Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Yesterday as we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I decided to present a family who perished at the hands of The Nazis defending neighbors.

SERVANTS  of GOD JOZEF and WIKTORIA ULMA, a Polish husband and wife, living in Markowa near Rzeszów in south-eastern Poland during the Nazi German occupation in World War II, were the Righteous who attempted to rescue Polish Jewish families by hiding them in their own home during the Holocaust.

They and their children were executed on 24 March 1944 for doing so. Despite the murder of Ulmas, meant to strike fear into the hearts of villagers, their neighbors continued to hide Jewish fugitives until the end of World War II. At least 21 Polish Jews survived in Markowa during the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany.

At the beginning  of  the war, Józef Ulma (born in 1900) was a prominent citizen in the village of Markowa. He was a librarian and a photographer, active in social life and the local Catholic Youth Association. He was an educated fruit grower and a bee-keeper. His wife Wiktoria (born Wiktoria Niemczak in 1912), was an educated homemaker. The Ulmas had six children: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, age 7, Władysław, age 6, Franciszek, age 4, Antoni, age 3 and Maria, age 2. Another child was due to be born just days after the family's execution. 

Wiktoria was born in Markowa, the seventh child of Jan Niemczak and his wife Franciszka. At the age of six, Wiktoria lost her mother. She took courses at the folk high school in Gać.  In 1935, she married Józef Ulma, 12 years' her senior. Through hard work, persistence and determination, the Ulmas were able to purchase a bigger farm in Wojsławice near Sokal (now Ukraine), and had already begun planning to move when the war began.

In the summer and autumn of 1942, the Nazi police deported several Jewish families of Markowa to their deaths as part of the German Final solution to the Jewish question. Only those who were hidden in Polish homes survived. Eight Jews found shelter with the Ulmas: six members of the Szall (Szali) family from Łańcut including father, mother and four sons, as well as the two daughters of Chaim Goldman, Golda (Gienia) and Layka (Lea) Didner. Józef Ulma put all eight Jews in the attic. They learned to help him with supplementary jobs while in hiding, to ease the incurred expenses.

 The Ulmas were denounced by a Ukrainian Blue Police member, who had taken possession of the Szall (Szali) family's real estate in Łańcut in spring 1944 and wanted to get rid of its rightful owners. In the early morning hours of 24 March 1944 a patrol of German police from Łańcut under Lieutenant Eilert Dieken came to the Ulmas' house which was on the outskirts of the village. The Germans surrounded the house and caught all eight Jews belonging to the Szall and Goldman families

They shot them in the back of the head according to eyewitnesses, who were ordered to look at the executions. Then the German gendarmes killed the pregnant Wiktoria and her husband, so that the villagers would see what punishment awaited them for hiding Jews. The six children began to scream at the sight of their parents' bodies. After consulting with his superior, 23-year-old Jan Kokott, a Czech Volksdeutscher from Sudetenland serving with the German police, shot three or four of the Polish children while other Polish children were murdered by the remaining gendarmes. Within several minutes 17 people were killed. It is likely that during the mass execution Wiktoria went into labour, because the witness to her exhumation testified that he saw a head of a new-born baby between her legs. The villagers were then ordered to bury the victims.

When asked why the children were also killed, the German commander  answered in German, "So that you would not have any problems with them." On 11 January 1945, in defiance of the Nazi prohibition, relatives of the Ulmas exhumed the bodies to bury them in the cemetery, and found out that Wiktoria's seventh child was almost born in the grave pit of its parents.

On 13 September 1995, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were posthumously bestowed the titles of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. On 24 March 2004 a stone memorial to honor memory of the Ulma family was erected in Markowa. Their medals of honor were presented to Józef's surviving brother, Władysław Ulma. Their certificate informs that they tried to save Jews at the risk of their lives, but fails to mention that they died for them, as noted in the book Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny.

 On the 60th anniversary of their execution, a stone memorial was erected in the village of Markowa to honor the memory of the Ulma family. The inscription on the monument reads:
Saving the lives of others they laid down their own lives. Hiding eight elder brothers in faith, they were killed with them. May their sacrifice be a call for respect and love to every human being! They were the sons and daughters of this land; they will remain in our hearts.

A new museum in Markowa, opened in 2016,  is the first museum in Poland dedicated to all Poles who rescued Jews. Until now, there has been no place in Poland to present – in a broader context – the profiles of heroes who risked their lives to help their fellow Jewish citizens facing the holocaust.

The Museum inspired by the fates of the Ulmas shows the history of Polish heroes from the time of the German occupation in 1939-45.

Before World War II, Markowa – the largest village in Poland – was inhabited by nearly 4,500 people, including 30 Jewish families. The heroic attitude of the Ulmas has become a symbol of the sacrifice of all Poles who would save Jews during the war.

