History of the Congregation
of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Płock
The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy arrived in Płock in the 1890s. Its beginning is connected with Fr. Antoni Julian Nowowiejski and Jakobina Łabanowska. Jakobina Łabanowska came to Płock at the recommendation of Fr. Honorat Koźmiński. This great propagator of the renewal of religious life which was destroyed after the January Uprising, instructed her to take spiritual care over servant women. After initial recognition of the Płock community, Jakobina came to conclusion that moral and material help to the women in need would be more of an advantage for them. Subsequently, she put all her energy into solving this problem that she considered so crucial. She was supported by Fr. Julian Nowowiejski. In 1891 he helped to organize the religious life of Płock sisters who gathered around Jakobina Łabanowska. He established the Guardian Angel Institute for the girls who were in need of moral and material support. and he also established the Institute of Divine Love to lead the work. The statute of the Institute was approved by Bishop Michał Nowodworski, the bishop of Płock.
The Guardian Angel Institute achieved financial independence from the work of the sisters and their pupils. Initially the Institute of Divine Love was located in Kessel's house, near the Seminary and the Guardian Angel Institute on Dobrzyńska Street. In 1893 both institutes were moved to the building purchased by Zofia Westphal in the Old Market Square. Thanks to the generosity of the citizens of Płock, a thorough modernization of the building was accomplished and the building was made to conform to the needs of the Convent. With time the premises were extended. In 1894 an annex was built onto one of the buildings at the rear. It was where the bakery and the sisters' cells were located. In 1899 the Institute of Divine Love together with the Guardian Angel Institute were incorporated into the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy who already had the experience and methods of the difficult pedagogical work. The first prioress of the house was mother Kolumba Łabanowska who acted in this role during the years 1899 to 1906. The following sisters acted in this same role until the end of the World War I: Józefa Gruszczyńska, Franciszka Broel-Plate and Małgorzata Gimbutt.
In 1928 the sisters purchased 45 hectares of land and buildings in Biała, a village located about 10km from Płock. This farm became the economic basis for the Convent and the pupils from the Institute in Płock. In 1929 a branch of Płock Convent was established there.
The day of 13th April, 1899 has been designated as the official date of the beginning of apostolic activity of the Convent in Płock. From that time on, the rapid development of the Guardian Angel Institute took place. Initially there were 50 girls and by the time the branch in Biała was established, the number had reached 100 girls.
In the Guardian Angel Institute the sisters took care of the women and girls who needed moral renewal. In the Institute there were also orphans and girls from poor families. The sisters supported them with accommodation, full board and spiritual care. In the Institute there was the atmosphere of family bonds and the everyday rhythm was determined by work and prayer. The girls had the opportunity to learn a profession while doing their practice in the workshops of the Institute, with skills such as ironing, laundry, embroidery, sewing of quilts and linen, kitchen, etc. The skills gained in the Institute facilitated their start into adult life. The girls also enhanced their education while attending the school run by the sisters. Today it is hard to estimate the number of girls who benefited from the help of the sisters from the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Płock. One could surmise that in 1930s there could be about 100 of them.
During that time there were about 30 sisters at the Convent . Each of them had been given the scope of her duties. At the head of the Congregation there was the mother prioress. At the time between wars the following sisters successively filled the function of the prioress: Stanisława Stępczyńska, Serafina Kukulska, Rafaella Buczyńska, Róża Kłobukowska. The sisters were not connected with only one house of the Congregation but every several years they were moved to other Congregation houses that were located in different parts of Poland.
In 1918 Fr. Achilles Ratti, the apostolic visitor, later Pope Pius XI, paid a visit to the Guardian Angel Institute.
