Our Lord did not expect Saint Faustina to physically carry out His wishes, her life was to inspire others to carry out these works which she has being doing since she first met Fr. Sopocko. And then, as a Saint in Heaven, a large part of humanity has been inspired by her through the message of Divine Mercy which she brought to the world from the revelations she was given by Jesus. One of the requests made by Jesus was to found or cause to come into existence a new religious community to give their lives to make His message of Divine Mercy known throughout the world.
“At the very beginning of Holy Mass on the following day, I saw Jesus in all His unspeakable beauty. He said to me that He desired that this Congregation be founded as soon as possible, and He said: “My Spirit shall be the rule of their life. Their lives are to be modeled on Mine, from My crib to My death on the Cross. They will penetrate My mysteries, and they will know the abyss of My mercy towards creatures and My unfathomable goodness - and this they shall make known to the world. Through their prayers, they shall mediate between heaven and earth”.
“Then came the moment to receive Holy Communion, and Jesus disappeared, and I saw a great brightness. Then I heard these words: We give our blessing. At that moment a bright ray issued from that light and pierced my heart; and an extraordinary fire was enkindled in my soul - I thought I would die of joy and happiness. I felt the separation of my spirit from my body. I felt totally immersed in God, I felt I was snatched up by the Almighty, like a particle of dust, into a huge unknown expanse.” (Diary 436-439).
"O my Jesus, how immensely I rejoice at the assurance You have given me that the Congregation will come into being (...) and I see how great is the glory which it will give to God. It will be the reflection of God’s greatest attribute, that is, His Divine Mercy. Unceasingly, they will intercede for Divine Mercy for themselves and for the whole world (...) and they will be in God’s Church like a beehive active in a magnificent garden, hidden and meek." (Diary 664).
Jesus said: "With great desire, I wait and long for the time when I shall take up My residence, sacramentally in their convent. My spirit will rest in that convent and I will bless its neighbourhood in a special way" (Diary 570)
The community that Saint Faustina joined as a young girl was the ‘Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy’* they were originally called the ‘Magdalene Sisters’. They were a community that helped girls that found themselves living corrupt lives on the streets of Paris. The community came to Poland from France in the nineteenth century.
The new congregation that Jesus asked for, to dedicate their lives to spreading His message of Divine Mercy, was a responsibility given to Saint Faustina, but founded on her behalf by Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko in the year 1941 in Vilnius, Lithuania, three years after Saint Faustina’s death. They are called the ‘Sisters of Merciful Jesus’.
Fr. Sopocko had a prayer group in Vilnius in his early days from which this congregation that Jesus had asked for, eventually came into existence. He took responsibility for their formation and their charism as dictated by Jesus. In his time in the black forest hidden from the Gestapo, he wrote a lot of his thoughts on Divine Mercy, it was from here he sent a letter to the group of young girls going forward for the congregation, he wrote “Brides of the Heart of Jesus and pillars of His future Congregation, Confidantes of the Mysteries of God, I have prayed for you at my daily mass that you will be the congregation that Jesus asked for.”
In the last few weeks before Sr. Faustina’s death, Fr. Sopocko met with her twice. During these meetings he received her last instructions, which he was to fulfill after her death.
Fr. Sopocko said: "I went to visit her during the week. We spoke about the congregation which I understood she was to found. In view of the fact that she was now dying, I felt depressed, because I felt how could this happen now, and if she could not carry out God’s will in this, could all her visions be an illusion. I discussed this with Sr. Faustina, she was not perturbed and she just promised to talk about this matter with the Lord Jesus, during her prayer that evening.
