Ordinary Time: September 4th
Friday of the Twenty-Second Week of Ordinary Time; Bl Dina Bélanger; Bl. Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions, virgins & martyrs (Poland)
Other Commemorations: Saint Rosalia, virgin (Hist); St. Rose of Viterbo, virgin (Hist)
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Today is the feast of the Canadian mystic Bl. Dina Bélanger who was beatified by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II on March 20, 1993.
Today is also the feast day of Bl. Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions (Martyrs of Nowogrodek), a group of Holy Family of Nazareth sisters. This feast is an Obligatory Memorial in Poland except in provinces or convents of CSFN, for whom this is a Patronal Feast. it is celebrated as a Feast. In the winter of 1943 the Germans made repeated roundups of Poles, including several of priests. When the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth learned that the Germans planned to execute dozens of Poles they offered themselves as sacrifices, saying "My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us and spare those who have families. We are even praying for this intention." The Germans decided then to enslave the Polish prisoners but still kill the nuns. They drove the nuns to an isolated spot in the woods and then murdered eleven, burying the bodies in a shallow grave. Sr. Stella and her 10 companions were beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 5, 2000.
According to the Roman Martyrology today is the feast of Saint Rosalia, who born in 1130 at Palermo in Sicily, and was the daughter of a noble family descended from Charlemagne. While still very young she despised worldly vanities. When her remarkable beauty caused her to be sought in marriage by several lords of Sicily, the Blessed Virgin appeared to her and advised her to leave the world. She obeyed, taking with her only a crucifix and her instruments of penance; and guided by Angels, she made her first dwelling in a nearby grotto, which the snows of winter concealed. Then, when she began to be the object of searches instigated all over Sicily by her desolate family, she was advised by Angels to move to a low cave on Mount Pellegrino, three miles from Palermo. There, during sixteen years’ time, she completed the sacrifice of her heart to God by austere penance and manual labor, sanctified by assiduous prayer and the constant union of her soul with God. She died in 1160. — Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints
Historically it is also the feast of St. Rose of Viterbo, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis.
St. Rosalia is the patroness of Palermo, and the citizens of that place annually celebrate two feasts in her honour. One of these was raised to the rank of a holy day of obligation by Pius XI in 1927. It is celebrated by a procession of unequalled magnificence, heralded by cannon fire. The saint's shrine, atop a gigantic carriage filled with musicians, is drawn through the town by forty mules, accompanied by prayers, hymns, and acclamations. The top of the carriage is level with the roofs of the houses; fireworks are set off everywhere; the musicians blow ceaselessly on their trumpets; and for the five days during which this celebration lasts, enthusiasm mounts to an increasingly high pitch.
The saint of Palermo thus honoured, seems to have delivered her country from the plague in 1625 and, since then, to have brought about innumerable cures. Her legend states that she was born around 1130 at the court of Roger II, king of Sicily, of a father called Sinibald, who was descended from Charlemagne. As her beauty constituted a danger to her soul, the Virgin appeared to her to urge her to leave the world. Rosalia was just fourteen. She took her crucifix, her discipline, and a few books and left her father's castle by night. Two angels, one armed like a knight, the other disguised as a pilgrim, were waiting to escort her to the summit of Mount Quisquita. There they left her at the entrance of a grotto hidden among the trees, buried under the snow. The young girl remained hidden there several months, after which the angels came to warn her that she was sought by her parents and had better flee elsewhere. They led her to the top of Mount Pellegrino. There, it is said, Rosalia, devoting herself to penances and miraculously nourished by the Host, passed the last sixteen years of her life. She died at the age of thirty; her body, long sought in vain, was found in the 17th century encased in a sheath of rock crystal; and it is the recovery of this relic which is commemorated by the procession mentioned above.
— Excerpted from Lives of the Saints, Omer Englebert
Patron: Isola delle Femine; Palermo; Sicily.
Symbols: A young girl with a wreath of roses; receiving the wreath from the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child as angels bring roses and with a skull near her; with a distaff, book, and palm; holding a double Greek cross, distaff and book or palm; or writing her name on the wall of the cave.
