An Ortega Bulto of the Image of Jesus, The Divine Mercy
Story and photos by Don Toomey

On April 6, 2002 at a dedication Mass in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (founded 1817) in Velarde, northern New Mexico, a beautiful bulto of the image of Jesus was unveiled, Divine Mercy by Eulogio and Zoraida Ortega.

The origin and the message of the Divine Mercy is directly related to both the writings and private revelations of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, a nun from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland. Sister Faustina was born Helen Kowalska, on August 25, 1905, in Glogowiec, Poland, to a poor but religious family of ten children. At an early age she was called to the religious life during a vision of the suffering Christ. On August 1, 1925, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and took the name of Sr. Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament. She was a member of this congregation for 13 years where she toiled as a cook, gardener, and porter. Her years in the convent were filled with extraordinary spiritual gifts such as revelations, hidden stigmata, visions, bilocation, participation in the Passion of the Lord, prophecy, and the reading of human souls.

Her relationship to the holy of holiest was as real for her as the world she perceived with her senses. In his visions and revelations the Lord chose Sister Faustina as the Apostle and Secretary of His Mercy, so that she would share the urgent message of Divine Mercy with our modern, though troubled world. Her mission comprised three primary tasks: to remind the world and the Church of the truth of God’s Mercy for all, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures; to entreat Divine Mercy for the whole world through the practice of new forms of devotion to the Divine Mercy; and to initiate an apostolic movement of Divine Mercy for the world so that all might strive to Practice the works of mercy, following Sister Faustina’s example.

Sister Faustina kept a diary, which consisted of some 700 pages, of the various happenings that occurred to her during her life, in it she faithfully recorded all of the Lord’s wishes and described in detail those encounters between her soul and Him. Sister Faustina died of tuberculosis at the age of 33 on October 5, 1938, her mortal remains rest at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy near Krakow, Poland. Sister Faustina’s message and diary were brought to America in 1941 through the heroic efforts of Father Joseph Jarzebowski, who spent his life spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Then in 1944 Father Walter Pelczynski established the ‘Mercy of God Apostolate’ on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now the home of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.

An early supporter of Sister Faustina’s message of Divine Mercy was the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Through his strenuous efforts he began an informative process in 1965, emphasizing the life and virtues of Sister Faustina, and, in 1968, he inaugurated the process that would lead to her Beatification. Later, in 1981 as Pope John Paul II, he published an encyclical entitled Rich In Mercy which re-emphasized “Christ as the Incarnation of Mercy ... the inexhaustible source of Mercy.” Then on April 18, 1993, the Holy Father beatified Sister Faustina in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, on the first Sunday after Easter. Later, on April 30, 2000, during the Great Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina. He then proclaimed in his homily that the Second Sunday of Easter would now be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the universal Church.

Saint Faustina and the doctrine of Divine Mercy came to northern New Mexico, and specifically to the Ortega’s in Velarde, through the reading of a biography of Faustina in addition to reading excerpts from her diary. Eulogio Ortega said, “I have read extensively on the lives of the various saints and have always been impressed, as I was with that of Saint Faustina’s life. She was a remarkable person from a very poor and humble family, basically uneducated, and who was an avid gardener. She was so humble that very few people appear to have been aware that during her lifetime she received visions and revelations from Christ. All of this greatly inspired Zoraida and I to begin praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and to think about creating a bulto of Jesus The Divine Mercy. We had a prayer card showing an oil painting of the image of Divine Mercy painted by Polish artist Eugene Kazimirowski in 1934. This provided us with a model even though it was done in the classical European tradition. Instead, we wanted to create a bulto that would emphasize our northern New Mexico santero heritage.”

The Ortega bulto of Jesus the Divine Mercy took Eulogio about 4-1/2 months to carve from aspen wood. It is 39 inches in height and stands on a base 18 inches in width, and has the inscription “Jesus, I Trust In You” carved on the front of the base. Eulogio said, “I did have a problem with the rays of light that extend outward from Christ’s heart. They are supposed to represent water and blood, which can be accomplished rather easily on a painting, but are a challenge to do on a carving. I tried a number of ways, but decided the rays had to be made of wood finally having the wood ‘rays’ emerging from the base up to Christ’s heart, and I was satisfied with the results. Zoraida painted the bulto in acrylics over 1-1/2 months time period employing estofado (gold leafing) for Christ’s halo, a first in Zoraida’s painting career!”

Sometime earlier the Velarde church of Our Lady of Guadalupe received a new pastor—a young man from Albuquerque named Father Pieroni. During subsequent conversations the Ortega’s became aware that Father Pieroni was no stranger to Saint Faustina and the Doctrine of Divine Mercy. It so happened that prior to entering the priesthood he had obtained and read Sister Faustina’s diary. He later visited the basilica dedicated to Saint Faustina in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and through this experience his desire to become a priest was reinforced. Sometime after discussions with Eulogio and Zoraida, and aware they were creating a bulto of Jesus, The Divine Mercy, he came to their home to view the work in progress. When he saw the bulto he exclaimed, “Oh! This is magnificent, and since we have an empty nicho it will make a beautiful addition in our church!” This all culminated with a dedication Mass in the late afternoon of April 6, 2002, when the Ortega bulto was installed in a nicho on the right side of the church sanctuary.

Eulogio noted, “My primary objective in doing this bulto, and attempting to make Sister Faustina’s story better known, is so that other santeros/santeras will become acquainted with her life and message, and as a result I would hope that they too would come up with their personal vision of this remarkable saint’s life.”

It should be noted that Eulogio and Zoraida over the years have created additional devotional art for the Velarde church so that presently the church is serving as a repository for the Ortega’s beautiful art pieces. During this time the Ortega’s have also donated art to various small chapels and churches all over northern New Mexico.

Don Toomey, a resident of Santa Fe, is a former staff writer for Tradición Revista where he served as a writer for almost six and a half years.

First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 2003.
Copyright 2003. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.