Far, Far More than Home Décor

It's time for some firsts. For starters, this is the first time I'm writing a cover story, the first time I've volunteered to write an article, and the first time I've really looked forward to writing one. In fact, I've never been so excited to write! Why? Because of another "first" that I'm eager to tell you about.

I'm overjoyed to announce that for the first time, the Marian Fathers are offering a brand new, freshly restored, stunningly beautiful, gallery-wrapped Divine Mercy image on museum-quality canvas - all for an incredibly low price and at a size ideal for display in homes.

Forgive me if this sounds like a commercial. It's just that I really want to share this great news with you as a Marian Helper. For me, it's a dream come true. Imagine the impact of such a beautiful Divine Mercy image being displayed and venerated by the faithful in thousands of homes across our land. Imagine the image in your home.

The Marians Restore the Image
Before I share with you about the canvas Divine Mercy image we are offering, I want to say something about the image itself and why it's so amazing.

First of all, there are various versions of the Divine Mercy image, which is a blessing. After all, Jesus told St. Faustina, "Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace" (Diary, 313). However, there's only one image of Divine Mercy that St. Faustina herself directed to have painted. This special painting is known as the "Vilnius image," because it was painted in the city of Vilnius, located in modern day Lithuania. The Vilnius image, which is based on St. Faustina's eyewitness account of the Merciful Jesus, is by far my favorite version of the image of Divine Mercy - but there was a time when I didn't like it at all.

For years, the original Vilnius image hung in a church where the flickering light of votive candles illuminated it day and night. Unfortunately, with time, a thick layer of soot formed on the surface of the painting, darkening it. The first Divine Mercy prayercard I ever saw reproduced this soot-covered painting. There was little trace of the power of the Resurrection gloriously breaking through the darkness. Instead, the Light of the World seemed to ominously fade into a black background.

In fact, the Marians received several complaints about it. To solve this problem, during the Great Jubilee Year 2000, we approached the Cardinal Archbishop of Vilnius and offered to have the image restored. The Cardinal readily accepted such a generous offer, and the Marians had the image professionally cleaned and restored back to its original glorious state, which was only possible with the financial assistance of many Marian Helpers.

Improving the Restored Image's Quality
What a difference the restoration made! Unfortunately, the official photograph of the restored image was not of the best quality. It certainly was an improvement from the soot-covered image, but it was still too dark. Well, the Marians had to make the best of it, and we produced hundreds of thousands of prayercards based on the photo we'd been given. Over the years, though, as computer technology developed, the Marians were able to digitally adjust the photo to improve the image's quality. As soon as I saw one of these new and improved images, I changed my opinion of the Vilnius image, and it quickly became my favorite.

Years later in 2008, I had the joy of attending the beatification of St. Faustina's spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, in Bialystok, Poland. Before the Mass began, young people passed out prayercards of the Vilnius image to those in attendance. I took one, and after glancing at it, I had to do a double-take, saying to myself, "Where did this come from?" Indeed, this Vilnius image was much clearer, brighter, and more vibrant than the ones the Marians had been producing. I decided right then and there that someday I would work to improve the Marians' image, so it could be just as beautiful.

Well, when I became "Fr. Joseph, MIC," director of the Association of Marian Helpers, on Jan. 1, 2011, that day came. First, with the help of my provincial superior, the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, we were able to obtain a high-quality photo of the restored Vilnius image. Then, I asked several graphic artists, most notably, Curtis Bohner, to do their best to improve the quality of the image. Using the latest computer technology to adjust the brightness and contrast, these graphic artists yielded an incredible result. In fact, everyone who saw the newly improved image had the same response, "Wow!" We all agreed that this newly improved image was even more beautiful than the prayercard I'd received at Fr. Sopoko's beatification.