Things to Do:
- Visit this website to read more about the Feast of St. Rosalia.
St. Rose of Viterbo
Saint Rose was born in the spring of 1235 at Viterbo, capital of the patrimony of Saint Peter. In those days the emperor Frederick II was oppressing the Church, and many were faithless to the Holy See. But this infant at once seemed filled with grace; she never cried; with tottering steps she sought Jesus in His tabernacle; she knelt before sacred images and listened to sermons and pious conversation, retaining all she heard, and this when she was scarcely three years old. One coarse habit covered her flesh; fasts and disciplines were her delight.
At the age of seven she wished to enter a monastery of nuns; but God had other designs for her, and she resolved to create a solitude in her father’s house, where she would forever spend all her days. Her mortifications there seem incredible to our time of laxity; she gave herself the discipline three times a day until she fainted from fatigue and loss of blood, and she scarcely ate at all. To those who urged her to mitigate her austerities, she explained so perfectly that happiness consists in suffering for God, that no one could doubt this was so for her.
Nonetheless she fell ill and nearly died of consumption. She was close to the final agony when suddenly she beheld the Mother of God, and said to those attending her: “All of you here, why do you not greet the Queen of the world? Do you not see Mary, the August Mother of my God, coming forward? Let us go to meet Her, and prostrate ourselves before Her majesty!” Everyone turned toward the door and knelt down, and the Mother of God spoke to Rose, telling her she must enter the Third Order of Saint Francis, then go out to “reprove, convince, exhort and bring back the erring to the paths of salvation. If your endeavors bring upon you sarcasm and mockery, persecution and labor, you must bear them patiently... Those who assist you will be enriched with all the graces of the Lord.”
To defend the Church’s rights was already Rose’s burning wish. When hardly ten years old, she arose after her reception into the Franciscan habit, went down to the public square at Viterbo, called upon the inhabitants to be faithful to the Sovereign Pontiff, and vehemently denounced all his opponents. She returned to her house only to redouble her flagellations and macerations; she saw her Saviour on the Cross and nothing could arrest her ardor thereafter. So great was the power of her word and of the miracles which accompanied it, that at the end of several months the Imperial party, after threatening her in vain to stop her preaching, in fear and anger drove her from the city.
Saint Rose and her parents moved to Soriano, a fortified city, where she continued to do as she had been told by the Mother of God. Then Rose went on by herself to Vitorchiano, where she had understood there was need for her, and continued to win souls by her aspect as much as by her words. She went barefoot and wore a poor tunic at all times, until after some eighteen months, when the emperor had died, she and her parents returned to Viterbo. Innocent IV was brought back in triumph to Rome and the cause of God was won.
A number of young girls came to her for instruction at Viterbo, and she taught them the principles of modest prudence and faithful love of God. Rose fell ill again and recognized that her end was approaching; she prepared, rejoicing, in solitude for her glorious destiny, and died in her eighteenth year. Not long afterward, she appeared in glory to Alexander IV, and bade him to translate her intact body. He found it fragrant and beautiful, as if still in life. For more than 700 years it has remained supple and unchanged, save for its color, darkened after a fire in the chapel where it reposed.
Excerpted from Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 10; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894)
Things to Do:
Bl. Dina Bélanger
Dina Belanger was born in Quebec City on April 30, 1897. She was the only daughter of Seraphia Matter and Olivier Belanger. She attended elementary and secondary school with the sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame at their convent in Saint Roch and then at Jacques Cartier School. At the age of 14, she asked whether she could be a boarder at Bellevue Convent, where she wanted to complete her studies. She made the following prayer: “O my God, grant that, during my stay here, I may not offend you by even the least serious sin.” Also at 14, she consecrated her virginity to God.
