Many people associate the Divine Mercy message and St.Faustina with Poland but St. Faustina lived the biggest part of her convent life in Vilnius, Lithuania. The confusion arises because it was politically part of Poland at that time and this is why many people confuse Poland and Crakow in particular with the message of Divine Mercy, but the only connection Crakow had with the message of Divine Mercy is that St. Faustina died in a convent there and her remains are entombed there. Vilnius was part of Poland from 1920 -1939. (See a short political history of Vilnius as part of Poland at end of this article)
Fr. Michael Sopocko a priest from Vilnius, the founder of the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus, was in fact the first person to make the message of Divine Mercy known to the world, on 26th April 1935. The occasion was when he agreed with St. Faustina to celebrate the first Feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter at the Mother of Mercy Shrine in Vilnius, Lithuania.
It was he who kept the promise to have the first image painted, he commissioned the artist and paid for the painting out of his own pocket. It was he who paid for and got the first leaflets printed, including the Chaplet. All of which he did, where it all happened, in Vilnius, in his own country, Lithuania.
In the last few weeks before Saint Faustina's death, Fr.Sopocko met with her twice on her deathbed in Crakow where she died. During these meetings he received her last instructions, and made promises which he would fulfil after her death. All this is recorded in the Diary of Fr.Sopocko He wrote,"I went to visit her during the week she was sinking low, and aside from other things, I spoke with her about the subject of this new congregation which I understood she was asked by Our Lord to found.
Fr.Sopocko’s worry was that as Faustina was now dying, this religious congregation was not going to be founded. He wondered therefore was this particular message from the Lord maybe just an illusion on her part. And if that was the case, then maybe all the other messages she said she received from the Lord, were illusions too. He put these questions and these worries which he now had, straight to St. Faustina. She promised to talk about this matter with the Lord Jesus, during her prayers that evening.
The next day a troubled Fr. Sopocko said Holy Mass for the last time for the dying Sister Faustina. Suddenly during Mass Fr. Sopocko said: “a voice clearly spoke to me and said that Sr. Faustina was never intended to paint the picture or found the order herself, but was to inspire these things to happen. Fr. Sopocko went on to say: “God also signified to me the great necessity for this new religious congregation to be founded, especially in the terrible times about to befall the world”. The next time he went to see St.Faustina, he asked her had she something to tell him now, about this whole matter. She surprised him by saying that she did not need to say anything, because the Lord Jesus had already enlightened him about everything during Holy Mass.
That evening Fr. Sopocko writes in his diary, “As I was departing to take my leave of her, she impressed on me three important obligations”. She said to me:
(a)”You must never stop proclaiming the message of Divine Mercy, and you must continue to work on establishing the “Feast of Divine Mercy” on the first Sunday after Easter”. You should never think that you have done enough for Divine Mercy. Even if great difficulties should arise to prevent you, as they will, and even if some day it should come into your head that maybe God Himself does not want you to continue, I am telling you now you must never stop doing this work. For the depth’s of Divine Mercy are unfathomable and no one life is enough to extol it. Not too far into the future this world will cease to exist. But God will continue to grant the grace of Divine Mercy to people right up to the end, so that no one will be able to say on judgment day, that they did not know about the goodness of God and never heard about His Divine Mercy”.
(b) You (Fr. Sopocko) are not to worry too much about the matter of the new congregation, which will start from a small beginning. You will be very much involved in the founding of it, but the initiative will come from others, who will also be called to serve the Divine Mercy. And God Himself will bring a person from the world who will have certain signs to recognise and they will be the one to help the new congregation.
(c) You must have clear intentions in all these matters and works entrusted to you. In spreading this message from God, you should never look for Divine Mercy for yourself, your work is to look only for the glory of God and the salvation of your neighbour’s soul. Even when the congregation is founded, others will govern it. ”You must be prepared for the greatest difficulties, abandonments, disappointments, ingratitude and persecutions all coming from others. This will be your life when you take on spreading the message of God’s Divine Mercy.
