There is true martyrdom in the trials of everyday life

On March 19, 1945, Sister Maria Malgorzata Banas oversaw an emotional event in the small Polish town of Nowogrodek. Two years earlier, the Nazis had arrested her eleven Sisters, machine-gunned them, and tossed the bodies into a mass grave. Now, the war over, it was finally safe to honor their remains with burial in the parish cemetery.

The Sisters arrived in Nowogrodek in 1939 and gradually won the hearts of the townspeople, suffering with them through, first, the Soviet occupation and then, the German take-over. In the spring of 1943, the Gestapo rounded up 120 citizens without explanation; when their families begged the Sisters’ prayers, the Sisters decided to offer their lives to God in exchange.

On July 31, without warning, the Gestapo summoned the Sisters to the police station; on the way, they met their twelfth, Sister Malgorzata, returning from her work at the hospital. The superior sent her home to take care of the convent and church and protect the priest in whatever way she could.

What happened in the following years can speak poignantly to our Lenten journeys. Her Sisters won the martyr’s crown early that next morning, but Sister Malgorzata was left behind. Lent often begins with a sense of heroic energy, but it soon settles down into a long haul — and that is precisely where Sister Malgorzata found her own crown.

Persevering through the gray oppressiveness of communism, through long periods in which the parish priest was hiding for his life, Sister came to see her mission to be exactly what her superior had described: to care for the church and its people. For twenty years, she went quietly and kindly about her duties, preparing children for the sacraments, maintaining the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and sustaining the people’s faith. They referred to her affectionately as the “Guardian of the Tabernacle.” They often heard her say, “Spiritual martyrdom is a slow death: that is what I desire.”

When one reflects that Jesus spent thirty quiet years living an ordinary life in Nazareth, what confidence we must have in the sanctifying power of the ordinary tasks of daily life. There is a true martyrdom in embracing the reality that has been given us, the routine of duties at work and home, the small annoyances and small joys, our own weaknesses and strengths. God is right there with us in the minutest of disappointments or the seeming emptiness of a particular day. If we are realizing that our Lenten goals are unmanageable, He wants to help us modify them. If we have failed, He wants us to renew our efforts, with hope in His strength and confidence in the pleasure we give Him by trying.

Sister Malgorzata died in 1966; in 2021, the Pope declared her Venerable. May she intercede for us, as we take up our Cross to follow Him anew each day, each hour, each moment.

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.


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