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Who Was She?
By Felix Carroll (Oct 22, 2013)
We know what the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska accomplishes. A spiritual classic, it chronicles Faustina's miraculous experiences of Divine Mercy in her soul and the mission Christ gave her to share that mercy with the world.
What it doesn't accomplish is to give a full picture of the woman behind the saint. Thankfully, in the years following her death on Oct. 5, 1938, many who knew her helped researchers to fill out the picture. So let's take a look at what some of the people who knew her had to say.
She was good humored
Sister Clemens shared the story of when a former novice mistress presented Sr. Faustina with some little violin-shaped chocolates for Christmas one year. Faustina showed them to Sr. Clemens and said, "Look, Sister, what beautiful violins! But how difficult it is to play a harmonious melody to Jesus on them ..."
Sister F.P. shared the following:
"To everyone, she was kind. ... When once she was to work in the storeroom as Keeper of the Larder, she asked to be excused, saying, 'Please, Mother, don't put me there, because I'll give everything away. I can't control myself when anyone asks me for something.'"
She cared for local orphans
Sister Victoria gave this example of the mercy Faustina would show to the troubled young women (known as "wards") who were in the care of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy:
"When I was in Kiekrz, one of our wards, Antoinette, told me that when she had been staying in Vilnius she had been a bad, stubborn girl. She had not wanted to receive the sacraments, and Sr. Faustina had taken a special interest in her ... so that in time she would be won over to God.
"When Christmas came and their relations came to visit the girls and bring them presents, Antoinette received nothing because she was an orphan and had no one close. Sister Faustina asked the Superior to allow her to make up a parcel for Antoinette. She then invited [Antoinette] to the parlor, gave her the parcel, and offered her Christmas greetings. The girl was so moved by this kindness that she afterwards went to confession and changed her behavior."
She saw Jesus in the poor
Even at the tender age of 10, she was moved to help the poor. Josephine, Faustina's sister, told how Faustina one day decided to raise money for the poor "in the same way they do." Josephine said:
"She dressed in rags and went around the village from house to house saying a prayer and asking for alms. She came home very depressed, saying, 'The poor have a terrible life. How much they have to bear getting food for themselves."
Faustina's brother Stanley shared the following story of when Faustina was 12- or 13-years old:
"She decided to organize a raffle for the poor. She went around our neighbors asking for small gifts, wrote out the lottery tickets and then sold them for pennies. ... She took the money collected in this way to the parish priest, telling him that it was for the poor."
There are many accounts of the great care that Faustina gave to the poor who would present themselves at the gate of the sisters' convent in Krakow. Anna Burkata, a young woman whom the sisters were serving as guardians, shared the following anecdote:
"One time in the kitchen I was helping Sr. Anne to peel the vegetables. Sister Faustina came several times from the gate for meals for the poor. At about the fifth time, Sr. Anne was annoyed and said, 'Sister, how long are you going to come here and disturb me?' Sister Faustina said quietly, 'Until I have fed Jesus.' ... She saw Jesus in the poor, and, in giving them alms, she desired to serve Him."
Could she read souls?
Many of those who knew her believed she could. One of the wards shared the following:
"When she looked at a girl, it seemed she could read everything that was happening within the soul. It was impossible to lie in her presence, because she recognized the lie immediately. She would sometimes remark to a girl, 'There is something not quite right inside. A bath would be a good idea,' by bath meaning confession."
She loved to talk
Faustina found the requirement for quiet in the convent to be difficult at first. When given a chance, such as during recreation hours, she let her thoughts flow. Sister Joachim said:
"She always had something to talk about, especially on matters concerned with God. She was always the most animated at recreation ... She never broke silence, except at recreation. The Mother Mistress recommended her as an example to me, especially as regards good humor and gaiety."
She had a favorite place to visit
When Faustina was welcomed into the convent as a candidate to become a religious, one of her jobs was in the kitchen. The sister in charge of the kitchen remembered her as hardworking, capable, obedient, and modest. She said:
"During the day she sometimes asked me, 'Sister, I should like to pay a visit to the chapel for a moment.' I did not always allow her to go, explaining that she was not yet a religious and had no special duties. ... Nevertheless, she would ask for permission to pay just a little visit."
She was not like the others
Indeed, witnesses say Sr. Faustina had an "otherness" to her. As such, she was not always treated kindly by some of her fellow nuns, who knew nothing of her mystical experiences and the Diary she kept.
Mother Borgia said:
"I recall that sisters nicknamed Sr. Faustina 'Chatelaine.' This was a reference to a character who was rather strange and different from the rest. Sister Faustina did not react to the nickname and said nothing. Another time ... Sr. Faustina was called 'Princess.' To this, she replied, 'Yes, I am a princess, for the royal Blood of Jesus flows in me.'"
Mother Jane Bartkiewicz, the mistress of the postulants at the time Faustina was received into the convent, said of Faustina:
"[She] was a person above the average, with a mystical disposition and a particular contact with God" and that "she must be a soul dear to God. She has her own special interior life, about which she does not say much."
Sr. Maria Beata Piekut, ZMBM, said the first time she saw Sr. Faustina was in a large room where the novices used to work. It was April 19, 1933, just before Faustina was to pronounce her perpetual vows.
"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. 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."
(These accounts were collected prior to St. Faustina's beatification by the Polish author Maria Tarnawska and included in her book, Sister Faustina Kowalska — Her Life and Mission, published by Marian Press and now out of print.)