Called by Mercy: Divine Mercy Shrine Prompts People to Relocate
Catholics now living near Stockbridge, Massachusetts, feel blessed by their faith community.
Frank and Angie Rizzo live in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, close to Eden Hill, home to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge.
Several years ago, the Rizzos relocated to reside near the shrine.
After Frank retired early, after working in Manhattan for 40 years, the Queens natives moved to upstate New York and bought their “dream house.”
They soon learned about the Divine Mercy shrine in Massachusetts. Once they “found the shrine, and we felt a call to go there,” Frank explained, they “moved over to the Berkshires.” That was more than a decade ago.
The Rizzos volunteer at the shrine in various ways. As Frank told the Register, “God sent us over here.” Over the years, they have taken small pilgrimage groups to Irondale, Alabama, to visit Eternal Word Television Network, the parent company of the Register and broadcaster of events at the Shrine of Divine Mercy. Frank is also a member of the “Year of the Eucharist” committee for their local Diocese of Springfield.
“I’m trying to do whatever I can,” Frank said of volunteering. “Obviously, the true joy of life is serving. As Jesus said, ‘I come to serve, not to be served.’”
From living nearby and serving at the shrine, Frank told the Register, “The greatest blessings is not only the priests, but wonderful people we met. God has sent us so many people that we met who have become good friends to talk with about the faith.”
The Rizzos are not alone. Other Catholics have also relocated to Stockbridge.
Jacqueline Kennedy was living and working in Naples, Florida, when, before Christmas 2020, she came across a Divine Mercy image on social media.
“I didn’t know anything about it, other than how beautiful it was, and I felt God through it,” she told the Register. She asked her mother to give her that image for Christmas. “I just loved the image and wanted and needed it in my house.”
Then, last spring, a Protestant friend challenged her about the Blessed Mother, asking how Mary could be conceived without sin and remain sinless when Jesus came to repair our debt for sin.
“It was essentially about the Immaculate Conception,” Kennedy summarized. Although Kennedy was a cradle Catholic, she wasn’t sure how best to answer.
To help, her mother sent her a link to a YouTube video of the Explaining the Faith series with Marian Father Chris Alar, the provincial superior of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, who oversees the shrine. Learning from that video, she was able to offer Catholic explanations to her friend, and watching Father Alar’s videos explaining Divine Mercy and the faith became a daily routine, as she also started watching his Living Divine Mercy series on EWTN.
Then, in September 2022, after a trip to Boston, Kennedy visited the Stockbridge shrine, where she “had the most fantastic confession,” she said. Before leaving, she talked with Father Alar. He thanked Kennedy for visiting, asked where she was from, and said she could get a tour of the shrine on Monday. She had to decline because of her scheduled flight. Providentially, her Sunday flight was canceled.
The cancellation meant Kennedy could spend Monday afternoon at the shrine, and she spoke with Father Alar again. He asked what she did for a living and told her that there was a position available at the shrine suited to her résumé. She remembered how he told her, “I know you didn’t come here looking for a job. Pray about it; think about it.”
Kennedy recalled, “The moment I left the shrine and headed to Boston, God was speaking to my heart, and for the first time in my years of life, I heard God’s voice crystal clear and knew what I had to do. It was clear to me — God’s voice — and it brought that peace into my heart.”
She gave her Florida employers notice and “providentially” was able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family in Texas. She started her job as major gift officer in the general relations office this past January at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
“God was just pouring grace over me,” Kennedy said.
Mission of Mercy
Father Alar shared some reasons why people are drawn to move near the shrine. He began with the location’s history.
“Ever since the founding of Stockbridge in 1737, this particular piece of property always has been devoted to evangelization,” he said. That year, Protestant pastor John Sergeant began a Christian mission to the Native Americans (Mohawks) in the area. In 1751, fiery preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards became the Protestant pastor in Stockbridge. Later, a Christian boys’ school was established. Since the beginning, the site of the shrine has been called “Eden Hill.”
