Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament was born as Helena Kowalska, in Glogowiec, Leczyca County, north-west of Lódz in Poland on August 25, 1905. She was the third of ten children in a poor religious family.
Faustina first felt a calling to the religious life when she was just seven years old and attended the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After finishing her schooling, Faustina wanted to immediately join a convent but her parents refused to let her.
Instead, at 16, Faustina became a housekeeper to help her parents and support herself.
In 1924, Faustina experienced her first vision of Jesus. While at a dance with her sister, Natalia, Faustina saw a suffering Jesus and after the event, she went to a cathedral. According to Faustina, Jesus instructed her to leave for Warsaw immediately and join a convent. Faustina packed her bags at once and departed the following morning. When she arrived in Warsaw, she entered Saint James Church in Warsaw, the first church she came across, and attended Mass.
While in Warsaw, Faustina approached many different convents, but was turned away every time. She was judged by her appearance and was sometimes rejected for her poverty. Finally, the mother superior of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy decided to take in Faustina on the condition that she would pay for her own religious habit. Working as a housekeeper, Faustina began to save her money and make deposits to the convent.
On April 30, 1926, at 20-years-old, she finally received her habit and took the religious name of Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1928, she took her first religious vows as a nun. Over the next year, Faustina traveled to different convents, working as a cook. In May 1930 she arrived in Plock, Poland. Soon after, she began to show the first signs of her illness and was sent away to rest. Several months later, Faustina returned to the convent.
In her diary, Faustina writes: “In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, ‘paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'” Faustina also describes how while delivering that same message, Jesus explained he wanted the Divine Mercy image to be “solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy.”
Faustina, not knowing how to paint, asked around her Plock convent for help but was denied. It wasn’t until three years later, in 1934, that the first painting of the image was created by Eugene Kazimierowski. In 1932, Faustina returned to Warsaw. On May 1, 1933 she took her final vows in Lagiewniki and became a perpetual sister of Our Lady of Mercy. After taking her vows, Faustina was transferred to Vilnius, where she met Father Michael Sopocko, the appointed confessor to the nuns. During her first confession with Sopocko, Faustina told him about her conversations with Jesus and his plan for her. Father Sopocko insisted she be evaluated by a psychiatrist. Faustina passed all the required tests and was determined sane, leading Sopocko to support her religious efforts. Sopocko encouraged her to start keeping a diary and to record all of her conversations with Jesus. Faustina told Sopocko about the Divine Mercy image and it was Sopocko who introduced her to Kazimierowski, the artist of the first Divine Mercy painting. According to Faustina’s diary, on Good Friday, April 19, 1935, Jesus told her he wanted the Divine Mercy image publicly honored. On April 26, 1935, Father Sopocko delivered the very first sermon on the Divine Mercy. In September 1935, Faustina wrote about her vision of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which could be used to obtain mercy. It also encourages us to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others. During the following year, Faustina attempted to set up a new congregation for Divine Mercy, but was reminded that she was perpetually vowed to her current order. She was then sent back to Warsaw. She reported that Jesus said to her, “My Daughter, do whatever is within your power to spread devotion to My Divine Mercy, I will make up for what you lack.” In 1936, Faustina fell ill again. She moved to a sanatorium in Pradnik, Krakow and continued to spend most of her time in prayer.