The Marian Connection
"Be Apostles of the Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary ..."
– Saint Pope John Paul II in a Papal Blessing to the Marians on Oct. 5, 2001.
As Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, is fond of saying, "The Divine Mercy message and devotion is the largest grassroots movement in the history of the Catholic Church." And the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and our Marian Helpers have been at the heart of it since 1941, hardly three years after the death of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the Lord's "secretary" of Divine Mercy.
How did we come to take on the role as official promoters of the Divine Mercy message and devotion? Upon Faustina's death in 1938, her spiritual director, Blessed Michael Sopocko, became the de facto bearer of her revelations. With the Nazis advancing from the west and the Soviets advancing from the east, Fr. Sopocko made one of the most consequential hand-offs in Catholic history – giving key materials concerning Faustina's revelations to a Marian priest who was trying to get out of Europe.
That priest, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, vowed that if he made it to America, he would promote Divine Mercy for the rest of his life.
A Harrowing Journey
In the fall of 1940, Fr. Jarzebowski tried unsuccessfully to get his American visa renewed. By this time he had a Novena to the Divine Mercy and a copy of the image of Divine Mercy with him. Despite the fact that his visa to America had expired, he went ahead and tried to get an exit permit from the Soviets. Miraculously, he received the permit. Travel across Siberia to Japan was arranged. Just before he left, he went to visit Fr. Sopocko in Vilnius. Father Sopocko told Fr. Jarzebowski to take a memorandum that he had written concerning the devotion to Divine Mercy. The next day, Fr. Jarzebowski celebrated a Holy Mass before the original Divine Mercy image, which our Lord had asked St. Faustina to have painted and spread throughout the world. Father Jarzebowski entrusted the journey ahead to the Divine Mercy.
He journeyed to Kaunas, in Lithuania, overnight and was able to leave on a train on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 1941, at 3 p.m. – the Hour of Great Mercy. Every coach had two members of the NKVD (the old KGB), and they bothered Fr. Jarzebowski about not having a Japanese transit visa. He told them it was waiting for him in Vladivostok. He continued on. In Vladivostok, there was still the need to get a Japanese visa, and he would have to show them his expired American visa. Although the Japanese Consulate closed at 3 p.m., and they arrived after 3, a Jewish lawyer named Bialogorski argued for them to stay open. Father Jarzebowski prayed to the Merciful Jesus. The consulate decided to give the visa. They inspected his expired visa (he didn't give them the part with the expiration date), and found it in order.
The stamp was pressed for the Japanese visa.
When he was boarding the ship, he heard that customs was confiscating crosses and books. He prayed to Jesus to save his Divine Mercy materials. It was yet another tense moment. The officer took Father's breviary out of a bag and looked through it. He wasn't sure what to make of it, but found the prayercards charming and decided to let it all go. He marked that bag with chalk, and then marked a second bag containing Divine Mercy materials. He did not even bother to look inside!
The ship to Japan was greatly overcrowded. There were 500 people onboard and accommodations for only 80. It took two days and two nights to reach Japan. While in Japan, Fr. Jarzebowski gave a retreat to the Franciscans in Nagasaki. He arrived in Seattle in May 1941, seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and from there made his way to Washington, D.C, firmly convinced that the Merciful Savior had brought him safely across the thousands of miles to his brothers in the U.S.
Promotion Grows in the U.S.
The Marians in the U.S., including a third-year seminarian named Ladislaus ("Walter") Pelczynski, became convinced that they should promote the devotion. By Oct. 8, 1942, the Marians had received an Imprimatur from Archbishop Michael J. Curley of Baltimore, Md., to print a Polish edition of the Chaplet, Novena, image, and an article by Fr. Jarzebowski. An English translation, called "Novena to the Mercy of God," was published in 50,000 copies in 1943. With the help of the Felician Sisters in Michigan and Connecticut, the Marians began to spread the message!
After several years of this activity, Fr. Walter established in 1944 the "Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass. – now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center, a modern, religious publishing house.
Eden Hill has since become the world epicenter for the spread of Divine Mercy. We are the publishers of St. Faustina's diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, in many languages. Our printing presses produce religious artwork, pamphlets, magazines, prayercards, books, and appeals – some 50 million pieces of literature and images a year – which are sent out to a world yearning for meaning, mercy, and healing.
Father Seraphim himself served as vice-postulator for the canonization cause of St. Faustina, whom St. John Paul II canonized in 2000 as the first saint for the new millennium.
In 2001, the 60th anniversary of the Marians' involvement in the spread of the message and devotion to the Divine Mercy, St. John Paul II sent a special apostolic blessing and a renewed call to the Marians. "Be apostles of Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary," he wrote in an Apostolic Blessing.
Inspired by the Great Mercy Pope, we continue our task in the third millennium to make it known that, in the words of Jesus to St. Faustina, "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My Mercy" (Diary, 300).