Then came the mission of mercy.
“This particular area is the epicenter of Divine Mercy, not just in the United States, but in the world,” Father Alar explained. The Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception bought Eden Hill in 1943 as a novitiate, established The Mercy of God Apostolate, and began building today’s chapel for the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in 1950.
“And Jesus said Divine Mercy is man’s last hope of salvation [St. Faustina’s diary, 965]. If you want to find Divine Mercy, you go to the epicenter. The Church has entrusted us to be the caretakers of this and messengers of the devotion. People see that, and want to be part of it, and why they come from so far away.”
Reflecting on all those who have relocated to live in the figurative shadow of the shrine, Father Alar has found, “The fruit of it is the fact they’re all still here — which means they’re coming here to be renewed.”
Maria Elena Oberti did so last summer, when she moved from the northern California forests so she could be close to the shrine.
“For a long time, I have a love for Our Lady,” Oberti told the Register, sharing the story of her move. She was growing in devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and also in the First Saturdays devotion, bolstered by her firm belief “in the Real Presence,” but she found herself struggling in her local Catholic community.
At the same time, her family went through three firestorms, two evacuations and a drought, job loss and the COVID shutdowns. During that time, looking online for a way to commemorate the Oct. 7 feast of the Holy Rosary, she “stumbled on a livestream Mass from the Divine Mercy Shrine,” she recalled — “and the First Saturdays devotion.” Although she had seen the image of Divine Mercy, she didn’t know much about it. Then she started hearing the teaching of Father Alar and Father Kazimierz Chwalek and other Marians, she said. At the time, with all the hardships Oberti and her family had endured, she knew she “needed a retreat.” The family sold their property, and she told her siblings she was going to the Divine Mercy Shrine on retreat and researched education jobs near the shrine. “Sure enough, there was a job opening. I wanted to use my time wisely, and I think God had a hand in it.”
Her sister joined her, as Oberti described the move as “a chance for me to rebuild my life outside the troubles happening in California, but also an amazing gift from Our Lord to be in a faith community believing what the Catholic Church teaches.”
On her journey of faith and relocation, she found the answer to the Scripture from Isaiah (5:13): “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge: And their honorable men are famished, and their multitude parched with thirst.”
“The Holy Spirit impressed this upon my heart as I struggled,” she said. “And that resounded in my soul. How do your people get the knowledge not to perish? I believe and feel that is in the Divine Mercy message.” What she was hearing at the shrine, through the diary of St. Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy, was “building and restoring my faith,” she said, and at the same time, she “also was bringing out a really great sense of hope. I believe this is the message for our times.”
Oberti spent her first weekend as a volunteer, something she continues to do regularly at the shrine, utilizing her bilingual skills with visitors; she hopes to work in her retirement as part of the shrine’s Marian Helpers Association.
“The Lord answered my heart’s cries,” she emphasized. “The more I learn about the message of Divine Mercy, I believe it is the message for our times, with struggles in the Church and our families.” Now, she said, she has the “opportunity to be where the Lord wanted me,” to attend Mass and devotions and receive the sacraments at the shrine and “especially learn how to live the message of mercy.”
Others have relocated to the shrine in a roundabout way.
“I didn’t move here purposely for the shrine,” Gina Davis told the Register. “My disabled son, Austin, got accepted into a program in western Massachusetts. I had not heard of the shrine. But the bonus was discovering the shrine. I was thrilled to discover the shrine and become part of it.”
Davis attends Mass at the shrine, and “now I start to volunteer after Divine Mercy weekend” this year, she said. “I plan to be involved even more. It’s such a blessing to me and my family.”
She finds the shrine has become an important part of her life as a place of great prayer and solace.
“Because of my son’s disabilities, it’s very challenging at times, and having this refuge where I can go and have peace” is a blessing, she explained. “I do go usually four to five times a week, either to pray the Rosary or go to Mass and walk around the grounds, and make the Stations of the Cross. … I can go to the shrine for peace, and it has really helped me.”