In 1905 in Mohylew, Russia, Blessed Boleslawa Lament founded religious congregation of Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family. Its goal was to work toward the unity of Orthodox Christians with the Catholic church. Also, the congregation was called to strengthen the faith of Catholics since their unity with the church was threatened in those times. Soon after, in 1907, the whole community of sisters moved to Petersburg. Sisters taught all children and youth despite their religion and nationality.
The first Constitution of the congregation, based on the thoughts of the Mother Foundress and St. Ignatius Spirituality, was confirmed by Archbishop Antoni Wnukowski and Archbishop Wincenty Kluczynski. It was done orally because the political situation would not allow otherwise. The Archbishops gave sisters a permission to live as a community. The life of the community was supposed to be based on Congregation's constitution.
In 1914, the Bishop Jan Cieplak, the administrator of the diocese in Mohylew, confirmed the constitution as a written document. However, this document was lost during the World War I. The archbishop of Mohylew, Edward Ropp, wrote a new confirmation of the constitution on June 24, 1924. The congregation was allowed to do its apostolic work on the territory of the diocese of Mohylew. On October 27, 1925, bishop of Lomza, Romuald Jalbrzykowski, accepted the renewed version of the Constitution.
The congregation was officially recognized by the special document written on July 7, 1967 by the cardinal I. Antoniutti, the prefect of the Congregation for Religious Life. In this document, the cardinal praised Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family and asked that the Constitution of the congregation would be followed until the next special gathering of the congregation officials.
Through the first 16 years, the congregation worked on the territory of Mohylew, Petersburg, and Wyborg. It never revealed its religious identity.
The October Revolution and all the changes that followed led to discontinuation of all congregation activities.
In 1922, sisters moved to Poland and had to start organizing religious life from the beginning. The first convent was established in Chelmno where sisters worked in the dorm for 200 Russian girls. For the first time, sisters could wear their habit which was impossible to do while working on the Russian territory. In 1923, the congregation bought a house where sisters planned to have a novitiate for the new candidates. However, the bishop didn't give his permission since he didn't know sisters at all. As a result, the house was used for the dorm for 20 girls, vocational school, kindergarten, and summer camps for children.
Bishop Romuald Jalbrzykowski helped in opening the novitiate. He already knew zealous work that sisters had done in Petersburg and Lomza. Also, he supported the petition of Mother Boleslawa asking for an army building in Piatnica located close to Lomza.
During her pilgrimage to Rome in 1925, Mother Boleslawa met Jan Cieplak, the archbishop of Mohylew. He knew the congregation from its work in Petersburg. During that time, bishop Cieplak personally introduced Mother Boleslawa and other sisters to the Holy Father, Pius XI. Also, he introduced them to his close friend, Bishop A. Nowowiejski, asking him to take care of the congregation. Without hesitation, bishop Nowowiejski presented sisters with the abandoned monastery located in Ratowo. In 1926, after necessary renovations, the convent in Ratowo served as a novitiate and a motherhouse.
During her years as a Mother General (1921-1935), Mother Boleslawa established many convents located mostly on the east side of Poland. In the diocese of Pinsk, she organized convents in Zytomierz, Szpanow, Brzesc, Pruzan, Raczkany, Derewno, Niedzwiedzica, Krzywoszyn, Lahiszyn, Pinsk, Szereszowo, Baranowicze, and Rudka. In Archdiocese of Wilno, she established convents in Wilno, Slonim, Albertyn, Oszmiana, Holszany, Konstantynow, Ros, and Bialystok. Moreover, there was a new convent in Warsaw, Talin in Estonia, and Rome in Italy.
In all those convents, sisters organized vocational schools, dorms, sewing courses, kindergartens, daycares, orphanages, kitchen for unemployed, shelters for homeless women, and nursing homes. They also worked in hospitals. Wherever sisters went, they taught religion. In concern for helping people to grow in their faith, sisters established many groups such as Eucharistic Crusade, Honorable Guards, and Live Rosary. They spread the practice of devoting families to the Most Holy Heart of Jesus. In addition, sisters organized Christmas and other plays, talks about faith for adults, and various devotions in the church. Through those activities, sisters had an opportunity to influence the whole society, not only children and youth.
