The Heroic Polish Nun: Sister Cecylia Roszak

She spent a century serving others.

Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak, the world’s oldest nun, died last week at age 110. Throughout her long life, Sister Cecylia’s mission was to be of service to others. During World War II, she risked her life by hiding Jews from the Nazis.

Maria Roszak was born in Kielczewo, a small town in western Poland, in 1908. At age 21, Maria joined a Dominican convent and took the name Sister Cecylia.

In 1938 Cecylia traveled to Vilna in Lithuania with eight other nuns to set up a new convent. After the Germans occupied Lithuania in 1941 they herded all the Jews of Vilna into a squalid ghetto. Cecylia and the other Polish nuns took in seventeen Jews who were trying to organize an armed resistance inside the ghetto. The mother superior, Anna Borkowska, smuggled in hand grenades for the Jewish fighters. Unfortunately the uprising failed, but the nuns’ brave actions saved Jewish lives.

Among them was famous poet Abba Kovner, who later testified at the trail of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Kovner wrote a poem about the Polish nuns called “My Little Sister” – “Nine little sisters in a gold frame, shining with inner light.”

After the war, Cecylia returned to Krakow, where she worked as a church organist for 80 years and eventually became mother superior. In 1984, Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem honored Sister Cecylia and the other Polish nuns as Righteous Among the Nations.

For her moral courage and ninety years of service, we honor Sister Cecylia Roszak as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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