News About Saints, Saints Stories

Heroic Layman Killed by Nazis Declared a Martyr

From Catholic News Agency:

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2016 / 01:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis moved eight martyrs a step further on the path to sainthood, one of whom is Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman killed for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler during the Second World War.

The Pope’s recognition of Mayr-Nusser as a martyr was announced July 8 following an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Born Dec. 27, 1910 in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Mayr-Nusser grew up on a farm and was instilled with Christian values by his parents from a young age.

Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.

He dedicated much of his free time to reading, including many religious works. Among his favorites were the works of Frederic Ozanam, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.

At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.

Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.

When World War II flared up in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser wasted no time in joining the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”

However, a few years later civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.

The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.

Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.

However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.

According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”

Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.

As a result he was jailed while he awaited trial. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, and was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.
However, he fell ill with dysentery along the way and died Feb. 24, 1945, before reaching the camp. When his body was discovered on the train, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.

Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by the Diocese of Bolzano and was approved in 2005, allowing him to receive the title “Servant of God.” Now, Pope Francis’ recognition of his martyrdom has paved the way for his beatification.

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Spiritual Reflections, This and That

Praying to the Saints … or Not

From the time I was a wee lad, my dear ol’ pappy drilled several lessons into me, one of which was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Another was, “Don’t do something half-baked,” although he used a different word than “baked.”

Maybe this explains why I’ve always been a stickler for the rules, and why it’s always bugged me when people do things sloppily or don’t follow them.

Do it right or go home

So for instance, in my fraternity, when it came time to initiate new brothers, I couldn’t stand that some guys would wear a coat, tie … and sneakers. ‘This is important,’ I thought. ‘Dress accordingly. Show respect for the awesome ceremony in which you’re about to participate and are about to give witness. Don’t dress like some slob who doesn’t care. And if you truly don’t care, scram.’

Or when there was a portion of the fraternity’s “liturgy” that was supposed to be recited from memory … and the brother reciting that part read from the ritual book. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have time to learn his lines. He was just lazy.

For me it’s the same thing when a priest doesn’t “say the black” and “do the red” in the Mass.

Hey, Father: We don’t need your improvisations. No matter how creative and wonderfully “pastoral” you are, nothing you can conjure is going to be as good as what the Church has given us. Plus the Second Vatican Council and the Popes since then have said no one has a right to change a single jot or tittle of the rubrics on their own. Ergo knock it off, will ya?

This disregard for rules and protocols, we see it everywhere today, don’t we? Maybe we even do it ourselves (yes, I’ve three fingers pointing at me; crossing at crosswalks is super difficult, after all).

Hard to miss that one

One big place we see it in the Church is with those who are on their way to possible beatification, the Servants of Gods and Venerables.

“Oh, come on,” some will think. “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

Of course. That doesn’t mean this isn’t important, however. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any concern over this. If it’s true that “in the Mass everything matters” (as one seminary professor I know of teaches his students), shouldn’t we also be careful and diligent in the other things pertaining to God and what He’s given us through His Church?

For the Church tells us to do things and how to do them for a reason. We don’t get to – or shouldn’t – decide on our own where the Church is wrong. That will lead – and always has led – to some really bad things happening.

Saint So-and-So … pray for us!

What am I talking about, already? Simple: Prayers to the saints. Or in this instance, prayers to saints in the making.

If we’re praying to a canonized saint, we can pray directly to them. If we’re praying to a beato or beata (i.e., someone who’s been beatified), we can pray directly to them.

Why? Because despite the differences in titles, both saints and blesseds (aka, beati) are in heaven. We have the Church’s infallible assurance of this.

The same cannot be said of Servants of God and Venerables. They may be in heaven. They may be in purgatory. In some rare – hopefully exceedingly rare – instances, they may even be in hell. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1033 and 1035 for the reason why.

Absent a miracle or a declaration by the Pope of a person’s or persons’ martyrdom—which are the ordinary ways we ask God to reveal someone is with Him in the Beatific Vision—we have no way of knowing the disposition of their soul.

