Blessed Maria Restituta
By Larry Peterson
Arrested and imprisoned for hanging crucifixes.
Just imagine being arrested on Ash Wednesday and sentenced to prison for the crime of “hanging Crucifixes.” I cannot imagine how I would have handled it. All she had to do was take the crucifixes down. Maybe I would have complied with the order. Honestly, I do not know. Helena Kafka, who became known as Sister Maria Restituta, refused. Her story follows.
May 1, 1894, was a happy day for Anton and Marie Kafka. Marie had just given birth to her sixth child, and her mom and her daughter were both doing fine. The proud parents named their new baby girl Helena. Devout Catholics Anton and Marie had Helena baptized into the faith only 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, the family had to move and settled in the city of Vienna. This is where Helena and her siblings would remain and grow up.
Began training as a nurse at the age of 15
Helena was a good student and worked hard. She received her First Holy Communion in St. Brigitta Church in May 1905 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 being trained as a nurse.
In 1913, she became an assistant nurse at Lainz City Hospital. This was Helena’s first contact with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Austria. 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.
Worked as a surgical nurse during World War I
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. They could never have imagined that one day, because of this man, their beloved nation would be annexed into the German Republic.
On March 12, 1938, the Austrian Nazi Party pulled off a successful coup d’etat, taking control of the government. The unforeseen and unimagined had come to pass. The Nazis, under Hitler, now controlled the once proud Austrian nation.
As a head nurse, she was indispensable
Sister Maria Restituta was very outspoken in her opposition to the Nazi regime. After a new wing of the hospital was built she hung a Crucifix in each of the new bedrooms. The Nazis demanded that all crucifixes be removed. Sister Restituta was told she would be dismissed if she did not comply. She refused, and the crucifixes remained hanging on the walls. The Nazis wanted to remove her immediately from the hospital staff but were prevented because Sister Maria was the head nurse and, at the time, indispensable.
One of the doctors on staff, a fanatical Nazi supporter, , would have none of it. He denounced her to the Nazi Party. 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.”
She loved her Catholic faith
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 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. She would be the only Catholic nun ever sentenced to death by the Nazis.
Her one-year Lenten journey ends during Holy Week, 1943
An appeal for clemency went as far as the desk of Hitler’s personal secretary and Nazi Party Chancellor,Martin Borman. 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. The day she died happened to be Tuesday of Holy Week. She was 48 years old.
Pope St. Joun 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 She had learned how to serve others extremely well. But the one she served best of all was her Savior. She gave Him her life.
She had been sentenced and sent to prison on Ash Wednesday, February 18,1942. She was executed one year later on March 30, 1943. It was Tuesday of Holy Week. It was truly a remarkable Lenten journey for Blessed Maria Restituta.
From a letter written by Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka:
“It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way, we build an altar in our own hearts.”
Blessed Marie Restituta, please pray for us.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2023