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Marian Founder's Legacy of Mercy
By Chris Sparks (Jul 21, 2016)
A lot of people covered the canonization of the two new saints that took place Sunday, June 5, the first such canonization in the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. But not many are seeing the connection between the canonization of St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski (1631-1701) and the present Year of Mercy.
You see, St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary founded the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the order which has been deeply involved in the promotion and spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, even during the lifetime of the Secretary and Apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938).
Here are some of the highlights of the Divine Mercy legacy of St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary's order.
During Faustina's Lifetime
Blessed George Matulaitis, the Marian Renovator, was the archbishop of Vilnius during a portion of St. Faustina's lifetime, and called all the priests of that archdiocese home from the missions or universities outside the archdiocese in response to a priest shortage. Because of that, Bl. Michael Sopocko (1888-1975) was present in Vilnius and could become St. Faustina's confessor and spiritual director, in fulfillment of the prophetic visions in which she had foreseen him and his importance for her spiritual life (see Diary, 53, 258). He would go on to endure great suffering in the service of the Divine Mercy message and devotion — again, as St. Faustina had foreseen (see Diary, 90, 378).
Divine Mercy Escapes the Nazis
In 1941, hardly three years after the death of Sr. Faustina, the Divine Mercy devotion was brought to the U.S.A. from Poland by Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. Father Jarzebowski had at first been skeptical about the great graces received by those who entrusted themselves to the Divine Mercy. But, in the spring of 1940, he vowed that if he were able to safely reach his fellow Marians in America, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Before his departure, Fr. Sopocko gave Fr. Jarzebowski materials on Divine Mercy that he had prepared. With these materials and in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Fr. Jarzebowski set out for the journey.
After an extraordinary journey from Poland into Lithuania, then across Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok, and from there to Japan, he arrived on American soil a year later. True to his vow, he immediately began distributing information about the message and devotion with the help of the Felician Sisters in Michigan and Connecticut. His Marian confreres soon became intensely involved, as well.
The Stockbridge Connection
After several years of this activity, in 1944, Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, established the "Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1950, the construction of the Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill was entrusted to Antonio Guerrieri, a 74-year-old resident of Stockbridge. By 1953, some 25 million pieces of Divine Mercy literature had been distributed around the world.
Banned by the Church
Then, in 1958 and 1959, Sr. Faustina's prophecy about the apparent destruction of the Divine Mercy work (Diary, 378) began to be fulfilled. The Holy See, having received erroneous and confusing translations of Diary entries, which it was unable to verify due to existing political conditions, forbade the spreading of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina's writings.
During the period of the ban, the Marians continued to spread devotion to God's mercy, but, in obedience to Rome, they based their teachings on the message and devotion regarding Divine Mercy on Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, the teachings of the Church, and Our Lady's revelations at Fatima. In 1960, ten years after the Marians first broke ground, the Shrine to The Divine Mercy was dedicated by Bishop Christopher Weldon, bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Lifting of the Ban
Twenty years later (in 1978), the ban was completely lifted, thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Through his efforts, an informative process relating to the life and virtues of Sr. Faustina was begun in 1965. Its successful outcome led to the inauguration of her beatification cause in 1968.
In a new "Notification" on April 15, 1978, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having reviewed many original documents that were not available to it in 1959, reversed its earlier decision and declared the 1959 prohibition "no longer binding."
Six months later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.
Prompted by the pastoral concern of His Excellency, Joseph F. Maguire, bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, with regard to the resuming of efforts to make the Divine Mercy message and devotion known, the Congregation of Marian Fathers asked for an authoritative explanation of the Notification of 1978. On July 12, 1979, they received a reply from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation, stating that "there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the religious Sister mentioned above [Sister Faustina Kowalska]."
Thus, in 1979 — with the local bishop's permission — the Marians resumed their work of spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina. Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, successfully brought the Diary out of Communist Poland and oversaw its publication, first in Polish, and then in a variety of other languages.
Since the lifting of the ban, the response from laity, priests, and bishops all over the world to the Divine Mercy message and devotion has been overwhelming, and the devotion has grown faster than anyone ever expected.
Making Faustina a Saint
The former vice postulator for St. Faustina's cause for canonization, Fr. Seraphim was also the one who successfully documented Faustina's beatification and canonization miracles. He was personally present for the beatification miracle in the early 1980s.
In 1996, the Shrine in Stockbridge, built in honor of the Divine Mercy and Mary Immaculate, was honored with the title of "National Shrine of The Divine Mercy."
The current provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the US and Argentina, the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, was present for the canonization miracle. Largely as a result of Fr. Seraphim's tireless efforts, St. Faustina Kowalska was the first saint to be canonized in the new millennium in a ceremony in St. Peter's Square on April 30, 2000, Divine Mercy Sunday in the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation.
The Marian Fathers helped restore the original Divine Mercy Image, painted by Eugene Kazimirowski under the direction of St. Faustina herself, in the early 2000s, and have been making available high-quality reproductions of it for some years now.
The Marian Fathers continue to promote the authentic Divine Mercy message and devotion to this day, publishing books, pamphlets, and prayercards; giving parish missions, talks, and retreats; administering the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the United States, as well as Divine Mercy shrines in Cameroon and the Philippines; and so much more. Eden Hill in Stockbridge, now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center, a modern religious publishing house, has become an international center for the promotion of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
The most recent fruit of that promotion has been the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. How do we know there's a connection between Pope Francis' decision to declare the Jubilee and St. Faustina? It's become clear in his public pronouncements.
On the plane ride back from World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, Pope Francis talked about St. John Paul II's canonization of Faustina and her message for our times. Here's what he said:
I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren't good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don't have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It's a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn't say: "But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?" No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there's someone ... but, it's not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos: This time is a kairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy ... he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.
Now is the time for mercy! The Holy Father reiterated that message right after the public promulgation of the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus officially declaring the Jubilee. In the papal bull, the Holy Father singled out St. Faustina, saying:
I am especially thinking of the great apostle of mercy, Saint Faustina Kowalska. May she, who was called to enter the depths of divine mercy, intercede for us and obtain for us the grace of living and walking always according to the mercy of God and with an unwavering trust in his love.
And he points again to the legacy of Sts. Faustina and John Paul II in his message for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, the home of the International Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Pope Francis is obviously a student of the Divine Mercy message, for he hands on what we have received from Jesus through St. Faustina: We are now in a time of mercy:
Tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near (Diary, 965).
I am prolonging the time of mercy for the sake of sinners. But woe to them if they do not recognize this time of My visitation (Diary, 1160).
Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy (Diary, 1588).
So the canonization of St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary isn't just a wonderful gift to his Congregation, but to the entire Church, as well, in this time of mercy. Without St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary and his order, the Church throughout the world may not have received the Divine Mercy message and devotion as given through St. Faustina, or at least, not as quickly. Let us ask St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary's intercession, then, in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, that we may share in his legacy of mercy by living and spreading the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, especially to those most in need of it.