Sancja Szymkowiak (1910-1942)
Bl. Santia Szymkowiak, was born on 11 July 1910 in Mozdzanów (Ostrów Wielkopolski), Poland, to Augustine and Mary Duchalska. She was the youngest of five children, her parents' only girl. She was baptized "Giannina". On 29 August 1942, she died of tuberculosis of the pharynx, brought on by the hardships of the war. Throughout her life, she desired to become a saint in a "hidden way", and wanted only to do God's will, living a profound union with him in every event.
Her motto was "God's will is my will. Whatever he wants I want". By abandoning herself into the arms of a loving Father, she offered a wonderful example of serene acceptance of her sufferings.
Giannina was born into a believing and well-to-do family who gave her a wonderful education. In 1929, after her high school studies, she studied Languages and Foreign Literature at the University of Poznan. During her school years, she was an attractive person because she was a happy and joyful person who thought of those around her and was generous in reaching out to them in any need. Throughout her school years, she was a member of the Sodality of Mary, and was remembered for a discrete and effective apostolate of trying to share her happiness with those around her.
Giannina also went beyond her own circles and showed a special attention to the needs of the poor of the city. She was interested in everyone, was open to others and had a "spirit of holiness" that struck those around her.
Call to religious life
While still young, Giannina felt called to the religious life. During the summer of 1934, she went on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Lourdes, France, and here offered herself to the Blessed Virgin, wanting to put her life entirely and without reserve into the hands of the Mother of God. In June 1936, at Poznan, after spending a year with the Congregation of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Montluçon, she returned to Poland and entered the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrows, better known as the "Seraphic Sisters". It was then that she received the name Mary Santia. From the beginning, she was zealous in observing the rules of the Congregation and in performing every kind of service. Her life, which apparently had nothing extraordinary about it, hid a profound union with God with a total readiness to embrace his will in everything. She desired to become a great saint and all her life tended to communion with Jesus, ready to bear any sacrifice and humiliation to console his Heart and make reparation for sin.
First Vows and apostolate
On 30 July 1938 she made her first vows. She once wrote in her diary: "Jesus wants me to be a holy religious, and He will not be happy with me until I use all my strength for Him and become a saint. God is everything, I am nothing. I have to become a saint at all costs. This is my constant preoccupation".
After her first vows, Sr Santia worked for a year in the nursery school of Poznan-Naramowice and also began a course of studies in pharmacology. However, she was unable to continue her studies, because in September 1939 the war broke out.
World War II
Poznan was occupied by the Germans, and the sisters were put under house arrest. They were forced to look after a hundred German soldiers who were housed there and English and French prisoners of war, who were lodged in and around the convent. She was able to translate for the foreign prisoners. The forced labour was very difficult, but she was willing to serve everyone as she would Christ himself.
In February 1940, the religious persecution worsened and Sr Santia was given permission to return to her family for safety. However, she stayed in the convent and submitted to the hard labour imposed by the occupying forces. She believed it was God's will that she remain, that she be a "mother" to those around her: the prisoners, the soldiers, and her own sisters. Sr Santia was an instrument of God's love and peace, and became a sign of hope to those around her. The English and French prisoners called her the "angel of goodness" and "Saint Santia".
The constant fatigue and difficult conditions took their toll on Sr Santia, and she began showing symptoms of tuberculosis. She continued with the same spirit of abandonment and serenity, and accepted her sufferings as a "preparation" for her solemn vows, which she professed on 6 July 1942. She died a little more than a month later, on 29 August 1942, when she was 32 years old.