New England shrine dedicated to Divine Mercy
STOCKBRIDGE, MASS. -- Visitors come by the thousands each year to Stockbridge, a picturesque town nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. They come because of the faith of a Polish nun.
Stockbridge is known to many as the home of the Norman Rockwell Museum, but thousands of faith-filled believers who visit annually have a different destination: Eden Hill and the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
Eden Hill is a 350-acre site owned by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who describe themselves as "the authentic promoters of the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the United States."
The message of Divine Mercy is to ask Our Lord for forgiveness for sins, to show mercy to others and to trust completely in Jesus.
Blessed John Paul II, who died on April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, and was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1, 2011, underscored the importance of Divine Mercy by calling it the message of the new millennium. "Apart from the mercy of God, there is no hope for mankind," he said.
In November 1943, the Marians purchased the property, which contained a structure built in 1906 by a local businessman and had been used as an Episcopalian prep school for boys. When the Marians moved into the building, they established a chapel with a side altar displaying the image of the Divine Mercy. As the numbers of pilgrims increased, the chapel could not accommodate them, so a new church was begun in 1950.
In 1960, construction was completed on the shrine and it was dedicated by Bishop Christopher Weldon of Springfield, Mass. In 1996, it became the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
On a visit to the shrine, pilgrims exit their cars from one of the large parking lots and merge onto a walking path, where they are greeted by the bronze statue of the Divine Mercy. The shrine church is a grey stone structure with a spire and stained glass windows.
Inside the building, the light is soft and dim, and the viewer's attention is immediately directed to the image of the Divine Mercy above the tabernacle, spotlighted by two small lamps. To the sides of the tabernacle are carvings of the 12 Apostles and directly above the Divine Mercy image is a marble statue of the Immaculate Conception. On the ceiling above the white statue is a mural depicting Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth by the Blessed Trinity. A side altar shows a bas relief of St. Faustina Kowalska channeling the mercy of Jesus to the world. In a box held by two bronze angels is a first-class relic of St. Faustina. There are several smaller murals and other exhibits.
In this setting, rich with artistry, the story of the Divine Mercy devotion unfolds in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
In 1931, a young nun in the Polish convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy was having visions of Jesus. Sister Faustina Kowolska claimed she saw Our Lord wearing a white garment, with two rays emanating from His heart. One of the rays was red, the other a pale blue. Jesus instructed Faustina to have this image painted along with the words, "Jesus, I Trust In You." This image was to be venerated, first in the sisters' chapel, and then throughout the world. It was to be the vehicle by which Jesus would deliver many graces to those who seek His mercy.
In 1933, Father Michael Sopocko (who was later beatified) was assigned to be the sisters' confessor. Initially, he was frightened by the things Faustina said, and suggested she be seen by a psychiatrist. Faustina was examined and found to be mentally stable. Reluctant at first, Father Sopocko began to listen to Faustina and soon came to believe that her visions were from God. He encouraged her to keep a diary. He commissioned an artist to paint the image of the Divine Mercy as Faustina described it. He first displayed the image on the Sunday after Easter 1935 and preached the message of mercy as Our Lord had instructed.
Sister Faustina died in 1938, and Blessed Sopocko died in 1975. An incorrect translation of the diary of St. Faustina hindered the spread of the devotion. In 1979, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, declared that "there is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy." He canonized St. Faustina on the Sunday after Easter in 2000 and officially proclaimed that day to be Divine Mercy Sunday.
The Marians at Eden Hill became the official promoters of the Divine Mercy devotion because of Father Joseph Jarzebowski, a member of the Marian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception in Poland, who escaped the Nazis and came to the United States during World War II. He brought with him the Divine Mercy materials, given to him by Father Sopocko, St. Faustina's confessor, who had instructed Father Jarzebowski to spread the devotion in North America. When Father Jarzebowski reached the Marian Congregation in Stockbridge, he helped establish the Divine Mercy stronghold.
In 1979, another Marian priest, Father Seraphim Michalenko, translated the diary of St. Faustina from Polish to English. He was the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, a lay society dedicated to supporting the Marians and participating in their spirituality and was vice postulator in North America for the canonization cause of St. Faustina, and is recognized as an expert on the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy sits at the edge of the sprawling building that is home to the Association of Marian Helpers and the site of the Marians' publishing house, which raises funds for the order by printing books, pamphlets and prayer cards.
According to David Came, executive editor of Marian Helper Magazine and Marian Press, there are more than 1 million people enrolled in the Marian Helpers across North America. "They do not make specific promises, but do what they can to share in the work of the Marians."
The largest number of visitors, around 20,000, come around Divine Mercy Sunday -- the Sunday after Easter. Came said, "The shrine is designed for a pilgrimage experience. People can come for the whole day and walk the grounds and visit the outdoor shrines in the morning, have an early lunch, and spend the afternoon in the shrine church with holy hour, Mass, confessions and recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet."
Today the Marians at Eden Hill continue to educate the faithful in understanding the Divine Mercy, including offering a Divine Mercy app for Apple and Android devices.
The devotion to the Divine Mercy includes praying the chaplet, making a chaplet novena, venerating the image and celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday. Many parishes throughout the St. Louis Archdiocese celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.
For more information and directions to the shrine, see the website, thedivinemercy.org.
Rebecca Venegoni Tower is a member of St. Ambrose Parish in south St. Louis and a freelance photographer.
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