Category Archives: Austria

Executed for Refusing to Say “Yes”*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME 

By Larry Peterson


The pages of Catholic/Christian history are filled with countless names of those who came from virtual anonymity and proceeded to leave an indelible mark in our lives. St. Teresa of Calcutta is a prime example. Many have also reached the eternal heights of spiritual greatness but are not so well known. Meet Franz Jagerstatter.

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter    wikipedia commons

Franz was born in Austria in 1907. His father was killed in World War I and when Franz was around eight years old, his mom married Heinrich Jagerstatter who adopted young Franz, giving him his name. 


Franz received a basic education in the local schools and excelled in reading and writing. He learned religion from his maternal grandmother and would read the Bible and other religious works. He managed to develop a faith which nestled itself securely into his soul. As Franz grew older and wiser his faith grew right along with him.

In 1933, Franz, inherited his adopted father’s farm. He then met Franziska Schwaninger, a deeply religious Catholic woman, and they fell in love. They were married Holy Thursday, 1936, and after the ceremony proceeded on a pilgrimage to Rome. This is also when Franz’s spiritual life became his primary focus in all things.

Now possessing a deeply imbedded faith and love of Jesus, he soon was serving as a sexton at his local parish. He and Franziska would have three daughters and he began to live his life true to his faith and to Jesus Christ. He would no longer deviate from things that were “not right”. Some perceived him as “overly pious”.

He stopped going to taverns because, as a defender of truth, he was always getting into arguments about Nazism and wanted to avoid that. He stopped accepting donations he received as the church sexton and gave the money to the needy even though he and his growing family were poor too. Even though some folks mocked him, he was determined to do “what was right”.

In 1938, German soldiers began moving into Austria. Immediately, they began implementing the Nazification of the once peaceful nation. The “Anschluss”, which was the creation of a German-Austrian State, was put to a vote in Franz’s village and he was the only one in his town to vote “no”. The authorities rejected his vote and claimed the vote was unanimous. However, Franz was now under watch by the Nazis.

It did not matter to Franz. He knew he must do the right thing and remained openly anti-Nazi. He joined the Third Order of St. Francis and began serving as a sacristan at the local parish. He managed to get several exemptions from military service. Time was not to be Franz’s friend.

In 1940, when he was 33, Franz was conscripted into the German army. He finished basic training but managed to stay out of the active service because he qualified for an exemption given to farmers. Back home he began to evaluate the morality of war and even discussed the subject with his bishop. His bishop did not encourage Franz.

And so it was that on February 23, 1943, Franz Jagerstatter was called to active duty. He and Franziska now had three daughters, the oldest only six. Franz stood strong and refused to fight for the godless, Third Reich. He declared himself a “conscientious objector” and offered to serve as a paramedic. He was ignored. A priest from his town came to talk him into serving but he refused. He was immediately put in prison.

Against all advice to stop resisting, Franz persisted in his opposition to the Nazis. He was told by his spiritual advisors that he had an obligation to his family to protect his life. He was told that he was required morally to obey the “legitimate” authorities. A friend told him, “Just say yes. You don’t even have to shoot straight. But take the oath.” Franz rejected all arguments. Atheistic Nazism could not be supported. He was determined to do the “right thing”.

Franz wrote, “Everyone tells me, of course, that I should not do what I am doing because of the danger of death. I believe it is better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to place oneself in the grave danger of committing sin and then dying.”

Franz Jagerstatter held fast to his principles. On July 6, 1943, he was tried and sentenced to death. On August 9, 1943, he was executed by guillotine at Brandenburg-Gorden prison. He was 36 years old.
Franz Jagerstatter led an obscure life and his death was no different. But a priest by the name of Father Jochmann spoke to Franz right before his execution. He said later that Franz was the only saint he had ever met.

In 1964 the American sociologist, Gordon Zahn, wrote a book about Franz Jagerstatter  titled, In Solitary Witness.  That was followed by the renowned Trappist,Thomas Merton, writing a chapter about Franz in one his books, Faith & Violence.

Eventually, Franz story weaved its way to the Vatican and came before Pope Benedict XVI. In June of 2007, the Holy Father issued an apostolic exhortation declaring Franz a martyr. On October 27, 2007, Franz Jagerstatter was beatified by Cardinal Jose Martins in Linz, Austria.

