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The Rosary, Death, and Blessed Marianna

She lay dying in a hospice bed. The cancer had returned, and this time, she was not going to fight it.

So, every evening I went to the hospice to visit my godmother. More specifically, I went to pray the Rosary with her. It seemed to soothe her soul. She became less agitated, more peaceful. Within the week, she passed.

He was the father of a friend. Though I had heard much about him, I was meeting him for the first time at the very same hospice where my godmother died. He had taken a fall earlier that week and was not going to survive his injuries.

My friend was no longer a practicing Catholic, but she knew her father loved the Rosary. I went to pray with them. In his frail state, he was still able to hold the beads. Early the next morning, he quietly passed away.

What comfort those words must bring! Hearing the names of Jesus and Mary repeated over and over again. Knowing that our Lady is praying, too. Embracing God as Father. Giving glory to the Trinity. Asking for forgiveness and salvation. Surely, the Rosary has the power to soothe and still the soul.

The Rosary is, indeed, a powerful weapon. It brings wisdom and courage in life, and final perseverance and peaceful reassurance in death.

Blessed Marianna Biernacka, who lived in Poland during World War II, is a perfect example of the graces faithful recitation of the Rosary bestows. Throughout her life, she imitated Our Lady by doing all for love of God and her family. And in her death, she was able to surrender herself totally out of love, like her Savior.

Blessed Marianna worked diligently beside her husband on their little farm. She bore six children, though only two would make it past infancy. She brought her son and daughter up in the Faith, teaching them their catechism, taking them to Mass, and praying with and for them, especially the Rosary.

When her children married and moved away and her husband died, Marianna could not keep up the farm by herself. So, her son brought his mom into his home. Blessed Marianna was a big help to her daughter-in-law, Anna, in the kitchen and on their farm. Hers was an ordinary but happy life, made even happier when a granddaughter came along.

Blessed Marianna doted on her granddaughter, Eugenia. She sang hymns to her, told her Bible stories and prayed over her, just as she had done with Eugenia’s father. Marianna felt blessed, indeed.

Then, the Nazis took over Poland. Still, the little family made the best of the situation. The occupiers could close their churches, ration their food, even ban their language, but they could not take away their Faith. Without Mass, Marianna clung even more to her Breviary and rosary.

One day, German soldiers came bursting through the door of the humble Biernacka home. The Polish Resistance had killed one of their soldiers; for that, ten Poles must die. Hearing the commotion, Marianna came out of her room where she had been praying the Rosary. The invaders were taking her son and daughter-in-law to go before the firing squad.

Putting the rosary in her apron pocket, Blessed Marianna placed herself between her eight-months pregnant daughter-in-law and the soldier. “Take me!” she pleaded. Pointing to Anna’s stomach, the mother-in-law pointed out that in taking Anna, they soldiers were actually taking two people. She begged mercy on the little girl, crying, clutching onto her mother’s skirt.

No matter to the Nazis, they grabbed Marianna and her son and went out the door. For two weeks, Marianna and the others were held at a prison in Grodno, Belarus. During that time, Marianna prayed her rosary. Until, on June 13, 1943, the heroic, self-sacrificing woman, with rosary still in hand, was executed by firing squad.

Anna, however, lived to be 98 years old. Eugenia was at her side at the time of her death. Unfortunately, the child she was carrying that day the Nazis came lived only a year.

Eugenia revealed that her mother would often say, “I was given life twice; once by my mother and then by my mother-in-law.”

The fruit of daily recitation of the Rosary blossomed in Blessed Marianna Biernacka. In life, she made those small sacrifices for love of God and family that make family life happy and holy. And in death, she died with peace in her heart, even as war was raging in the world around her.

Blessed Marianna, pray for us. Help us to make time for daily recitation of the Rosary and to use well the graces that flow from it. Amen.

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