Helena Kowalska was born in Glogowiec, Poland on August 25, 1905. She was the third of ten children in a very poor family. At the age of sixteen, she left her family home and started working in a bakery. Helena never received more than the equivalent of a third grade education.
After she left her family, Helena began to feel a strong call to religious life. She tried to ignore it and while she was at a dance in 1923, she saw a vision of Jesus. She quickly obeyed His command after He said: “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?”
Helena went to Warsaw and was refused at several convents. Eventually, the Lord led her to the house of an obscure order known as the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. This congregation, founded in 1862, ministered to young women in need of moral reform. Helena received the name Faustina.
Sister Faustina worked in the kitchens and was one of the most humble and quiet of the nuns. Her lack of education kept her from ever working with the young women her congregation ministered to. Nobody guessed that she was suffering from the invisible stigmata and that she was regularly receiving visions of Jesus.
Jesus asked her to pray for the souls in Purgatory and for priests and bishops and to implore mercy for the world that had forgotten Him. He taught her the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and, on February 22, 1931, appeared blessing the world with His right hand and touching his heart with his left. One red and one pale ray came from His heart. He told Faustina to “paint an image according to the pattern you see”. By this time, her superiors knew of her mysticism and helped her commission a painting. Faustina was never satisfied with any painting she saw because the artists were never able to capture the true depth of God’s mercy.
Sister Faustina’s confessor asked her to keep a record of her visions. This record is now known as the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska.
Faustina lived on this earth for only thirty-three years; the same length of time as the Lord Jesus. In 1936, she became seriously ill with tuberculosis. She lived out the last two years of her life in relative isolation. The Apostle of Divine Mercy died on October 5, 1938.
In 1959, the Diary of Sister Faustina was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books. This, however, was due to Faustina’s phonetic spellings and the writing of another sister who, instead of simply helping Faustina keep a record, added her own rather flowery touches to the text. Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), was almost completely responsible for starting the second investigation into her life and mission and for convincing the world of its need for her message.
Saint Faustina was canonized by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000. She is one of the patron saints of World Youth Day. Her feast day is October 5. Every year, Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated internationally on the first Sunday after Easter.
Source: The Diary of Saint Faustina with the Introduction to 1981 Polish Edition