National Catholic Register


God’s Mercy Helped Build 50-Year-Old Church

The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy Celebrates Its Golden Jubilee

BY Joseph Pronechen

Register Staff Writer

September 26-October 9, 2010 Issue | Posted 9/17/10 at 1:26 PM


Golden Jubilees are times of great rejoicing. What more glorious way to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy than to visit the shrine and immerse yourself in God’s mercy?

When visiting this heavenly place in western Massachusetts, my wife, Mary, and I always find it to be like a touch of paradise on earth. Tranquility enfolds its 350-plus acres, and peace fills the chapel. Time itself seems to stand still, enfolded by Divine Mercy.

Although this is the Golden Jubilee, the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception were promoting the message of Divine Mercy long before the shrine was built in 1960 — ever since they originally bought bucolic Eden Hill for a novitiate in 1943.

The Divine Mercy message came to them miraculously. In 1940, their order’s Father Joseph Jarzebowski arrived in America, carrying the Divine Mercy messages that had been given to the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska, whom Jesus called the “Apostle and Secretary of Divine Mercy,” and a holy card with the Divine Mercy image.

The miracle: Father Jarzebowski escaped Nazi pursuers, then with an invalid passport journeyed through Siberia and Japan, despite hazards at every enemy checkpoint.

By 1950, the Marians decided it was time to build a simple chapel for themselves. Again, there came something of the miraculous: Not a single plan for the beautiful church was put on paper.

Masterly Built

The design took shape in the mind of Antonio Guerrieri, a 74-year-old local master furniture maker and woodcarver who always wanted to do something for the glory of God. The Marians trusted that he would.

Daily, the inspired Guerrieri sketched out details or pointed to a picture in an architectural book and directed local artisans and volunteers in carrying out the plans. Remarkably, he followed medieval construction traditions to build the chapel. Over a decade, much of the work was done by hand. Most material came from nearby, like the marble and granite blocks from an estate in a neighboring town. The marble was originally quarried a few miles away.

The extensive, exquisite woodwork was all handcarved from cypress and oak, from the garlanded Roman arch for the St. Joseph Chapel to the detailed wood reredos in the sanctuary.

Marian Brother Leonard Konopka, who spoke at the shrine’s rededication last May, began working on the shrine as a Marian novice in 1951.

“The amazing thing was,” Brother Leonard recounted, “God obviously knew it was going to be built there, and he provided all the labor we needed. We didn’t have to go to Italy for stonemasons and woodcarvers. By a miracle, all the men who were artisans lived within 5 to 6 miles.”

He himself learned the woodcarver’s craft on site, did the rosettes for main door panels, and then was assigned to carving keystones for the arching frames for stained-glass windows. (Internationally known Stockbridge artist Fred Leuchs made the stained-glass windows.)

Brother Leonard said the delicate, tedious work carving keystones prompted him “to complain: ‘This is going to be 20-feet high. Who’s going to see the detail?’” he recalled. “And Mr. Guerrieri, with a fatherly look, said: ‘Don’t you know? God is going to see!’”

Brother Leonard considers this counsel one of the best lessons and influences in his life. Guierrieri “would not spare any detail for the glory of God.”

Divine Mercy Message

The shrine’s art focuses hearts, minds and souls on Divine Mercy and Mary, especially in the sanctuary.

Directly above the tabernacle in the center of the beautifully carved reredos is the image of “The Divine Mercy” in a radiant gold frame. Father Jarzebowski had this image painted following the vision in which Christ instructed St. Faustina to have it made: “Paint an image according to the pattern you see here, bearing the signature ‘Jesus, I Trust in You’ (Jezu Ufam Tobie in Polish).”

At either side of Jesus, Italian-carved polychrome Twelve Apostles stand in carved niches as witnesses to Divine Mercy.

Directly above the image is a majestic Carrara marble statue of the Immaculate Conception.

Above her, a mural has the Holy Trinity crowning Mary. It’s an astonishing union of statue and painting — and stunning inspiration.

The shrine immerses visitors in the message of Divine Mercy with the essential ABCs of the message: Ask for mercy; be merciful to others; completely trust in Jesus.

For instance, “A”: The confessional is in use every single day. “B”: The 14 main stained-glass windows, from the Good Shepherd to the Good Samaritan, are of Gospel scenes illustrating God’s mercy and the principle of being merciful. “C”: Venerating the image recalls for us many promises Jesus attached to it. (See St. Faustina’s Diary 47, 48, 313, 327, 742).

Providence had a hand in seeing that the first saint canonized in this millennium was St. Faustina. In a side chapel, visitors can venerate two of her relics. One is within an ornate reliquary with two angel guardians. The other, accessible and fastened on the top of a kneeler, reminds one to seek and accept God’s mercy through trust.

There’s another reminder of mercy in the beautiful St. Joseph side chapel with its stained-glass window of Our Lady of Ostra Brama, also called Mother of Mercy.

Serene Grounds

Messages of Mercy and Mary radiate everywhere on the scenic, serene grounds. We strolled down the hillside to the outdoor Immaculate Conception Candle Shrine, which glows with the light of 1,500 votive candles. Nearby is the Lourdes Grotto.

We then discovered the new Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine, where crowds reaching nearly 20,000 attend Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Second Sunday of Easter). Its lower level contains the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, with a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which opened this past Divine Mercy Sunday. Here, names of children aborted or those lost to miscarriages or stillbirth or who have died from any other cause will be etched.

Over the knoll from the chapel, we prayed at Our Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine and Oratory. Intercessors from the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline pray before the Blessed Sacrament for each of the 18,000 requests for prayers they receive monthly and thousands of votive candle requests for the 2,500-candle shrine.

The shrine is celebrating this yearlong 50th anniversary in a magnificent way. St. Faustina Day is Oct. 2. (Her feast day is Oct. 5.)

Through Dec. 31, every visitor can gain a plenary indulgence granted by the Apostolic Penitentiary (see website for conditions). It’s another gift of mercy during this Golden Jubilee.

Register staff writer

Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

National Shrine of the

Divine Mercy

2 Prospect Hill Road

Eden Hill

Stockbridge, MA

(413) 298-3931

Planning Your Visit

The shrine is a half mile from the center of historic Stockbridge. Visit website for daily Masses and reconciliation times; 3pm Divine Mercy devotions and Benediction daily.