NASONVILLE — One Mass and a visit to the confessional. These two simple things are all that is required for God to “pour out a whole ocean of grace upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy,” on April 16, known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In her now-famous diary, St. Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland recorded those words spoken by Jesus regarding devotion to his divine mercy. According to the writings of St. Faustina, Jesus also promised complete forgiveness of sins and remission of the punishment due to those sins for those who practice this devotion on the first Sunday after Easter.
Before the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who advocated for the canonization of his fellow countryman, St. Faustina remained relatively obscure in the U.S. Devotion to the Divine Mercy gained worldwide popularity alongside the saintly woman in large part due to his efforts. In the Diocese of Providence, it was Archbishop George Pearce, SM, who promoted devotion to the Divine Mercy throughout the 1990s.
After his retirement from the Archdiocese of Suva in the Pacific’s Fiji Islands, he lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, who have been caretakers and promoters of the Divine Mercy devotion since the 1940s. Archbishop Pearce helped translate St. Faustina’s diary from Polish to English as well as set the chaplet to music, and during his time in retirement serving in Rhode Island, handed out cards with the image at confirmations and parish visits.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II announced that the Church would celebrate a Great Jubilee in the year 2000, which focused specifically on renewal and evangelization. It was also during this jubilee year that he declared the Sunday following Easter would henceforth be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The year 1994 was the first year the soon-to-be-named Divine Sunday was celebrated in the Diocese of Providence. Sister Grace Coffey of St. Theresa’s Church and Shrine of the Little Flower in Nasonville had worked with Archbishop Pearce and a small group of others to promote the devotion throughout the diocese since its early years, when Archbishop Pearce first brought awareness of it to the area. Sister Grace reported that at the first celebratory Mass, the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was miraculously full. “These people understood extraordinary grace,” she commented.
Father John Dreher played a role in spreading the devotion as well and was known to spout a familiar quote after each Divine Mercy Mass: “We caught some big fish today!”
Sister Grace emphasized the importance of the devotion, speaking about the particular significance of engaging in the devotion this year, as 2023 marks a jubilee year for St. Thérèse of Lisieux – the 150th anniversary of the saint’s birth and the 100th year since her beatification, as well as the establishment of the shrine itself.
It may seem odd to connect the two saints, yet the two women share many similarities. Both lived short lives with much physical suffering, their deaths attributed to tuberculosis, and their writings, St. Thérèse’s “Story of a Soul” and St. Faustina’s “Divine Mercy in My Soul,” live on and continue to impact Catholics around the world.
Additionally, both saintly women had a similar focus on God’s mercy. A tale is told of how St. Thérèse learned of another Carmelite sister who had dedicated herself to God’s justice, taking on the punishments that others deserved. In “Story of a Soul,” she recounts how she was not drawn to that attribute of God, but rather wanted to atone for his merciful love, rejected by so many. She wrote: “O Jesus! Let me be that happy victim – consume thy holocaust with the fire of divine love!
“Dear Mother, you know the love, or rather the oceans of grace which flooded my soul immediately after I made that Act of Oblation on June 9, 1895. From that day I have been penetrated and surrounded with love. Every moment this merciful love renews me and purifies me, leaving in my soul no trace of sin.”
In this way, she offered herself for divine mercy, nearly identical to St. Faustina years later, when Jesus asked her to take on all the love rejected by others. “‘I want to grant graces to souls, but they do not want to accept them. You at least, come to me as often as you can and take those graces they do not want, thereby you comfort my heart.’”
Sister Grace noted that both saints “offered themselves to merciful love,” and that St. Thérèse, in a way, “foreshadowed … St. Faustina.” She even shared a story of how St. Thérèse appeared to St. Faustina in a dream during “a very dark time.” During the vision, St. Thérèse told her that in three days, St. Faustina’s problem would be resolved, and her words were proven true three days later.
The Marian fathers have produced several books explaining the devotion, including “Understanding Divine Mercy,” by Father Chris Alar, MIC, and “33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy,” by Father Michael Gaitley, MIC. They also maintain the website wwwDivineMercy.org, a wealth of resources on the subject.
On the site, Father Gaitley explains the connection between St. Thérèse and St. Faustina.
“Thérèse is the saint of merciful love. Faustina is the saint of divine mercy,” he stated. “But ‘Merciful Love’ and ‘Divine Mercy’ are really the same thing. So, the two saints are closely related. More specifically, Thérèse pioneered the modern movement that is bringing Catholic spirituality back to a focus on God’s mercy, and she passed the baton of that effort to Faustina.”
The theme of this jubilee year echoes St. Thérèse’s last words: “With Confidence and Love,” words taken from the last of her writings. This theme flows perfectly into confidence in the divine love of Jesus Christ.
“This is it; it’s trust,” Sister Grace concluded. “Such an unbelievable gift, offered on the Feast of Divine Mercy.”
“I desire that the whole world know my infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in my mercy.” – St. Faustina’s diary, entry 687
Churches throughout the diocese will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday on April 16, including the Shrine of the Little Flower, 35 Dion Drive, in the Nasonville section of Burrillville. The Shrine will offer Adoration and Confessions at noon, followed by Holy Mass at 2 p.m., and the Solemn Chanting of the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. The Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul will observe the day with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 2 p.m., Confessions from 2:15-5:45 p.m., Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m., Recitation of the Holy Rosary at 4 p.m., followed by Vespers at 5 p.m., Benediction at 5:45 p.m. and Solemn Mass at 6 p.m.