Biography of the scholastic Alfons Mańka OMI, 1917-1941,
a professed Oblate in temporary vows
- Born: October 21, 1917 in Lisowice, near Lubliniec (Poland)
- Juniorate in Lubliniec: 1934 – 1937
- Novitiate in Markowice: 07. 09. 1937
- First votes in Markowice: 08. 09. 1938
- Successively deported to concentration camps:
- Szczeglin, Poland (04.05.1940)
- Dachau, Germany (09.05.1940)
- Mauthausen – Gusen, Austria (02. 08. 1940)
- Died: of exhaustion in Gusen on January 22, 1941, as a temporary vowed scholastic religious.
Scholastic Brother Alfons Mańka was born on October 21, 1917 in Lisowice, near Lubliniec (Poland), the son of Piotr and Karolina (née Sojka). Since his parents were very pious, they prayed the rosary together at home. Young Alfons liked to pray on his knees when he was alone in his room. As a child, he helped his parents with the chores in the fields. On Sundays and holidays he regularly walked to the parish church in Lubeck, about 4 km from his home. On one occasion, during the harsh winter, he fainted and fell to the ground. He would have frozen to death if a man named Mokros hadn’t taken care of him. He took him in and cared for him until the boy became well again.
Alfons had many gifts. He liked to play the violin and to paint. He also liked to make pilgrimages to the shrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Częstochowa and Piekary. After primary school he went on to secondary school in Lubliniec (1929 – 1934). He went there by bicycle every day. When he felt Christ calling him to His service, he entered the Oblate Minor Seminary in Lubliniec (1934 – 1937). After passing the baccalaureate, he began his novitiate in Markowice, near Inowrocław, and made his first vows on September 8, 1938.
During his novitiate he kept a spiritual diary entitled “Recapitulatio diei”. His family carefully preserved it and has given us access to it. By reading these notes, written daily or at short intervals, we can follow the great efforts of Bro. Mańka to reach holiness and renounce everything for the love of Jesus. In his endeavour he was aided by the Virgin Mary, whom he chose as his own mother. Many of his notes begin with the word “Jesus” and end with the greeting “Ave Maria.”
As a novice, he set out with all his might to achieve his goal. But he ran into all kinds of difficulties. This internal struggle took its toll on his health, so that, for more than a month, from April 1 to May 11, 1938, he had to undergo treatments under the supervision of doctors.
To understand this incessant search for holiness, its joys, its anguishes, its moments of mystical rapture, its moments of restlessness, even its moments of decay, some of the most important passages of this spiritual diary have been quoted in chronological order at the end of this biography .
After the first profession of vows, he went to the scholasticate in Krobia, where he began his philosophical studies. At the end of August 1939 he arrived in Markowice together with other religious. As the German army approached, on September 4, he left Markowice along with other confreres and headed for Kodeń. Given the overcrowding in the houses of Kodeń and the Holy Cross, he returned to Markowice. The day after his return, October 5, he and the entire religious community were placed under house arrest and forced to work on nearby German farms.
On his days off, he and four other scholastics continued their philosophical studies under the direction of Oblate Fathers Jan Nawrat and Josef Krawczyk. On May 2, he wrote his last letter to his mother before being sent to the camp. He comforted her as best he could, because her husband, Alfons’ father, had been deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he died on March 13, 1940. After completing the letter of May 4, he added: “In half an hour’s time we are leaving. by car to work; where to? I don’t know. ” Before sending the letter to his family, the Oblate Father Joseph Cebula added: “Alfons is no longer here. On Saturday he went with others to work in Germany.” This same Father Cebula would then also be taken to the same concentration camp as Alfons Mańka’s; having also been martyred a few months after Alfons, today he has already been beatified. On Saturday May 4, 1940, Alfons Mańka and 15 other Oblate novices and scholastics were deported by the Gestapo (the official secret police of Nazi Germany and in German-occupied Europe) in a van to the Szczeglino prisoner distribution camp, near Mogilno. During the initial “exercises” he was beaten so badly that he could barely move. After three days, he was taken with the others in cattle wagons to the Dachau concentration camp. From May 9 to August 2, he was kept there in quarantine, a kind of preparation for life in the concentration camp. On August 2, 1940, in a transport of 1,500 prisoners, he was deported to Mauthausen-Gusen, a camp known as “hell on earth.” At Dachau he had received the number 9348, and at Mauthausen-Gusen that of 6665.
