Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
In 2,000 years of Christianity, only 36 saints have been honored as a “Doctor of the Church.” Among them are St. Augustine, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
Right now the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception are leading a drive to petition the Holy See to increase that number by one more, adding St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, as number 37.
The Marians are working earnestly on this drive, urging everyone to support naming St. Faustina a Doctor by signing the petition on their website and praying for its success. The results will be sent to the Holy See.
This Year of Mercy beginning Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, would be the perfect time for St. Faustina, who belonged to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, to be named the newest Doctor of the Church.
I had a conversation with two prominent Marians of the Immaculate Conception — Father Chris Alar and Father Seraphim Michalenko— about the whys and wherefores of this great goal. The Marians and Marian Helpers have been spreading the message of Divine Mercy since 1941.
Father Michalenko was vice-postulator for North America for the Canonization Cause of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, the "Secretary" and "Apostle" of Jesus, The Divine Mercy. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on Divine Mercy and St. Faustina.
Over several years Father Alar has been mentored by the world's leading Divine Mercy experts. He also serves as "Fr. Joseph," the director of the Association of Marian Helpers.
How long have you been working on this, and what major interest is there?
“We’ve been actively involved in this for the last two months. We got it from the highest levels of the Church. Even Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, [St.] John Paul II’s right-hand man, met with us and supported us. He said this is very important work and was hoping the Marians of the United States can be part of letting the world know the need for mercy, but also help in declaring St. Faustina the next Doctor of the Church. Cardinal Dziwisz is the archbishop of Krakow and was among several cardinals to petition Benedict XVI in 2011 to name her a doctor.
What does a Doctor of the Church mean?
A Doctor is someone of extraordinary holiness — which she was — and a saint whose work of writings is declared exemplary and beneficial to many of the faithful. There are only 36 current Doctors. We know we can go to any of those 36 and receive the true teachings of the Church. Through her life and writings Faustina basically renewed and clarified the mystery of God’s mercy. And we need to the world to know about her so the world can hear her message. [In his canonization homily] John Paul II called her a gift for all of humanity. That’s what a Doctor is.
Why do you want Faustina named a Doctor of the Church?
The fact that if the Church declares her a Doctor of the Church it will help to reemphasize the importance of God’s mercy. It will bring a new awareness — which the Holy Father already has done in declaring the Year of Mercy and highlighting the importance of God’s mercy.
The message of Divine Mercy has been around since the beginning of time — since Adam and Eve in the Garden. But in the devotion of Divine Mercy are five new channels of grace.
God gave those new channels of grace to the world through St. Faustina so we could experience a deeper living of the message of Divine Mercy. The Message of Divine Mercy is not optional. John Paul II and Benedict told us it’s the heart of the gospel, the “nucleus of the gospel.”
Please summarize for us the message of Divine Mercy and the five new channels of grace.
We can remember the message of Divine Mercy by “ABC” —
Ask for God’s mercy.
Be merciful to others.
Completely trust in God’s mercy.
Those five channels are the Feast of Divine Mercy, the Image of Divine Mercy, the Novena of Divine Mercy, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the Hour of Mercy, which is 3 pm.
They spell the word F-I-N-C-H.
That message has been around since the beginning of time. But the problem is, mankind is so stiff-necked and stubborn that we seem to forget this message. Throughout our history God calls us back to himself, and we fall away, and he calls us back, and we fall away. And this has been going on since the beginning of time.
So God rose up this great saint in Faustina to bring us the devotion of Divine Mercy now. The devotion is a way to the deeper living of the message. It’s the F-I-N-C-H.
Why do some stumble over this message?
The problem is that many people in the world say it’s optional. The devotion technically may be optional, but the message is not optional. So if we reject the message of Divine Mercy, we in essence reject the gospel. This message of mercy, or A-B-C, Pope [Emeritus] Benedict said is the “nucleus of the gospel.” It’s Christ’s whole message.
The devotion is what Jesus gave to St. Faustina because these are ways to live a deeper message of mercy. They’re five new channels of grace to experience God’s mercy.
Now that these five new channels came to our attention through St. Faustina, what would naming her a doctor further do?
