On Her Feast Day: Meet Blessed Maria Restituta; Holocaust Victim


by Larry Peterson

May 1, 1894,  was  a happy day for Anton and Marie Kafka.  Marie had just given birth  to her sixth child, a girl, and mom and her daughter were both doing fine. The proud parents named their new baby, Helena.  Devout Catholics, Anton and Marie had  Helena baptized into the faith  thirteen days after her birth. The ceremony took place in The Church of the Assumption, in the town of Husovice located in Austria.  Before Helena reached her second birthday and due to financial circumstances, the family had to move and settled in the city of Vienna.  This is where Helena and her siblings would remain and grow up.

Helena was a good student and worked hard. She received her First Holy Communion in May of 1905 in St. Brigitta Church and was confirmed in the same church a year later. After eight years of school she spent another year in housekeeping school and by the age of 15 was working as a servant, a cook and learning nursing.

Shortly thereafter, she became an assistant nurse at Lainz City Hospital in 1913. This was Helena’s first contact with the Franciscan Sisters of  Christian Charity and she was immediately moved to become a Sister herself.  On April 25, 1914, Helena Kafka  joined the Franciscan sisters and on October 23, 1915, became Sister Maria Restituta. She made her final vows one year later and began working solely as a nurse.

Blessed Maria Restituta

When World War I ended Sister Maria was the lead surgical nurse at Modling Hospital in Vienna.  She and all other Austrians had never heard of Adolf Hitler and could never have imagined  that one day,  because of this man, their beloved nation would  be annexed into the German Republic.

 After a successful coup d’etat by the Austrian Nazi Party on  March 12, 1938, these unforeseen  and unimagined things came to pass. The Nazis, under Hitler, now controlled the once proud Austrian nation.

Sister Restituta was very outspoken in her opposition to the Nazi regime. When a new wing to the hospital was built she hung a Crucifix in each of the new bedrooms. The Nazis demanded that they be removed telling Sister Restituta that she would be dismissed if she did not comply. She refused and the crucifixes remained  hanging on the walls  

One of the doctors on staff, a fanatical Nazi, would have none of it. He denounced her to the Nazi Party and on Ash Wednesday, 1942, she was arrested by the Gestapo after coming out of the operating room. The “charges” against her included  “hanging crucifixes and writing a poem that mocked Hitler”.

Sister Maria Restituta, the former Helena Kafka, loved her Catholic faith and, filled with the Spirit, wanted to do nothing more than serve the sick. The Nazis promptly sentenced her to death by the guillotine for “favouring the enemy and conspiracy to commit high treason”.  The Nazis offered her freedom if she would abandon the Franciscans she loved so much.  She adamantly refused.

An appeal for clemency went as far as the desk of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary and Nazi Party Chancellor. His response was that her execution “would provide effective intimidation for others who might want to resist the Nazis”.  Sister Maria Restituta spent her final days in prison caring for the sick. Because of her love for the Crucifix and the Person who was nailed to it and died on it, she was beheaded on March 30, 1943.  She was 48 years old.
 Pope John Paul II visited Vienna on June 21,1998.  That was the day  Helena Kafka, the girl who originally went to housekeeping school to learn how to be a servant, was beatified by the Pope and declared Blessed Maria Restituta.  She had learned how to serve extremely well  always serving others before herself.

Blessed Marie Restituta, please pray for us.

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