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Holy Family of Nazareth Martyrs
Offered Their Lives to Save Others

of L’Osservatore Romano
Taken from the March 8, 2000 edition

Blessed Maria Stella of the Most Blessed Sacrament and 10 Companions, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis on August 1, 1943, in Nowogródek, Poland (today Navahradak, Belarus). In 1929 the Servant of God Bishop Zygmunt Lozinski invited the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth to Nowogródek to care for the Church of the Transfiguration, known as the Biala Fara (“White Church”), and to educate the children and young people. The Sisters, who resided in Christ the King Convent during World War II (1939-1945), had arrived over a period of several years. Similar to the people of the easternmost part of pre-war Poland, the Sisters formed a mosaic of temperaments and personalities. They were united by one goal: the spreading of the kingdom of God’s love, bequeathed to them by their foundress, Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd (Frances Siedliska, 1842-1902).

The outbreak of World War II and the ensuing occupation of the territory, first by the Soviet Union (1939-41), then by the Germans (1941-45), disturbed the harmony of Nowogródek. Amid the darkness of war, the “White Church” became a beacon of light, and it was not unusual for the faithful to come to church in droves.

The invaders were unable to tolerate the vibrant religious life of the church, the home of all that is Polish and the bastion of Catholicism. With the arrival of a special Gestapo unit in the neighboring town of Baranowicz, terrorist activity intensified in the area. The first mass execution took place in July 1942, when 60 people were killed.

On July 18, 1943, the Polish people were subjected to a new wave of arrests; 120 were imprisoned for the purpose of being executed. The people hurried to share their suffering with the Sisters. The Sisters responded by collectively reaching the decision to offer themselves in place of the imprisoned family members. In the evening, when Sister Maria Stella, superior of the community met Father Alexander Zienkiewicz, the chaplain and rector of Fara, she expressed their decision: “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us who are free from family obligations and spare those who have wives and children in their care. We are even praying for this”. As if in response to the Sisters’ prayers, the plans were changed. Some of the men were released, but the majority was sent to forced-labor camps in Germany. All of those men survived the war. Further intimidation included a threat to the life of the only surviving priest in the region, Father Zienkiewicz. The Sisters responded by renewing their readiness to sacrifice their lives: “O my God! You, Father, are more needed here on earth than we, so we are now asking God, if further sacrifice is needed, to take us rather than you”.

On July 31, 1943, a police officer issued an oral command to Sister Stella ordering her to appear, together with all the Sisters, at the Gestapo headquarters. Eleven Sisters complied with the order. The Sisters’ sentence had already been decided. The Gestapo was determined to exterminate priests and religious without even an investigation. The Sisters were to be executed that same evening. Though they were driven to the outskirts of Nowogródek, there was so much activity on the road and so many people milling about that the Gestapo returned to town. The next morning, Sunday, August 1, 1943, the Sisters were executed in the birch-pine woods about five miles beyond Nowogródek.

Sister Maria Stella of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Adela Mardosewicz) was born on December 14, 1888, at Ciasnowka in the district of Nieswiesk (now in the Belarusian Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev). When she entered the Sisters of the Holy Family on September 14, 1910, she was a certified teacher, who later fulfilled the duties of moderator in a boarding school, bursar and sacristan. Arriving in Nowogródek in 1936, she served as local superior during the war. Goodness, generosity and love of neighbor were her outstanding characteristics. The people remember her prayerful expression, deep faith and great sensitivity to the suffering of others.

Sister M. Imelda of Jesus Host (Jadwiga Karolina Zak) was born on December 29, 1892, in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) in the Diocese of Bielsko-Zywiec. She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Raymond of Jesus and Mary (Anna Kokolowicz) was born on August 24, 1892, in Barwaniszk near Vilnius, which is now in the Lithuanian Archdiocese of Vilnius. She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Daniela of Jesus and Mary Immaculate (Eleanora Aniela Jozwik) was born on January 25, 1895, in Poizdow, a village in the Poldlasie region (at present the Siedlce Diocese). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Canuta of Jesus in the Garden (Józefa Chrobot) was born on May 22, 1896, at Raczyn in the Wielun region (Archdiocese of Czestochowa). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Sergia of the Sorrowful Mother of God (Julia Rapiej) was born August 18, 1900, in the village of Rogoczyn in the district of Augustów (Diocese of Elk). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Gwidona of the Mercy of God (Helena Cierpka) was born April 11, 1900, in Granowiec in the district of Odalanów (Diocese of Kalisz). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Among the 11 martyred Sisters there were four Sisters in temporary vows. Three of them were unable to make their final profession because of the war and the occupation. The youngest martyr, Sister M. Boromea, had just taken her first vows less than a month before the outbreak of the war.

Sister M. Felicita (Paulina Borowik) was born on August 30, 1905, in Rudna in the province of Lublin (Diocese of Siedlce). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Heliodora (Leokadia Matuszewska) was born February 8, 1906, in Stara Huta in the province of Swiecie (Diocese of Pelplin). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Canisia (Eugenia Mackiewicz) was born September 9, 1903, in Suwalki (Diocese of Lomza). She was executed on August 1, 1943.

Sister M. Boromea (Weronika Narmontowicz) was born December 18, 1916, in Wiercieliszki in the Grodno region (Diocese of Grodno). She was executed on August 1, 1943.