Saints Stories, Uncategorized

The Tough Nun Nurse Who Stood Up to the Nazis

Bl. Maria Restituta Kafka (1894-1943)
Feast: March 30
Beatified: June 21, 1998

We know the Nazis’ wickedness cowed many into silence, but not everyone. Take, for instance, Bl. Maria Restituta.

Born Helen Kafka, she was from a family of Czech extraction, and she grew up in Vienna. After leaving school at 15, Helen tried her hand at various jobs before settling on a nursing career with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

After several months, Helen asked her parents to join the order. When they refused, she ran away from home. Ultimately, her parents relented, and so the congregation accepted her. Helen took the name Restituta after an early martyr who had been beheaded and made her final vows at age 23 in 1918. (One source says that one of the meanings of “Restituta” is “obese.” Given her keen sense of humor, maybe she also chose the name as a joke? We can only speculate.)


Her hospital’s best surgeon was difficult. Nobody wanted to work with him … except Sr. Restituta, and within a short time, she was running his operating room. Eventually, she became a world-class surgical nurse.

Sister was tough. People called her “Sr. Resolute” because of her stubbornness. Mostly, however, Restituta was easy-going and funny. After work, she’d visit the local pub and order goulash and “a pint of the usual.”


Given her very vocal opposition to the Nazis, she was also brave. After Restituta hung a crucifix in every room of her hospital’s new wing, the Nazis ordered them taken down. She refused. The crucifixes stayed.

However, when the Gestapo found anti-Nazi propaganda on her, she was arrested and later sentenced to death for treason.

30 - Bl. Maria Restituta Kafka, martyr, mug shot

Sister’s mug shot

Bl. Restituta spent her remaining days ministering to other prisoners. As she approached the guillotine wearing a paper shirt and weighing just half her previous weight, her last words were, “I have lived for Christ; I want to die for Christ.”

She was the only “German” religious living in “Greater Germany” martyred during the Second World War. St. Edith Stein and her sister were living in the Netherlands before their deportation to Auschwitz.)

Fearing that Catholic Christians would promote her as a martyr, the Nazis did not hand over her body. Rather they buried it in a mass grave.

In the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber in Rome is a chapel dedicated to 20th century martyrs. The crucifix that hung from Bl. Restituta’s belt is kept there as a relic.

Saints Stories

The Memorial of Two Merry Marrieds

Queen St. Gwladys (Gladys, Claudia) and King St. Gwynllyw
Memorial: March 29

The life of this Welsh king and queen of the early sixth century is known to us through biographies (i.e., Vitae plural or Vita, singular) of the husband St. Gwynllyw (aka Gundleus, Gunlei, Woolos the Warrior, Woolos the Bearded) and of their eldest son St. Cadoc the Wise.


According to Gwynllyw’s Vita, Gwladys was the oldest of the 24 daughters of Chieftain Brychan of Brecknock and was given in marriage to the king of Gwynllwg in south-east Wales named Gwynllyw. According to The Life of Cadoc, however, Gwynllyw had her abducted by 300 men (and was even aided in this enterprise by King Arthur, although some versions say he didn’t aid Gwynllyw but put a halt to the battle over Gwladys). (For a clearer version of how the marriage came to be, see here.)

Given Gwynllyw’s reputation as a fierce, brutal, and merciless warrior, the latter seems more likely. Supposedly he was “very partial to thieves, and used to instigate them somewhat often to robberies.”

Indeed to celebrate his eldest son Cadoc’s birth, he decided to celebrate by slaughtering a cow. Someone else’s cow. So he conducted a raid and took what he wanted. The monk St. Tatheus (aka Tathyw, Tathas) came and confronted him, telling him to give back the stolen property.

The monk’s boldness and bravery impressed the king, and so he entrusted his boy to him for his education (lacking schools, this was common back then).

In contrast to Gunlei’s Vita, The Life of Cadoc describes most of Gwladys and Gwynllyw’s marriage as far from exemplary. However it seems Cadoc persuaded them to amend their ways.

In particular, thanks to both Cadoc and Gwladys’ influence, Gwynllyw abandoned his warring violent ways. Shortly after repenting of his bellicose past, he had a dream. In it an angel showed him a white ox with a black spot on its forehead.


“The Vision of Saint Gwynllyw,” by Sebastien Boyesen

Sometime later, he saw the same ox and decided to leave the world by retiring to a hermitage built on that very spot.

