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.)

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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

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

 

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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.

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Uncategorized

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!

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Uncategorized

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.

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