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Feb 23, 2022 333 Shalom Tidings
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For the Love of Christ

We know the Nazis’ wickedness cowed many into silence, but not Blessed Maria Restituta.

Born Helen Kafka, in a family of Czech extraction, 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’ permission 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 Christian martyr, and made her final vows in 1918 at age 23. 

The top surgeon in the hospital where she worked was difficult. Nobody wanted to work with him…except Sister Restituta, and within a short time, she was running his operating room. Eventually, she became a world-class surgical nurse. Sister was tough and people called her “Sister Resolute”. Her vocal opposition to the Nazis proved she was also brave.

After Sister Restituta hung a crucifix in every room of her hospital’s new wing, the Nazis ordered them to be taken down. She refused. The crucifixes stayed. But when the Gestapo found anti-Nazi propaganda on her, she was arrested on Ash Wednesday of 1942, and was imprisoned for more than a year. She gave her rations to other prisoners who were starving; it is said that she saved the life of a pregnant woman and her baby.

On March 30, 1943 she approached the guillotine wearing a paper shirt, weighing just half her previous weight, and her last words were, “I have lived for Christ; I want to die for Christ.” Sister Restituta was the only “German” religious living in “Greater Germany” martyred during the Second World War. 

Fearing that Catholic Christians would promote her as a martyr, the Nazis threw her body into 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 Blessed Restituta’s belt is kept there as a relic.

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