EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, including exclusive commentary from Catholic leaders, was published before the Vatican on September 5 clarified that the youngest Ulma baby was “partially born” during his mother’s martyrdom. He will be beatified as born, not unborn, according to the Vatican’s clarification. The document from Rome, originally in Italian, can be found here.
CV NEWS FEED // On September 10, Prefect of the Dicastery of Saints Cardinal Marcello Semeraro will beatify the Ulmas, a Polish family of nine who were murdered by the Nazis for hiding Jews.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were declared martyrs along with their seven children in December, 2022. Their upcoming beatification bears a twofold significance for the Church: The Ulmas are not only the first family to be beatified together, but also their youngest child will be the first unborn baby to be directly honored in this way.
The beatification of the Ulmas’ unborn child is particularly significant since theologians have deliberated for ages over whether an unbaptized infant can merit beatitude in Heaven.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were a devout married couple who lived on a farm in the village of Markowa, Poland. They were blessed with seven children – Stanisława, age eight, Barbara, seven, Władysław, six, Franciszek, four, Antoni, three, and Maria, two. Wiktoria was seven months pregnant with their youngest at the time of their deaths.
After the Nazi regime occupied Poland in 1939, Wiktoria and Józef selflessly offered their home as a refuge for eight Jews.
On March 24, 1944, the family’s secret was discovered by a Nazi patrol, who shot first the Jews and then Józef and Wiktoria in front of their small children. When the young Ulmas began to scream in horror, they were also murdered as a warning to other families.
The Catholic News Agency reported that a Bible was later found in the family’s home in which the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) had been highlighted in red ink.
While Wiktoria and Józef were originally included in a 2003 collective beatification effort for 100 Polish martyrs of World War II, Archbishop Adam Szal of Przemysl, Poland, chose to separate them from the group and presented the cause for the entire Ulma family to the Vatican.
“The beatification of the Ulma family as a whole, including several children who were under the age of reason, points to the reality of the family as the domestic church,” noted Fr. John Paul Walker, O.P., pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. Walker told CatholicVote:
If we believe that the Church universal is indeed “one body” (cf. Rom 12:5) then so too ought we to see the domestic church as one body, in which all the parts work together. The faith and charity lived by Józef and Wiktoria permeated their children and, despite their young age, they all “acted as one” in this supreme gift of charity (even if the little ones had only a childlike understanding of what was happening).
Fr. Gerald Murray, a canon lawyer and pastor of Holy Family Church in New York, NY, commented that “the unborn Ulma child, like the Holy Innocents, gave silent witness to Christ by his death, which was his baptism of blood.”
Vatican News also affirmed in a press release that “the children shared in the operative faith of their parents, while the unborn child in Wiktoria’s womb received a baptism of blood.”
The Church has long held that the graces of Baptism can be acquired before death in special circumstances outside of the sacramental baptism with water, known as “baptism of blood” (through martyrdom for Christ) and “baptism of desire” (through a desire for the sacrament).
As the secular culture denies the personhood of the unborn, the inclusion of the unborn Ulma baby as a beatified saint is monumental.
“This is a clear reminder of the personhood, dignity, and potential sainthood … of every single human life from the moment of conception,” Fr. Walker said, adding that the baby’s martyrdom is “a sobering reminder that the forces of evil never cease their attack against all that is good, especially against the innocent.”
The Ulmas’ liturgical feast day will be celebrated on July 7, the date of the parents’ 1935 wedding.
“The heroic deaths of the members of the Ulma family at the hands of Nazi murderers is a shining witness of Christian fortitude and love,” Fr. Murray said. “Like St. John the Baptist, they went to their deaths for the ‘crime’ of loving God and their neighbor in distress.”