The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., was the peacefulness and the almost deafening silence. The shrine, which is a ministry of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is located on Eden Hill, 350 acres in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Since my family and I had just traveled six hours by car from Buffalo, N.Y., the shrine offered us a much-needed respite.
The grounds of the shrine are breathtaking, with the gentle rolling Berkshire Hills in the background. There are several shrines, both indoors and outdoors, on the property. As we strolled through the grounds, our first stop was the Holy Family Shrine and St. Joseph’s Portico, which was of special interest to my youngest son, Joseph. He even asked to light a candle and bowed his head in prayer at this shrine for his patron saint — not his typical behavior. This outdoor shrine has a small reflecting pool in front of it; inside, a life-size statue of St. Joseph holds a young Jesus.
We then walked across a huge expanse of grass to the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine, which is where the liturgy takes place during the annual Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend celebration, in conjunction with the Second Sunday of Easter, when Divine Mercy Sunday is observed (April 14-15 this year). In the lower level of this shrine is the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, a memorial to all deceased children.
The Divine Mercy devotion focuses on the merciful love of God that is based on the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska. In the message of Divine Mercy, God wants us to recognize that his mercy is greater than our sins, so that we can call upon him with trust, receive his mercy, and let it flow through us to others.
St. Faustina (1905-1938) was a Polish nun who had visions and conversations with Jesus, which were later published as the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. In her diary, St. Faustina states that Jesus said that 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the hour that Jesus died, was the hour that mercy was best received. During this holy hour she remembered the Lord’s passion and prayed the Stations of the Cross. Many Catholics pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is a powerful intercessory prayer for mercy that Jesus entrusted to St. Faustina.
In 1943, the Marians, a religious community originally founded in Poland in the 17th century, were looking for a home for those preparing for the religious life. The Marians had first come to the United States in 1913.
With the help of the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams, Mass., and other people, the Marians were able to purchase the site on Eden Hill. The land had a variety of uses previously, including an early Christian mission to the Native Americans, a private residence, and even an Episcopalian preparatory school for boys.
When the Marians moved to the property, a community chapel was established, with one of the side chapels dedicated to the Divine Mercy.
As an increasing number of pilgrims began visiting, a larger chapel was needed to accommodate them. In 1950, the Marians asked Stockbridge resident Antonio Guerrieri, a well-known master furniture maker and wood carver, to oversee the construction of the chapel. Guerrieri assembled a work crew of seminarians and WWII refugees, as well as a number of local residents. He did not draw up an architectural plan or blueprints; all the plans were in his head.
The interior of the chapel, which was dedicated in 1960, features ornate woodwork done by Guerrieri, along with 36 stained-glass windows and two mosaics which portray the mercy of God. Above the altar is an image of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, surrounded by apostle figures from northern Italy. The shrine was declared a national shrine by the bishops of the United States in 1996.
In addition to the main chapel and the outdoor shrines previously described, there are two other shrines to visit, the Lourdes Grotto and Immaculate Conception Shrine, an outdoor shrine built in 1997, which has three candle rooms with 1,000-plus candles. Another beautiful place to pray outdoors is by the life-size Stations of the Cross, which is under construction and slated to be completed by the end of August. Indoors, the Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine at the Marian Helpers Center is one of the largest indoor candle shrines in the United States, with more than 2,600 candles. The gift shop offers a wide selection of Catholic gifts, including Divine Mercy merchandise.
“Out of all the beautiful places to pray on the grounds of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, I like the chapel the best,” said Rick Paolini, who is the business manager for Holy Family Communications’ The Station of the Cross, a Catholic radio station outside of Buffalo, N.Y. “It is a place where you can detach yourself from worldly concerns. I like to look at the carved statues of the apostles and contemplate on their lives and think about how it must have been to be called by Jesus to spread the word.”
Paolini, who has been studying St. Faustina’s diary for 16 years, first visited the shrine with his wife, Robin, on their 35th wedding anniversary. “We were traveling to visit our son, who lives in Framingham, Mass., and knew that the shrine was on the way; so we stopped to attend Mass for our anniversary.”
The Paolinis loved the tranquil atmosphere. “We were awestruck by the peace we felt in the natural surroundings; we looked at each other and said, ‘We have to come back!’”
Rick Paolini has returned to the shrine at least 10 times since then, including attending three-day retreats during the summer. Last year, he and his wife volunteered to help with Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend and planned to help at this year’s event.
Close to 20,000 pilgrims, along with more than 500 volunteers, flock to the shrine for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend, which includes prayer services, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, confessions and multiple Masses.
The highlight of the weekend is the solemn liturgy at 1pm Eastern on Sunday, which is held in the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine. The Mass, which will be televised on EWTN, the Register’s parent company, is followed by the Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet at 3pm, along with exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the blessing of religious articles.
“Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend is a tremendous spiritual experience,” said Paolini. “It’s exhilarating to see the devotion all day long.”
Christine A. Smyczynski writes from Getzville, New York.