Today is the feast day of Blessed Mary Stella and her Ten Companions, executed by the Nazis on Aug. 1, 1943, and beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on March 5, 2000.
On the evening of July 31, 1943, Sr. Mary Stella, CSFN and the sisters were summoned to the police station in Nowogródek (then part of occupied Poland; today, in Belarus). They spent the night praying in the building basement. Early the next morning, they were ordered into trucks, driven to the woods outside of town, shot and thrown into a mass grave.
The 11 martyrs are:
Sr. Mary Stella (Adela) Mardosewicz, superior, 1888-1943
Sr. Mary Imelda (Hedwig) Zak, 1892-1943
Sr. Mary Raymond (Anna) Kukolowicz, 1892-1943
Sr. Mary Daniela (Eleanor) Jozwik, 1895-1943
Sr. Mary Canuta (Josepha) Chrobot, 1896-1943
Sr. Mary Gwidona (Helena) Cierpka, 1900-1943
Sr. Mary Sergia (Julia) Rapiej, 1900-1943
Sr. Mary Canisia (Eugenia) Mackiewicz, 1904-1943
Sr. Mary Felicita (Paulina Borowik) 1905-1943
Sr. Mary Heliodora (Leokadia) Matuszewska, 1906-1943
Sr. Mary Boromea (Veronica) Narmontowicz, 1916-1943
The arrest and execution of the 11 CSFNs followed a period of mass arrests and executions in Nowogródek. In the early days of World War II, the area was occupied by the Soviet Union. As Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the part of the Polish territory changed hands, with the Nazis seizing control. Though they permitted the sisters to wear their religious habits and live together in the convent (not permitted by the Soviets), the Nazis proved to be a more brutal occupying force.
The diverse population of Nowogródek had been about 50 percent Jewish. Executions and deportations to ‘work camps’ decimated the Jewish community. Eventually, the Nazis turned their attention to the Polish population, rounding up prisoners for deportation and regularly executing men and youths. In early 1943, some 60 men – including two priests – were shot. Then in mid-July, 120 people, including men with families, were rounded up, marked for execution. The women of the town came to the Sisters and begged them to pray for the prisoners’ release. Sr. Mary Stella shared the sisters’ prayer and decision with their chaplain, telling him, “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us and spare those who have families. We are even praying for this intention.” Plans for these prisoners changed almost immediately; many were released; the rest deported to German work camps.
When the life of the parish priest was threatened, the Sisters again prayed: “There is a greater need for a priest on this earth than for us. We pray that God will take us in his place, if sacrifice of life is needed.” God accepted the sisters’ sacrifice; the priest and his fellow prisoners were spared.
Before reporting to the police station on the evening of July 31, Sr. Mary Stella had asked Sr. Małgorzata Banaś, a nurse in a government hospital, to stay behind at the convent, whatever happened, to take care of the church and the parish priest. Because she wore civilian clothing due to her job, it was easier for this 12th sister in Nowogródek to heed Sr. Mary Stella’s request. It was days before she and the townspeople knew the 11 sisters had been killed. Eventually, Sr. Małgorzata located their grave, quietly tending to it and the parish church during the war years and during the post-war Soviet occupation, until her death in 1966.
Sr. Stella and her 10 companions were beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 5, 2000. Their liturgical memorial falls on Sept. 4. Please join us in praying to the Nowogródek Martyrs.
Prayer to the Nowogródek Martyrs
O most blessed Trinity, we praise and thank you for the example of Blessed Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, who by imitating Jesus Christ, offered themselves as a sacrifice of love.
God of mercy and compassion, through the merits of their martyrdom and by their intercession, grant us the grace we humbly ask… (insert intention here) …so that like them, we may witness with our lives to the presence of the Kingdom of God’s love and extend it to the human family throughout the world. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Blessed Martyred Sisters of Nowogródek, pray for us.