Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik and Manuela Tulli
Our Sunday Visitor Publishing (2023)
176 pages, $16.95
Józef Ulma was a normal young father with a photography hobby who loved taking pictures of his children playing and taking care of one another. He likely never expected that his photographs of his family would one day appear on holy cards.
In a new release from Our Sunday Visitor, Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik and Manuela Tulli tell the story of the newly beatified Ulma family (parents Józef and Wiktoria and their seven children, including one in utero), Polish Catholics killed by the Nazis for hiding eight Jews in their farmhouse in 1944. While there have been some miracles attributed to the intercession of the Ulma family -- including one in the United States, in Maryland -- the basis for the family's step toward sainthood is their martyrdom, as martyrs of charity.
"Martyred and Blessed Together: The Extraordinary Story of the Ulma Family" explores the family's story from several angles, including a traditional biographical narrative, a chapter on the three Jewish families who were killed alongside the Ulma family, and a discussion of the impact the Ulma family has had on the Church in Poland and around the world. With a main text that is just 125 short pages, "Martyred and Blessed Together" is a wonderful introduction to a family on the road to sainthood.
Rightfully so, the authors focus on two novel aspects of the Ulma family's beatification: that they are an entire family of nine persons whose holiness is being recognized by the Church and the fact that one of the new blesseds is a child who was not yet born, reinforcing the Catholic Church's belief in the sanctity of life, beginning at the moment of conception.
The Ulma family faced an extraordinary moral decision as Christians who were watching their Jewish brothers and sisters being persecuted right in front of them. No one would have blamed Józef and Wiktoria Ulma if they had chosen to ignore the situation in hopes of keeping their own family safe. Surely, many Christians made that exact decision. But what makes the Ulma family saints is their heroic virtue, their willingness to risk their lives. -- and ultimately to lay down their lives -- out of love for their neighbors.
In living out Christ's commandment to "love one another as he has loved us," Józef and Wiktoria Ulma fully lived out their vocations not only as spouses who aided one another's journey to heaven, but also as parents whose selfless decisions, undoubtedly united to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, resulted in their children being granted eternal life. "Martyred and Blessed Together" introduces readers to these holy ones who can intercede for them in all areas of suffering and growing in holiness, but especially for graces in marriage and family life.
The Second World War was a time of almost unprecedented evil, which produced such saints as St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Edith Stein, and Bl. Franz Jäggerstäter -- all of whom are known for their heroic virtue and willingness to suffer out of witness to the truth of the Gospel and God's boundless love for his children. Christians today who find their faith challenged, especially as they see injustice in their neighborhoods or witness the suffering of others, will benefit from reading "Martyred and Blessed Together." Perhaps we can all benefit by calling upon the intercession of the Ulma family for the courage to love our neighbors without counting the cost.
Cecilia Cicone is an author and communicator who works in diocesan ministry in Northwest Indiana.