Born in Poznan, Poland, Wanda Blenska trained as a doctor, all the while dreaming of a missionary vocation. But when she applied to various mission societies, she was rejected. They were convinced, she later observed, that no solitary lay worker— “especially a woman”—could stand the arduous life. After earning her medical degree in 1934 she worked in a hospital in Torun. During the Nazi occupation she was active in the underground resistance and barely escaped death.
Following the war she pursued further studies in tropical medicine in Germany and England, waiting for the chance to pursue a mission to Africa. The opportunity came when she was invited to work in Uganda, at a leprosy treatment center run by an order of Franciscan sisters. After her arrival in 1951 and under her leadership, the facility expanded to St. Francis Hospital, which would remain her home for the next forty years.
Her chief work was the care of lepers. A pioneer in the treatment of Hanson’s disease, she combined medical expertise with compassionate care, earning her the title “Mother of the Lepers.” Treating her patients with dignity, she began by offering each patient a handshake—“even for patients with hardly any hands left,” as one of her colleagues recalled.
Eventually she retired and turned over the work for other hands. She died on November 27, 2014, at the age of 103. Her cause for canonization is in process.
“What she saw in the lepers was not just the disease. She saw the entire human being, along with their fears and hopes, who deserved, apart from professional care, respect and tenderness.”
—Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Wanda Blenska