The martyrs of Nowogródek prayed to God that the Nazis would kill them instead of a group of prisoners.
In 1942 the Nazis invaded the small town of Nowogródek, which had a mixed population of Poles, Jews, and Russians. They quickly began to hold mass executions in the town, rounding up anyone who was not sympathetic to their viewpoint.
Yet, in the midst of all the suffering, there was a single priest remaining who would offer daily Mass and a small group of religious women who daily prayed to God for liberation.
Then in 1943 the Nazis rounded up another group of 120 prisoners and it was their intention to kill them all.
Sister Superior Maria Stella said to the local priest, “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed let them kill us and not those who have families. We are even praying for that.”
Surprisingly the prisoners were not killed and all of them survived to the conclusion of World War II. However, the Nazis chose instead Sister Maria Stella and her 10 sisters and took them into the forest, where they were murdered.
St. John Paul II praised their example when he beatified them in 2000, pointing to them as true witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Where did these women find the strength to give themselves in exchange for the lives of imprisoned residents of Nowogródek? From where did they draw the courage to accept calmly the death sentence that was so cruel and unjust? God had slowly prepared them for this moment of greater trial. He sowed the seed of his grace in their hearts at the time of holy Baptism and then, tended with great care and responsibility, it developed firm roots and bore the most beautiful fruit, which is the gift of life. Christ says: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15: 13). Yes, there is no greater love than this: to be ready to lay down one’s life for one’s brothers and sisters.
We thank you, O blessed martyrs of Nowogródek, for your witness of love, for your example of Christian heroism and for your trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Like St. Maximillian Kolbe, these Polish sisters gave up their lives so that others might live. Their example continues to inspire many today and highlights the ultimate fulfillment of the Gospel.