A Martyr’s Surviving Family – Part XXVII

Consider the sufferings of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter's wife and children



Following up from the last post in this series: Consider, too, under the heading “surviving family members of martyrs,” the widow of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian conscientious objector (1907-1943). He refused induction into Hitler’s army and was executed. In 2007 his widow, Franziska, then age 94, and daughters Hildegard, Maria, Aloisia, and Rosalia, his daughter from a prior relationship, attended his beatification ceremony. But between 1943 and 2007, there had been decades of hardship.

First, a bit about Franz and Franziska’s relationship before the execution. When the couple was engaged, they went together to talk to the mother of his daughter born out of wedlock. They offered to raise the girl (and the mother declined). During their marriage, they prayed together. He was a farmer whose formal education ended at age 14, but they read the Bible and lives of the saints. He was the parish sacristan.

In his conscientious turmoil over how to respond to induction, she supported him. When the local townspeople said that he was “touched in the head,” she defended him. When he left their home to travel to the induction center, she walked with him to the train station. When he was in prison, she visited him.

After his execution, she raised their three girls alone. She suffered the opprobrium of her neighbors for not having persuaded her husband to change his mind. When the pastor wanted to have her husband’s remains placed in the cemetery section for war dead, she appreciated the honor but suffered from the townspeople’s reaction. They thought, “How dare our pastor put the remains of someone who refused induction with our honorable war dead!” When Gordon Zahn, an American professor-researcher, visited her Austrian home a few years after the war, she was reticent to talk about any of it, much less disclose their correspondence. (For more, see my analytical essay “Pope Benedict’s Surprise,” New Oxford Review, March 2009; my biographical essay “A Solitary Witness to the Sanctity of Life,” Spero Forum, March 16, 2009; and Erna Putz, ed., Robert Kreig, trans., Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, of 2009.)

Franziska Jägerstätter died at age 100 in 2013. When we think of relics of Franz and Franziska, surely their wedding rings would be highly treasured among the faithful. By way of comparison: One of the relics of St. John Fisher is his signet ring.

Holiness Among People of Various Occupations

As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici (“On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World”), the laity do not just happen to be living in a secular world; the secular world is their calling where they are expected by Christ to be salt, leaven, light (Para. 15). Thus, we and the Church Fathers should ask: What does holiness look like for a father, mother, carpenter, architect, entertainer, writer, mechanic, software engineer, teacher, doctor, nurse, pipe-fitter, welder, small business owner?

In the early 1990s, a bishop told me of his dream that groups of people sharing the same line of work would gather to discuss the problems of living the Faith. As a lawyer, I am familiar with groups of Catholic lawyers, typically called St. Thomas More Societies, but they have seemed to be focused on a single activity, the annual Red Mass, not on activities such as providing legal services to the poor or finding additional ways to share the Faith. (The St. Thomas More Society headquartered in Chicago is decidedly different; it is a nonprofit law firm.)

There is an issue that arises, more often I think with laypeople than with priests or members of religious orders. When saints are canonized, is their work product also canonized? Would their writings (think of Chesterton), their music (think of Palestrina), their architecture (think of Gaudí), their paintings (think of Raphael) achieve some sort of authoritative status?

In the next blog, I will consider tradesmen/craftswomen/fishermen, including St. Joseph, the Apostles, Priscilla and Aquila.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXVIII in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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