The next morning as I was offering Holy Mass for the intention of Sister Faustina, a revelation came to me: Jesus asked her to have a image painted just as she saw Him, but He did not expect her to paint it herself, she just had to give precise instructions to the painter of what she saw, neither was she meant to found the congregation herself, but only provide the framework and the inspiration for its creation. Jesus' wanted a new congregation that would give their lives to make known the continuous necessity to seek God’s Divine Mercy every day of our lives. The next time I came to the hospital, I asked her whether she had something to tell me about this matter. She said that she did not, because the Lord Jesus had already enlightened me and I should wait for the moment that God would inspire me.” [to found the congregation]
Father Michael Sopocko was obedient to the words given to him by Sr. Faustina on her death bed. He would wait patiently for the sign of God's Will. In 1939, war broke out. During this cruel time, Fr. Sopocko did whatever he could to make the message of God’s Mercy known. In his own house he spoke about it to organised meetings of the ‘Catholic Intelligence Association’ and the ‘Marian Solidarity of Academy Students’. At one of those meetings, Jadwiga Osińska, a graduate of Classical Philology of the Batory’s University of Vilnius said to Fr. Sopocko that she intended to offer her life in the service of God, but she was unable to find the right congregation. She asked him for prayers and advice, adding that she had friends who had the same aspirations as her. Fr. Sopocko felt this was the sign he was waiting for, but being cautious he decided after another conversation with Jadwiga in July of 1940 that he would suggest to her, that to be certain she had a calling to this life, she should spend some time in retreat at the Sisters of the Angels in Pryciuny, so she could have a clearer understanding of what religious life entailed.
After spending some time in prayer and retreat at this convent, Jadwiga came back to Fr. Sopocko and told him that she wanted to offer her life to the Most Merciful Jesus. Then to the delight of Fr. Sopocko, she said she wanted to found a new congregation, to glorify God in His infinite Mercy. She wanted to take private vows in memory of Sister Faustina Kowalska and being inspired by her message, she wanted to take the new religious name of Faustyna, and become the first sister following Faustina’s call. In November of 1941 from the same prayer group led by Fr. Sopocko emerged the next candidate, Izabela Naborowska.
On the 26th of January 1942, four more young girls came forward from the prayer group to join them, Ludmila Roszko, Zofia Komorowska, Adela Alibekow and Jadwiga Malkiewicz. In this way the first six members for the new congregation came together. Father Sopocko gave all of them religious names. He created basic rules for them and set a time for a weekly discussion about interior life. The Sisters planned to become a religious congregation and begin religious life when the war was over. On February 3, 1942, the first meeting of the new founded congregation took place in Fr. Sopocko’s apartment.
On March 3, 1942, the German occupation force organised raids and arrested almost all the priests in Vilnius. It was known that Father Michael Sopocko was very active in helping Jewish people escape capture. The Gestapo therefore were especially searching for him, but he escaped into the countryside. He was able to get to Ursuline Sisters’ convent in Czarny Bor, 4 km away from Vilnius, where he spent two and a half years working in the community as a carpenter. He kept in touch with the six sisters through letters every now and then, or one of the six would visit him in secret to discuss their future. More often than not it was Sister Faustyna Osińska. On April 11, 1942, on the vigil of the Divine Mercy feast day, the six candidates took simple vows. The first temporary name they took as a community was ‘The Servants of the Merciful God.’ From that time on, they lived their lives under the rules of a religious novitiate even though they continued to live separately with their families.
For Fr. Sopocko this was the sign from Providence. He wrote to the proposed new community to say, “This is a special grace of God’s Divine Mercy that has revealed itself in your vocations. You are chosen ones of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a community desired by God, pillars of the future, I have prayed every day in Mass for this for the last 5 years” (Letter to the sisters from his sanctuary in Czarny Bor).
Father Sopocko came back to Vilnius on August 19, 1944 after the Soviet Army had pushed the German army out of Lithuania. In November, Jadwiga Faustyna Osińska, together with her friends, asked him to accept their vows. In preparation for this on November 9, 1944, he gave the novitiate six a retreat. This retreat was in preparation for the ceremony of the vows, planned for shortly afterwards.