The Constitution of the congregation gave sisters a goal for which they should strive while working with children and the youth, "We have to help the young people to build a strong character and morals flowing from the love of God and others. We should awake in their souls the feeling of responsibility and zeal for work, so that they would be eager to do unselfish work for the society and the whole country. We also should develop and support young people's commitment to the church and its leader - the Holy Father."
In addition to teaching children and youth, sisters helped the poor, unemployed, sick, elderly, and prisoners. Following the example of Jesus Himself, sisters were the true witnesses to the gospel by taking care of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.
The World War II brought an enormous loss for the whole congregation. From 33 convents, only the following survived: Ratowo, Rudka, Suchowola, and 3 convents in Bialystok. But, during that tragic time, the congregation was able to organize new convents in Legionowo, Grojec, Wawrzyszewo, and another convent in Bialystok on Poleska 42 Street.
It's impossible to describe all the sufferings that the sisters experienced during the World War II. Perhaps some facts will capture the horror of this tragic time. Four sisters died caught in the fire of war, twenty were arrested, seven were forced to work for an enemy, one was in concentration camp, seventy had to leave their convent and move to a different location. Many sisters were scattered and tried to hide. It's impossible to describe how frightened sisters were in the face of constant threats of losing the life for no reason at all.
In the first years after the World War II, Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family experienced a great renewal. Sisters were able to open many convents in Gizyck, Konstantynow, Olsztyn, Hajnowka, Mragowo, Szczytno, Morag, and Mlawa. In 1946, two new convents were established in Reszel and Orneta. In 1947, there were two more opened in Ketrzyn and Lidzbark.
Many church and government institution offered work for the sisters. They worked in hospitals as nurses, orphanages, and schools as catechists. Some sisters worked on the farms in Ratowo, Suchowola, and Rudka. These farms belonged to the congregation.
The convents, that came to being during the World War II and after, struggled trying to support themselves. Moreover, the conditions of living were often very bad. Ruined during the war, the buildings for the convents required major renovations. It was the time of determined rising from ashes and looking for new ways of work in the area of teaching and charity.
After 1945, the government in Poland had changed. The communist party took over and wanted to build the society similar to that of the Soviet nation. Decisions of the government led to the loss of various charitable works of the congregation and the church as well. During that time, sisters were forced to leave the government jobs in hospitals, orphanages, etc. They had to turn exclusively to parish work which resulted in closing new convents.
As a result of government decisions, sisters experienced the following:
In later years, the conditions changed. New opportunities of work and development opened for the congregation. In 1966, Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family went to the United States. Sisters worked in the hospitals supporting the existing missions in Africa.
Four years later, sisters went to Zambia. In 1976, some of them were sent to Libya and to Kenya in 1990. Sisters serve the church in Zambia through formation of the catechists, preaching retreats, caring for the elderly, running kindergartens and schools for girls and young married women. The goal of the schools is to prepare for life and the professional work. Through organizing a spiritual adoption, sisters are trying to help in educating children whose parents can't afford to send their children to school. In Kenya, sisters serve in the education, medical, and charitable field.
On the territory of the former Soviet Union, sisters are present from 1905. For many years, sisters had to work secretly; if caught, they would spend time in prison or be sent to Syberia. Some sisters survived through the revolution, war, and the communist regime. Therefore, the apostolic work in Lithuania and Bielorussia never stopped. In 1990, sisters were able to start working openly. Many were sent to be witnesses to people who lived for a long time without God. The congregation opened the convents in Lithuania, Bielorussia, and Russia. The mission on those territories requires teaching people the sign of the cross and preparation for the baptism and other sacraments. In addition to endless hours of religious education, sisters help to educate new catechists, feed the poor children, visit elderly and lonely, run the kitchen for the poor. After great difficulties, sisters could open the Center of the Holy Family in Moscow. The center serves the needs of children living on the street.
In Poland, sisters serve the church through the work in 25 different convents. They work as teachers, catechists, organists, parish secretaries, sacristians, kindergarten teachers, nurses in hospitals and hospices, and parochial nurses. Sisters also spend many hours of serving the homeless and elderly.
Currently, the congregation consists of 347 sisters working in Poland, Italy, Zambia, Kenya, United States, Bielorussia, Lithuania, and Russia.
Edited by Sr. Joanna M. Babinska