Praying the Chaplet to Death

Every day, Fr. Stefan Starzynski of Fairfax, Virginia, prays the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the bedside of at least one, sometimes two or three people, who are actively dying.

For the past four years, he's been ministering full time as a chaplain at Fairfax Hospital, the largest hospital in northern Virginia. "It's a 1,100-bed hospital that gets all the [sickest] patients," he said. "Actively dying at this hospital means that they might not live through the day," he said.

Since being ordained in 1996, Fr. Stefan has felt called to minister to those who are sick and dying. On the day of his ordination, somebody asked him to come to the hospital to bless a sick baby. "This baby was miraculously healed. The first Sacrament I administered as a priest was the miraculous healing of a baby," he said. "We all think these things happen in other countries. Often, we don't think they can happen to us. But I think all miracles flow through the mercy of God."

Father Stefan has had a devotion to Divine Mercy ever since he discovered the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska in seminary. "This was before St. Faustina was so well known," he said. He read it from cover to cover, and it made an impact. "I still had a lot of God's justice in [my head]. I needed to be immersed in His mercy," he said.

As a pastor, he started Divine Mercy Sunday services in three parishes in the Diocese of Arlington. Since becoming chaplain at Fairfax, he's made Divine Mercy the hallmark of his ministry. Father Stefan points to a quote from St. Faustina's Diary in which Jesus says, "Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior" (1541).

He prays mostly with Catholic patients, but every now and then he's assigned to non-Catholics. "Even when the patient is Catholic, many of the people in the room are non-Catholic," he said. He always places the Image on the person for whom he's praying. "I give out 250 folders per month, and in the folders is the Image of Divine Mercy," he said. "When I'm praying the Chaplet in the presence of those who are dying, and I put the Image on their person, often I'm looking at the Image because I need the confidence, because [most] of the people in that room are unfamiliar with that prayer. [Praying the Chaplet] is a little bit of stepping out in faith," he said.

In the folders he hands out, he includes material explaining Divine Mercy. "I'm trying to create an office where we hand out these folders to all the Catholics in all the hospitals in the diocese, as well as at nursing homes and to the homebound," he said. Since he gives out so many Divine Mercy Images, it's not uncommon to find them already present in some hospital rooms.

He wants more people to know about Divine Mercy, because he's seen its fruits firsthand. "In the hospital, I see lots of miracles. I've had people who are very sick, and they've said, 'What's that prayer that you prayed, the Divine Mercy Chaplet? Because after you prayed that, my mother came back," he said. "[Often] they didn't even know what the prayer was."

Each year, in addition to the hundreds of Chaplets he prays, he records administering the Anointing of the Sick more than 1,500 times. "A lot of people are afraid of death. Part of that is you're preparing them to die," he said. "The Anointing of the Sick gives us courage. We're able to offer up our sufferings, resist the devil. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is helping someone to accept [death], to give them that trust to pass away."

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