In retired painter Kenn Obermark’s workshop, a small team of Washingtonians are doing what they say is a calling from God.
In Obermark’s heavily used workshop are several images of Jesus Christ, many of them already secured to the wooden frame that will be used to display the image in many front yards throughout Washington and some that are waiting to be used.
The photo depicts the Divine Mercy, a vision of Jesus that was first painted in the 1930s based on the visions of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Now, nearly 90 years later, a small team of five men are spending their retired lives making and distributing yard signs displaying the image.
“It was a paint shop and I’m thankful I could turn it into what we’re doing now. I’m thankful every day to have the health to do it. It’s a labor of love,” Obermark said.
The image of Divine Mercy is one of the most famous apparitions in the history of the Catholic Church. The image, according to the church, happened in the city of Plock, Poland, when Jesus appeared to St. Faustina.
Jesus, according to the church, then asked Faustina to paint an image according to the pattern she saw, with the signature “Jesus, I trust in You.” From there, the image of Divine Mercy was painted by artist Eugene Kazimirowski.
The three themes of the devotion are to ask for and obtain the mercy of God, to trust in Jesus’ mercy, and to show mercy to others and act as a conduit for God’s mercy toward them.
Obermark started the Washington’s Divine Mercy team roughly two years ago, after a retreat hosted by St. Francis Borgia Parish, which the entire team is a part of. The retreat speaker encouraged parishioners to give back and a fellow parishioner encouraged Obermark to spread the image of the Divine Mercy.
“We had to choose something to do and we chose spreading the Divine Mercy,” Obermark said. “She had pictures and she wanted every church in the Washington deanery to at least have a picture of the Divine Mercy.”
He said the idea to create the lawn signs came partially from the amount of political yard signs he saw throughout Washington. He said he thought Jesus should have that many signs in yards as well.
“During that time, before the elections, they had all these billboards for politicians. So we thought, ‘hey, why not yard signs for the Divine Mercy.’ That sounded pretty good,” Obermark said.
Obermark says people feel like the image brings them protection, and for many, the image is a way to remind their neighbors that Jesus is there for them. He and the Divine Mercy Ministry, which consists of St. Francis Borgia parishioners Bill Gegg, Jim Derner, Michael Tolksdorf and Allan Jean, work several times a week, depending on how many orders for the yard signs they have.
While Obermark and the Divine Mercy team started small, now, nearly two years later, the Washington crew’s Divine Mercy signs can be seen on every highway that comes into town, on countless front yards and gravesites and at homes as far away as India.
It’s hard to travel anywhere in Washington without seeing the image. To date, Obermark says the group has sold more than 1,000 yard signs. All of the proceeds go to paying to create more of the signs.
In the workshop the five work to create the yard signs, which range from $10-30 depending on size. However, the group also works on larger signs, like the image that is placed at the Washington exit on Interstate Highway 44. Those signs, which Obermark says take roughly four hours to make, are three feet wide and eight feet tall and can be seen in several areas in Washington. There are nearly 30 signs around the state that are eight feet and taller.
Obermark says thinking about the amount of people who have purchased a lawn sign makes him happy. He says, often, people worry their signs won’t be seen. Obermark says as long as they see the Divine Mercy, the sign has purpose.
“A lot of people say they live on a block where people won’t see it, and we tell them that not everyone has to see it, and the wording below it is important,” Obermark said. “It’s not just a picture… this is saying ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’ ”
Obermark says its rewarding work, and it makes him feel closer to God. He says the laughs and spirituality the team share together as they work keeps them working hard.
The group sometimes works throughout the day, but always, no matter what, stops at 3 p.m. to say a prayer together. Gegg says it’s important to pray at 3 p.m., the hour Jesus Christ died on the cross.
Gegg says the opportunity to work on the signs feels like it was meant to be. The image’s difficult journey from Poland, all the way to America and then to Washington, to Gegg, feels like a miracle.
“For me it’s one of the most important ministries in my life right now,” Gegg said. “To make this a primary ministry is very important.
Gegg says one of his favorite memories of the last two years are of a letter Obermark received from a young woman who was thinking of committing suicide, but changed her mind when she saw one of the bigger Divine Mercy images in Washington. He says he thinks about how many people see the image everyday when they work on the signs.
“She wrote thanks for saving my life and that’s one you hear back from,” Gegg said. “But how many people are driving by these 900 signs that you don’t hear from. But its has an impact.”
It’s stories like that young woman’s, that Obermark, Gegg and the three other members of the group say are the reason they build yard signs every day they can. Not to mention, the laughs and closeness to God they feel.
“I don’t know if you can put it into words what this ministry has meant to us sitting here,” Gegg said. “Words fall short of what we experience inside these walls.”
The Divine Mercy signs can be purchased at different sizes for different prices. For more information or to place an order call Kenn Obermark at 636-239-7456 or 636-358-3053.