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On the night of July 17th to 18th, 1943, Gestapo arrested 120 individuals, mostly fathers of families from Nowogródek, to execute them. In the face of this horrific situation, eleven Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth from the Church of the Transfiguration decided to make a heroic sacrifice and offer their lives to save the arrested locals.
The Polish Roman Catholic religious congregation, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, led by Sister Maria Stella, volunteered to surrender themselves to the Gestapo in the summer of 1943. Their goal was to give up their lives to save the 120 local residents who had been arrested by the Nazis. Although the arrested individuals were not killed, they were deported to Germany for forced labor. Meanwhile, the nuns met a tragic fate – they were executed by firing squad in a forest near Nowogródek on August 1st, 1943.
Known as the Martyrs of Nowogródek, the Blessed Martyrs of Nowogródek, or Blessed Mary Stella and her Ten Companions, these eleven nuns were declared blessed by Pope John Paul II on March 5th, 2000, in recognition of their martyrdom.
Without warning or provocation, on July 31st, 1943, the local Gestapo commander summoned the Sisters to report to the local police station, where they were held overnight. The next morning, August 1st, 1943, they were loaded into a van and driven beyond the town limits. In a secluded spot in the woods, approximately 3 miles from the town, the eleven women were machine-gunned to death and buried in a mass grave.
Before going to the police station, Sister Stella had asked one member of the community, Sister M. Malgorzata Banas, who worked as a nurse at the local public hospital, to stay behind at the convent, no matter what happened, to take care of the church and their pastor. She was the most suitable candidate as she wore civilian clothing due to her job. It took days for her and the townspeople to learn of the Sisters’ fate. Eventually, Sister Banas located their grave and quietly tended to it and the parish church during the war years and the post-war Soviet occupation until her death in 1966.
The Church of the Transfiguration, known as Biała Fara or White Church, now houses the remains of the eleven Sisters. It has become a place of pilgrimage and prayer for those who honor the memory of these heroines who sacrificed their lives for others.
The story of the Martyrs of Nowogródek is a testament to the unwavering faith, courage, and selflessness of these women. Their sacrifice symbolizes true love and dedication to fellow human beings. Their beatification is a tribute to all who give their lives for the well-being of others.