 Franz believed that Jesus wanted him to do the “right thing”.  He even gave his life to do it. He is known as the patron of “conscientious objectors”.

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, please pray for us.
*This article appeared in Aleteia on October 19, 2016

                                        ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights reserved

Meet the Only Nun Sentenced to Death by a Nazi Court: Her Crime? "Hanging" Crucifixes*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

*An edited version of this article appeared in Aleteia on April 12, 2016.

Just imagine being arrested on Ash Wednesday for the crime of “hanging Crucifixes”. I cannot imagine how I would handle it. Maybe I would have taken the Crucifixes down. Honestly, I do not know. Helena Kafka, who became known as Sister Maria Restituta, refused. She was sentenced to death. The following year, on Tuesday of Holy Week, she was executed .
May 1, 1894, was  a happy day for Anton and Marie Kafka.  Marie had just given birth to her sixth child and 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.
Helena was a good student and worked hard. She received her First Holy Communion in St. Brigitta Church during May of 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 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.

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.
Blessed Maria Restituta

On  March 12, 1938, the Austrian Nazi Party pulled off a successful coup d’etat taking control of the government. These unforeseen and unimagined things had come 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. Sister Restituta was told 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. She would be the only Catholic nun ever sentenced to death by the Nazis.
An appeal for clemency went as far as the desk of Hitler’s personal secretary and Nazi Party Chancellor, Martin Bormann. 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 which also happened to be Tuesday of Holy Week. 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. But the one she served best of all was her Savior. She gave Him her life.
Blessed Marie Restituta, please pray for us.
    

          ©LarryPeterson  2016

Evil Infects All of History: James Foley was Murdered because He Represented Goodness

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

The brutal murder of journalist, James Foley, had nothing to do with James Foley.  It had to do with the fact that the man represented Goodness.  Satan, in complete charge of his conquered souls, has had them inflicting horror and terror and barbaric acts of murder and cruelty on, not only men, but on women and children as well.  This evil has been with us since time immemorial.  Let us travel back a mere 71 years and meet a sweet and kindly lady by the name of Sister Maria Restituta.

May 1, 1894, was a happy day for Anton and Marie Kafka.  Marie had just given birth to her sixth child and mom and her daughter were doing fine.  The proud parents named their new baby, Helena.  Devout Catholics, Anton and Marie had Helena baptized  into the faith thirteen days later at the parish of The Church of the Assumption, in the town oh Husovice in Austria.   Due to financial circumstances, Anton was forced to move his family to the big city of Vienna.  Helena was barely two and she and her siblings would remain in Vienna where they would all 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 one 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 to be a nurse.  She became an assistant nurse at Lainz City Hospital in 1913.  This was when Helena  first had contact with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.  She immediately felt the call to become a Sister herself.  On April 25, 1914, Helena Kafka, joined the Franciscan Sisters and on October 23, 1915, she became Sister Maria Restituta.  One year later she made her final vows and began working solely as a nurse.

SisterRestituta.jpg
Blessed Maria Restituta

When World War I  ended, Sister Maria  was 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 their beloved nation would be annexed into the German Republic because of this man.  On March 12, 1938, a successful coup d’etat by the Austrian Nazi party took place and the Nazis, under the now feared, Adolf Hitler, took control of the once proud Austrian nation.  Things would never be the same.

Sister Restituta was very outspoken in her opposition to the Nazi regime. When a new wing to the hospital was built Sister hung a Crucifix in each of the new bedrooms.  The Nazis demanded that they be removed telling Sister Maria that she would be dismissed if she did not comply.  She adamantly refused and the Crucifixes remained on the walls.  One of the doctors on staff, himself 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 as she exited 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 Holy Spirit, wanted to do nothing more than to 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 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 of the Crucifix and for the Person who was nailed to it and died hanging on it,  Sister Maria was sent to the guillotine and 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 that Helena Kafka, the girl who started off in housekeeping school and became a servant and then went on to be a nurse in the Franciscan Sisters of Charity, was beatified by the Pope and became Blessed Maria Restituta. She had learned how to serve extremely well, always serving others before herself.

Let us ask Blessed Maria that she pray for the repose of the soul of James Foley who was murdered by the forces of evil because he, too, represented Goodness.  We ask her to remember his family and friends as they deal with this terrible abomination done to their loved one.  We also ask Blessed Maria and all the saints to pray for us all.