Politician And Congregation Founder Beatified In Austria

A married woman and politician, who founded a Catholic religious congregation is being beatified in Austria today.

The extraordinary woman, who began life as a Jew, converted to Catholicism, had a family, a political career and founded a congregation of nuns, is held up as a model for evangelisation by the leader of the Catholic Church in Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

Hildegard Burjan was born in 1883 into a liberal Jewish family in Germany. She studied literature, philosophy and sociology in Switzerland and Berlin and obtained a Ph.D. in 1908. The year before, 1907, she married the Hungarian entrepreneur Alexander Burjan. In 1909 she was surprisingly healed from a grave sickness, which brought about her conversion to Catholicism.

She moved with her husband to Vienna, where she had her only daughter Lisa. It was a difficult pregnancy, which threatened her life a number of times.  Her doctors advised her to abort the baby, but she categorically refused.

In Vienna, she got to know a group of Catholics who wanted to put Pope Leo XIII's social encyclical Rerum Novarum into practise. Hildegard started to interest herself in the social issues of the day, in particular the working conditions and spiritual welfare of poor women and children.

In 1912, she founded the Society of Christian Women Working at Home and in 1918 the Society for Social Help.

A year later, on October 4, 1919, she founded the congregation of sisters named Caritas Socialis.

The order cares especially for women and children in difficult conditions and for elderly and terminally ill people. It plays a major role in the hospice movement in Austria.

Beginning in 1918, Hildegard Burjan became politically active in the Christian-Social Party. In 1919, she was elected to parliament and became the first woman member of the Parliament of Austria, campaigning in particular on issues such as equal wages for men and women and social security for the working class as well as social and spiritual care for poor families.

Rancorous anti-Semitism forced her out of politics and she devoted herself to the congregation she founded, Caritas Socialis. She died in 1933.

In 1963, the then Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz König began her beatification process. In 2001, the Holy See recognised a miracle attributed to her and in 2007, she was declared Venerable.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will preside at the solemn beatification ceremony today, which takes place in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, leader of the Catholic Church in Austria, said the former MP is a model for his Mission First evangelisation project.

Evangelisation, “is all about deeds. At such times we need models and Hildegard Burjan is just such a model.”

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