“There is no retreat in the world such as in this space which I am destined now to inhabit. Happy therefore is the place; happier still is he who inhabits it.”

The place to which King Gwynllyw retired is now called Stow Hill (Newport, Wales) near the River Usk where there is an ancient church dedicated to St. Woolos. At first Gwladys accompanied him, but, in order to not violate the vow of chastity both had taken, she later chose a place not far away on the banks of the River Ebbw.

Although both were now living a life of penance, Cadoc forced them to separate themselves even more completely so as to completely remove temptation. As a result Gwladys headed north of present-day Newport for a “mountain of solitude” in Bassaleg, where she built a church in honor of the Virgin.

When Gwynllyw was preparing to enter eternity, he was attended by his eldest son and St. Dubricius. The later gave him Viaticum.

Both husband and wife are thought to have died between 500 and 523.

The Feast of Ss. Gwynllyw and Gwladys is March 29, the traditional date for Gwynllyw’s death, and their names are remembered in various churches and wells in South Wales. In particular there are dedicated to Gwladys a well in Tredegar Park and a church in the Diocese of Llandaff (before 1146).

The Celtic cross slab found at Gelligaer is thought to be her memorial


“Supposed Burial place of St Gwladys. Pont Ebbw, Newport, Wales”: Sketch by William Henry Greene


News About Saints, Uncategorized

Friend of Mother Angelica on the road to sainthood?

As the teenager Rita Rizzo, the recently deceased Mother Angelica had a good friend, an older woman named Rhoda Wise. Many thought Rhoda – a stigmatist similar to Therese Neumann – was a saint in her lifetime.

Now Rhoda may be on her way to beatification. See here for more.

Also, that 19-year-old on the far right? That’s Rita Rizzo. Rest in peace, Mother.


Latest Article: Book Review of The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber

You may recall a post I did last month on Louise Brooks, the famous silent film star. I became aware of her while preparing a review of a review in which her story is featured, The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber.

Now that book review is out, and I encourage you to read it. Or you could just buy the book without reading it. Either way, you’ll be happy.

A glorious Easter to you! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!


The cost of becoming a saint

I’m not at all a fan of America magazine, but its recent article on the reforms made for the financing of beatification and sainthood causes is the best synopsis I’ve seen. Part of me thinks this whole thing is a solution in search of a problem. Causes are expensive. It’s just a fact. And most causes spend money in a wise and temperate fashion. I’m sure some don’t but do we need a whole set of rules because of a few bad actors? But I like the idea of a solidarity fund.


Maundy, Maundy, so good to me …

Maybe the Mamas and the Papas were really singing about Maundy Thursday?

Or maybe not. But why do we call it not just Holy Thursday but Maundy Thursday? Just what does “Maundy” mean?

The word is a corruption of the Latin word mandatum. We find this in John 13:34, where Jesus has just finished washing His disciples’ feet and is explaining for them the significance of His actions.

Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you”).

It is also called “Shere Thursday” from a word connoting “clean,” “pure,” “clear,” or “bright.” This is thought to come from the white linens used for the liturgy this day. It is also the day men would shear their beards in order to symbolize them presenting themselves clean for the Lord and as new creations now that Lent was over. After all, Lent is about transforming ourselves and putting on the new man in Christ.

A blessed Maundy Thursday to one and all.

This and That, Uncategorized

Why “Spy”?

Today is known as Holy Wednesday. That name is obvious enough because it is, after all, Wednesday in Holy Week.

But its traditional name is Spy Wednesday. Why “Spy”?

It would be neat if history gave us some super-mysto reason behind it, but it hasn’t. And the reason it hasn’t is that the name comes from a very simple fact. This is the day on which Judas – sneaky guy that he was – became a spy for the Sanhedrin and agreed to betray His Lord and Savior for 30 pieces of silver. You can read about it in Matthew 26:12-14, Mark 14:10-12, and Luke 22:3-6. (Fat good that money did him.)

The Old Testament prophecy of Judas’ actions is in Zachariah 11:9-12.

I like one writer’s commentary on this: “As believers in the power of God’s love and goodness, Spy Wednesday should provide a period for reflection and introspective prayer. We need to examine our lives and look for the moments that we have falsely shared intimacy with our brothers and sisters in faith. More precisely, contemplate of lack of true, ‘communio’ in our lives. With Judas’ false interrogatory response to Jesus, he reveals his true self [“Surely it is not I, Rabbi”]: Betrayer. Jesus sees right through Judas’ false piety and friendship. Jesus sees right through our own appearances when we falsely present ourselves as holy and faithful followers. Our frail human spirit reflects in our sinful acts and lack of faith.