To raise awareness of this important message of our time, called Divine Mercy, which Jesus had St. Faustina bring to the world. Therefore, we need the world to know about her if Jesus picked her to bring this message to the world.
We have to make the world know about her. And there’s no better way than to make her a Doctor of the Church so people understand her writings and teachings are authentic and divinely inspired.
Her being declared a Doctor would amplify the message of Christ’s merciful love to a world wandering in the darkness of sin, unbelief, and suffering.
St. Faustina certainly fits the three criteria used for naming a Doctor of the Church as both the Catholic Encyclopedia and Michael Riccards, author of books on the papacy and the Vatican, bring out: “Holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints; Depth of doctrinal insight; and an intensive body of writings the Church can recommend as part of the authentic and life-giving Catholic tradition.” Was that recognized from the beginning of the examination of her writings?
[As Archbishop of Cracow, St. John Paul II asked Fr. Ignacy Rozycki, a top in the diocese and a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See, to examine her writings.]
The theologian who was examining her writings didn’t want anything to do with it at first. He thought she was a hallucinator. It was on his desk for six years. He didn’t want to touch it.
[Father Rozycki later wrote that he was about to refuse the request from Archbishop Wojtyla because he “had no inclination to waste his time examining what rumor told him were merely hallucinations…”]
One day out of curiosity he opened one of the notebooks, and after reading one of the paragraphs, he said he had to read the whole thing. After that, he said, ‘I have to do this job.’ It took him two years. It was the most comprehensive study of writings of a person in the whole history of canonization. He asked God for pardon for holding off. Not only are there no errors in the whole thing, but anyone who would follow it would reach a high degree of sanctity.
Her huge Diary is more than a memoir. It’s a story of a soul, but also a manual for each higher levels of religious conversion.
Why is that?
Experts said that St. Faustina’s Diary has the entire process of reaching heights of sanctity. A consecrated virgin teaching at Providence College uses St. Faustina Diary as a manual to teach spiritual theology. She said Faustina covers the whole process of growing in sanctity.
First, Faustina covers the entire process of a person desiring to become a saint, from the eager desire to responding to the Lord’s invitation, then constantly growing, to mystical marriage. Second, she does so in very simple language. Third, she gives concrete examples of what happens at every stage from her own experience — and she’s clearer that St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa. There is a very good article on this in the New Oxford Review in Oct. 2008 by Michael Riccards.
[Father Michalenko shared the article in which Riccards explained that “her published diary is a major work in mystical literature — rivaling even the works of St. John of the Cross…The book gives us the story of a soul but also a manual about what is to be done to reach higher levels of religious conversion.
“Her admonitions have led to the universal establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday, a chaplet, a religious evocation of powerful intensity (Jesus, I trust in you), and also a graphic picture of Jesus Christ. Taken together, they constitute a remarkable body of pious work.
“Certainly the life and work of St. Faustina are similar to that of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose major work is her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.”
“It is now time to consider granting St. Faustina the rare title of “Doctor of the Church…”]
I see he mentions St. Therese of Lisieux. She was named a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by St. John Paul II. It would be remarkable to have two female Doctors of the Church canonized by the same Holy Father, a saint himself.
[W]hat influence the Little Flower had upon many people. And [that] was only on one aspect of spiritualty, which is spiritual childhood…Total trust in God on the basis of that one major thing."
Is Faustina’s Diary well-read internationally?
It’s already translated into 20 languages, and it’s all over the world.
Her theological insights are so profound. Taken together they form a pious body of remarkable work. For World Youth Day in Sydney she was one of the five presented to the young people as models.
[Father Michalenko also shared an article of Father Jan Machniak’s, chair of the Theology of Spirituality at the Papal Theological Academy in Krakow, Poland, presentation at a Congress of Divine Mercy: “The mystical experiences described in the Diary is putting Sister Faustina between the most outstanding mystics of Christianity. The Doctrine of Divine Mercy as well as the mystical experience of God allowed us to pose the purpose to award Sister Faustina with the title of ‘Doctor of the Church,’ like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.” See other experts quoted here at the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.]
Do you have any other advice besides for us to sign the petition on the Marian website?
The good thing would be to get bishops all over interested…to promote it because the more bishops to back it up, the better.