Judge not

For Jesus’ injunction to “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself” speaks not to judging someone’s actions (we have to judge the rightness or wrongness of actions – stealing, murder, alcoholism, addiction, sexual crimes, sins of all types, etc. – or else we’d have chaos). Rather it warns against judging the eternal disposition of someone’s soul. He is the Judge. We are not.

That works both negatively and positively.

So we’re not to say someone is roasting in eternal fires, no matter how wicked, sinful, and evil they were while alive. You will notice the Church does not claim to know whether one single soul is in hell, even Judas or Hitler or Osama bin Laden or Mao or anyone.

Similarly we’re not to claim someone is in heaven without definitive proof. The Church will and often has made that determination, but only after thorough investigation and examination and God has revealed this.

Until we have that certainty, we are not to pray directly for that person’s intercession.

So while I could ask Bl. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich of New Jersey or St. Pietro Parenzo for their intercession, I can’t ask, say, the Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, for his.

The proof is in the prayers

Don’t believe me? OK, don’t take it from me. Take it from the beatification causes of two “saints-in-waiting,” let’s call them.

First let’s look at one of my favorites, the Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, who spent years incarcerated by the Soviets, first in solitary confinement in the terrible Lubyanka Prison and then in Siberian labor camps.

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Here is a prayer asking for his intercession:

Almighty God, we love, adore, and praise You as our Creator and Loving Father. Look with compassion and mercy upon us. Hear our prayer in this time of special need and through the intercession of Father Walter Ciszek, grant the following favor if it is Your Holy Will.

(Mention the Request)

Most loving God, accept our gratitude for hearing this prayer. May the knowledge of the virtues and holiness of Father Walter be recognized and known to provide a lasting example to draw sinners to reconciliation and to lead souls to sanctity.

For You are our God, and we are Your people, and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

What doesn’t happen in this prayer to the Servant of God? Nowhere do we say, “Fr. Ciszek, pray for us.” Instead the prayer is addressed to “Almighty God.”

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Now let’s look at a prayer from the cause of Ven. Pio Bruno Lanteri, founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who also is up for beatification.

O Father, fountain of all life and holiness, You gave Fr. Bruno Lanteri great faith in Christ, Your Son, a lively hope, and an active love for the salvation of his brethren. You made him a prophet of Your Word and a witness to Your Mercy. He had a tender love for Mary, and by his very life he taught fidelity to the Church. Father, hear the prayer of Your family, and through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, grant us the grace for which we now ask…. May he be glorified on earth that we may give You greater praise.

We ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Au contraire?

“But wait! But wait! The website promoting the cause of my favorite Venerable says, ‘Ven. So-and-So, pray for us’! What about that, eh?”

“But wait! But wait! Father always asks for the prayers of the Servant of God directly. Father would never do anything wrong or against the Church.”

It’s true. Various causes do this. That doesn’t mean they’re supposed to.

And Father may be unassailable in his orthodoxy and fidelity to the Magisterium.

That doesn’t mean in both instances ignorance isn’t involved. Very likely, it is.

Bottom line

In life, if we do something, we should do it right. Shouldn’t that especially be true when it comes to venerating the saints, especially if the person in question isn’t yet a saint?

Some people will pooh-pooh what I’ve written. But ask yourself: What do you have to lose being obedient to the Church? What do you have to gain by ignoring her?

You don’t need a saint’s intercession to discern the answer.

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Saints Stories

The Poor Kid Who Could Never Catch a Break

Bl. Nunzio Sulpizio
Memorial: May 5

There almost was never a time when Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio’s life was not difficult.

The blessed was born just after Easter on April 13, 1817, during a time of great famine in Pescosansonesco, a village in the province of Pescara, Italy, and he was named after his paternal grandfather.

When the child was just three, his beloved father died. His younger baby sister died roughly four months later. Two years later, his mother Rosa remarried a much older man out of financial necessity (she had no other support), and like many – not all – stepparents, the man had no use for the boy, seeing him as merely the child of his spouse. Along with regular food, he regularly fed little Nunzio “with harshness and contempt.”

