Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 14, 2000
Spreading the story of God's mercy
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
If Blessed Faustina Kowalska could see it, she would be proud. Four years ago, inspired by her diaries, a group of Alberta women decided to dedicate their lives to do what Faustina did for most of her short life - spread the mercy of Jesus throughout the world.
To go about it, they set up a local house of the Poland-based Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus and today they enthusiastically carry out their mission as apostles of mercy among native people at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish.
The five sisters, including a young postulant and an envoy from the motherhouse in Poland, moved to Hobbema from Ephphatha House near Stony Plain nine months ago. They live in community beside the church in an eight-bedroom duplex.
Besides praying five times a day, beginning at 5:55 a.m., the sisters help with sacramental preparation and other basic work in the parish, the most important being simply to be "present to the native community here," says house superior Sister Josefina Pollentes.
The sisters regularly visit the nursing home in Hobbema and hope to start making regular home visits to the sick and elderly in the near future. They may also start doing prison ministry in the area.
The convent in Hobbema is the only Canadian house of the 100-member Sisters of Merciful Jesus. The 53-year-old congregation, established to spread God's mercy as requested by Faustina, also has houses in Germany, Brazil and Croatia.
The Polish-born Faustina Kowalska, beatified in 1993 and who will be canonized later this year, was a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy from 1925 until her death in 1938 at the age of 33.
She spent most of her religious life in a mystical relationship with Jesus that led her to the depths of agony and the heights of mystical experience, largely recounted in her 650-page diary, titled Divine Mercy in my Soul.
In locutions and visions, she received messages from Jesus asking her to spread devotion to his divine mercy throughout the world.
In 1959, the Vatican banned the spreading of the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the forms proposed by Faustina. The ban, based on inaccurate data concerning the revelations to her, was lifted after 20 years.
The story of the Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus in Alberta began in 1991, when Pollentes, the house superior, joined the Community of the Presentation and went to live in community with other lay people at Ephphatha House.
There, the Philippines-born woman and five other women began reading and analyzing Faustina's diaries, becoming inspired to live a more intense life of prayer.
In 1994, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil gave them permission to live in solitude separate from the lay community.
The experience led them closer to Jesus. Feeling called to spread his mercy as Faustina did, the women got in touch with the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus in Poland.
The congregation reacted positively, sending a couple of sisters to live with the women and see if they were fit for religious life. A year later, in 1996, they were accepted as novices. Of the six women who started, three are currently in Poland. None has yet made perpetual vows.
Pollentes, a teacher and a psychiatric nurse, made her first vows with the congregation in 1997 in Poland and expects to make her final vows this year.
This is a dream come true for the 49-year-old woman, who had wanted to be a sister ever since she was a young schoolgirl in the Philippines.
"The sisters I met in the Philippines showed me the beauty of life," she recalls. "They had so much joy, so much life in them despite the work they were doing. It was really Jesus in them."
Had it not been for her mother, who wanted her to complete her education before considering religious life, Pollentes says she would have probably joined a congregation while in high school.
Pollentes came to Canada in 1988. She was working with young offenders at Alberta Hospital in 1991 when Father Ray Guimond, pastor of St. John Bosco Parish at the time, invited her to join the lay community at Ephphatha House. That changed her life.
At Ephphatha House she was introduced into prayer, solitude, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, community life, the teachings of the Church and Faustina's diaries. "I was so fascinated with her diaries. I was inspired to live a more intense life of prayer."
Sister Franciszka Shewchuk, the house secretary, joined the congregation together with Pollentes and is glad she did. "I'm very happy," she says. "I like spiritual life and I just though it would be nice to be a sister. God called me."
Annuntiata Cornelio, 23, is in her second year with the congregation. She met the sisters at Ephphatha House, which she joined right after graduating from high school in British Columbia five years ago. At the parish, Cornelio works with women and children and does music ministry. "I know for me there is no other way of life," she says. "This is definitely my vocation."
Peace River's Marjolaine Lepage, 18, joined the congregation as a postulant last August. "I knew I wanted to join four years ago," she says. "I guess Jesus led me to the congregation himself. I felt it in my heart."
Lepage spends the bulk of her time studying and working with children at the parish.
"(Having a house in Alberta) means that the mission of Blessed Faustina, to spread the mercy of Jesus through the whole world, is being carried out," says Sister Justyna Kwak, the envoy from the motherhouse who lives with the sisters.