There were many more people like the Ulmas. Besides names well-known around the world, such as Irena Sendler and Jan Karski, there were thousands of nameless Polish heroes who would save Jews and have now become forgotten.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Recently friends visited Malta, which they thoroughly enjoyed. This led me to wonder if that small island had any saints.

 ST. GEORGE PRECA (1880-1962) is the first native saint of Malta and founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, a group of celibate laypeople devoted to prayer, studying church teaching and instructing the young. As a young priest, he had a vision of the Child Jesus that stimulated his efforts to promote sound doctrine and formation among Catholics. The author of numerous books and booklets, he was also a renowned preacher who drew crowds of faithful wherever he went.
In the 1950s he suggested use of five “mysteries of light” for praying the rosary, an innovation later adopted by Pope St. John Paul II for the universal church.
In Malta, he is affectionately known as "Dun Ġorġ" and is popularly referred to as the "Second Apostle of Malta", after St Paul, who brought the Christian faith to the shores of Malta when he was shipwrecked in 60 AD.

The miracle that contributed to his beatification was the scientifically unexplainable healing of Charles Zammit Endrich in 1964. Zammit Endrich had suffered from a detached retina of the left eye. The healing was declared as miraculous and was attributed to the intercession of Dun Gorg Preca after Zammit Endrich prayed to him and placed one of the priest's belongings under his pillow. The healing took place outside of a hospital, overseen by the personal doctor of Zammit Endrich, the ophthalmologist Censu Tabone, who was later to be appointed President of Malta.

Pope Benedict praised him as a consummate evangelizer, above all through the example of his own life. 
St. George’s liturgical feast is celebrated May 9.

Thursday, January 23, 2020


VENERABLE JERZY CIESIELSKI, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II,  was born in 1929 in Krakow. They were close for decades until the Venerable’s death in 1970.

The two first met while he was a student and the then Father Wojtyla invited him to join his youth groups out in the country alongside other students and this was how he met his future wife who would later recall: "Father Karol came with us on trips to concerts, to the theater and the cinema ... we talked during excursions, around the fire and at organized meetings which took place in our homes".

Ven. Jerzy was a civil engineer and worked as a professor at the Tadeusz Kościuszko University of Technology as well as at the University of Khartoum

Like his friend- the future pope- he loved the outdoors and was an avid sportsman, playing handball, enjoying canoeing, rowing and camping. He played in a basketball team, representing Poland in international competitions. He was a skiing instructor and organized kayaking races in various parts of the country.

Skiing with the future Pope
In 1957 he married Danuta Plebańczyk officiated by Bishop Wojtyla. The couple had three children.

With his wife & Bishop
In 1968 he first came into contact with the Focolare Movement and became quite impressed with their mode of evangelical life that he and Doctor Giuseppe Santacnhé (part of the Italian branch) went to Cardinal Wojtyla for his blessings and also in the hopes of allowing for a Polish-based branch. He joined Focolare in the summer of 1969 after a week-long vacation he spent in Zakopane.

Ven. Jerzy died  with two of his children, his son and a daughter, on the Nile River in the Sudan where he had been teaching.The oldest daughter, Marysia and another young Polish woman were lucky to be saved, as they were on the upper deck, whereas Jerzy had gone down to the cabin to put his children to sleep. Marysia luckily jumped into water and swam to the shore. Kasia, Piotruś and their father, who was such a good swimmer, drowned.  Danuta had stayed back at their hotel. Cardinal Wojtyła returned from Rome when he heard what had happened and presided at the funerals. 

Danuta, in her book ‘Record of a Road’ mentions that when she was returning through Rome with Marysia and with ashes of her husband and children, Karol Wojtyła went to the airport to pick them up, although there were debates of the Bishops’ Synod. Many years later, in 1993 when he arrived in Sudan as pope, he mentioned his deceased friend to gathered crowds in Chartum.

The archbishop supported the Ciesielski family spiritually after Jerzy died. Danuta appreciated it in the beautiful words: “How much we owed to the Uncle (the family name for their great friend) – it is impossible to express it in words. We survived the next years really thanks to his prayer and presence”.

In the book entitled “Going Beyond the Threshold of Peace”, Pope St. John Paul II described Jerzy as a young man who decisively hoped for sanctity.  “This was the program of his life. He knew that he was “created for great things”, but, at the same time, he did not have any doubts that his vocation was not the priesthood or the religious life

Ven Jerzy lived with the maxim: ‘Each of us received a road to take, which is just our vocation. The sense of my existence depends on my faithfulness to this vocation: Your glory and our merit for the eternal happiness. Lord, help me understand my vocation every day and give me Your grace so that I would be faithful to it…’

Sunday, January 19, 2020


The formal process to begin investigations concerning the possible canonization of the late DR. GERTRUDE BARBER as a saint in the Catholic Church is under way. Gertrude Barber, founder of the Barber National Institute, was a renowned Erie educator and woman of faith who dedicated her life to serving children and adults with intellectual disabilities/autism and their families.

