The importance of names in this particular beatification case

Have any of you seen this article? On the road to sainthood: Family of 9 murdered for hiding Jews in Poland by Dominika Cicha, posted yesterday at Aleteia.

It was more horrifying than I anticipated: The Ulma family — the 44-year-old dad, his 32-year-old pregnant wife, and their seven children (ages 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1.5, and unborn) — were shot and killed for hiding eight Jews (father, mother, and four sons of the Szall family, and two daughters of the Goldman family), who were also killed. The Jews were murdered first, in front of the family; then the parents, in front of the children; then the children.

And some people don’t believe the devil exists. SMH.

This holy family consisted of:

Józef (dad)
Wiktoria (mom)
Stanisława “Stasia” (age 8)
Barbara “Basia” (age 6)
Władysław “Władzio” (age 5)
Franciszek “Franuś” (age 4)
Antoni “Antoś” (age 3)
Maria “Marysia” (age 1.5)
Unnamed baby, who was due not long after the killings, and was discovered partially born when a few men from the village secretly recovered the bodies for a proper burial

All I can think of when reading something like this is Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The particular detail of this story that caused me to want to post it here is this bit:

At the diocesan stage of the process a decision was made to add the Ulmas’ six children, because of their parents’ faith. There is dilemma concerning the child who died in mother’s womb. Provisions applying to canonizations and beatifications clearly stipulate that a candidate to be declared saint or blessed in the Catholic Church should be known by first and second name. The Vatican congregation will ultimately decide whether the youngest member of Józef and Wiktoria’s family will be considered a martyr, too.”

I did some research and couldn’t find that information anywhere — that a candidate needs to be known by first and and second name. Certainly the baby’s credentials are not based on disagreements about personhood, as the Church holds we are persons from the moment of conception. And of course not being beatified or canonized doesn’t mean the baby isn’t in heaven, just that the Church doesn’t have enough information to declare him or her to be so.

The fact that this comes down to his or her name is also really interesting from the perspective of choosing names for our babies before they’re born, and not just a boy name and a girl name, but the baby’s actual name, which would require finding out the sex during pregnancy. Are there some among us who might decide to find out our baby’s sex, in order to name him or her, so that if the worst happens our babies will be known by name and be able to be included among the list of Venerables/Blesseds/Saints? Given the wide range of personalities in the Church, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some who would do so!

I wonder, too, if “be known by first and second name” means more than just having a name, but also means that others must know it? That is, not just that there’s a name the parents have given or intend to give to the baby, but that it’s one that’s been shared with others, so much so that others would know and refer to the baby by that name?

I wonder, too, if the Church can name the baby. Though that right and privilege is given to parents, this is certainly an unusual situation that might require an unusual solution.

Also, what is this “second name” business? Perhaps a new requirement? I’m just thinking of when people didn’t even necessarily have surnames, but we certainly have saints from back then. (Not that the second name matters here — the baby’s second name IS known:  Ulma.)

I’m not being argumentative, I’m just interested. I trust the Church’s process, and I know there is so often more to a story than what we know.

In trying to find out more, I was googling variations on “can children and babies be canonized” and I was getting pages and pages of results having to do with Jacinta and Francisco — I couldn’t get past them! I did find a couple things that I thought were helpful and/or interesting, though:

Divinis Perfectionis Magister is the 1983 Apostolic Constitution by Pope John Paul II that outlines the canonization process (no mention of names though)

Child saints have much to teach the Church on suffering, sacrifice by Charles Collins at Crux 

5 Child Saints Who Totally Put All of Us Adults to Shame at ChurchPOP

It’s important to note that with the Ulma children, there isn’t any controversy about whether they were old enough to have led lives of “heroic virtue” (as is sometimes argued in regards to children), as they’re being considered martyrs (though even then, it’s an unusual case I think, because they’re being considered martyrs “because of their parents’ faith” rather than because of their own).

If any of you can point me to any sources that explain or demonstrate that candidates for the canonization process need to be known by first and second name, please do! And also, the idea of children being considered by virtue of their parents’ faith (I’ll be musing on that for a while — it certainly adds an extra something to parents’ responsibilities in regards to their children!).



33 thoughts on “The importance of names in this particular beatification case

  1. Interesting! A horrifying story of Christian witness to be sure. I was surprised that the hang-up focused on the name. I would have thought, that for the unborn / partially born babe the issue would be one of baptism and the fate of the unbaptized who die without personal sin. It is still not, I believe, settled dogma as to the fate of the unbaptized and whether or not they attain the beautific vision in Heaven, or are instead awarded eternity of total happiness but outside the beautific vision in what used to be called limbo.

    As the mother of a miscarried child, I have pondered this question. Here is an article I found on Catholic Culture which gave me great comfort.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think not being baptized is an issue. Martyrs don’t have to be baptized. Many martyrs were still cathecumenals at the time of their death.