It was this time that he began to attend a small school run by the priest Fr. De Fabiis. In addition to their letters, Father taught his pupils to know and love Jesus and desire to serve him.

Because of stepfather’s treatment, Nunzio bonded with his mother and maternal grandmother Rosaria Luciani del Rossi, an illiterate woman of great faith and goodness. Thus when his mother died on March 5, 1823, he went to live with Rosaria. They were very happy together, and would walk and pray, attend Mass, and do housework. He continued to attend school in his new home, this one run by a Fr. Fantacci, who used to take the children to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which Nunzio loved.

Sadly Rosaria died on April 4, 1826. Now his uncle Domenico Luciani, a blacksmith, took him into his home but out of school and made him his apprentice.

Like his stepfather, Nunzio’s uncle was not kind to him. He worked him very hard, and when he perceived the boy needed correction or discipline, his punishment was to not feed the boy. If he needed an errand run or materials transported or fetched, he sent his nephew, not matter how far the distance or how heavy the burden. If he didn’t do the errand to his liking, Domenico would beat and curse him. For anyone but especially a child, this was a great burden.

Instead of despairing, however, the boy would think of Jesus as he beat on the anvil and think of how Our Lord had been beaten for mankind’s sins. As he suffered the “scourge” of inhumane work and treatment, he thought of Christ’s suffering the scourging at the pillar during His sacred Passion. When he suffered, he offered these pains up to the One Who had mastered suffering “in reparation for the sins of the world” and so that he might more perfectly “do the will of God” and to be found worthy of entering into the Son’s rest.

Because of a wound incurred during one errand on a winter morning, Nunzio’s foot became infected. He became so ill, he couldn’t rise from bed. His uncle demanded that he get to work because “if you do not work, you do not eat.”

The lack of proper care led to his contracting gangrene. Still his uncle told him, “If you can not lift the hammer, then you pull the bellows.” The boy was in so much pain by this point that every movement was torture. His sore oozed puss and required constant cleaning. Once he went to a nearby stream to clean his wound, but a woman coming to wash her laundry chased him away saying he would pollute the water. Finally he found his own stream and would pray many Rosaries while letting the water cleanse his sores.

Finally he had to be sent to a hospital, first at L’Aquila and then Naples. All along he offered up his sufferings in union with the cross. He also helped care for other patients who were worse off than he.

It was during his hospitalization in L’Aquila that his father’s brother Francesco Sulprizio, a soldier, heard of his plight and brought him to Naples in 1832. Shortly thereafter he acquainted his nephew with another soldier, Colonel Felice Wochinger. Col. Wochinger, known as “father of the poor” for both his faith and charity, took the youth under his wing and essentially became a second father to him.

It was at this time that a priest came to visit. A good priest asks: “Do you suffer much?”. He responded, “Yes, I do the will of God.”

“What would you like?”

“I wish to confess and receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time!”

“You have not made their First Communion?”

“No, in our area, we have to wait until we are 15 years old.”

“And your parents?”

“Dead”

“Who cares for you?”

“The providence of God.”

So began Nunzio’s preparation for confession and First Holy Communion. His confessor later related that “from that day the grace of God began to work in him in way that was outside of the ordinary, so that you could see him run from virtue to virtue. His whole person breathed love of … Jesus Christ.”

It was around this time that he also met St. Gaetano Errico, the Neapolitan priest who founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The holy cleric promised the teenager he could join the order when the time came.

His desire to enter the religious life stemmed out of the fact that from the time he was little, he had attended Mass of his own volition. Not only did he know the person of Jesus Christ, but he worked to mirror him to others in everything he did.

He spent two years at the hospital in Naples and at a spa in Ischia. He would read, pray in the chapel, and teach the child patients their catechism. He would tell the sick, “Always be with the Lord, because from Him comes all that is good. Suffer for the love of God and with joy.”

At first Nunzio’s situation seemed to improve, but then he contracted bone cancer. Doctors believed their only recourse was to amputate his leg. This did nothing. Indeed his situation and suffering worsened, and his pain was acute. He hoped that God might heal him, but he never lost his faith that the Lord was guiding him every step of the way.