In 1930 Sister Faustyna Kowalska arrived in Płock, staying there for two and a half years. From time to time she left for the branch house in Biała. In 1939 the painting of Jesus the Merciful was placed in the chapel of the sisters. During the cruel years of the war occupation Jesus in his image gave hope and a willingness to survive for the people who were suffering from the brutality of Hitler's regime. In the shadow of Jesus' merciful rays about 150 girls, in danger of being deported to work in Germany, found shelter. It was also here that people threatened with arrest found shelter and rescue. The house in the Old Market Square, selected as the cradle of Divine Mercy Message, gave a clear testimony by means of the merciful works at the time when love seemed to be defeated by hatred. From there food for the hostages imprisoned in Stanisław Małachowski School was sent, as well as parcels for the people trapped in Nazi camps.
After the World War II the sisters continued their pedagogical work. The communist authorities put a stop to this work of mercy. On 22nd June, 1950, with the decision by the Local National Council in Warsaw, the Convent and the Guardian Angel Institute in Płock were closed. The properties were nationalized and sisters were forced to immediately leave their home. They found shelter in Biała. However, because of such a difficult material situation, the members of the community had to be sent to other homes of the Congregation and subsequently, the estate in Biała was also confiscated. The Congregation's buildings in the Old Market Square were taken by the Educational Centre. Unfortunately, there was no one to take care of the buildings and their preservation at that time.
It was only after 40 years, in June 1990, that the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy returned to their home in Płock. The buildings were completely devastated and impossible to live in. The formerly well cared for premises and gardens, were only remembered with old photographs. The sisters who came back to Płock could not find the annex in the backyard where sister Faustyna had lived. It was demolished at unknown time.
In the 1990, renovation and rebuilding of the demolished premises took place. The task was given to the first sisters who arrived in Płock. The prioress. Sister Gonzaga Walczak was at the head of the community. Simultaneously with the development of the reconstruction and renovation work, the dynamic development of Divine Mercy devotion began. The sisters engaged themselves in apostolic works.
On 30th September 1990 the blessing of the chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in the Old Market Square took place. The celebration was presided over by Fr. Ryszard Dybiński, the pastor of Fara Parish and the mission of the sisters was officially initiated. It is worth quoting how the General Prioress of the Congregation, Paulina Słomka, invited the sisters to participate in the ceremony of the blessing, saying:
I cordially invite the whole Congregation, in the pilgrim spirit, to the place of the first revelation of Jesus the Merciful to God's Servant Sister Faustyna Kowalska. I want the sisters to see the place and the house in which Divine Mercy knelt to the ground and poured onto the humankind, onto us and the whole world (...) I hope that the contact with "the Holy Land" will help us to care about the mission of God's Servant Sister Faustyna Kowalska, about the mission of mercy (...) Whenever I watch and touch the ruins of Płock home, I experience the feeling of devotion to Divine Mercy.
(fragment of a letter of General Mother Prioress, Sr. Paulina Słomka to the Congregation, 1990)
On the premises of the Guardian Angel Institute the sisters opened the Educational Centre for kids from poor families of Płock Old Town (1992-2000). Then, during the years 2000-2006, they established the Youth Centre for Girls, under the patronage of the Guardian Angel. The aim of this activity was pedagogical help for girls and women who independently came to the centre and wanted to complete their education and obtain a profession. The centre ended its activity in June 2006. Since September 2006 the sisters have run Local Community Common Room for girls and boys. In the years 2006-2015 there began the Society of Divine Mercy Apostles Faustinum whose aim was the formation of people who wanted to learn the spirituality of Saint Sister Faustina and live it daily. In 2009 the Window of Life at the Convent was initiated. At the old bakery the Museum of St. Sister Faustina was opened.
Both the Local Community Common Room and Museum were closed in 2009 because of the beginning of the extension of the Shrine. Part of the museum exhibits were moved to the Diocese Museum where an exhibition dedicated to St. Sister Faustina was created.
Despite of these changing circumstances, the sisters are still in touch with youth. They also receive pilgrims coming to the Shrine of Divine Mercy and other religious groups. The whole activity of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy is focused on spreading the Divine Mercy devotion through prayers and deeds of everyday life.
On the 15th May, 2015, after completing all the necessary preliminary work, the sisters began the extension of the Shrine of Divine Mercy, at the place of the first revelation of Jesus the Merciful.