BLESSED ALICE KOTOWSKA
Blessed Alice was born on November 20, 1899 in Warsaw. She was the second of eight children of John and Sophie Kotowski. The next day, on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Mother, she was baptized and received the names Maria, Hedwig. In the beginning, the family lived on their property in Krasiniec, but later moved to Warsaw. The father was an organist in the Dominican church of St. Hyacinth. Her deeply devout father played a great role in the spiritual development of his daughter Marylka [diminutive of Maria], who from her youngest years loved Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, and his Mother. The family prayed the rosary and read Sacred Scripture together. According to the customs of the times, Maria and the other Kotowski children at first studied at home under the watchful eye of the parents. Next Maria and her sister Hania attended the private boarding school of Pauline Hewelke in Warsaw. Here Maria became a friend of Maria Przybyłowicz, who later entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Resurrection, taking the name Sr. Beata.
Maria was imbued with a spirit of patriotism by her family and school. God and her Country were the two loves to which she remained faithful until the end of her life. As a student in 1919, Maria organized a trip of the entire class to greet Joseph Piłsudzki, who had arrived in Warsaw after being released from prison in Magdeburg. With the outbreak of World War I, Maria desired to ease the suffering of wounded soldiers. This intention was realized when as a 19 year old she joined the ranks of the Polish Army Organization as a nursing assistant.
In June 1918, Maria received her diploma of maturity. Desiring to help the suffering, she began her studies in medicine at the University of Warsaw. When in 1920 Poland again had to fight the enemy, this time from beyond the Eastern boundary, Maria helped her beloved Country as a member of the Red Cross. For eight months she brought help to wounded soldiers in Warsaw hospitals. In 1932, Maria was awarded the Cross of the Order “Polonia Restituta” for her sacrifice and dedication.
In the meantime, thanks to her friend Maria Przybyłowicz, Maria became acquainted with the Sisters of the Resurrection. She wanted to interrupt her studies to enter the Congregation but she submitted this decision to superiors. On April 19, 1922 she wrote a petition to be accepted by the Congregation to the superior general, Mother Antonine Sołtan. In her letter we read the following words: … Having become acquainted with the spirit and rule, I kindly request to be received into the Congregation of the Sisters of the Resurrection. I desire to live and die for Christ, loving Him above all, since He is the Highest Love, Lord, God and my All.
Maria Kotowska was accepted by the Congregation and that same year, on July 29, she crossed the convent threshold in Kęty. She then received her religious name: Alice. On February 1, 1923 Sister Alice began her year-long novitiate and then professed her first vows.
After vows, Sr. Alice was sent to the local community in Warsaw where she continued her studies, not in the field of medicine, but in mathematics and the natural sciences. In 1932 she defended her master’s thesis in chemistry, after which she began her work as a teacher in the teacher seminary in Warsaw at Sewerynów, and after the opening of the schools at Żoliborz, in the high school there. Sr. Alice taught chemistry, and at the same time fulfilled the duties of a nurse. After two years she passed her examinations and received her diploma as a middle school teacher. During this time, she noted a significant reflection: I have not yet experienced the happiness of suffering for God. The Lord sees that I am still very weak, that I love suffering but from afar, that already at the very inkling of this my nature shudders, hence He waits. But this can’t be for too long. In another place: … There is only one thing worthy in life: suffering from love for God. I know that even this desire is a grace; I know that I myself fear suffering and at all costs want to avoid it. But I believe in the power of Jesus; I believe that He himself merited the necessary power for us; I believe that He wants this from me.
In August 1929 Sr. Alice made her perpetual profession. According to the decision of her superiors she was to become the directress of the schools in Warsaw, but the school superintendent’s office did not give its consent, suggesting that the candidate was too young and had too little experience. In the meantime, Sr. Emmanuela Roman went to Pomerania to look for a place for a summer camp for poor young people. While there she discovered that the authorities of Wejherowo wanted to liquidate their educational institutions at 9 Klasztorna Street. After the conversation of Sr. Emmanuela with the mayor of Wejherowo, the city council decided to give the deteriorating institutions to the Congregation. Sr. Alice Kotowska was designated to be the local superior and directress of the schools in Wejherowo. Sr. Alice undertook both functions and fulfilled them with great zeal and responsibility.
From September 1934 the Sisters of the Resurrection, under the direction of Sr. Alice, began their work in the kindergarten, elementary school, girls’ gymnasium, and in the boarding school for girls. The sisters were intent on realizing two goals: raising the level of teaching, and educating in a patriotic and religious spirit. In less than two years the scholastic level of the institutions improved and the sisters received full government accreditation for their schools.