With the opening of her cause, Dr. Barber becomes the first layperson on the list of other Pennsylvanians whose causes for canonization are currently underway. They include Sister Teresa of Jesus Lindenberg, a Carmelite sister from Allentown; our friend, Father Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest from Allentown; Father Demetrius Gallitzin, a diocesan priest from Altoona-Johnstown; and Father William Atkinson, an Augustian priest from Philadelphia.

The only Pennsylvania native to date to earn the designation of saint within the Catholic Church is St Katharine Drexel, a sister who founded schools for Native American and African American children, who was canonized in 2000. A Philadelphia native, St. Katharine Drexel died in 1955. Additionally, Saint John Neumann, born in what is now the Czech Republic, served as bishop of Philadelphia and was canonized in 1977. Other Pennsylvania natives whose causes are opened in other states include Sister Cornelia Connelly, founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and a native of Philadelphia, and Fr. John Anthony Hardon, a Jesuit priest born in Midland in Beaver County.

Dr. Barber was born in Erie in 1911, the seventh of ten children. When she was seven years old, her father died during the influenza epidemic.
Gertrude is on right
Friends and family encouraged her mother, Kate,  to place her many children in an orphanage. But she was determined to keep them all at home giving them a good education, and instilling  in them the value of serving others which she had shared with her husband. All nine of the surviving Barber children graduated high school, and five earned college degrees.
Gertrude earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Penn State University, where she continued her education and earned a master’s in psychology and doctorate in educational administration. She finished post-doctoral work at Syracuse University, the University of Buffalo, and Adelphi University.
At one time Gertrude expressed a desire to be a missionary in a foreign country, but was encouraged by a superintendent to be a missionary in her home town by becoming an advocate for children with learning and physical disabilities.
In 1933, she became a special education teacher for Erie’s school district. Ten years later, she took the position of home and school visitor for the district, and in 1945 she became the district’s coordinator of special education programs.  As a home and school visitor, part of her job was telling  parents of children with disabilities that their child could not enroll in their local school, and must either be educated at home or sent to faraway institutions.
The experience solidified her convictions to help children with disabilities in a way that kept their families as involved as possible in their lives and education.
In 1952, with a small group of parents, teachers, and volunteers, she opened a classroom for children with disabilities at a local YMCA, and continued to advocate for a more permanent space for her programs. As previously mentioned, this first classroom was the foundation of what is now the Barber National Institute.
In 1958, a former hospital used to treat polio patients was given to Dr. Barber by the City of Erie as a space for both a school for children and a program for adults with disabilities, and her programs quickly expanded. In 1962, she was appointed to President John Kennedy's White House Task Force on the Education and Rehabilitation of the Mentally Retarded, where she helped bring national awareness to the needs of children and adults with disabilities.
As the years went on, the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center sprouted satellite locations throughout the region. Legislation protecting the rights of children and adults with disabilities passed, and the Center became a hub for implementing new and improved methods of education and training for the disabled.
In the 1970s, Dr. Barber established local group homes for adults who had been institutionalized for their disabilities as children, the beginning of now more than 50 group homes for adults with disabilities operating in Erie County today. In the 1990s, Barber worked to turn the center into a national institute for the best research, education, training and care available for people with disabilities.
Dr. Barber died suddenly while on a trip to Florida in 2003 at the age of 87. She is remembered for her selfless, compassionate, personal, and groundbreaking care for children and adults with disabilities.

“Dr. Barber served as a model for all of us to become more giving and to see God in one another,” John Barber, nephew of Dr. Barber and president of the Barber National Institute, said at the announcement of the opening of his aunt’s cause for canonization.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


In  November of 2019, Jesuits were able to add another saint to their roster.  BLESSED VICTOR EMILIO MOSCOSO CARDENAS was born in 1846 in Cuenca, Ecuador,one of 14 children.

He studied law in college but felt drawn to the religious life, so abandoned his studies in order to join the Jesuits in 1864. He began his novitiate in Cuenca where the Jesuits had settled since the order was forced to leave Quito due to the anti-religious sentiment and persecution at the time. Father Moscoso studied in the San Luis college where he did his philosophical studies which he did well in.

