Believed to be the “oldest nun in the world,” Polish Dominican nun Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak has died at the age of 110, the Archdiocese of Krakow has announced.
Sr. Cecylia was born Maria Roszak on March 25, 1908 in the town of Kielczewo in west-central Poland. After graduating from trade school at the age of 21, she entered a cloistered convent of Dominican sisters in Krakow, at the “On Gródek” monastery, as it is commonly called.
In 1938, she traveled with a group of her sisters to Vilnius (now in Lithuania, but at the time a part of Poland) where the nuns were hoping to establish another convent. However, the outbreak of World War II prevented them from doing so.
For two years, Vilnius was under Soviet occupation, and then under German occupation after the invasion of the Nazis. During this time, Sr. Roszak and her sisters, led by their superior, Mother Bertranda, hid 17 members of the Jewish resistance in their convent, risking their lives to do so.
According to The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, the Jewish people who found refuge in the convent were members of the illegal Jewish Zionist underground movements.
“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 pioneers found a safe haven behind the convent’s walls; they worked with the nuns in the fields and continued their political activity. They called the mother superior of the convent Ima (Mother in Hebrew),” the Center states in a biographical page on Mother Bertranda, who eventually left the convent and became known as Anna Borkowska.
In 1941 the Jewish refugees decided to leave the convent and return to the Jewish ghetto to help establish the resistance there. Borkowska begged them to stay, and then begged to join them in the ghetto, and helped her friends smuggle weapons and supplies inside.
In September 1943, Mother Bertranda was arrested, the Vilnius convent was closed and the nuns were dispersed. Sr. Roszak returned to Krakow, although due to the war, her sisters had been expelled from their motherhouse “On Grodek” and were staying with some other sisters at the time.
In 1947, Sr. Roszak and her fellow Dominican sisters returned to their motherhouse, where Sr. Roszak would serve as porter, organist and cantor over the years, and as prioress several times.
In 1984, Borkowska and the nuns who had been at her Vilnius convent were awarded the honor of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, which recognizes non-Jews who risked their lives, freedom or positions to help Jewish people during the Holocaust. ‘
At the age of 101, Sr. Roszak underwent hip and knee surgery but was still able to join in many of her usual activities, including joining her sisters for prayer and visiting sick sisters.
On March 25, 2018, Sr. Roszak celebrated her 110th birthday at her convent, where she was visited by Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow.
She died on November 16, 2018.