When she finished school, she returned to live with her parents and studied piano. She developed a personal rule of life that was based on prayer, mass, communion, the rosary, and meditation, and kept it all a secret. She helped her mother with the parish’s outreach to the poor and the sick. She was active in the Work of the Tabernacles (its members made altar cloths and liturgical vestments for poor parishes and for the missions). She became an active member of the Apostleship of Prayer and joined the Third Order of St. Dominic. In 1916, she was admitted to the New York Conservatory, where, for two years she studied advanced piano and harmony. When she returned to Quebec, she gave concerts and continued to study of harmony by distance education.
When she was 24, she entered the novitiate of the Religious of Jesus and Mary in Sillery. She took the habit the next year under the name of Marie Sainte-Cecile de Rome, and made renewable vows on August 15, 1923. That September, she was appointed as music teacher at the Convent of Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, across from the Island of Orleans. Her stay there was interrupted by bouts of illness.
From the age of 11, Dina had deep prayer experiences and an intimate relationship with the Lord. Her superior in the community asked her to keep a journal of her spiritual experiences, which she began to do in 1924. She pronounced perpetual vows on August 15, 1928. The following April, she had to go the infirmary. She died on September 4, 1929, at age 32, the victim of pulmonary tuberculosis which had first been diagnosed in the spring of 1926.
Dina Belanger was beatified by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II on March 20, 1993, at the same time as Saint Claudine Thevenet, the founder in France of the religious congregation to which Dina belonged.
Dina was sensitive and had a delicate conscience that at times was troubled with scruples. As a child, she learned how to lift herself to God in prayer, in the silence and beauty of nature. She made first communion when she was 10 and from that time she sought recollection, meditation, and intimacy with Jesus. She expressed it thus: “Only God! Like the deer that pants for running streams, so my soul sighs for you, O my God! My God, I am suffering because I am not suffering. I am dying, because I am not dying.”
She received abundant grace, and prayed ever more fervently and performed acts of love as Jesus communicated himself to her by voices and visions. She thirsted for silence, and had to force herself to socialize with other teenagers. “I was a person of extremes,” she would later write in an autobiography, “and once I started on something good, I would decide to take it as far as I could.” But her independent nature meant that she struggled with her “selfish desire for isolation and peace”.
As a student, Dina loved every subject. She was passionate about art and the beautiful and her aim was always perfection: “I wanted to find the God-given talents within me,” she wrote, but her ideals were so high that she never felt she deserved the praise she received. She was naturally oriented to meditation, and did not believe that she would find spiritual nourishment in books: “Jesus himself gave this to me. He presented the book from which shone forth to my eyes, in large letters, the secret of happiness and the knowledge of love.” The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux helped her learn how to abandon herself to God.
At the beginning of the Great War, “afflicted with the moral evil” that threatened the world, she offered herself to the Lord in a spirit of reparation and love, “in order to console him a little and to save souls.” She had moments of inner turmoil and had to struggle against her “sharp and sometimes angry nature” so that her desire to excuse herself would not triumph. As a novice, she offered herself as a victim, martyr and apostle in union with Mary following the example of Father (now Saint) Louis de Montfort.
Her spiritual life deepened as she discovered the depths of the Trinity: “For God to be able to pour his grace in profusion into the soul of a person, he has to find Jesus living in them. … To become an abyss able to be filled with the Infinite, one must be open to the annihilation of one’s being on the level of the spirit.” She was given a deep understanding of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus revealed to her that “you will not possess me any more fully in heaven, because I have completely absorbed you.”
Dina was open to apostolic and missionary life and had a strong desire to help others, especially priests and religious, deepen their relationship with Jesus. “In all my actions, my words, my thoughts, and my desires I find myself to be passive, as if under the influence of the Supreme Being, as if the Spirit of Love had his soft yet strong guiding hand on me. My freedom is total, and in that state there is no conflict. His grace is simply so strong that I cannot resist.” Her sole occupation became one of continually directing her attention to God. “Have confidence in my mercy. It is because you are weak and unhappy that I have chosen you,” Jesus said to her, as she recounts in her autobiography. Her union with him was so profound that she could write, “Jesus Christ lives in place of me on earth. He has substituted himself for me, and now I am nothing.” Thus she was one with the apostle Paul who wrote, “It is not I who live, but the Christ who lives in me.”