Father Moscoso first began his duties as a priest and as a teacher in Riobamba  and would go on to teach both rhetoric and grammar. He was a noted philosopher and taught rhetoric and grammar to his students while serving as a professor. He also served as the college's rector from 1893 until his assassination. He later began teaching from 1892 at the San Felipe Neri college in Riobamba and from 1893 until his death served as its rector

He served as a teacher in the COPEM college in Riobamba since 1892 and it was there that he was slain during the Liberal Revolution which had started in 1895.

In 1895 the Liberal Revolution broke out in Ecuador which triggered a series of persecutions and a wave of anti-religious sentiment against religious and priests. His own assassination occurred in this context during an assault of liberal troopers in the Riobamba Jesuit house located near the college where he taught.

The soldiers, who were authorized to take priests as prisoners, broke down the door at 4:30am on 4 May 1897 and barged in and killed several people before coming across and breaking open the tabernacle. The men proceeded to throw the hosts to the ground and drank the wine mocking the sacraments before finding Father in a room kneeling before a Crucifix. They proceeded to kill him at point-blank range. He was shot twice.

The killers tried to transform the scene so that it appeared that the priest was armed and had been shot in combat; a rifle was placed near his corpse. His fellow Jesuits were unaware of the attack which lasted until 8:00am due to being in a separate area and therefore did not hear what was happening until much later. Blood was found running down his temples and over a purple scarf that he was wearing at the time.

Known for a  kind and generous personality, even one of his uncles said about him: “among all his brothers, he was distinguished by docility, moderation and delicacy of his character,” The Postulator to the Cause, Fr. Jose Benetiz, also commented on his character as being “serene, simple, kind, humble; he gave the impression of being shy; attentive and helpful; he always manifested true faithfulness to his obligations.”  These qualities then were his trademark throughout his life and would be evident in the difficult and tragic moments of his last days and antecedents to his martyrdom.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


I know we have written about this before, and perhaps anyone who reads these Blogs is on board, and if so it is “preaching to the choir”.  But more and more evidence  shows the psychological harm  being done to children and teens who live  on their cell phones. Early in the year Pope Francis said  we all  should  “unplug and socialize during dinner time”.

The Holy Father encouraged a return to “communicating in our families” during meals rather than being glued to cellphones.  “I ask myself if you, in your family, know how to communicate or are you like those kids at meal tables where everyone is chatting on their mobile phone.”

To my way of thinking it is down right rude!  How easy it is to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of conversation.   I can’t imagine trying to talk to a good friend or someone in a business transaction and have them chatting away to some unseen body.

And this constant texting?  More and more specialists will be needed for the present generation to treat  fingers and hands which are being used beyond what they were created for.

Pope Francis pointed to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  "They obviously didn’t spend their time browsing Twitter and Facebook, checking their Gmail  or texting."

Without smartphone distractions, the Pope said they “prayed, worked and communicated with each other.”

Monday, January 6, 2020


The Magi

Andre Pierre was born around 1916 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His first paintings were done inside the hollowed gourds (calabash) used for ceremonial offerings.  He later began painting on board and canvas.  Andre Pierre is considered one of Haiti's greatest painters. 

André Pierre spent his childhood on the streets and raising himself. He was a very hardworking man. He practiced different kinds of crafts like stonebreaker, midwife and “chef de section” (literally, in English, chief of section). He was 46 when he started his painting career.

Someone said he was one of three great artists of 20th century , along with Dali and Picasso.

He died at the age of 91, and despite of the fact that he was diabetic, blind and physically weak, he kept his verve and his good mood. In colorful majesty he captured the three Kings!


Gabriela Desvaldi- Italian  21 C.

This morning after the homily Mother Prioress sang Announcement of Easter and the Movable Feasts.

The proclamation of the date of Easter and the other movable feasts on Epiphany dates from a time when calendars were not readily available. It was necessary to make known the date of Easter in advance, since many celebrations of the liturgical year depend on its date. The number of Sundays that follow Epiphany, the date of Ash Wednesday, and the number of Sundays that follow Pentecost are all computed in relation to Easter.

Although calendars now give the date of Easter and the other feasts in the liturgical year for many years in advance, the Epiphany proclamation still has value. It is a reminder of the centrality of the resurrection of the Lord in the liturgical year and the importance of the great mysteries of faith which are celebrated each year.

Each year the proper dates for Ash Wednesday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and the First Sunday of Advent must be inserted into the text.

Know, dear brethren
that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so by leave of God's mercy
we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection,
who is our Savior.

On the twenty-sixth day of February will fall Ash Wednesday,
and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season.
On the twelfth day of April you will celebrate with joy Easter Day,
the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[In those places where the Ascension is observed on Thursday:
On the twenty-first day of May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the twenty-fourth day of May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the thirty-first day of May, the feast of Pentecost.
On the fourteenth day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

On the twenty-ninth day of November, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever.