Saint Mary's Home in flames
In 1911, at Pale near Sarajevo, the sisters of the Daughters of Divine Charity bought a house with large areas of pine forest. The convent house was named St. Mary's Home. Next to the Saint Mary's Home a chapel was built in honour of “Mother Most Admirable” and close by an elementary school for the children of Pale. Originally the convent was intended as an oasis for recovering sick sisters who were teachers at Saint Joseph’s Institute in Sarajevo. Saint Mary's Home developed into a very fine convalescent centre known for its good deeds towards anyone in need who knocked at the door, especially the neighbouring Orthodox residents.
In autumn 1941 the war was raging on and the sisters were advised not to stay in Pale any longer but to retreat to Sarajevo as a safer place. The Sisters refused to go away from Pale saying “We have done nothing wrong to these people and we have only done good to everyone regardless of their faith or nationality and we have to stay with these people to support them through this difficult time too”.
The morning of 11th December 1941 dawned and deep snow covered Pale and the surrounding area and gun fire could be heard all day long. The same morning close to St. Mary’s Home, Sr. Antonija was almost shot by one of the Serbian fighters, so-called Chetniks. About four o’clock in the afternoon the Chetniks surrounded the convent. At the time Sr. Antonija, Sr. Berchmana, Sr. Bernadeta, Sr. Krizina were inside, together with a Slovenian Catholic priest Franc Ksaver Meško who had been expelled from his homeland with many other Catholic priests in 1941.
Meantime Sr. Jula together with Franjo Milišić, the caretaker, was in the town of Pale buying some groceries. Approaching the convent Sr. Jula, the superior of the community, realised what was happening to the sisters and instantly sent Franjo away to safety but she felt that as the superior of the community she should be together with her sisters. She entered the convent surrounded by the Chetniks on her own. When she got inside the Chetniks were very surprised to see her there as she had had the opportunity to escape but instead had chosen to share the destiny of her fellow sisters. The Chetniks pointing their guns at their victims, ordered that they should leave the house without putting any warmer clothes on, even though it was freezing cold outside. They took their hostages to the nearby inn. The owners of the Inn, a couple of Orthodox faith, bravely, but unsuccessfully tried to protect the sisters.
Just as the sisters and priest were taken away, the convent and the chapel were looted and then burned down. Meanwhile the sisters together with some other hostages from Pale were taken on a march over the snowy mountains in freezing temperatures. Their first stop was the village of Careve Vode, before moving on to Sjetlina, where the 76 year old Sister Berchmana, exhausted from the forced march and all the events, was separated from the group and forced to remain behind.
Sisters Jula, Krizina, Antonija and Bernadeta were then forced onward to Goražde. Their journey took four days and four nights from Pale to Goražde over Romanija Mountain.
Fidelity to God by shedding blood
They reached Goražde on the afternoon of 15th December 1941 and were placed in a room on the second floor of the military barracks.
On the same evening a group of Chetniks broke into their room asking the sisters to denounce their religious vows. They promised to spare their lives and said they would be given the service of nursing the wounded. The sisters would gladly have accepted nursing the wounded or any other job but they had consecrated their lives to Christ and they did not wish to betray their promises.
The Chetniks then threatened them and told them that if they did not give in they would be raped anyway and then slaughtered one by one. After these threats they left them alone for a while, expecting them to change their minds.
When they returned, drunk and violent, they had a need not only to satisfy their lust, but to insult the sisters so they started beating them and tearing their clothes off. The Sisters resisted with all their might but when they realized that they would be overcome by the soldier’s physical strength, Sr. Jula suddenly opened the window and invited the sisters to follow her. The sisters broke loose from the hands of their aggressors and one by one cried out “Jesus save us” and jumped out through the window. The Chetniks rushed to the front of the barracks and seeing that the sisters were still alive but badly hurt, angered with their failure, they stabbed them with their knives. Their clothes had been torn off and their bodies afflicted with numerous wounds. For some time they were left lying on the ground in front of the barracks.
After this ordeal some of the Chetniks went to nearby house (not knowing the family were Catholics) to wash their bloodstained knives (weapons) and clothes. After they had been served with brandy and some food they started talking in detail about the ordeal of the sisters. The next day the same family asked for permission to bury the sisters but they were not allowed to do so, instead the undertaker was told to push their bodies into the river Drina where they were carried downstream some days later with many other victims of war.
Sister Berchmana remained at Sjetlina for about ten days where she recovered significantly. She was told that she was to join the other sisters at Goražde not knowing that they had already been killed. Two Chetniks put her in their sleigh pretending to take her to Goražde. Upon their return, the driver told the villagers that the sister had safely joined the other sisters, but it was noticed that one of them had her rosary around his neck. According to a written statement, she was killed on23rd December 1941.
Sister Jula, Berchmana, Krizina, Antonija and Bernadeta, known as 'the Martyrs of Drina', were missionaries who served their God by assisting the sick and poor of the suffering population of Eastern Bosnia. They confirmed their fidelity to God by shedding their blood. The fame of their martyr's death has been spread far and wide.