Embracing holiness in daily life: Secrets from the Ulma Family

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Ulma Family
Wiktoria Ulma is pictured in an undated photo walking with her children in Markowa, Poland. (OSV News photo/courtesy Institute of National Remembrance)

For the first time in Church history an entire family has been beatified together. Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children were beatified in a Mass in their village in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10. There are many examples of families with great holiness. St. Monica and St. Augustine of Hippo come to mind. Or St. Dominic de Guzman, whose mother and brother are both beatified. More recently, the Martin family from France produced several members who are recognized as saints, most famously St. Thérèse of Lisieux (also known as the Little Flower). Her parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, were also canonized as saints in 2015, becoming the first married couple to be recognized as saints together.

But the story of the Ulmas is different. This remarkable family, executed by Nazis on March 24, 1944, for harboring persecuted Jews, displayed unwavering evangelical love as they resisted the prevailing hatred and bigotry of their time. It’s no wonder Pope Francis prayed on the day of their beatification, “May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need.”

Saintly inspiration of the Ulmas

The historical contingencies of Nazi-occupied Poland seem far removed from our own day. Markowa, the village the Ulma family called home, is a great distance from our own homes. And yet, it would be a mistake to overlook the ways the saintly Ulmas can inspire our daily living.

– Embracing the ordinary: Józef Ulma was an innovator. He adopted pioneering methods on the family farm. In fact, the Ulma house was the first in the area to have an electric light for evening reading. And Józef was, delightfully, an enthusiastic amateur photographer. The hundreds of photos he took reveal the beauty of ordinary life as they lived it on their farm and in their simple, wooden, two-room home. In the Ulmas’ family life, we find the profound truth that holiness can be found in the simplicity of our daily routines. Catholic families can follow this example by being faithful to the demands of family life, beginning first in their own homes.

– Kindness as a guiding light: The kindness exhibited by the Ulma family was not a mere façade but a genuine expression of their faith. Wiktoria’s best friend, Stanisława, recalls, “Those children were always joyful and well-behaved; they were not afraid of people; they were open and trusted everyone.” The Ulma house was bustling, open and warm. Catholic families can infuse their daily interactions with kindness, creating an environment where compassion and love flow naturally, touching the lives of all those they encounter.

– Selfless love: The Ulma family’s selflessness in sheltering eight Jews in their tiny home during a time of great danger is a testament to their unwavering commitment to the Gospel message of loving one’s neighbor. They placed the lives of others above their own, exemplifying the sacrificial love that Christ calls us to embrace. Catholic families can reflect on this selflessness and seek ways to serve those in need, even when it requires sacrifice.

– A defense of human dignity: The Ulma family’s recognition of the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death, resonates deeply with Catholic teachings. The youngest Ulma child, the unnamed baby who was also beatified, reminds us of the precious worth of every human life. Catholic families can uphold the dignity of every person by valuing and protecting the lives of the unborn, the marginalized and the vulnerable.

– Faith in action: The Ulma family’s actions were a living testament to their faith in Christ. Their unwavering commitment to the Word of God was evident in their daily lives, guiding their decisions and actions. Józef Ulma’s Bible had two important passages marked. The first was from Matthew’s Gospel: “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (Mt 5:46). The second was the story of the good Samaritan from Luke. Alongside the parable, Józef had written the simple word: “yes.”

The Ulma family’s legacy challenges us to be more than just passive observers of the world’s troubles; it calls us to bear witness to Christ’s love through our everyday choices. As Catholic families, let us draw strength from their example and endeavor to make our homes and communities places where love, compassion and faith are lived in abundance.

The Ulma family’s story could easily be misread as a tragedy. And yet, with the eyes of faith, we see heroic courage and a wellspring of charity. Following Jesus is never easy, but it is, as the Ulmas’ legacy shows, extraordinary.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.