“Jesus recognizes this and offers new hope to Judas and us. The ‘morsel’ which Jesus offers to Judas is an offering of friendship and love. Some biblical scholars have even indicated that the ‘morsel’ is symbolic of Jesus’ eucharistic manifestation. Judas does not partake of the meal with Jesus, but he was invited just the same. There is a sense that Jesus recognizes Judas’ confrontation with the powers of evil. Jesus does not admonish him or chastise him. [Rather He] permits Judas to engage in this struggle and reveal the implications of his actions and unfaithfulness. There is hope for conversion. There is hope for grace. There is hope in Jesus’ acceptance of the Father’s plan. There is hope for Easter glory.”

Another writer adds an interesting note: “Today and during the Sacred Triduum, the Matins and Lauds of the Divine Office are often sung in a haunting service known as the Tenebrae service (‘tenebrae’ meaning ‘shadows’), which is basically a funeral service for Jesus.”

Whatever you call it, be it Spy Wednesday, Holy Wednesday, Great Wednesday, have a blessed day and a grace-filled Holy Week.

Oh, and don’t be like Judas. It won’t end well for you.



Saints Stories, Uncategorized

It’s Not Cheesy to Like this Blessed from Münster

Bl. Clemens August von Galen
Memorial: March 22

We’re all familiar with saints who were martyred by the Nazis. Some such as St. Edith Stein were martyred because of Jewish ancestry. Some – St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Marcel Callo – because they were “too” Catholic. And some – Bls. Otto Neurerer, Franz Jägerstatter, Jacob Gapp, SM – because their actions or lives stood somehow in the way of the Nazi state machinery.

But there is at least one man who stood up to the Nazis, openly denounced them, defied them, and yet did not undergo martyrdom.

His name is Bl. Clemens August Cardinal von Galen, “the Lion of Münster.”

Born March 16, 1878, he was a count, the eleventh of 13 children born to Elisabeth von Spee and Ferdinand Heribert Graf (i.e., Count) von Galen. At first he was homeschooled. Due to then-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, the Jesuits had been outlawed in Westphalia, Prussia (despite its being a majority Catholic state, Westphalia was in Prussia, the heart of the Kulturkampf), and by the time von Galen was a boy, they had still not been legalized. So in 1890, his parents sent his brother and him to school at the Jesuit school in Feldkirch, Austria.

During his first year there, the headmaster wrote his mother, “The main difficulty lies … in Clemens’ complete infallibility. Nothing will bring him to admit that he is wrong; it is always his professors and prefects [who are in error].”

Since Prussia would not recognize a Jesuit education, he had to come home in 1894 and finish his education at a public school. In his senior yearbook, his classmates wrote Clemens was “A man who doesn’t make love [i.e., chase girls] or go drinking; he does not like worldly ways of thinking.”

After graduation in 1896, he entered the Catholic University of Fribourg. A Dominican school, it was here that he became familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas’ works. Then during their first winter break, he and his brother made a pilgrimage to Rome, where they met Leo XIII. It was following this that he decided to enter the clergy.

In 1903, he entered the Münster seminary, and he received holy orders in May 1904.

In 1906, he went to Berlin, where he served as a priest until 1929. It was the period of the post-World War I Weimar Republic, and he was unhappy with its idolization of individualism, its loose social mores (of which Berlin was the epicenter), and the opportunity for societal chaos sown by Germany’s then-nascent socialism and democracy. He believed that democracy put competition for votes above the common good and that the masses could be easily be swayed by politicians’ promises.

Both socialism and Catholicism claimed to speak for the common man. Socialism, however, did so in ways that were often at odds with the gospel, so along with Leo XIII and St. Pius X, he opposed it and labored to keep the people from falling into believing it held the answers for society’s ills. It was not an easy task.

Compounding the situation facing him, Berlin’s population grew from roughly 900,000 in the late 1800s to 4 million by the end of World War I.

And so von Galen worked like mad to serve his parish, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping to get the poor good jobs, and confronting employers who took advantage of their workers. Imagine being confronted by a 6’7” giant with an imposing facial expression.

He wore a very simple cassock, did not take in popular amusements, and had no real vices. All in all, he was an exemplary priest.

