On Thursday, Catholics will celebrate the feast day of Helen Kafka, better known as Blessed Maria Restituta. Working as a nurse in the 1940s, she was ordered by the Gestapo to remove crucifixes she had placed in several hospital rooms and was sentenced to death. Pope John Paul II beatified her on June 21, 1998.
Helen Kafka was born in 1894 to a shoemaker and grew up in Vienna, Austria. At the age of 20, she decided to join the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and took the name Restituta after an early Church martyr.
In 1919, she began working as a surgical nurse in Austria. When the Germans took over the country, she became a local opponent of the Nazi regime. Her conflict with them escalated after they ordered her to remove all the crucifixes she had hung up in each room of a new hospital wing.
Sister Maria Restitua refused and she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. She was sentenced to death for "aiding and abetting the enemy in the betrayal of the fatherland and for plotting high treason.”
She spent the rest of her days in prison caring for other prisoners, who loved her. The Nazis offered her freedom if she would abandon the Franciscan sisters, but she refused.
She was beheaded March 30, 1943 in Vienna.