Angel of goodness – as she was called by contemporaries. She lived barely 32 years and took perpetual vows when she was already on her deathbed. She had a clearly defined goal of which she was not afraid to speak: she wanted to be a saint. This was not the daydream of an exalted girl, but a deep desire that she pursued as a student and later as a nun, in the ordinariness of everyday life, in the midst of the responsibilities and joys of youth.
Princess, little beetle – these affectionate terms by which she was called by those closest to her fully reflect her bright, cheerful disposition. She infected others with her optimism and sense of humor.
Her parents dreamed up a peaceful future for her as a lady of the house, wanting her to marry and surround them with her care. But the girl had other plans. She began Romance Studies at the University of Poznan. This time was filled with studies, spiritual formation, and charitable activity. As a student, Janka took an active part in the work of the Sodality of Our Lady: in meetings, conferences, and closed retreats. The poor people in the most neglected, so-called "Amusement Park” district of Poznan, in which she helped to the best of her strength and abilities, knew her well.
She went to France in 1934 to prepare for her French language master exam. She took part in a pilgrimage to Lourdes, which proved to be a breakthrough in her life. Janka did not return home and began the postulate at the Oblates. This did not occur without the decisive intervention of her family and the girl soon returned to Poland. She did not, however, abandon her dream of religious life. With her brother, Fr. Eryk, supporting her, she soon entered the convent of the Seraphic Sisters, whom she met during her holidays in Drobnin, where Eryk was a parish priest.
She slept on bare boards for two nights upon her arrival at the convent because they forgot to put a mattress in her cell. When the prayer bell sounded, she dropped everything and ran to the chapel. Although she was educated, she hastened to take up the simplest work in the monastery. She was a tutor, teacher, translator, portress, and refectoress. She was extraordinarily dedicated and zealous, and was called "The Living Rule." "To surrender yourself to God is to forfeit," she would say.
When difficult days of Nazi occupation arrived, Germany imposed a three-month house arrest on the sisters. In February 1940, they were allowed to go home. A portion of them stayed. Among them was Sancja. They had to walk in secular dress and cook and launder for the German soldiers who were quartered in the monastery. In these difficult experiences, Sancja brought peace and hope. French and English captives, for whom she risked her life to serve as a translator, called her "an angel of goodness" and "saint Sancja."
Work, hunger, and cold caused Sancja to fall very ill. In early July 1942, she took perpetual vows. She died less than two months later.
Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Maria Sancja Szymkowiak during Mass on 18 August 2002 in Krakow’s Błonia Park, not far from the General House of the Seraphic Sisters – the congregation to which the young nun gave her heart and life.