During the latter part of his time in Berlin, he served as pastor of St. Matthias Church. This is when he met the papal nuncio, then-Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli. The two understood each other well, so well that the future Pope knew he could mercilessly tease his friend.

One day, Count von Galen warmly greeted the nuncio and said to him, “Your Excellency, leave your work at home and let us enjoy this sunny spring day.”

Pacelli replied, “I cannot afford to. Otherwise I might be like the pastor of St. Matthias and be humiliated by getting stuck [and forgetting what I was saying] during a sermon.” (This had actually happened to von Galen.)

In 1929, he received a transfer to St. Lambert Church in Münster, Germany. Here as in Berlin he worked for his people but also against the trendy forces of secularism. He even wrote a book in 1932 titled, The “Plague of Secularism” [or Laicity] and its Manifestations. (If you know German and want to read the book, its German title is Die “Pest des Laizismus” und ihre Erscheinungsformen.)

The next year, Pius XI appointed him bishop of Münster. Because of his political conservatism and what some saw as his often overbearing public persona, his choice was not universally popular. Indeed the papal nuncio Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo protested against his nomination. (Then again, considering Orsenigo’s later record of coddling the Nazis, maybe this is to von Galen’s credit?)

With others, the hardworking pastor of souls was much beloved. Even they, however, acknowledged, “The Holy Spirit will have to work a lot.”

In any event, he became for his people the very icon of the Good Shepherd.

Like many of his fellow Germans, including the Nazis, he found the Treaty of Versailles punitive and thus unjust.

Unlike the Nazis, he condemned race baiting and demonization of the Jews for the nation’s problems.

Hitler took power on January 30, 1933. Von Galen began criticizing the Nazis the next year (he had been consecrated bishop on October 28, 1933), showing he took seriously his episcopal motto: Nec Laudibus, Nec Timore (loosely translated: “Neither the praise nor the fear of men will make me deviate from God’s ways”).

Specifically it was one day shy of a year later—January 29, 1934—that he released a pastoral letter condemning the Nazis’ belief on the superiority of the so-called Arian race. He edited a book of essays excoriating the National Socialists’ main philosopher Alfred Rosenberg. In 1936, he gave a sermon in the cathedral at Xanten denouncing the imprisonment and even killing of Christians. (This preceded Kristallnacht, which took place in 1938.)

Because of his outspokenness, Pius XI invited him to Rome in 1937 to consult with him on the German situation. It was there that he, along with now-Cardinal Pacelli and four other of his nation’s bishops that von Galen had a hand in writing Pius’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With Burning Concern”). To this day it is the only one ever written in German. (The link takes you to the English translation.)

Bl. Clemens exhorted Catholic parents to insist on a Catholic education in the schools for their children. Whereas such an education was eliminated in other parts of the nation, von Galen succeeded in keeping it in place in schools within the diocese.

The Reich’s local minister of schools wanted religious instruction coupled with talk about the “demoralizing power” of “the people of Israel.” Von Galen rebuffed him.

When the Nazis took crucifixes down off of classroom walls, Bl. Clemens protests resulted in public demonstrations against the regime.

Then in 1941, he gave a series of three sermons. He had wanted the German episcopal conference to stand in unison against the state, but none of his brother bishops had the courage. Therefore he decided to go it alone.

The first sermon criticized arrests of certain Jesuits as being purely politically motivated.

He publicly criticized the Gestapo for arresting people in the middle of the night and not giving those arrested trials.

“The Gestapo, he argued, reduced even the most decent and loyal citizens to fear of ending up in a cellar prison or a concentration camp.”

In the second, given a week later, July 20, 1941, he condemned confiscation of Church property by the Gestapo. He argued that the police state was doing more damage to Germany than Allied bombs

In the third, given August 3, he denounced in the most vocal terms possible the euthanization of those with mental or physical deformities. The chaplain at Marienthal children’s home for the mentally retarded had told him of their removal, their murder, and cremation with their ashes scattered in remote places throughout the Reich.

He also condemned forced sterilization and concentration camps.

Regarding the taking of human life, he said “the right to life, to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable part of any moral social order, [and any government that punishes without court proceedings]” undermines its own authority and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens.”

“These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing.”

The Attorney General had said these people were being killed because they were no longer productive and that their being liquidated was no different than scrapping an old machine or putting to sleep a horse whose limbs had been broken.

