Blessed Angela Salawa, Heroine of World War I, Pray For Us!

Only a God who had known the inside of a tomb could promise to redeem such a life, turning it into eternal glory.

The portrait of Blessed Angela Salawa (1881-1922) in the Franciscan church in Krakow, Poland
The portrait of Blessed Angela Salawa (1881-1922) in the Franciscan church in Krakow, Poland (photo: Miezian / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 10:29-32)

When Jesus spoke these words he did so right after informing his followers that they would be persecuted for their faith in him. He had just told them that they would be nothing less than hated because of him. That parents would hand over children and brother would turn against brother. This hardly seems to be the speech of a man who actually wants to keep his friends. Who would willingly want to endure this lonely, and often painful, fate that he has outlined?

But then, he adds his promise. Though the world will add suffering upon suffering. He will be there through it all. Unseen but ever present, he will never abandon. And at the end of the Christian’s life, Jesus will vouch for them as they stand before his Father.

We know that Jesus is as good as his word. We are infinitely more precious to him than the little sparrow. We know we can believe him, if only for the fact that he showed us how. He allowed himself to be mocked, tortured, nailed to a cross, and killed so as to defeat the death that bound us. But knowing all that does not mean that it is easy. In the midst of a broken world, surrounded by suffering large and small, it can be hard to believe that the Creator of the universe can spare a thought, let alone an eternity of thoughts, for each of his children.

Blessed Angela Salawa not only believed Christ’s words, but she allowed that simple, childlike trust to fill her entire life, uniting her will to his, and trusting that his love would support her throughout all hardships. A poor girl from a little village, she knew there is no life too insignificant, no action too small, and no prayer too softly whispered, even unspoken in the silence of our hearts, that it does not escape our Father’s loving notice.

By the world’s reckoning, Angela Salawa’s life was unremarkable, and perhaps even a failure. She never married, had no children, left no tangible legacy, and she died alone and impoverished. But to God, she was brilliant. Her life was a beacon, radiating his love to everyone around her.

From the first moment Angela opened her eyes in 1881, the eleventh child born of 12 to a poor Catholic family in rural Poland, to the moment she closed them 40 years later, alone in a small basement in Krakow, God never lost sight of his precious daughter. And his love was not unrequited. For her entire life, Angela’s gentle heart yearned to be ever closer to her beloved Jesus.

The most sickly and weak of her many siblings, Angela could not often romp with her brothers and sisters, and could do little to help with the never-ending chores around their home. Despite her physical sufferings, Angela was always obedient and generous, seeking to serve others as best as she could, and to share with the poor from the very little she had.

As a young woman she moved to Krakow to work as a maid, and eventually devoted all of her spare time to working with other religious women doing charity work around the city. Following a rift with her family after the death of her favorite older sister Teresa, Angela relied evermore on her faith. Prevented from joining a religious order because of her ill health, she became a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. Several years later World War I began and once again Angela put her heart in God’s hands, asking what he willed for her. She nursed soldiers in Krakow, hiding her own deteriorating health between a gentle smile and consoling voice as she walked among the wounded.

She was only one nurse among thousands, an easily overlooked little woman cleaning wounds, comforting children, and always sharing what she had despite her poverty. Yet she did it all with a burning love, seeing Christ in each soldier she aided and making every action a gift gently offered back to her Creator.

After the war, Angela found herself still cut off from her family and with no job or money after her employer falsely accused her of stealing. Broken in body, Angela relied on the charity of the women with whom she once served Krakow’s poor. In 1922 she died, seemingly alone in her small basement room. But Angela could never truly be alone. She had spent her entire life making every day a gentle prayer spoken directly to her Father’s heart. No one outside of her little circle of women even knew whether she lived or died. But God had seen every moment. He had not missed a single tear shed, or crust of bread shared, or orphan soothed. She had been wronged, forgotten and abandoned. Only a God who had known the inside of a tomb could promise to redeem such a life, turning it into eternal glory.

In 1991, when Pope St. John Paul II beatified Blessed Angela Salawa, he said she “can serve as an example of a strong faith, a perfect conformity with God’s will, and an [exceptional] piety.”

Blessed Angela Salawa was the most ordinary of women who lived the most ordinary of lives, with scarcely a friend to notice when she had died, yet she had consecrated every small moment of her life to God, and now we may believe that she stands before him at his throne.

Blessed Angela Salawa, pray for us!

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