Today is the feast day of Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka. She was born Helena Kafka on May 1,1894 in Hosvice, Austria-Hungary, now Brno in the Czech Republic. She was the daughter of Anton and Maria Kafka, Czech immigrants. In 1913, she became a nurse at the Lainz municipal hospital in Vienna. It was there while she was working that she met members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and entered their congregation in 1914, at the age of 20. She was given the name of Maria Resituta, the name of a 4th Century Martyr. After taking her vows, she continued to work at Lainz hospital until 1919 and was transferred to a hospital in Mödling becoming its surgical nurse. After the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 through the Anschluss in which Germany annexed Austria to the Third Reich, the hospital she worked at was not spared. She was a vocal critic of the National Socialist regime, when the Nazis implement the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in Austria. When a new hospital wing was constructed, Kafka wanted keep to traditional Catholic practice and hung a crucifix in every room. This angered the Nazi authorities who demanded that the crucifixes be taken down, to which she refused, and even threaten her with dismissal. The crucifixes weren’t removed and Kafka was not removed, because the Franciscan community could not replace her. She continued her opposition to National Socialism and several years later was denounced by a Nazi supporting doctor which resulted in her arrest on Ash Wednesday, 1942 by the Gestapo as she leaved an operating theater. She was accused of not removing crucifixes and dictating a poem mocking Adolf Hitler. She was tried by a Nazi court and on October 29,1942, she was sentenced to death by guillotine for committing high treason. She was offered clemency if she left the Franciscan Order to which she refused. A request of clemency was appealed to Hitler’s secretary Martin Bormann which was turned down. Sister Kafka spent her last days in prison caring and helping the other prisoners as noted. She wrote a letter from prison:
“It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way we build an altar in our own hearts”.
On March 30,1943, Sister Kafka was guillotined at at the age of 48. She was martyr for the Faith. On June 21,1998, She was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Vienna. She became the first female martyr of Austria. On March 4,2013, she was commemorated in Rome, Italy at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on Tiber Island, with Christoph Cardinal Schönborn presiding a liturgy. During the service, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity presented a small cross that Kafka wore on the belt of her religious habit to the basilica. The relic was placed in the chapel in remembrance of victims of the Nazis. In her honor, a lane was named after her in the western half of Weyprechtgasse, where the hospital she worked and a park was named after her in Husovice. Her feast day is commemorated on October 29, which happens to be the day she was sentenced to death in 1942.