Von Galen retorted, “No, I will not take this comparison to its conclusion, so fearful is [this sense that doing wrong is justified] and its clarity! This is not about machines. It is not a horse or a cow … No, these are people, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters! Poor people, sick people, unproductive people, [for the sake of argument]! But [because of that] they have lost the right to life? Have you, have I only the right to live so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive?”

His denunciations (and those of Protestant Bishop Theophil Wurm of Württemberg) raised awareness of what the government was doing to the mentally challenged. As a result, public opposition was stoked, and it was furious.

His sermon was reproduced and tens of thousands of copies distributed throughout the nation. This surprised his episcopal peers who thought him of limited intellectual capacity and attributed his eloquence to the Holy Spirit.

His work prompted Ven. Pius XII (Pacelli had become Pope in 1939) to write him, “For us it is always a comfort when we become aware of the open and courageous words of a German bishop … you, venerable brother, [by contrast] are the last, we need to mention this specifically.”

His prophetic voice may also have goaded the German episcopate into action. Or maybe it was that by then the Nazis’ crimes had become so difficult to ignore that even the most timid could no longer remain silent.

Regardless in September 1943, Germany’s bishops released a pastoral letter. They wrote, “Killing is bad in itself, even if it is allegedly committed in the public interest.”

Von Galen became so popular by raising awareness and giving voice to the opposition that existed within Nazi Germany that the regime dare not arrest him. It wanted to. In official reports he was said to have a “staatsabträgliche Gesinnung” (a mind deleterious to the state), which was a death sentence for most people. He knew officials wanted him arrested as early as 1936, as evidenced by instructions he wrote on what to do if he was “disabled.”

But while they didn’t arrest him, they did arrest and deport 24 diocesan and 18 religious priests, 10 of whom died as martyrs. It greatly distressed His Lordship that his children were sacrificed as a substitution for him.

We should note that the Nazi’s reluctance in imprisoning the bishop didn’t mean the regime had no plans for him. Had they won the war, Bl. Clemens would have been hung.

Hitler said, “The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war, I shall extract retribution to the last penny.”

However Hitler lost the war, and following cessation of hostilities, von Galen changed the target of his protests to the Allies. He complained of Russians raping German women and about Allied and British troops entering his fellow citizens’ home and acting with impunity based on “the false view that all Germans are criminals and deserve the most severe punishment, including death and extermination!”

He told reporters in front of the British, “Just as I fought against Nazi injustices, I will fight any injustice, no matter where it comes from.”

And indeed, on July 1, 1945, he protested British behavior in a sermon that was copied and distributed throughout Germany. They told him to renounce his words. You can probably guess his response.

By the time Ven. Pius made him a cardinal on February 5, 1946, he had become a worldwide celebrity. Thus when the Pope placed the red hat on his head, the applause in St. Peter’s Basilica was thunderous and lasted for several minutes.

Before he returned to Germany, Cardinal von Galen visited German POWs at camps in Taranto and Bari, Italy, and during his talks to prisoners, he seemed to prophecy his death. He told them, “My time is almost over, and when I’m up there, just speak to me.”

Upon his arrival at Münster, huge crowds met him. In a speech given before the bombed out hull of his cathedral, he told the people that it was only the consent and attitude of the faithful allowed him to fight. With his voice cracking, however, he also lamented that he had been denied the crown of martyrdom.

He died of a ruptured appendix days after returning from Rome. His last words were, “Yes, yes, as God wills it. May God reward you. God protect the dear fatherland. Go on working for Him… Oh, You dear Savior!”

It is interesting to note that Cardinal von Galen’s episcopate began nine months after Hitler came to power and ended ten months after the Third Reich’s demise. Some believe this was providential.

At his core, Bl. Clemens was a believer who placed himself always at the feet of God, and it was this foundation that explains his fearless witness before men. He prayed each day before the Blessed Sacrament. He made pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady at Telgte to beg her protection from the “malignant foe.” He regularly attended the sacrament of reconciliation with great duty and devotion and attention.

As one Italian writer has put it, today we may not suffer from the tyranny of a dictator and his party. But we do labor under the tyranny of a society that veritably commands us to say “yes” to whatever is fashionable, whatever is deemed the current conventional wisdom, even if that means we say “no” to God.

For this sort of tyranny, Bl. Clemens serves as a model of charitable yet firm Christian frankness, and he gives us an icon of great faith and devotion from which we can draw strength.