In Catholic tradition, the month of October is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. Yet, on Oct. 5, Catholics celebrate a feast that at first doesn’t seem Marian at all — the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish religious sister known for her devotion to Jesus’s Divine Mercy.
According to Sister Gaudia Skass, it’s a much more Marian feast day than most Catholics realize.
Sister Gaudia is a modern-day member of St. Faustina’s religious order, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, who serves at the Knights of Columbus-sponsored Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. She says that everything St. Faustina did emulated Jesus’s mother.
“Faustina is Polish, right? Poland is a super Catholic country. And if you are super Catholic, as the Poles are, Mary is very important for you. She is the Queen of Poland,” Sister Gaudia said.
Growing up, St. Faustina was particularly influenced through devotions to the Blessed Mother.
“Her father would get up every early in the morning and he’d sing hymns to Our Lady and his wife would silence him because he would wake up the children, but he didn’t care. He would sing with his full voice to the glory of Our Lady,” said Sister Gaudia.
From Faustina’s family memoires, we also learn that the young girl, then known as Helena, prayed the Litany of Loretto with her family every day during May at a little shrine in front of their home. Every day in October, they prayed the rosary.
Sister Gaudia explained that these devotional practices formed a connection between Helena and the Blessed Mother. For Sister Gaudia, this relationship is most obvious at two pivotal moments in the young women’s life: First, when she was first looking for a convent and, second, when she professed her perpetual vows.
Helena’s search for a religious community began at age 19 after she received a vision of Christ.
“He told her to go to Warsaw and there she would enter the convent,” said Sister Gaudia. “And that’s it. That’s the end of the message. He didn’t give her the name of the congregation, the street, the phone number, the contact, nothing. And she went — simple as that.”
Sister Gaudia explains that Helena got on a train to Warsaw, with hardly any belongings. She was a country girl, overwhelmed by the big city. And when she arrived, she was fearful, not knowing what she was to do.
Helena’s first reaction? She starts praying to the Blessed Mother.
“If we had a special relationship with Mary, this is what we would do as well, hoping we would get the inspiration of what to do,” explains Sister Gaudia. “In Faustina’s case, this is exactly what happens.”
Our Lady told Helena to leave the town and to go to a nearby village where she’d find safe lodging for the night. When she arrived, she found everything just as Mary said.
According to Sister Gaudia, the incident demonstrates how Helena turned to the Blessed Mother with a simple, childlike approach.
“Mary will respond as a real mother does taking care of her children. And Faustina will really obey her — for Faustina, Mary was the mother, as well as the spiritual teacher, the master,” said Sister Gaudia.
The Blessed Mother eventually guided Helena to the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where she would take the religious name “Faustina.” Under this name, she would make her perpetual vows on May 1, 1933 , committing to live forever as a spouse of Christ. That day, her diary entry once again addressed the Blessed Mother.
She wrote: “Mother of God, most holy Mary, my Mother, you are my Mother in a special way now because your beloved Son is my Bridegroom, and thus we are both your children” (Diary 240).
This diary entry shows Faustina treating Our Lady as a mother-in-law. It’s an unusual comparison, but one that Sister Gaudia appreciates.
“If we would have better relationships with mothers-in-law in our lives,” she says, “ I believe there would be more happy marriages!”
St. Faustina would refer to Mary as her mother, her mother-in-law and even her sister — the latter is a relationship that Sister Gaudia is happy to share.
“I really love this, that we are called the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, not the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy,” Sister Gaudia said. “Our mission is to bring people closer to merciful God and to reveal his mercy to the world. And Mary is the best companion and teacher of how to do that.”
Before entering religious life one day, while riding on a metro, Sister Gaudia was wrestling with the idea of consecrating herself to Our Lady — a devotion popular among many Catholics.
While she was contemplating the idea of consecration, Sister Gaudia felt that her relationship with the Blessed Mother wasn’t really strong enough to take this step.
“I remember feeling that heaviness of heart on that day,” Sister Gaudia said. It was over 20 years ago, but she recalls it vividly, saying she felt “caught up in my own unworthiness.”
Although she was struggling internally, she went about her day as normal. She recounts: “I left the metro station and I went to a place where they make copies, because I had some materials to copy for my classes. There was a lady in front of me, and as she was leaving, she gave me one of the copies she just made and she said, ‘It’s for you.’”
Sister Gaudia looked at the paper — it was the prayer of consecration to Mary.
“Literally I was in shock,” Sister Gaudia said. “Immediately I called my spiritual director to share with him my great joy.”
Since her consecration to Mary, Sister Gaudia joined the Congregation of the Sister of Our Lady of Mercy — the same religious community that Faustina entered in August 1925. Today, the community serves in various areas throughout the world, including the Knights of Columbus-sponsored Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
To learn more about shrine, visit www.jp2shrine.org.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s monthly archives, click here. Or, share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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