The Canvas Challenge
Once we had such a new and improved image, we immediately began to print it on prayercards and larger prints. When I saw the first batch that came off the press, I just about cried. I was so happy! I knew that the images would touch countless hearts and that we were producing what many were calling "the most beautiful Divine Mercy image in the world." But I wasn't completely satisfied. I remember thinking to myself, "This latest Divine Mercy image is so glorious that it deserves to be on canvas."

Now, by this time, I'd learned that gallery-wrapped, canvas images are the highest quality you can get. ("Gallery wrapped" means that the canvas is stretched over and fastened to an interior frame of wood.) However, I also knew that such images cost hundreds of dollars. Surely, not many people can afford them. But didn't Jesus say to Faustina regarding the image, "Let every soul have access to it"? Indeed, He did. (See Diary, 570.) Therefore, I had a new challenge: To make our new Vilnius image available on gallery-wrapped canvas at an affordable price.

What price? Without hesitation, I knew it had to be $19.95. Why? Because, I figured, 20 dollars was a price that most people could afford. Not surprisingly, though, when I mentioned this price goal to others, they laughed. In fact, one joked, "Sure, you can sell gallery-wrapped, canvas images at that price, but they'll have to be the size of a stamp!" Well, I certainly didn't intend to sell micro-sized Divine Mercy images. So, I settled on what I believe is the perfect-size image for a home, 10" x 18", and I called a meeting with two of my Marian brothers, Br. Chris Alar, MIC, and Mark Fanders, a lay aggregatus member of the community.

Before entering the Marians, both Br. Chris and Mark had been very successful in the business world, and they'd left everything to help spread the message of Divine Mercy. I figured that they could help make my dream a reality. To my disappointment, though, the meeting didn't start out well. When I told them my goal - gallery-wrapped, canvas images for $19.95 - they said it couldn't be done. I told them it had to be done, and they said, "Okay."

The Dream Comes True
With the help of our printshop manager, Charlie Parise, Br. Chris and Mark found a special canvas process that would allow us to print our Divine Mercy image on museum-quality canvas in such a way that the image would be waterproof, smudge-proof, and fade-proof (guaranteed not to fade for 50 years). Just one problem: The process was relatively expensive, and they told me I'd have to raise the price. I said, "No. It's got to be $19.95. Please find a way." Again, they said, "Okay."

After weeks of research, Br. Chris and Mark came up with a plan whereby we could sell 10" x 18" gallery-wrapped images for $19.95 - but we'd have to bring the entire production process in house. I said, "Alright, then let's make it happen."

So, working with the head of maintenance on Eden Hill, the guys were able to find a way to rotate our maintenance staff to produce the images during slower work times, such as the winter months. Also, working with Francis Bourdon, executive director of the Marian Helpers Center, they were able to find a way to rotate office staff to produce the images during the slower work times in the office, such as the summer months. Great! We now had our labor force, but just one last problem: the cost of the equipment.

Mark and Br. Chris explained to me that unless someone donated the capital to purchase the equipment needed for the whole in-house production process - the gallery-wrap machine, canvas supply, wood, special printer, shipping materials, and work stations - then we wouldn't be able to begin the work. Well, we turned to the Lord in prayer, and on the very morning when we were to make the decision, a Marian Helper called one of our Marian priests. For some reason, she felt she should call, adding, "Do you need any help?" This priest asked her to call me, and when I told her about the project, she immediately committed the amount we needed to get started!

So, thanks to God and the help of so many people, I'm overjoyed to announce that you can now order an unbelievably beautiful, canvas, gallery-wrapped 10" x 18" Vilnius Divine Mercy image for just $19.95 (plus shipping and handling)! I see this as one of the Lord's special gifts to you for your home for the Year of Faith. As for me, it surely is a dream come true.

To order the 10" x 18" Vilnius image (B18-PV10GW) and for other versions, sizes, prices, and even framing options, visit DivineMercyArt.com.

"Fr. Joseph, MIC," is the honorary title of the director of the Association of Marian Helpers. The current director is Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC.

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