Excursions were organized in the schools. These taught the young people a love for their Country, its history and culture. The students attended concerts and the theater. They recalled with emotion their visit to the Warsaw Royal Castle and meeting there with President Ignacy Mościcki. Sr. Alice also organized pilgrimages to Swarzewo and Wilno. In 1936 she sought and obtained the patronage of Our Lady of Swarzewo for the educational institutions of the Congregation in Wejherowo. Thanks to the efforts of Sr. Alice, 1938 saw the beginning of the construction of an addition to the school building. Ten new classrooms were the result, and which although not completely finished, were dedicated in July 1939. Now more often there was talk about the threat of war. A few days before the outbreak of the war Sr. Alice wrote to the superior general: We are now experiencing important and significant moments, which will decide about war or peace for Poland and the whole world. We trust Divine Mercy and give to its care the fate of the Nation and of us all, and also all of humanity. The beginning of the school year will not take place at its normal time but is being put off to a future, still undetermined time.
On one occasion during a walk, Sr. Alice told one of the sisters about an experience of hers. I had a strange dream today. I found myself in front of the Suffering Christ. I asked Him: Lord, when will I die? The Lord answered: “When an addition will be constructed to this house. The addition has already been built, therefore maybe now. … During the further course of the conversation Sr. Alice expressed significant words: Isn’t it all the same where the body will lie? I would even want no one to know about me. What is at stake is to be able to unite with God, and that is possible everywhere and in all circumstances. To live in Him, drown like a drop of water in the ocean of His Mercy – this is my great desire. This desire was soon fulfilled.
Quite soon after the outbreak of the war and the capture of Wejherowo by the Germans, the arrests and executions of Poles began. The first to be liquidated were the representatives of the intellectuals and the clergy. Foreseeing that there would be robberies or also profanation of liturgical vestments Sr. Alice instructed the school janitor to bury the chest with liturgical articles. However, Francis was shown to be a spy and traitor. He informed the Gestapo and showed the Germans the place where he had buried the chest, and they threatened Sr. Alice with being arrested. A part of the house was confiscated for the use of the army. On October 23 Sr. Alice was visited by a mother of one of the students to warn her and advise her to escape, since she had seen her name on the list of those condemned to death. Sr. Alice thanked for the kindness and information but did not make use of the advice. The next day she went to confession. In the afternoon she was arrested. The leader of the German soldiers who were stationed at the convent asked the Gestapo what this nun had done to them? In reply, he heard: It is enough that she is Polish. The sisters who were ready to go in the superior’s place heard that she was being well-taken care of. Leaving the house Sr. Alice said the following words to the sisters: I forgive Francis for everything. It was October 24, 1939.
Sr. Alice together with the other prisoners was incarcerated at the Wejherowo prison. All attempts to free her (even the efforts of the superior general and Jan Kotowski with Hitler) proved to be fruitless. Also, no consent was given for any sister to meet on prison grounds with Sr. Alice. From the reports of witnesses it is known that in prison Sister prayed long and served her co-prisoners by mending their tattered clothing.
On the day celebrating the rebirth of Poland, November 11, 1939 Sr. Alice appeared during roll call in the prison square with a large group of prisoners. It was seen how Sister approached a group of Jewish children and together with them got into a truck. The column of automobiles directed its wheels to the Piaśnica woods where all were murdered.
The exhumation of bodies began in 1946 in Piaśnica. Many families recognized their relatives. The remains of Sr. Alice, however, were not discovered, since some of the bodies had been dug up and burned by the Germans. The director of the exhumation group testified that in grave no. 17 they found a fragment of a partially burned large black rosary like the sisters wore on their cincture. This is the only trace pointing to the presumed place of the martyr’s death of Sr. Alice.
The risen Christ, to whom she had dedicated her life, fulfilled all her desires: she lived for Him, died for Him, and no one knows the exact place of her death.
On June 13, 1999 Pope John Paul II, during his 7th pilgrimage to Poland, raised Sr. Alice Kotowska to the ranks of the blessed together with 107 martyrs of World War II.
To those who may be interested we recommend the book: LIKE A DROP OF WATER IN THE OCEAN, originally authored in Polish by Sr. Teresa Matea Florczak CR (Sr. Mary Hermina Widlarz, C.R. [trans.], Sr. Alexandra Jazwinski, C.R.,[ed].)
PRAYER FOR GRACES THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF BLESSED ALICE
Risen Christ, You called Blessed Alice to religious life
Risen Christ, You called Blessed Alice to religious life
and endowed her with fidelity in fulfilling the commandment to love God and others,
grant that her martyrdom would obtain for us the courage to bear all sufferings.
Grant us also through her intercession, the favor for which we ask (…).
By granting our petition, may your glory on earth increase. Amen.