Therese and Michael Tirpak in 2000, at the canonization of St. Faustina.
Meet the Secretary's Secretary
Marian Brothers Michael (left) and Joseph (far right) pay a visit to the Tirpaks in 2012.
By Felix Carroll (Jan 5, 2014)
Call it a permanent spiritual internship. Saint Faustina is known as the "secretary of Divine Mercy"; Therese Tirpak seeks to serve as the "secretary of the secretary."
The Divine Mercy apostle from Glenview, Ill., doesn't leave home without a stack of Divine Mercy prayercards that she gives away to friends and complete strangers. Her evangelization efforts have included pro-life causes as well as supporting seminarians of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. With anyone who will listen, she shares St. Faustina's Divine Mercy revelations in which Christ calls upon mankind "to snuggle close to [His] merciful Heart" so that He may "fill it with peace" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1074).
"I was tapped to be an apostle of Divine Mercy," she says. "This is not something I chose on my own. I believe the Lord has assigned this to me."
In a way, her Polish mother attempted to assign it to her back in the 1950s. Feeling a close kinship with the Polish saint, her mother believed that devotion to Divine Mercy was part of the family heritage. At the time, Therese didn't find reason to give Faustina much attention. It took another 30 years until Faustina's revelations pierced her heart and helped solidify her Christian beliefs in the Living Christ. Faustina wasn't even a saint yet — or even a blessed.
"About 25 years ago I went to a healing Mass," Therese says. "The priest was from the Diocese of Peoria [Illinois] and had come up to the Chicago area. Before the opening procession, he announces, 'It behooves us to ask for mercy through the intercession of the Servant of God Faustina Kowalska.' He said, 'I know many of you are here for physical or spiritual healing. If you have never said the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, let's pray that before Mass."
Therese was unfamiliar with the chaplet, an intercessory prayer given to the world through St. Faustina. While the congregation sang the chaplet, tears began rolling down Therese's cheeks.
"By the end of the prayer, the friend with whom I was with asked, 'Are you all right? Should we leave now?'" recalls Therese.
Therese definitely did not want to leave. After the healing Mass, she purchased a chaplet prayercard that included an image of Jesus, the Divine Mercy.
From that time on, whenever Therese has needed affirmation of any kind, she sees a Divine Mercy image on a wall. For instance, there is this incident:
"My son was in China on business 14 years ago, and I was very, very worried about him," she recalls. "When he came home, he unpacked his baggage and his first words were, 'Mom, I have a special souvenir for you.' Here it was — an image of Divine Mercy. He found it in Beijing."
Another example is this:
"My husband and I were in Italy and very concerned about our safety because there were hooligans in the town square," she recalls. "As we were going along the sidewalk, a door to a house opened, and we could see an image of Divine Mercy inside. I turned and said, 'Everything is going to be fine.'"
She and her husband Michael vowed thereafter that if Faustina were to be canonized they would attend the canonization.
Then something miraculous happened to Therese that only proved Faustina's powerful intercessory role. Two weeks before Faustina's canonization in 2000, Therese discovered a tumor on her arm. Before her doctor could tell her the results of an MRI, Therese told him that no matter what, she would be attending the canonization in Rome. The doctor responded that he would never underestimate the power of prayer.
Therese clarified with him that she was not attending the canonization in order to ask Faustina for a healing. "We're going in order to give honor to the mercy of God," she told him before proceeding to show him a Divine Mercy image and discuss Faustina.
It was unclear from the MRI if the tumor was malignant or benign, but she was told it would need to promptly be removed upon her return from Rome.
"Well, I returned without the tumor," Therese says. A leading expert at the University of Chicago — a Jewish doctor who was to perform the surgery — examined her arm and concluded, "Well, you don't need me anymore."
Therese says, "It gave me another opportunity to share the depths of God's mercy — this time, with my Jewish doctor."
Moreover, she says, "The more I prayed, the more I realized how important it was that I help spread the message of Divine Mercy — in order to help others."
Michael, her husband of 52 years, now suffers from a progressive form of dementia. He can no longer speak or walk. "But when we pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Rosary daily, he closes his eyes and I know he's praying," Therese says. "So I know he is cognizant. I know the Lord is allowing him to pray it."
Because she is now his full-time caregiver, Therese does not get out to evangelize as much as she used to. But she says that God keeps her busy, mostly in the form of intercessory prayer for others.
She also thanks God that both her son and daughter are Divine Mercy devotees. "It's a gift from God. The whole world needs to hear about Divine Mercy."
Secretaries need secretaries. In the case of St. Faustina — lots of secretaries. Therese is proud to be one of them. As she can attest, the job benefits are nothing short of heaven itself.