He would tell visitors, “Jesus endured so much for us and for his merits awaits us eternal life. If we suffer for a while, we will enjoy in Paradise,” and, “Jesus suffered a lot for me. [So what if] I cannot stand for Him?” or, “I would die to convert even one sinner.”

One of the last things he told the colonel was, “Be cheerful. From heaven I will always be helping you.”

In early May 1836, the youth asked to make his last confession and to receive extreme unction and viaticum. He died May 5.

Following his death, his body was exhibited for five days because of all the Neapolitans who had heard about him and wanted to see “lu santariello” (“our little saint” in the local dialect), and there remained during this entire period the strong smell of roses.

Nunzio became one of the first people beatified by Bl. Pope Paul VI when he was raised to the altars on December 1, 1963, before all the world’s bishops at a session of the Second Vatican Council.

A Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio Shrine exists in Pittsburgh at St. Cyril of Alexandria Church in the Brighton Heights section. It was originally established in the home of the late Delfina Del Russo Cesarespada, who believed Bl. Nunzio saved her from death, but it was moved here in 2006 following first her death and then her husband Francesco’s.

As one source put it, his life shows we “must believe and obey the Crucified and Risen Christ, Who makes all things new.”

A potential miracle needed for his canonization is currently under investigation at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

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News About Saints, Saints Stories

“Let us work, my daughters, we shall rest in heaven!”

Marie-Léonie Paradis

Memorial: May 3

Today we remember an indefatigable worker in the Lord’s vineyard, a Canadian foundress of a religious order, Bl. Marie-Léonie Paradis.

Born Alodie-Virginie Paradis in L’Acadie, Quebec on May 12, 1840, she came from a distinguished Catholic family, descended from a clan that had given the Church several bishops, including an archbishop of Quebec.

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“Élodie,” as her family called her, was homeschooled until age nine, which is when her parents sent her to the boarding school run by the Notre-Dame Sisters. Although the Sisters were quite kind to her, she was often miserably homesick. It was here that she received her First Holy Communion and Confirmation in 1849 and 1850, respectively. Continue reading

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News About Saints

Pope Slows Sainthood for Stepinac

In a recent posting, Dr. Robert Moynihan has some really interesting insights into why Pope Francis has slowed the process of canonization for Bl. Aloysius Stepinac, the martyred archbishop of Zagreb (d. 1960).

You can read said insights here.

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Saints Stories, Uncategorized

No foolin’: This saint may the best emperor ever

Bl. Emperor Karl I of Austria
Memorial: April 1
Beatified: October 3, 2004

Ever lost something that gave you safety and security: your job, health, etc.? If so, did you get angry with God?

Bl. Emperor Karl I Habsburg knew this type of loss, but his response provides a great example for our age.

As a boy, Karl’s home life was bleak. His parents had an unhappy marriage. They effectively left his rearing to others. Because he was in line for the throne, he couldn’t do anything remotely “dangerous” as a boy.

Despite or perhaps because of all this, Karl developed a deep faith life early on. He actively worked to achieve sanctity. Indeed, the day after his marriage, he told his wife, “Now, we must help each other get to heaven.”

Of all the major rulers in Europe at the time of the war, he was the only one who truly worked for peace.

01 - Bl. Karl of Austria - 1

Following Austria’s defeat in World War I, the Allies compelled Karl’s abdication and exiled him to the Portuguese island of Madeira. There he spent his last five months living destitute in a home unfit for winter habitation. Furthermore, for the first time, his family had to completely provide for themselves.

However, at midnight on his last New Year’s Eve, while he and others prayed the Te Deum, all started sobbing. All but Karl. That is how much he had come to accept everything as God’s will.

Indeed, on his deathbed, he said he had done everything necessary to discern and do “…the Will of God…as nearly perfectly as possible!” His last words were, “As you will it…Jesus!” His tomb says, “Fiat voluntas Tua…Thy will be done.”

As John Paul II said, “His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness….”

Want to know more about Bl. Karl of Austria? His full story is in 39 New Saints You Should Know (Servant Books).

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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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