Pope John Paul II's apostolic blessing of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. The document, signed in 1996, hangs at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass.
An Institute's Mercy Mission Expands
It is commonly accepted that the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception are the western hemisphere's leading experts in the Divine Mercy message, devotion, and spirituality. The Marians have engaged in nearly 70 years of Divine Mercy mission work. They administer the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., and the Association of Marian Helpers, also based in Stockbridge. They've sent millions of Divine Mercy pamphlets, prayercards, and books around the world.
This month, one of the Marians' apostolates, the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, announced another initiative that puts the Marians on the forefront of Divine Mercy evangelization. The Institute has formed a five-member board of advisors that consists of leading academics and experts.
In the following interview Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, the director of the Institute, explains why this is such an exciting new development. Dr. Stackpole has been the director of the Institute since the year 2000. He holds a masters degree in theology from Oxford University in England and a doctorate in theology from the Angelicum in Rome. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Divine Mercy theology and spirituality and is the writer of this website's popular Divine Mercy Q&A column.
At its inception, Pope John Paul II entrusted the Institute with the task of providing "formation and research in The Divine Mercy message and devotion as it is revealed in Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and in the life and writings of St. Faustina Kowalska."
Dr. Stackpole, you have described the formation of this board of advisors as another "milestone" for the work of the Institute. What did you mean by that?
Well, as many of our readers may know, the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy was founded with the personal blessing of the Pope in 1997, with a mission to provide "formation and research in The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion as revealed in Sacred Scripture, the Church's Tradition, and the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, 'The Great Apostle of Divine Mercy in our time.'" Just receiving that initial blessing and mandate from John Paul II, "The Great Mercy Pope," was an awesome initial milestone!
Then from 1997-2005, through a series of training programs called "Fortnights of Divine Mercy," and later a series of training programs around the United States as well as in Ireland and the Philippines, called "Ocean of Mercy Seminars," the Institute provided theological and spiritual formation for most of the leading Divine Mercy promoters of the English-speaking world. That was milestone number two.
Milestone number three was the publication of several key books on The Divine Mercy, which established the Institute as a leading source for in-depth material on the message and devotion. I am thinking especially of Divine Mercy: The Heart of the Gospel (1999), Jesus, Mercy Incarnate (2000), Mary Mystery of Mercy (2002), Pillars of Fire in My Soul: The Spirituality of St. Faustina (2003), John Paul II, The Great Mercy Pope (revised edition, 2006), and Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (revised edition, 2009). In short, if someone is looking for in-depth reading on Divine Mercy in the teachings of Scripture, St. Faustina, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, on the life of Mary, or on Jesus our Savior Himself, we have excellent resources available. Several of these books are soon to become "e-books," which readers will be able to purchase and download.
Milestone number four was the online publication in 2008 of our "Parish Renewal" program — a whole series of meditations designed for group use in parishes.
Now I see the new board of advisors as milestone number five. It gives us a team of highly qualified experts in various fields of theology who cannot only review our work and publications, to keep them fully in accord with the highest standards of scholarship, but can also act as a source of new ideas and initiatives.
Do you have any such "new initiatives" in mind when you say that?
You bet. First of all, this month we will be filming the first ever online course in the Theology and Spirituality of Divine Mercy. It's geared primarily for Divine Mercy leaders, but it will also be available to anyone who wants to take the course for university academic credit or just to grow in their knowledge and love of God's great mercy. Second, in the years to come we hope to publish material on the life and thought of Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko, the spiritual director of St. Faustina, and himself an accomplished theologian. These projects began "percolating," so to speak, from suggestions made by our new board members even before there was any idea of forming such a board. So you might say they already have a proven track record of creative brainstorming.
OK, then tell us, who are the members of this new board. What are their qualifications?
Their qualifications are of the highest calibre.
To begin with, there is our own Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who was vice-postulator for the canonization cause of St. Faustina; rector of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy; and founding director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. Probably no one on the planet is more deeply immersed in the life story of St. Faustina, and her incredible impact on our time.
Then we have another priest who will be very familiar to our readers: Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, who has been one of the most prolific writers on the message and devotion, including his classic introductory level books, Now is the Time for Mercy (revised edition, 2004), John Paul II: the Great Mercy Pope (revised edition, 2006), and Faustina: Saint for Our Times (2010). Father Kosicki brings a pastoral dimension to our board, for he has given countless retreats for priests over the years and is the author of the devotional classic Mercy Minutes with Jesus. It was Fr. George, back in 1997, who first drew me in to the study and appreciation of The Divine Mercy, and I am grateful that he did — beyond what I can express in words. I know he prays for us before the Blessed Sacrament every day at his hermitage in Paradise, Michigan.
We also needed a Scripture scholar, an expert in moral theology and an expert in Mariology to round out the team, and our Lord has provided just that.
First there is Dr. Stephen Miletic (Ph.D., Marquette University), Professor of Scripture at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He was dean of the faculty of Franciscan University from 2000-2004. Before that he served as director of the National Office of Religious Education for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as provost and academic dean of the former Notre Dame Institute in Alexandria, Va. I know Steve personally because he is a member of the Board of Governors of little Redeemer Pacific College in Langley, B.C., Canada, where I teach classes in theology, so I have seen his passion for orthodox Catholic education first hand. At the Institute, we are Divine Mercy "educators," and Dr. Militec's expertise in religious education and biblical study will be helpful to us.
Then we have Msgr. Arthur Calkins, who has been an official of the Pontifical Commission of "Ecclesia Dei" at the Vatican since 1991. He holds a master's degree in theology from the Catholic University of America, a licentiate in theology from the International Marian Research institute in Dayton, Ohio, and a doctorate from the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure (The Seraphicum) in Rome. His doctoral study, "Totus Tuus: John Paul II's Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment," has gone into four printings and a second edition. Needless to say, with his background in the Church's teachings about Mary and the theology of John Paul II, he is a perfect fit for our advisory board.
Finally, we are delighted to welcome Deacon Keith Fournier to the board. Deacon Keith is known to many of our readers as the senior editor and correspondent of Catholic Online, the second most visited Catholic website in the world (second only to the Vatican website!). He brings to his work at Catholic Online a life of service in the legal profession (he received his JD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law) where he has been advocate for human rights and for the pro-life cause, coupled with in-depth reflection on the social teachings of the Church, manifested in the series he has hosted on EWTN on the Christian family and on contemporary issues, and in his books, In Defense of Life and A House United: Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
Deacon Fournier is also hoping to complete his doctorate in moral theology at Catholic University of America in just a few months. I defy anyone to find a more articulate and profound writer on the cultural struggles of our time and how we should respond to these in the light of the Catholic faith than Deacon Keith (oh, all right, maybe Benedict XVI — but I mean apart from him!). We need to explore more deeply how the Divine Mercy message and devotion relates to the call of so many of our recent popes that Catholic laity dedicate themselves to the defense of the dignity of human life from conception to its natural end. Deacon Keith will be a prime resource for us in that endeavour.
Won't it make you a little nervous having all these impressive scholars and writers constantly "looking over your shoulder" at the work of the Institute?
Sure it will! But then again, I am eager to learn from them in each of their areas of expertise so that the Institute can be an even better resource for "formation and research" in The Divine Mercy than it is now. Besides, this is a "Divine Mercy" Institute, so I figure they have to be "merciful" to me most of the time!