Photo: Felix Carroll
Reflect Upon This: Yes, the Shrine is a 'Miracle'
The crowds of grace-receiving pilgrims from around North America have descended upon the physical epicenter of The Divine Mercy movement, here on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass.
After all, this is the place where ... where ... where ... um, St. Faustina, the apostle of The Divine Mercy, was not from, nor ever visited.
So why in the world is the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy even here — in the Berkshires, a cultural hub in the hills, more than 5,000 miles from Poland?
After all, it was in Poland where the spark was lit for the modern Divine Mercy movement. It was in Poland in the 1930s where the Lord revealed Himself to a humble nun now known to the world as St. Faustina, whose Diary has become a modern spiritual classic.
On this, the 50th anniversary year of the dedication of the Shrine, that question was front and center in EWTN's pre-show coverage of Eden Hill's annual Divine Mercy Sunday celebration.
In the broadcast, which kicked off at noon, Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC, and Br. Michael Gaitley, MIC, expressed how awestruck they were when considering the heroic twists, near escapes, and divine grace that resulted in The Divine Mercy message and devotion finding a beachhead here in Stockbridge. It was here, on Eden Hill, where the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception undertook the task of becoming official promoters of Divine Mercy, which has since become the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was here — home of the Association of Marian Helpers — where the message was passed from Poland.
But, again, why here?
"First of all, the National Shrine is a miracle," said Br. Michael. "... It was started 60 years ago and completed 50 years ago. Let me put that into perspective. The devotion to Divine Mercy wasn't really spread or widely known until about 20-to-25 years ago. Saint Faustina wasn't canonized until about 10 years ago. And the Feast of Divine Mercy didn't become an official feast in the Church also until ten years ago. Yet, this Shrine has been here for 50 years!
"So," he continued, "the million-dollar question is this: How did this historic Shrine end up here ... in sleepy little Stockbridge, of all places?"
Then, Br. Michael and Fr. Joe all but pulled out the PowerPoint. Let's follow along (hold on tight, because this is the stuff usually relegated to fiction):
Saint Faustina died in 1938. That's when her spiritual director and confessor, Blessed Michael Sopocko — the man who first believed the authenticity of her revelations — became the de facto bearer of her revelations.
"However," said Fr. Joe, "he had a problem. At the time, the Nazis had invaded Poland and ruled it with an iron fist. Under the occupation, the Nazis made it difficult to speak publicly about anything — let alone God — and getting something published was completely out of the question.
"Faced with that difficult situation," Fr. Joe continued, "Fr. Sopocko turned to God, and God sent him a Marian priest. ... That priest, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, told Fr. Sopocko that he was going to make an attempt to escape to America. So, recognizing an opportunity to get the message of Divine Mercy out of Poland and into the rest of the world, Fr. Sopocko 'passed the torch' of the message of Divine Mercy to Fr. Joseph.
"So, with a deep trust in Jesus, the Merciful Savior, and with a document called Memorandum on the Institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy from Fr. Sopocko tucked safely away in his small bag, Fr. Joseph braved the long, hard road to America," Fr. Joe said. "He had to pass through border patrols, KGB (Soviet secret police) cross 6,000 miles of frozen Russian land through the infamous Siberia. Then, he had to sail from Siberia to Japan, and then from Japan to America.
"When Fr. Joseph's ship docked in Seattle, his trip was far from over," said Fr. Joe. "He had to get to Washington, D.C., where a Marian community had been established. When he finally arrived at the door of the house in D.C., Fr. Joseph told the story, his amazing adventure, and how it was because of Divine Mercy that he had been able to successfully make the impossible journey. Father Joseph firmly believed it was a miracle, and felt that Jesus wanted to grant even greater miracles to those who would also trust in his mercy."
The miracle continues.
"From 1942," said Br. Michael, "the Marians in Washington, D.C., with the help of the Felician Sisters, began to publish Divine Mercy materials, including prayers from the Diary of St. Faustina, and send them out to the rest of the country. When people read those materials, they experienced miracles in their lives and the tenderness of God's mercy. Soon, the little Marian community in D.C. was overwhelmed by wave after wave of letters filled with testimonies to the power of God's mercy working in people's lives, and thanksgiving for the graces received through the devotion to Divine Mercy.
"Well," he continued, "with this wave of letters constantly coming in, the Marians knew they were onto something big for the Lord. Problem was, their house in D.C. was too small for the kind of operation that would be needed to spread the message of Divine Mercy in earnest. So, they sent one of their young priests, Fr. Walter Pelczynski, up here to Massachusetts to look into purchasing a property for the growing Marian community and Divine Mercy apostolate.
"With only 35 dollars in his pocket but a great trust in the Lord, in 1943 Fr. Walter came here to Stockbridge and found this beautiful property on Eden Hill," continued Br. Michael. "With the help of a local parish, he was able to make the down payment and purchase the property. It wasn't long before he began to lay the groundwork for the immense Divine Mercy apostolate that is headquartered here today, and the establishment of the Association of Marian Helpers. It also wasn't long, barely five years, before the Marians began construction on the National Shrine here.
"In fact," Br. Michael said, "the Association of Marian Helpers and the Shrine went hand in hand: the Marian Helpers sent Divine Mercy materials from far and wide, and people sent back letters of thanksgiving for the miracles of Divine Mercy and gave donations for a shrine to be built. The Shrine was actually the people's idea. Thus, the Shrine is a symbol of the miracles that God's mercy has done in countless people's lives, and continues to do."
OK, let's review:
• Saint Faustina passed the torch of Divine Mercy to Fr. Sopocko.
• He passed that torch on to Fr. Joseph.
• Father Joseph passed it on to the Marians in D.C.
• Now, the Marians have been passing the fire of Divine Mercy to the rest of the world.
"This Shrine truly stands as a sign of God's grace and blessing," Fr. Joe said, "and a place where people can come to offer their thanks to God for what His Divine Mercy has done in their lives."