Saint of the Day – 20 February – Blessed Stanislawa/Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr – Dominican Sister, known as the “Mother of Orphans” and the “Apostle of the Rosary”, Apostle of Charity, Teacher, Catechist, also known as Sister Maria Julia, Mother Maria Julia, prisoner P40992.
Blessed Sister Julia Stanisława was born on 16 March 1899 in Nawojowa, a town near Nowy Sącz. She was baptised and given the names, Stanisława Marta Józefa. Her father was an organist. He also worked in a savings bank and in the District Office. There were four other children in the family. When Stanisława was 8 years old, her mother died and two years later, her father. After her parents’ death, the Dominican Sisters from a nearby convent run by Sr Stanisława Lenart took care of her. There, she finished school and then she started her studies in the Teachers’ College which she was unable to complete because she began her religious formation in Wielowieś. On 3 August 1917 she assumed the habit together with a new name – Maria Julia. On 4 September 1918 she continued her studies in the Holy Family Teachers’ College in Kraków, from which she graduated in May 1919.
After having completed her studies, Sister Julia Rodzińska began to work as a teacher, mainly among orphaned children. She made her monastic vows on 5 August 1924. She then continued her education and in 1925-1926 she completed an Advanced Teachers’ Course and at the age of 27 she was named the director of the State Primary School of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius. Sr Julia was not strong physically, suffering from a very serious stomach disorder, which meant she had to undergo a difficult operation in 1937.
After the Soviet army occupied Vilnius, the situation of the Dominican Sisters was put into jeopardy. In September 1940, the sisters who worked as teachers were dismissed from work. At first, they tried to work as technical personnel but finally in 1941 the Home for Orphans was removed from their authority and placed under that of Lithuanian authorities and Sister Julia left the Home forever. The schooling work done by the Dominican Sisters since 1922 was terminated.
The Dominicans did not leave Vilnius. Together with Sister Julia, they stayed on Parkowa Street and in the convent of the Nuns of Visitation on Rossa Street. In these conditions, Sister Julia continued to teach in secret, also during the German occupation, until she was arrested in 1943.
On 12 July 1943, Sister Julia was arrested by the Gestapo on a charge of political activity and collaboration with the Polish partisans. She was imprisoned in Vilnius and for almost a year she was kept in an isolation cell. Then she was transported to the disciplinary camp but soon, she was evacuated together with other prisoners to Stutthof concentration camp. She arrived there on 9 July 1944 and was given number 40992. Together with a group of women from the Vilnius intelligence, she was assigned to block no 27 in the “Jewish Camp”. The conditions were indescribable. Filth, vermin, overcrowding in the barracks (three or four women slept on one bed on a three-storey bunk bed), low-calorie food rations given out in extreme conditions, unbearable physical work, limited access to water, lack of hygienic products, necessity to satisfy one’s bodily needs in public – these are only some of the elements of the indirect extermination used in the camp. An additional torment, was the inhumane treatment carried out by the prisoners who were assigned as ‘wardens’ – mainly German criminals and SS men.
In these conditions sister Julia did not lose her hope for survival. She shared her hope and spiritual strength with other prisoners. In the camp it had a special meaning because the inhumane treatment distorted the prisoners’ minds and changed the moral norms of many of them. In the barrack, where mostly Jews lived, Sister Julia organised and led the prayers. She also constantly reminded the prisoners about the religious values. Religious observances were strictly prohibited and punished in the camp. Therefore this was one of the forms of moral resistance of the prisoners to what was happening in the camp. Sister Julia was never guided by nationality or religion in her way of helping others. She was kind to all the needful. She was known as the one who consoled and encouraged all the adrift and miserable. She knew that one prisoners, whose wife was living in the “Jewish Camp”, was about to commit suicide. She sent him notes until he assured her that he wouldn’t take his life. According to the testimony of this prisoner, he survived the camp thanks to Sister Julia, who awaken his hope for survival and overcame the fear of the life in the camp.
In November 1944 a typhus epidemic devastated the camp. The illness spread mainly among the prisoners in the Jewish part of the camp. The authorities of KL Stutthof isolated the “Jewish Camp” from the rest of the compound and left the women without any help. Risking her own life, Sister Julia Rodzińska undertook the task of helping the Jews from block XXX, who were dying alone. When the majority avoided this “death block” fearing the infection, Sister Julia took a decision that meant the acceptance of death among those who she helped. She organised water to drink, dressings and medicines that where available in the camp. She served the needful even when she got infected with typhus and was suffering from serious illness.
The Dominican Sister, Julia Rodzińska, died on 20 February 1945 in block no 27. Her body was burnt on a pyre. An amazing testimony about the heroic conduct and the martyr’s death of Sr Julia has been written and declared by Eva Hoff, a prisoner of KL Stutthof, a German Jewess, who survived the marine evacuation and after the war settled in Sweden. There, she gave an oral and written account of the life and the circumstances of the death of Sr Julia in KL Stutthof. The account has been confirmed by other prisoners of KL Stutthof and Father Franciszek Grucza who heard Sr Julia’s confessions and gave her Communion.
On the 13 June 1999, during his pilgrimage to Poland, the Holy Father John Paul II beatified 108 martyrs of World War II. Sister Julia Rodzińska, the Dominican nun, was among them.
On 12 June 2006 the Primary School in Nawojowa has been named after blessed Sister Julia Rodzińska.