Pope Francis just recognized this week the heroic virtue of Venerable Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus.
Maria Cacilia Autsch was born in Rollecken, Germany, on March 26, 1900. She was the fifth of seven children and her dad, August, worked very hard as a machinist to keep his family fed. He and his wife, Amalia, were devout and knowledgeable Catholics and worked diligently to pass the faith on to their children.
The family had little money, so when Maria was 15, she went to work as a nanny. Her mom died in 1921 and Maria had to keep on working to help the family. Maria had always known she was being called to religious service and harbored disappointment at not being able to follow her call. But her family came first, and she turned her future over to Jesus.
Finally, on September 27, 1933, she was able to enter the convent of the Trinitarian Order in Austria. It was the Spanish branch, and the Spanish had been the first women religious to come to Austria. The mission of the sisters was to help in securing the release of captive prisoners and also working as nurses, teachers, and helping the poor and those in need.
On July 4, 1934, Maria Cacilia Autsch received her habit and along with it the name of Angela Maria of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On August 20 she took her first vows. Her duties were running the nursery school, teaching embroidery, caring for the sick and even helping with the fieldwork. At last, on September 28, 1938, she made her final vows.
By that time the Nazis had taken over Austria, and they wanted to seize the monastery where the sisters lived. Sister Angela defended their home and argued that it was legally Spanish property and the Nazis had no right to it. She even contacted the Spanish consul in Vienna; the Nazis, in an attempt to keep their activities somewhat quiet, relented. However, Sister Angela Maria was now on their radar.
It was August 10, 1940, when the most innocent of moments changed Sister Angela’s life forever. She had gone to buy some milk and bumped into a few women she knew. They began to converse, and Sister told them she had heard that the Allies had sunk a German ship and many Germans had died in the disaster. She finished by saying that she thought “Hitler was a calamity for Europe.”
One of the Austrian women was a Nazi sympathizer and reported her to the Gestapo. Her file was found, and she was arrested soon after. The charges were for “insulting the leader” and “sedition of the population.” All attempts by her sisters to obtain her release were simply ignored; Mother Superior pleaded for her release with the head of the Gestapo several times but to no avail. Even the Spanish consul could not save her.
Sister Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus spent 17 days at the brutal police detention center in Innsbruck. She was then assigned prisoner number 4651. With her name now a number and without trial, she was transported to the women’s camp at Ravensbruck.
True to her calling as a Trinitarian Sister, Angela Maria, in the most horrendous place imaginable, went right to work representing Jesus. Many reported of her unceasing efforts to maintain human dignity. She was frequently beaten by the guards but, as one inmate reported, “her smile and courage was a ray of sunshine in deepest hell.”
On August 16, 1942, she was transferred to the death camp at Auschwitz and assigned to the medical department. Because of her continued good spirit, self-sacrificing helpfulness and her efforts to alleviate as much misery as she could, she became known as the “Angel of Auschwitz.” Many of the other prisoners had no idea she was a Catholic nun.
In October 1942, Sister Angela came down with typhus. She never fully recovered from this disease and was placed in the SS hospital as a nurse. On December 23, 1943, a bombing raid began, and Sister Angela was killed when she was struck in the chest with shrapnel that pierced her lungs.
On May 21, 2018, Pope Francis recognized the “heroic virtues” of Servant of God, Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus. She now has the title of “Venerable” and her cause of beatification continues.
Venerable Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus, pray for us all.