World’s oldest nun, praised for saving Jews, dies at 110

Sr. Cecylia Maria Roszak in May 2018. Photo: Piotr Jantos/Archdiocese of Krakow via La Croix International
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Sr. Cecylia Maria Roszak, a Polish Dominican believed to be the world’s oldest nun, has died at the age of 110, over 80 years after she helped to save Jews during the Holocaust as a young woman.

The Archdiocese of Krakow announced her passing on Nov. 21 and hailed her unflagging efforts to help the needy.

Along with photos of Sr. Roszak posted to its Twitter feed, the archdiocese wrote: “In Krakow the oldest sister in the world died – Sister Cecilia Maria Roszak from the monastery of Dominican sisters.”

It noted how she had continued to visit sick sisters and hold prayer meetings after undergoing hip and knee surgery nine years ago.

Maria Roszak was born in a small town in west-central Poland on March 25, 1908. She died on Nov. 16.

Sr. Roszak entered a cloistered convent of Dominican sisters in Krakow at the age of 21 and later traveled to Vilnius, now a part of Lithuania, to establish a convent there.

This plan was thwarted by the outbreak of World War II, with Vilnius falling under Soviet and then German occupation for several years.

During this time Sr. Cecylia, as she was then known, was instrumental in hiding 17 members of the Jewish underground resistance in the convent, under the auspices of the nun’s superior, Mother Bertranda, according to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

The 17 members were part of an illegal Jewish underground movement that formed to fight against the extermination of the ghetto’s residents, The Times of Israel reported.

One of the underground members was Abba Kovner, a Jewish Hebrew and Yiddish poet, who, according to Yad Vashem, wrote his landmark manifesto within the walls of the convent. Kovner tried unsuccessfully to organize armed resistance inside the ghetto, the report said.

“Despite the enormous difference between the two groups, very close relations were formed between the religious Christian nuns and the left-wing secular Jews,” the World Holocaust Remembrance Center said.

“The pioneers found a safe haven behind the convent’s walls; they worked with the nuns in the fields and continued their political activity.”

The refugees left the convent in 1941 and returned to the Jewish ghetto to help build up the resistance there. The convent was shuttered in 1943 and the sisters expelled.

In 1984, Sr. Cecylia and the other nuns received the Righteous Among the Nations award from Yad Vashem for the aid they provided that saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

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