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How God Led an Artist to Divine Mercy and Conversion

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By Kate Papak

Artist James Sulkowski, a former Presbyterian, could not predict the events that led him to answer God's call and embrace the faith of his ancestors.

Married to his Catholic wife, Sherri, for 30 years, his God-given talent would play an important role in allowing his heart to be inspired alongside Sherri's gentle, consistent invitation to return to the faith of his grandparents. The following milestones gave rise to that conversion.

Jim could not imagine becoming a Catholic. His mother left her Catholic faith on the wedding doorstep when she married his father, a Presbyterian. It would take the birth of his two children, their need for spiritual education, and the wisdom of his wife, Sherri, to encourage him to eventually attend Mass with her. (She frequently attended his church in support of him.)

Even after a vow renewal, Jim felt no desire to become a Catholic. The family's church attendance ceased as the children grew up. (Sherri's never did). In 2013, Sherri joined Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadowlands, Pennsylvania. Father Carmen D'Amico's homilies so inspired her that she again beseeched Jim to come along. He did go and concurred about the powerful teaching. However, not understanding the Liturgy, the responses, or the Eucharist, he just couldn't relate. However, two years later, while attending the Easter Vigil there, his heart was moved and he found himself inspired to create a painting entitled "This Is My Body; This Is My Blood," and he wasn't even Catholic!

Eventually Jim would gift Fr. Carmen with a work painted 20 years prior called "The Lamentation." Father hung it at the church and asked if Jim would do some painting of the church walls. Jim did and learned more about the faith. Then Sherri registered them for the 10-week Alpha Course. Taking the advice of the video teacher, Jim read Mere Christianity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and more.

His faith began to turn a corner. Jim was contacted by Pat Polachek, co-founder of the Foundation of Jesus The Divine Mercy. Pat came across three spiritual prints by Jim amidst her late mother's treasures and felt moved, along with Bernadette Conklin, founder of the Preborn Jesus Ministry, to commission him to create two oil paintings: "Jesus, I Trust in You" and "Mary, Ark of the New Covenant." He accepted, but first he needed to learn more about his subject matter. He read a book given him by Bernadette and became familiar with Mary, who Presbyterians only speak of as Jesus' mother. The book, full of miracles and stories of the Virgin, mesmerized him. He began work on "Mary, Ark of the New Covenant" with daughter Monet as the model, and in two months it was complete.

In February 2015, Jim began reading St. Faustina's Diary and then painting "Jesus, the Divine Mercy." He was invited to unveil his works only two weeks later, which happened to be on the 84th anniversary of Jesus' command to St. Faustina to paint His Image and also the Feast of Holy Icons commemorating the Church's victory over the heresy of iconoclasm, the destruction of sacred images. So through much prayer and with much resolve, the second painting was finished on time. Jim remembers noting, "It was as though Jesus was guiding the brush in my hand."

Jim was overwhelmed when Pat and Bernadette were planning to have the paintings blessed by Fr. Angelus Shaughnessy during a special ceremony at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Pittsburgh. Prior to the ceremony, Fr. Shaughnessy and Jim had a long and significant discussion about the faith and Jim's Catholic grandparents. Father encouraged Jim to return to that faith.

Soon Fr. Carmen led a group to Saint Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, built circa 1890s and home to over 5,000 relics. Jim went along and was especially taken by the life-sized, carved and painted Stations of the Cross from the 1880s. Jim says it was a "breathtaking experience."

In spite of all Jim was learning about the faith, he could not grasp the concept of the Holy Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit, until a particular homily spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit as "a mystery." With that, Jim finally heard the call. At dinner that night, tears welling up, he announced to his wife that he would join the Church.

The year of RCIA yielded for him an understanding and love for the Church, through teaching and books like Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper. Jim reports, "At the next Easter Vigil (2017) after being confirmed, I received the Eucharist for the first time, and I'll never forget it."

Jim witnessed the ways God's mercy and the Heart of Mary draws us. It would take just three years from Jim's inspired work "This Is My Body; This Is My Blood" through the providential invitation to paint "Jesus, the Divine Mercy" and "Mary, Ark of the New Covenant" to affect his decision. Jim is now a practicing Catholic, and his two subsequent works (including one entitled by Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, and the other, a pro-life Divine Mercy icon) still fan the flames of mercy.

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KFW - Dec 31, 2019

What happened to the children?

SS - Feb 27, 2018

So touching ....thank u for sharing this beautiful true story.
Please pray for my husband also join the church guided by the spirit