My name is Maria Lusby and in May 2008 at the age of 42 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The news was of course devastating. I was a healthy single woman, never sick, leading a busy life and working in legal education. There was no history of cancer in our family. Surely cancer was always something that happened to other people! Within days I was undergoing chemotherapy. Three months later I underwent a major operation to remove the tumours. Two months of radiotherapy then followed the operation. So how do the Blessed Sisters of Nowogrodek fit into my story?
Whilst undergoing chemotherapy, I emailed an old friend, Rev. Fr. Mark Withoos (Fr. Mark and I established the Melbourne Catholic Lawyers Association in 2002) asking him to keep me in his prayers. But Fr. Mark did more than that! He sprang into action and immediately organised for a relic from the Blessed Sisters of Nowogrodek to be delivered to me. I asked myself, who were these courageous Sisters? And a relic? This was all new to me. But Fr. Mark explained the situation and gave me instructions and a prayer, and from that day on I felt so happy, so blissfully happy, that I would have 11 voices in heaven helping me, interceding for me, and looking after me.
I feel as though I have come to know the Blessed Sisters of Nowogrodek intimately. I pray to them each morning and each night. I pray to them on my long walks each day. I pray to them when I am sitting in a doctor’s surgery or undergoing a scan. I think of them individually, and I often think about their own families in Poland, who must have suffered terribly. I think how scared they must have been when they learnt their fate. A couple of years ago I ordered a DVD on the story of the Blessed Sisters of Nowogrodek. It showed the township and the route the Sisters took each day to The Church of the Transfiguration. It showed the woods where they met their death. Often I picture them walking to the Church, then praying to Our Lord in Church, and I picture them being transported to the woods where they were executed. Perhaps one day I might visit Nowogrodek and pray in The Church of the Transfiguration and see the relics of the Blessed Sisters.
Now three years down the track, I still have ongoing three weekly treatments (a form of chemotherapy) to keep the cancer at bay. But I am very fit and well, and I work part-time. I lead a much simpler but a fuller life than I did before I was diagnosed. When the doctors’ comment at my progress and marvel at modern medicine, I just smile and know that the source of my strength and well being is also down to those amazing nuns who sacrificed so much and who are with me always. I do hope that the Church may recognise their place in heaven very soon!
I am so deeply appreciative of the Sisters of the Holy Family in Australia, in particular, Sr. Josita Paczkowska, and now Sr. Grace Roclawska, for allowing me to keep the relic for these last three years. Most importantly I am indebted to the Sisters of the Holy Family in Australia for continuing to pray for me. Thank you Sisters!
(written 2012) by Maria Lusby