Helena Kowalska – known in the convent as Sister Mary Faustina – was the third of ten children of Stanisław (d.1946) and Marianna (d.1965). Her father came from Świnice Warckie, from the area known by the name of Zagórze. As a bachelor, he worked in the local brewery in Dąbie on the river Ner, where he had met his future wife Marianna Babel. The wedding of Stanisław and Marianna took place on October 28, 1892; when the two of them got married, he was 25, while she was 18. After the wedding they purchased a few acres of poor land at the village of Głogowiec, where in the year 1900 they had built a house, consisting of one room, a kitchen and a carpenter’s workshop. Next to the house, there was a water well and a little shrine hanged on a pear-tree. A great trial of faith for the young couple was the difficulty of having children. It was only 10 years after the wedding that the couple had been blessed with children: Józefa, Ewa, Helena (subsequently Sr. Faustina), Kazimiera (died in infancy), Natalia, Bronisława (also died in infancy), Stanisław, Mieczysław, Lucyna and Wanda.
Helena was born on August 25, 1905. Considered to be a weak child, she was baptized already on the second day after birth in Świnice Warckie by the then parish priest Rev. Józef Chodyński (whose grave is to be found at the local cemetery). Helena’s birth certificate is written in Russian as it was a time of partitions. Under the birth certificate one can see a clear and legible signature of Helena’s father, which testifies to the fact that he was literate. Already as a little child, the future Saint had shown great inclination to prayer; she even got up at night so as to pray. She also taught other children how to pray. In the seventh year of her life when she attended vespers at church, she had for the first time heard God’s voice in her soul (c.f. Diary 7). During her First Holy Communion, she experienced a real presence of Jesus in her soul.
In the year 1917, when she was 12, she started attending elementary school in Świnice Warckie. She was a very good pupil, yet she had only attended school for 3 years, as she had to make room for younger children. Her stay was also connected with a series of humiliations, due to her extreme poverty.
When she was 16, she went into service with the well-to-do Bryszewski family in the town of Aleksandrów Łódzki. It was here, in the courtyard, that she for the first time saw a great light. She then returned home and asked her parents for permission to enter a convent. But her father objected very strongly. She went back into service in the city of Łódź. When she was 18 she had once again asked her parents for permission to go into convent but they objected yet again. After this refusal, she decided to suppress this calling from God. On February 2, 1923 she began working as housekeeper to Marcjanna Sadowska in Łódź and she remained there until July 1, 1924. Her other two sisters were also in Łódź at the time working as housekeepers for well-to-do families. It was with the two of them and a friend that Faustina had gone to a dance in the “Wenecja” park (present-day Słowacki park). At the dance she saw the image of the Suffering Jesus who summoned her to follow the voice of her vocation at any cost. When she lay prostrated in the cathedral dedicated to St. Stanislaw in Łódź, she heard a voice which told her that she is to go to Warsaw, so as to enter a convent there. She worked for the whole year to save up for a very modest dowry which was required of her. On August 1, 1925 she went through the gate of the convent home of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw which was situated in Żytnia St. She went back to her home and family parish only once more during her lifetime when she visited her sick mother in 1935.