--Excerpted from Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Things to Do:
- Read more about Blessed Dina at Mystics of the Church, Visions of Jesus Christ and Michael Journal.
- Read her autobiography.
Bl. Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions
Blessed Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions (the Marytrs of Nowogrodek) were nuns of the Holy Family of Nazareth who arrived in Nowogrodek in September 1929. Nowogrodek was a small town in the eastern lands of the Republic of Poland (now Belarus). Its population was very diversified because it included Poles, Jews, Muslims, Belarusians and Russians and others.
From the beginning, the nuns tried to discern the needs of the community. The nuns planned to run a school for girls – one of their first students was a Muslim girl. The nuns were not only examples of deep faith, hope and love for the locals, but at same time they were hard workers.
Their help and overall assistance to Nowogrodek’s community gradually gained them the respect of the locals. But in September 1939, the Germans attacked Poland from the West. Soviet Russia did the same from the East, which marked the beginning of the Second World War. During the Soviet occupation, the nuns could not run the school, but instead became much closer to local people.
They were expelled from their house; forbidden to wear their uniforms. They saw thousands of innocent people arrested and transported to the steppes of Kazakhstan and to Siberia. A few years later, the Russians withdrew and then came the German occupation.
The Germans started their terror by gathering dozens of local Jewish people in the market square and killing them, while their orchestra played a waltz. Daily, the Fara Church was filled with believers, but the executions continued nonetheless. In July 1942, a mass execution took place in the forest near Nowogrodek, 60 people, including two priests—Fr. Jozef Kuczynski and Fr. Michal Dalecki—were shot.
The citizens of Nowogrodek, tormented by the regime, looked for comfort in the church where Fr. Aleksander Zienkiewicz, the only priest in the area, celebrated daily mass.
Meanwhile, the Gestapo was still arresting and killing people. The next year, on the night of July 17 and 18, 120 people were arrested and to be executed. Sister Superior Maria Stella was meeting with Fr. Zienkiewicz and said: "My God, if sacrifice of life is needed let them kill us and not those who have families. We are even praying for that."
And suddenly, for an unknown reason, the execution of 120 people was stopped. Those who were supposed to be killed were transported to compulsory work in Germany. Some were even released. All those who were transported survived the war! However, the Gestapo did not forget about murdering. On July 31, 1943, Sister Maria Stella and her nuns were ordered to report to the Gestapo headquarters at 7:30 p.m. After the rosary, 11 nuns of the Family of Nazareth went into the building.
The sisters’ names were: Stella, Imelda, Rajmunda, Daniela, Kanuta, Sergia, Gwidona, Felicyta, Heliodora, Kanizja and Boromea. But there was one more nun. The 12th, Malgorzata, was wearing civilian clothes because she was helping out every day in the hospital and the Mother Superior had told her to stay at home. That evening the nuns thought that the worst thing that could happen to them was transportation to Germany for slave work.
Then things happened very quickly. The nuns did not hear any accusations, there was no investigation. On Sunday, Aug. 1, 1943, at dawn, the nuns were transported and executed in a birch-pine tree wooded area, not far from the town. Love was killed by hate.
In 1945, the Second World War ended. Fr. Zienkiewicz, Sister Malgorzata and all those 120 for whom 11 nuns had sacrificed their lives, survived the war.
"No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends,” said the late John Paul II on the day of nuns beatification in March 2000, which reflects these women’s greatest deeds.
Excerpted from Arleta Sziler, Polish Club Online
Things to Do:
- Read more about the Martyrs of Nowogrodek at Catholicism Pure & Simple, The Eleven Nuns of Nowogrodek and at The Defender
- Watch a short YouTube video from Bob & Penny Lord
- Prayer through the intercession of Nowogrodek Martyrs
- Mass Proper for the Feast of Blessed Stella and Her Ten Companions
- Read about the history of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Belarus
- Interesting page about Polish History in Newark and America, contains a section on the Martyrs of Nowogrodek