Of fragile health and exhausted by the hard work of the quarry, he ended up collapsing. Thanks to the secretary of the block, he was admitted to the field hospital, known as the ward. Here he won the sympathy of the nurses, who tried to save him by giving him a larger portion of food. But all efforts were useless; the patient did not recover. Seeing himself already facing death, he prayed almost constantly and confessed to a priest who was lying sick next to him. He gave his pure soul to God on January 22, 1941, at only 23 years old.
Oblate novice Józef Rozynek, who had good relations with the “kapo” (head) of the crematorium, got permission to pray for the deceased. Some of the Oblates went to the crematorium and there, among the 100 boxes with the corpses of the dead or murdered, they found the mortal remains of the scholastic Mańka. Father Maksymiuk, who was then another Oblate novice in the camp, describes what he saw in the following manner:
“The coffin with the corpse of Alfons Mańka was placed. He lay naked, like a newly born. His bones were covered by a pale skin; his face was serene. We knelt to have the Christian ceremony with a prayer that flowed from our torn hearts. After the prayer, the coffin was taken to its place. Slowly, silently, because it was already late, we dispersed towards our barracks. ”
The body of the scholastic Mańka was burned on January 28, in the local camp crematorium, the same day it was opened.
The scholastic Mańka had a fragile physique and a melancholic-sentimental temperament. In the reports of July 7, 1938, on the occasion of his admission to the first vows, it is read that he was endowed with tact and kindness in dealing with the confreres and that he gave testimony as an exemplary novice. For this reason, he was unanimously admitted to his first vows.
The magazine of the Polish Oblate scholasticate “Gość z Obry” offers us a beautiful testimony:
“He died like a saint. Exhausted by hunger, between beatings and terrible torments, without uttering a lament. He always had a prayer on his lips. He was always in recollection. What we saw after his death was a skeleton with an angelic serenity in the face”.
When the family received their belongings from Markowice, they found among them a note that read: “I will be faithful to God until death!” This is how Brother Alfons Mańka remained faithful to God until his martyrdom. Together with Father Joseph Cebula, already beatified on June 13, 1999, Brother Alfons will be worthily proposed by the Polish Oblate Province as its second candidate to the altars.
(Biographical review written by Józef Pielorz OMI, fellow sufferer of the Servant of God Alfons Mańka in the concentration camp, and adapted by Diego Sáez Martín OMI)
Synthesis of the spiritual diary of the scholastic Alfons Mańk
To understand his incessant search for holiness, his joys, his anguish, his moments of mystical rapture, his moments of restlessness, even his moments of fall, Father Józef Pielorz OMI made a synthesis of the most important passages of his spiritual diary, in chronological order :
“I have come to the convent to become a saint, and I wish it with all my heart” (October 2, 1937).
Two days later, “a dryness seized him”, but the next day he has raptures of zeal. Chose “the path of self-denial for Jesus and renouncing everything for Him” (October 10).
Experienced the immense happiness of communion with God: “In the morning I felt the embers of love burning in me, but during the day sometimes love cooled and human nature tended to what is proper to it … I want to fight always for total sanctification” (October 24).
He felt the closeness of Jesus:
– “Today Jesus has made me known how sweet it is to kneel at his feet in the chapel, and how pleasant it is to contemplate the tabernacle with the feeling that there, behind that door, Jesus lives” (November 04).
– “Jesus, consume me for your love … I Serve you, I love him … The world no longer has any value for me, because God is mine and all mine” (November 07 and 08).
To fully love Jesus, one must acquire the right virtues. A very important one is: humility.
– “The path of humility, the path of oblivion, this is the path of my life. Jesus leads me through it” (November 10). “In the midst of reluctance and discouragement, however hard it may be, we must move on, because Jesus guides us” (November 9).
