Victims of Nazi brutality during World War Two, the Marian martyrs of Rosica died with their congregation rather than flee and save their own lives. Bringing together eyewitness te... Read more
By Dan Valenti (Jun 11, 2009)
You live for your faith, but would you be willing to die for it?
To us, this is a hypothetical question. To Blessed George Kaszyra, MIC (1904-1943), and Blessed Anthony Leszczewicz, MIC (1890-1943), the question became horrifyingly literal. They both answered "yes."
On June 13, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception observe the 10th anniversary of the beatification of these two men of heroic virtue. Their story reads like gripping fiction.
Blessed George, ordained a Marian priest in 1935, ministered in Lithuania and his home country to the day God's hand brought him to Rosica, Belarus in 1942. Father Anthony had summoned him there to help minister at the Marian mission. Fathers Anthony and George taught the ethnically diverse people in Polish, Belarusian, or Russian, depending on the linguistic need.
As World War II enveloped Europe, the two priests found themselves together doing what they wanted to do more than anything: serve others in the name of God.
Contemporaries later recalled Fr. Anthony as a hard worker, tireless and full of enthusiasm. Everyone, it seems, liked and respected him. Father George, 14 years younger, was known for his humility, industriousness, and his dedication to community life as a Marian.
Their crucible came in February 1943. Adolph Hitler's Nazis stormed into Rosica on an extermination mission. They were there to punish resistance activities in the area. Soldiers detained the two priests for questioning but offered them their freedom so they could escape the fate that awaited more than 1,500 laypeople in Rosica. Fathers Anthony and George decided to remain with their flock. Both men knew it meant certain death.
The priests separated so they could minister to more people. On Feb. 17, 1943, Fr. Anthony found himself in a building the Nazis slated for destruction. On that night, soldiers burned the building down, with people in it. Father Anthony died in the fire.
The next morning, in another part of town, soldiers came for Fr. George at the church. Pale and exhausted, he asked parishioners for prayers as they led him away. He had spent the past days in feverish ministration: hearing confessions, celebrating Mass, baptizing converts, and consoling terrified people.
The soldiers put Fr. George in a sleigh with 30 others from the church and carted them to an abandoned house. After the soldiers barked orders for everyone to get inside, they locked the doors. The Nazis tossed grenades inside, sprayed the building with machine-gun fire, and set the house ablaze. All 31 people perished.
When Pope John Paul II beatified Frs. Anthony and George in Warsaw, Poland, they were among a group of 108 World War II martyrs, a group that included priests, nuns, religious, and laypeople.
"Today, we are celebrating the victory of those who, in our century, gave their lives for Christ ... in order to possess life forever in His glory," the Pope said. "If we rejoice today for the beatification of 108 martyrs — clergy and laypeople — we do so above all because they bear witness to the victory of Christ, the gift which restores hope."
Learn more about the Marian martyrs of Rosica, including eyewitness accounts.