      About this family’s story, it is horrifying but their bravery and love and sacrifice are incredible.
      Since the mother’s name is Wiktoria, she could become an amazing patron for all the Victorias out there.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love the “theology of hope” wording used in this article! And of course that we must simply entrust them to the mercy of God. ❤ Also, in light of this story, where the children are considered martyrs by virtue of their parents' faith, could not the parents' desire for baptism be transferred to the unborn baby, in the same way that parents make that same decision for their born children before they are of the age of reason? Maybe this particular story will be a help in development of doctrine regarding this?

      To your point about thinking that the hang-up should be about the baby's baptism, I'm wondering if that's what the "known name" actually refers to? The Christian name given at baptism? So maybe when they're talking about names they're actually talking about baptism?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I read a Catholic World Report article about this family a couple of months ago, and they had a really nice photo of Jozef and Wiktoria. It was one of those where they were kind of hugging, which I thought was unusual for an older picture. They were so sweet.

    It made me seriously consider using the name Ulma as a middle.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would love to know the English versions of these names – some are obvious, but these two have me stumped (but I’m not a name expert!): Stanisława “Stasia” (age 8), Władysław “Władzio” (age 5). All of these names could inspire some new to-be-named-baby versions!

    Liked by 2 people

    • So, Stanislawa is the feminine form of Stanislaw, which in English would be Stanislaus (not Stanley; Stanley sounds similar but is not related), but I don’t think there’s an English Stanislaus variant for girls. Stasia (which is the diminutive) is kinda cute, though!

      Wladyslaw is trickier– in Russian, you would see it spelled Vladislaw (nickname Vlad). In Hungarian, it’s Laszlo, which is somewhat more familiar stateside, I think. But I wouldn’t say there’s an English equivalent per se.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Poor family. What horror.

        I could see the nicknames being used — Stasia (pronounced Stasha?) and Basia (Basha?) being used. I like the name Barbara and would like to see it get better use. As to the unborn baby, of course he or she is a martyr in heaven too. I don’t know if the Church would name the baby. I would probably pick something referring to innocence or purity — Innocent or Christian or some other name that has both masculine and feminine forms. Maybe someone in the family knew what names were being considered for the child and wrote it down.

        Liked by 1 person

    • My grandfather’s name was Stanisław (the masculine version of Stanisława), which is commonly Anglicized to Stanley (which he also went by). I’m not sure what the female version would be, though… Maybe Stana? (Like the actress on “Castle”.)

      As for Władysław, I found a website that said it could be Anglicized as Walter.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I find this “needing a name” issue interesting, because in reading the daily lives of the saints, we have many, many listed as groups of saints, not individually named. We are Orthodox, but usually these very early saints are shared by both East and West. The large group martyred on the lake near Sebaste are listed as the “Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste” for instance. In this case, there is a traditional list of names, but in other cases there aren’t, and if we name a baby after them, we name after the site (Sebastian, Sevasti). Sometimes a family will also be remembered as “St. So-and-so and her daughters” or something like that. Reading through the Horologian, there are MANY of these groups of martyrs. If this holy family was listed in our books, they would probably be listed as “Ss. Józef and Wiktoria and the children martyred with them.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • This kind of raises the question of to whom the names have to be known. Does the Church have to know the names to declare sainthood? Or do they need to just have a name (presumably known by the parents, relatives, and acquaintances who would know the names)? That would cover all the martyr groups, holy innocents, etc. But if that’s the case, I am not sure why that would matter sainthood-wise, if the Church doesn’t know the names. This sounds like a question for a canon lawyer! – nancyo

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I also would’ve thought the issue would be baptism because I also thought that the matter of the death of unbaptized preform babies was not settled doctrine. Not in terms of the limbo thing as mentioned above, but without baptism, can we actually know they are in heaven? I have always prayed FOR my deceased prenoen child, but I’ve had other friends say they pray TO babies they’ve lost, assuming they are saints in heaven. I don’t actually know but I entrust my child to God—just as I entrust my born children to him, etc.

    HOWEVER, the subject of the Holy Innocents calls ALL OF THIS to question! They were not baptized, their parents couldn’t have desired baptism for them since infant Christ hadn’t established it yet, we don’t know their names… All puzzling!

    Perhaps the issue is that this is a particular individual rather than one of a large group?

    I also thought maybe they could just use the surname alone for the baby?

    It’s all a puzzle!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I believe baptism is not an issue for this child or for the Holy Innocents because all are considered martyrs who would then have had a baptism by blood.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha Kern! Yes I do, given to me by a very dear friend. ❤ 😉 Here's the info on the unfamiliar names:

      Stanisława: Feminine form of Stanisław (Stanislas). Two-part name consisting of "become" + "fame, glory, renown." Diminutives: Stacha, Stasia, Staskzka (Stana wasn't included in the book I'm looking through, but behindthename says it is a short form of the Czech/Serbian/Croatian variant Stanislava)

      Władysław: No English equivalent. Slavic. Two-part name consisting of "to rule" + "fame, glory, renown." Diminutives: Wład, Władeczek, Władek, Władzio

      (Book: Polish First Names, by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab;


  7. What a terrible story. Makes me cry. I had never heard about this family, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. Truly they are ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ and in the eyes of God!

    Liked by 2 people

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