When Fr. Sopocko returned the next day to Sr. Faustina, he found her in ecstasy, he could see she was not praying anymore as an earthly being. Fr. Sopocko said, “I felt great pain in my soul in having to bid farewell to this extraordinary person, and I felt so abandoned at that moment by everyone. But I understood all that she had said, and I had to trust now in the Divine Mercy". Father Michael Sopocko stayed obedient to the instructions of Saint Faustina on her death bed. He waited and did not worry about founding the new religious congregation; he knew it would all happen in God’s time.
In 1939, war broke out, and Fr. Sopocko did whatever he could to make the Mercy of God known in his own country, Lithuania. In his own house he organised meetings of special Catholic groups of that time, the Catholic Intelligence Association and Marian Solidarity of Academy students. At one of those meetings, Harriet Osinska, a graduate of Classical Philology (the study of language in written historical sources) at the University of Vilnius, she confessed to Fr. Sopocko that she wanted to offer her life in the service of God', but she was unable to find the right congregation to join, one that was dedicated to Jesus. (the order that Sr. Faustina belonged to, before she got this calling from God, was dedicated to Our Lady). Harriet Osinska asked Fr. Sopocko for his help in finding a suitable congregation, adding that like herself, she had a number of friends who felt inspired to live a contemplative life for Jesus also. They could not find a congregation in existence that equalled what they wanted.
Fr. Sopocko suddenly realised what all this meant. After a short time Harriet Osinska came back to Fr. Sopocko asking for his help, and stated that she felt inspired to found a new congregation to the Mercy of Jesus, which would be to glorify God’s Mercy for all time. She told Fr. Sopocko that she wanted to take private vows in memory of Sister Faustina Kowalska, who Jesus has asked to start this new congregation. Harriet Osinska chose the religious name of Faustina, and became the first Faustinka, (little Faustina). In November of 1941 out of the prayer group that was now led by Fr. Sopocko emerged the next five candidates. On the 26th of Jan 1942, there were six new members who would become the congregation of the “Sisters of the Merciful Jesus” and the congregation asked for by Our Lord was finally founded. Father Sopocko gave religious names to all of them. He wrote for them the basic rules and gave them a weekly lecture about interior life.
But this was not a great time during the second world war so the Sisters decided not to begin common religious life until after the war. So it was that on February 3rd 1942, the first meeting of the six candidates of the newly founded congregation took place in Fr. Sopocko's house in Vilnius. It was planned to continue these meetings but unfortunately on March 3rd 1942, the German Gestapo raided all priest’s houses in Vilnius and arrested all priests. Fr. Michael Sopocko was one of the very few who escaped from Vilnius into the country. He made his way to the Ursuline sisters' convent in Czarny Bor, 14 miles outside Vilnius, where he spent two years working undercover, as a carpenter. He communicated with the six sisters through secret letters. And every now and then one of the six would visit him for instruction.
On April 11, 1942, on the vigil of the Divine Mercy feast day, the six candidates decided to commit themselves to religious vows. The Sisters decided to call the new congregation “The Sisters of the Merciful Jesus”. Fr. Sopocko knew this name was expected from God. Fr. Sopocko sent a letter to the sisters which said, "I congratulate you, dear Sisters. This is a special grace that the Divine Mercy has revealed to you in your vocation. You are the special chosen ones of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, you will be pillars of Divine Mercy for the future of the world, and you will be confidants in all God's mysteries, I have prayed for this day, for the past five years in each daily Mass". The new sisters of the Merciful Jesus, the congregation asked for by Our Lord, to bring His message of mercy to the world took their first religious vows in Vilnius. Lithuania, in 1942.
When Saint Faustina lived in Vilnius it was part of Poland. The history of Vilnius and Lithuania being part of Poland began in 1920 when Vilnius and its region
was annexed by Poland.
It started with was called Żeligowski's Mutiny led by Polish General Lucjan Żeligowski in October 1920, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Central Lithuania. Polish Chief of State Józef Piłsudski had secretly ordered General Żeligowski to carry out the operation, but did not reveal his involvement for several years after. This operation paved the way for the Polish annexation of Vilnius, and the Vilnius Region.
In 1939 in an agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany, Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941 they also occupied Lithuania. After the Second World War the Soviet Union again occupied Lithuania up until 1993 when it finally got its independence back. It is now a member of the European Union and NATO.