Photo: Marian Archives
'I Remember Sr. Maria Faustina'
On Friday, April 30, 2010, we marked the tenth anniversary of the canonization of St. Maria Faustina, the "Apostle of Divine Mercy." What was Faustina like as a sister in a convent? For many years, Sr. Maria Beata Piekut, ZMBM, served as vice-postulator for the cause of beatification of St. Faustina Kowalska. Sister Beata entered the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Cracow, Poland, on April 26, 1932. At the beginning of her religious life, she had the opportunity to meet with Sr. Faustina. Sister Beata shared her memories with the Marians several years ago. She died in 2007 at the age of 99.
by Sr. Maria Beata Piekut, ZMBM
The first time I saw Sr. Faustina was during my two-year novitiate. At that time, I did not know anything about the saint. I doubt if any other sister from the Congregation knew anything about her spiritual life and contacts with the Lord.
The encounter took place in a large room where the novices used to work. On April 19, 1933, I was sitting there in the company of an older novice who was teaching us to embroider the liturgical vestments. Two sisters I did not know entered this room. I asked my companion who they were. She said: "This is Sr. Terezita and Sr. Faustina. They have come for a retreat after which they will pronounce their perpetual vows."
I began to study them. They were waiting to speak with the novice mistress, who was talking to another visiting sister. I was sitting right by the window, and those two sisters stood across from me. One of them — Sr. Terezita — was exceptionally pretty, but despite this [hardly] attractive. She stood there, visibly tired and deep in thought.
The other — Sr. Faustina — was of medium height. There was nothing remarkable about her, one would say. Nevertheless, she was the one who drew my attention. She looked particularly elated. Her eyes were shining with a strange radiance, with great happiness. She was 28 at the time. She professed her perpetual vows on May 1, 1933.
Only years later did I understand that her radiance came from the happiness of taking the perpetual vows that would deeply unite her forever with her Divine Groom. I did not speak to her at this time, and this is why I said that I only "saw" her, not "met" with her. I was gazing intently at her eyes, so strangely radiant, and said to myself that such a happiness can come only from seeing God.
I encountered Sr. Faustina another time. This is how it happened. In October 1934, I made my first vows, and in November went to Warsaw to work as a teacher in an institution for young girls. At that time, the Ministry of the Interior [in Poland] asked the Congregation's superiors if they would be willing to create a special area in one of our houses for girls who had been sentenced to prison for the first time.
The superiors agreed and designated a house in Walendow (20 kilometers from Warsaw) and one of the sisters who had to be trained for this purpose. On March 6, 1936, the first convoy of 30 convicts arrived, supervised by a policewoman who was assigned for a month to train one of the sisters in the matters of prison registry.
This time was supposed to be enough to introduce the sister into the role of a penitentiary supervisor. However, a few days later, the policewoman came to the Mother Superior and asked if the sister could be replaced because she was not up to the task. Mother Superior did not have anyone available at the moment, so she appointed me, but — as she told me — it was only for a month, to get well acquainted with the matters and to pass the information to another sister after the policewoman left. I also had to return to Warsaw to continue my work as a teacher. I went to Walendow on March 12 with a small suitcase of indispensable things that would do for a month stay and began my work.
On March 25, 1936, Sr. Faustina came to take up the kitchen duties. I did not have any opportunity to get in touch with her: I was working in the office. The time flew by quickly, and Easter was near. I was awaiting my recall to Warsaw, to my favorite work with girls.
In this house, I did not have much to do with the young women doing their time. One day — it was during Holy Week — I came to our communal recreation room where we used to gather after lunch. The sisters weren't in yet, so I stood by the window and began to dream about returning to Warsaw.
Two sisters entered then, one of them was Sr. Faustina. She took a look at me, came up to me, and asked: "Why are you so sad, Sister?"
I replied that I was not sad.
She said again: "But you seem to be so deep in thought."
Then I told her what I was thinking about.
Sister Faustina said to me: "You must accept God's will, Sister, because you are not going to leave."
"I won't leave? Why, am I going to die here?"
"No, but you will stay here for a long time."
The other sister, who came with Faustina, asked me: "You will stay until your perpetual vows, right, Sister?"
Before I had a chance to answer, Sr. Faustina said: "Until the perpetual vows and after them, too."
The third sister spoke again to Sr. Faustina: "And you, Sister, you will also stay a long time, right?"
Her reply was: "No, I am going to leave soon."
I became argumentative and said: "How can that be? You've come to stay for a long time, and you'll leave soon, and I've come for a month and will stay a long while?"
Sister Faustina's answer was: "Because it is necessary for my soul."
"And how are you to know that it's not necessary for my soul for me to leave soon?"
And she said: "Probably it would be better, but you have to be faithful to the Lord Jesus, and He will reward you for everything."
Then the other sisters came into the room. I was very much unsettled by Sr. Faustina's prophecy, so I left.
This conversation was constantly on my mind, especially when a few days later my things came from Warsaw, accompanied by a short note from the superior general, saying that I must stay in Walendow. I would learn the details later on, from a personal meeting with the superior general in Warsaw.
I confess that at the time, I blamed my superiors for telling Faustina the news of my staying, instead of telling me. Later, from my conversation with the superior general, I learned that she had not spoken to Faustina about it, and that my transfer was due to a request from the Department Manager of the Ministry of the Interior.
We spent little time together in Walendow, Sr. Faustina and I, since a few days later she was transferred to a nearby house in Derdy, where she did not stay long. On May 11, 1936, she had already left for Cracow.
The event that I just described was the one and only conversation that I had with Sr. Faustina.
During those few days of her stay, I noticed that she was always in good spirits. During the recreation time, she took an active part in conversations, and the sisters used to call her "our theologian" because she always managed to direct the conversation toward speaking of godly matters. I was the youngest among those sisters, so I almost never spoke and observed the others mostly.
Sister Maria Josephine, my novice mistress, shared with me from her many recollections about the saint. I would like to tell you one of them.
During the Christmas holidays of 1933, each of the novices was given a gift in the form of a chocolate figurine. I got a chocolate violin. When Sr. Josephine heard of it, she exclaimed: "Oh, it's just like with Sr. Faustina!" and she added: "When I saw her staring intently at this violin I asked her: 'Why do you look at it so intently? Do you know what that is?' And I heard in reply: 'I do, this is a little violin. I was just thinking how difficult it is to play for the Lord Jesus on this violin from morning to night a beautiful melody without a single false note.' "
In 1964, I received the assignment of gathering documents for Sr. Faustina's cause. I tried to avoid this task, but finally accepted it and put all my strength into preparing for the beatification process.
During the beatification ceremony of April 18, 1993, in Rome, just before the Holy Mass began, someone asked me: "What do you think now, Sister, when your work has been successfully completed by the elevation of Sr. Faustina to the altars?" I replied: "I feel very ashamed: Sr. Faustina spent only 13 years in the very same Congregation as I am in now and was just beatified, and what about myself? — so many years of my religious life went by, and I am still far away from holiness."
Looking back from the perspective of those long years, I am very grateful to our Lord for making me, such an insignificant person, instrumental in this great cause of elevating Sr. Faustina to the altars, as well as spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion to the whole world. Let us cooperate with St. Faustina's mission, and the Most Merciful Lord will not refuse us His reward.
This feature first appeared in Polish in the Spring 2000 issue of the Roze Maryi, a magazine published by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.