Modern Day Saint

Blessed Alice Kotowska

Mary Jadwiga Kotowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, on November 20, 1899. Poland is a notably Catholic country, and for many Poles religion and patriotism are inseparable. Mary Kotowska was one of those people.  War dominated her life until 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles acknowledged Polish independence. During the closing months of the war, 18-year-old Mary Kotowska had shown her devotion to the Polish homeland by joining the Organized Polish Army, serving in the trenches as a medic. With peace achieved, the patriotic laywoman studied medicine and devoted her medical skill especially to the casualties of the Polish-Bolshevik War. The Polish government later awarded Mary the decoration "Poland Restored" for her compassion and bravery.

By the time she was 22, Mary Kotowska felt called to commit herself more fully to the needs of the people. She wrote the superior general of the Sisters of the Resurrection asking to be received into membership. "I desire to live and die for Christ," she said, "loving Him above all, since He is the Greatest Love, Lord, God and my All." The offer was accepted, and Mary Jadwiga Kotowska became Sister Alice.

As a young teaching nun, Sister Alice was soon chosen to direct high school education and serve as convent superior in Wejherowo.  She proved very capable in both tasks. Particularly convinced of the need for prayer as reinforcement for teaching, she herself spent hours before the Holy Eucharist and promoted Eucharistic devotion among both her fellow nuns and her students.

Poland lost its independence once more with the outbreak of World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland, reaching Wejherowo on September 9, 1939.

When Sister Alice learned the Germans were drawing near Wejherowo, she and ‘Francis,’ the convent custodian, buried their most precious liturgical vessels in the convent garden to prevent their desecration by the Gestapo. Francis, however, was actually a spy for the Germans, and within a few days the Gestapo led by Francis unearthed and desecrated the holy vessels, warning Sister Alice she would be next.

One of the occupying army’s first steps was to establish a "black list" of Polish leaders. Sister Alice was singled out because of her former connection to the organized Polish Army as a nurse and because she was a teacher. To the Gestapo she was a leader, and their policy was to replace leaders with nonentities.

On Oct. 24, 1939, the sisters' prayer in the chapel was interrupted by shouts and banging on the front door. Sister Alice knew it was time. Without flinching, she bowed reverently before the altar and calmly walked to the door, taking time to turn and say, "I forgive Francis for everything."

While she was, imprisoned, guards took pleasure in tormenting her, often waking her by shining bright searchlights on her face. On Nov. 11, a number of trucks carrying shovels were lined up at the prison gates. Then the soldiers led rows of prisoners from their cells to the truck area.

Among the victims were several Jewish children, some Polish laymen and women and at the end, Sister Alice. Most were in anguish. Sister Alice was calm and at peace, and this had a calming effect on the others. When the signal was given to climb into the trucks, the Sister Superior went quickly to the Jewish children, took one of them with her, and bravely climbed into the first truck with the other children. The trucks drove to a forest near Piasnicy, a few miles away.

There, after the condemned finished digging shallow graves for themselves, the executioners shot and buried one and all. Later on, the Gestapo returned to the site, dug up these remains and burned them. At one gravesite, a piece of a black rosary was found such as those belonging to the Sisters of the Resurrection.

From these ashes Blessed Alice will rise again, young and ardent, a light in the forest. Sister Alice, according to her sister-companions, followed diligently the rule of her Community day by day. Then came that extraordinary moment when she was given the choice of betraying God and country. With no hesitation, she made the right choice.

During his major pastoral tour of Poland in June 1999, Pope John Paul II, at a special Mass celebrated at Warsaw on June 13, beatified Sister Alice Kotowska as one of the first of 108 Polish martyrs of the World War II period.

Jim Fritz


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