My Godmother was my favorite aunt. Cecilia Laska was born November 18, 1912 in Detroit, Michigan. She always went by, “Ceily”, so to me she was “Auntie Ceily”. She was closest in age to my dad and was the 4th child, 2nd daughter, of the 11 children of Jozef Laska and Karolina Lipa.

Ceily was a diamond among stones. She was the cultured one in the family and had refined tastes. She was the one who appreciated fine art (and had reproductions hanging in her home), music (the only one in the family to own a musical instrument), shopped at better stores and wore the nicest clothes money could buy. She even had a signature fragrance, Chanel No. 5. Whenever I smell that scent I always think of her.

Ceily Laska Sagovac, 1949

As a child I was fascinated by Auntie Ceily. I idolized her like a Hollywood movie star. I thought I was the luckiest kid on earth to have her for my Godmother. She was very good to me in the material sense but more importantly she was always kind to me. She made a point of talking to me even when there were other adults around. And she never missed an occasion to give me a gift… birthdays, Christmas, Easter, First Holy Communion, graduation. She always remembered me and I adored her. Sadly, Auntie Ceily died of lung cancer in 1989 but she will live in my heart forever.

Today, November 22, is the Feastday of St Cecilia. I’ve no doubt that my Auntie Ceily was named for St Cecilia. It was common for Poles and Americans of Polish descent to name their children after the saint whose feastday was closest to the day of their birth. It’s interesting that my Auntie Ceily and St Cecilia had some things in common too.

It is believed that St Cecilia was born in the 2nd or 3rd century AD in Rome although the exact dates of her birth and martyrdom are unknown. It’s said she was an only child born to wealthy, Christian, educated parents but promised in marriage to a pagan Roman, Valerian, when she was just a young child. Reports of her life differ from one source to another but most agree she was cultured and came from a privileged background.

Painting of St Cecilia done in 1606

A story is told of how Cecilia prayed to God and the saints to protect her virginity and after her wedding to Valerian she told him she was protected by the angels and saints. He then asked her to show him the angel protecting her. She sent him to Pope Urban (223-230) who baptized/converted him and when he returned he found Cecilia praying in a chapel and an angel with flaming wings nearby. Valerian and Cecilia were discovered in that chapel by Valerian’s brother and he was so awed by what he saw that he too converted.

Some time after that, Valerian and his brother were put to death by the Roman prefect. Then, Cecilia too was ordered to be put to death but not before she made arrangements to have her home converted into a church. As the story goes, Cecilia was first sentenced to death by steaming but she survived that. Then she was sentenced to die of beheading. Three attempts were made to behead her before her executioner gave up and fled in fear. It is said that she lingered for three days, baptizing many during that time, until she bled to death.

At some point, (some sources say when she was about to be married others say when she was on her deathbed) Cecilia “sang or heard heavenly music in her heart”. That image caught on and she was forever more known as the patron saint of music, especially church music, and musical instruments. In paintings and art work she is most often portrayed with an organ or violin.

My Auntie Ceily was no St Cecilia but I find it intriguing that she was the only one in her poor immigrant family who lived a cultured life, like the saint she was named for. And the man she married, I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a pagan but he wasn’t Catholic and she married him in a civil ceremony much to the chagrin of her parents who were devout Catholics. I’m not sure if he converted to Catholicism later in life or not but after 20 years together their marriage was finally blessed in a Catholic church. And lastly, Ceily owned first a piano and later an organ. She was the only one in the family to do so. I don’t recall her ever playing either the piano or the organ but I remember plunking away on those ivory keys when we visited her home.

Many blessings to you on St Cecilia Day!

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