devotees worldwide.
When in 1924 Jesus called Helen Kowalska to go to Warsaw and enter a convent there, she obeyed. After facing down repeated rejection from a number of orders, she finally found her new home when the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy welcomed the future saint and apostle of Divine Mercy.
"The Apostle of Divine Mercy, who belonged to the congregation, is its most beautiful fruit and became its spiritual co-foundress," said Sr. Siepak. "In the congregation, St. Faustina was formed in Ignatian spirituality. However, her immediate master was Jesus Himself, who not only prepared her for her prophetic mission and gradually entrusted it to her, but He also formed her into being the Apostle of the Divine Mercy so that all the apostles of Divine Mercy might have a perfect model of life in her.
"Therefore, she brings to the history of the Church not only the prophetic mission of proclaiming to the world the message of mercy, but also a new school of Christian spirituality, whose center is the mystery of God's mercy. Coming to know and contemplating this mystery in everyday life bears the fruit of trust in God and mercy toward others. The image of this Christian lifestyle, in the spirit of trust in God (the fulfillment of His will) and active love of neighbor, completes the feature of loving the Church, the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary.
"The influence of St. Faustina, of her mission and spirituality on the life of the Church, can be seen with the naked eye, so to speak," said Sr. Siepak. "Today, there is probably no country without an image of Christ with the inscription 'Jesus, I trust in You.' Since the year 2000, the Feast of Mercy [Divine Mercy Sunday] was entered into the liturgical calendar of the universal Church; the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is recited even in tribal languages, although it was dictated by Jesus in Polish; and the practice of the Hour of Mercy is becoming increasingly popular. In many countries, churches are being erected under the title of Merciful Jesus, Divine Mercy (in Poland alone, there are over 200) and St. Faustina. Saint Faustina is one of the greatest mystics in Church history. Nowadays, she is one of the most venerated saints of the Catholic Church, and not by Catholics only."
And the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have collaborated with the Sisters in sharing the legacy of the Apostle of Divine Mercy.
"The collaboration focused primarily on the beatification and canonization of St. Faustina, the first edition of the Diary in Polish, and afterwards its translation and publication in English, Spanish and Portuguese," explained Sr. Siepak. "In this area, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who was vice-postulator of the beatification process of Sr. Faustina in the United States, contributed an invaluable service. In particular, he put forward the cases of the miraculous healings: the miraculous healing of Maureen Digan for the beatification (which he witnessed), and the miraculous healing of Fr. Ronald Pytel, which was examined for the canonization. One cannot fail to mention the numerous publications of the Marians disseminating the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the forms transmitted by St. Faustina, right from the Second World War, which were disseminated not only in the U.S. but also in South America, England, the Philippines and other countries."
The United States branch of the order is headquartered in Dorchester, Mass., a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. This year, noted Sr. Caterina Esselen, OLM, marks 25 years since the order first came to Dorchester.
"The first three sisters who founded the community on American ground arrived from Poland on Sept. 15, 1988, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows," said Sr. Esselen, who has joined the Marians in past Divine Mercy Sunday EWTN broadcasts. "At the moment, there are seven sisters in our community. We spread the message of mercy in parishes, at conferences, in prisons, in schools, and through our online store. We also implore God's mercy for the world through prayer and sacrifice. Our convent in Dorchester is a formation house for English-speaking candidates."
Across the world, the Sisters serve their mission of mercy, following faithfully in the footsteps of their Foundress, of St. Faustina, and Our Lady of Mercy.