Today is also a day on which I recall the witness of the eleven courageous and holy Nazareth Sisters, who in 1943 sacrificed their lives for family members during World War II in Belarus.
As a boy in a New Haven school staffed by the Nazareth Sisters, St. Stanislaus School, I distinctly remember the Adam Styka image (1948) painted of the nuns being murdered by the Nazi regime. The original painting was moved to the Rome headquarters of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in 1965.
Each falling into a common grave. Though their mortal identity was robbed by a common grace, but their dignity as woman of grace and Divine Love not. Keeping their memory alive means remembering the names of those killed. The sisters’ names were: M. Stella, M. Imelda, M. Rajmunda, M. Daniela, M. Kanuta, M. Sergia, M. Gwidona, M. Felicyta, M. Heliodora, M. Kanizja and M. Boromea.
In the days before the great feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration on August 6th, it is interesting to note that these sisters had received a tremendous outpouring of affection from their fellow townspeople. The sisters were known as “The Kneelers” because they frequented the local parish Church of The Transfiguration to kneel in prayer at the left side of the altar in prayer.
Sister Mary Stella prayed: “O God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us who are free from family obligations. Spare those who have wives and children.”
Saint John Paul II said of Sister Mary Stella, “By the power of His grace, these seemingly weak women witnessed to the strength of true love to the point of martyrdom” (March 5, 2000).
The 12th sister of the group, Sister Malgorzata Banas, who survived the war and the sisters’ chaplain Father Aleksander Sienkiewicz are also candidates for sainthood.
Through the intercession of Blessed Mary Stella and her Ten Companions, Martyrs of Nowogrodek, let us pray for the grace of perseverance in faith and courage.
The liturgical memorial falls on September 4.