So on a dark November morning, even though a new curfew was in force, Jadwiga Osińska, Izabela Naborowska, Adela Alibekow, Jadwiga Malkiewicz, Ludmila Roszko, and Zofia Komorowska, stealthily made their way from all different parts of Vilnius, to the convent of the Carmelite Sisters, at 29, Carmel Street, Poplawska, Vilnius, Lithuania.
There, on the 16th November 1944 in a catacomb beneath the convent at five o’clock in the morning, in a small chapel, Fr. Sopocko celebrated Mass. After which this congregation, called for by Jesus, and known today as the ‘Sisters of Merciful Jesus’, took their first religious vows, and dedicated their souls to the Merciful Jesus for the remainder of their lives. Fr. Sopocko said it was impossible to describe with words the joyful atmosphere that prevailed among the newly vowed servants of Christ. A simple meal was prepared for them by the hospitable Carmelite Sisters. They were the beginning of this new congregation, six brave young girls full of trust in Jesus in spite of the dangers all around them, and the oppressive times they lived in, with their homeland occupied by a foreign power all of their young lives. (taken from the memoirs of Blessed Michael Sopocko).
It is extraordinary that this was the only convent left untouched during the Second World War and a place where many other communities found sanctuary from the religious repression that exited in Lithuania at that time.
After the war was over in 1945, Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union and a mass-forced migration of the Polish population of the Vilnius region to Poland took place. Archbishop Jalbrzykowski was forced to leave Vilnius, with all the Curia and the Seminary. During this time, the families of three of the sisters that had taken vows, were forced to go to Poland, which meant there were only three Lithuanian sisters that took vows left in Vilnius. Sister Faustyna and Sister Benigna longed for religious habits and for a convent where they could glorify the Merciful Jesus as a community together.
To help realize this desire, the remaining three girls in Vilnius decided to go to Poland to be with the others. Before they left, on August 24, 1946, they paid their last visit to Fr. Michael Sopocko and explained why they were going to Poland.
"One passage of our life is finished, we are going to start a new life to fulfill the will of the One who has chosen us..." (Diary of Sr. Benigna).
On the sisters arrival in Poland, Fr. Sopocko had got a Jesuit priest Father Wladyslaw Wantuchowski to become their spiritual director. So on November 16th 1946, all six gathered together once more in Poznan to renew their vows, so it was he who said the mass for the congregation and accepted their vows.
Sisters Faustyna Osińska and Benigna Naborowska sought permission to open a religious house in his diocese and he helped them to make their submission. He asked the apostolic administrator of Gorzow, Fr. Edmund Nowicki, for permission for the settlement of the sisters in the region of his diocese. The Father Administrator accepted their petition and assigned them to the parish of Mysliborz. On August 25, 1947 (the birthday of Saint Faustina) the Sisters started to live and work in the parish in Mysliborz.
On August 2, 1955, there was issued a decree approving the Congregation under the diocesan law, allowing the wearing of habits. In the same month in the presence of Fr.Michael Sopocko, Sr. Faustyna Osińska and Sr.Benigna Naborowska made their perpetual religious vows.
During all this time since the six met at 29, Carmel Street, Poplawska, Vilnius, Lithuania, on the 16th November 1944, Fr. Sopocko kept in continuous contact with them, watching over everything in the newly founded congregation’s development, assuring they kept to the charism and inspirational purpose that Jesus chose them for, a charism given to Saint Faustina and passed on by her to Fr. Michael Sopocko.
In this way ‘The Sisters of Merciful Jesus’ that Jesus Himself had asked for, were beginning their chosen purpose, to bring the urgent message of Divine Mercy to the attention of the world, as well as doing works of mercy in Deed, Word and Prayer, supported by Fr. Sopocko who was carrying out his mission helping to put everything in place for this to happen.
"This is the visible help for you on earth. He will help you carry out My will " (Diary of Saint Faustina, Parg 53).