Following the example of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, he wantd to “please Jesus, be his consolation” (November 16).
He wanted to love Jesus “to the point of madness” (November 17).
In the dry periods, in which the spiritual life is allowed to cool, we need to remind ourselves “that it is not possible to love God without sacrifice… The true life of the religious must flow from minute to minute between denial and mortification” (November 18). “Jesus, for your sake I want to suffer, suffer all my life! Jesus, for you I want to continue smiling through my tears” (November 20).
“Jesus is my ideal, Jesus is my treasure, my mind is in him, my heart is in him” (November 21). “Jesus I love you and I want to love you to the point of madness” (November 21).
The idea of holiness is constantly before their eyes: “I want to become a saint. No matter what it costs me … With Jesus everything is possible … If others could, why not me?” (November 27).
“More and more yearning for Jesus and love for him arise in my heart. Thoughts of him increasingly transcend my flesh. To live only for him, for him to suffer, that is my desire. I offer him every moment, every exercise” (November 29).
But pity is not just a feeling; you must first do the will of God: “This is the principle I want to adhere to in my life” (November 30).
“I left my father’s house, relatives and friends to follow Jesus, to follow him, so it is not allowed in the convent to cross my arms and rest comfortably, since Jesus already carried the cross before me … so,! to lead it after Jesus! … day and night … until the last hour of my life, and on it to give my soul to God” (December 02).
“Fighting for sanctity, for perfection, is a constant struggle, a struggle with myself, a struggle with the world … for this I try to mortify myself. I renounce all comforts and pleasures and I try to submit my life completely to the God’s will … to acquire the virtues and form in me a kind of good habit, the habit for good” (December 03).
Many Oblates have already been sanctified by their thorough observance of the Rule. He wanted to follow in their footsteps and observe the Holy Rule as scrupulously as possible (03 January 1938).
He even goes so far as to say that “even in recreation we owe recollection” (January 15).
“Only constant self-denial, constant remembrance of the presence of God in which we live, constant acts of love bring our souls to perfection” (January 19).
For the first time the love of Jesus joins that of his Immaculate Mother in a note of January 26: “Jesus, through the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin I offer to your Most Sacred Heart all my thoughts, words, works, prayers, anguish, sufferings”. (January 26).
In his doubts, anguish and temptations he cried to her: “Oh Mary, support me, oh Mother of perpetual help, do not allow me to lose my God” (February 18).
But the road to perfection is long and difficult. Sometimes “I do what agrees with my will and not with God’s will” (March 05).
“How much anguish it generates in us precisely this of wanting to give ourselves half to God” (March 12).
This constant tension, this constant struggle, weakened his body so much that from the beginning of April to mid-May he had to recover under the care of the doctors. So from April 1 to May 11 he did not take any notes.
On May 12 he notes: “For the first time I am doing normal exercises again after treatment. Her inner life suffered a bit with this cure”.
In the month of May, dedicated to Our Lady, his love for her as a mother brings him great joy (15. May).
As of May 19, each note is preceded by the word: Jesus! And as of July 16, feast of Our Lady of the Scapular, he ends most of his notes with a greeting to the Virgin: Hail Mary!
“In the Blessed Mother I place all my hope. In her hands are the destinies of my life … She will not abandon me, but she will support and help me” (May 19 and 20).
Prayer should be an unbroken chain in your life. For this reason, he decided to recite the “Ave Maria” every hour during the day; and raise his spirit to the sound of each touch of the tower clock: “Most Sweet Heart of Jesus, make me love you more and more” (May 31).
But he realizes that holiness does not consist in these external acts, nor in long prayers, but “in piety and in walking constantly in the presence of Jesus” (June 9).
The novitiate was coming to an end, and he was not as zealous as he would have liked. Sometimes he was careless in his religious exercises, sometimes he did not bear with patience his brothers (June 21 and 23).
He wondered how to reconcile health care, recommended by his superiors, with the zeal of his spirit (July 13 and 14).
The last note is dated August 23. He was sad because his spiritual director had been transferred to another place: “Who will show me the way to heaven now?”