Photo: Courtesy of Christine Kruszya
In 1950, the Marians gave Alfons Sobczak needed work as a laborer in building the Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass. To show his gratitude, Alfons built a shrine to Mary at his home in nearby Housatonic in the 1970s.
Lay Helpers to the Rescue
Building the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., took a decade. From May 5, 1950, when a steam shovel first pierced the ground to lay a foundation, until May 30, 1960, when the Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, Bishop of Springfield, presided at the dedication, the work continued.
Today, in this Golden Jubilee Year, we do well to recall that this architecturally significant masterpiece came about because of help from the laity. These are people like those in today's Association of Marian Helpers, who support the Marian Fathers in their work and share in their spiritual benefits.
All in the Family
Consider this woman's ties as a Marian Helper that trace back to 1950.
Christine Kruszyna, who works as the secretary to Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, literally comes from Marian Helper stock. In 1950, her parents, Alfons and Halina Sobczak, were barely eking out an existence living with three young children in a German relocation camp. Their native Poland was still in ruins after World War II.
One day, Alfons saw an ad the Marian Fathers had placed in a newspaper. They were looking for workers to help build the Shrine. Alfons wanted a new life for his family and himself.
"He wanted to leave the camp, come to America, and start over," Christine says.
Alfons had limited construction skills, but the Marians signed him to a two-year contract as a laborer.
"My father wasn't a master carpenter or stone mason," Christine says. "He carried wood, bricks, and stone. He hauled bags of cement, pushed wheelbarrows full of dirt. He dug ditches — things like that."
Alfons worked hard and saved as much of his small salary as he could. When his contract expired, he moved his family to nearby Housatonic, bought land, got a factory job, and built a home. Christine and her husband still live in the house her father built.
"He never forgot what the Marians did for him," Christine says. "He continued to volunteer on Eden Hill, and later, in the 1960s, my mother went to work for the Marians."
Christine says her father left tangible evidence of his gratefulness to the Marians. In the late 1970s, Alfons built a shrine to the Blessed Mother in the yard of their Housatonic home.
"He told me that when he was in Poland during the war, he asked the Blessed Mother to help him survive the war and get to America," Christine says. "He promised Mary if that happened, he would build a shrine to her as a way of giving thanks. I think that's why he felt grateful to the Marians. They loved the Blessed Mother, and he helped them build a Shrine that would honor her Son."
A 'Good Woman' of Prayer
Blanche Koprek, 88, has been associated with the Marians since 1954. The Marians hired her to assist Fr. Francis Duda, MIC, and Br. Fred Wells, MIC, in the business office at what then served as the Marian Helpers Center.
"Blanche got here shortly before I arrived as a postulant," Br. Fred says. "She wrote checks, helped with the books, and worked as a mail supervisor. Blanche was my right hand, a good woman, reliable, easy to work with, prayerful."
Her prayers and good works continue today. Blanche volunteers twice a week at the Marian Helpers Center, Monday and Wednesday, praying in the oratory next to the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline for requests people have sent in.
"When I first came to Eden Hill, the outside of the Shrine was completed," Blanche says, "but the inside was basically an empty shell. Workers were in there carving the wood decorations, working on the floor and ceiling. It was beautiful to see over the years the Shrine come together."
Handling the mail that came in was a demanding job, as the Marians sought to raise funds for the construction of the Shrine.
"There was not enough help back then for all the work, because we were just getting started," Blanche says. "We only [succeeded] because of the volunteers. They were happy people, grateful to help the Marians. Even my parents, Joseph and Teofila, volunteered with handling the envelopes that came to our office."
Of her prayer ministry, Blanche says, "People have many problems, hardships, and difficulties. I love doing this because it is for God."
As the Marians plan for the next 50 years of ministry at the National Shrine, the assistance of Marian Helpers remains vital. If you would like to make an offering, please visit our Ways of Helping page.