The Official site relates...
Zita was born on May 9, 1892. She was the daughter of Robert, the last reigning Duke of Parma (he was thrown out of his duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, at the time of the Italian unification in 1860, the evil of Nationalism already rearing its head).
Zita was born of Robert’s second marriage (the 5th of 12 children) to Maria-Antonia, Royal Princess of Portugal, from the Braganza dynasty. From his two wives, he had 24 children (born between 1870 and 1905), 6 of whom from his first marriage were handicapped and gave thus a particular personality to the family: contrary to most, the family did not hide them. Zita was born ‘Italian’, but it was only by chance, due to the fact that her family resided half of the year in the Austrian castle of Schwarzau, near Wiener Neustadt, about 70 km south of Vienna, and the other half in their Villa de Pianore, in Tuscany, near Lucca. She would have to suffer from this circumstance during World War I, when she, the 'Italian or French' Princess, was accused by the Germans and some of her own subjects of favoring the Italians, then enemies of the Central Powers.
Her upbringing was happy, among this large family, but also very pious. Zita was first taught at home by tutors, later she went to the Visitandines of Zangberg, in Bavaria (September 1903-July 1908), and finally she spent several months with the Benedictines of Saint Cecilia of Solesmes, then exiled to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, England (February-July 1909).
While still a child, the future empress met the man who would become her husband, the young Archduke Charles. Villa Wartholz where Charles resided with his parents was not far from Schwarzau. Their love story however developed slowly and led to their betrothal, on June 13, 1911. On the official photograph, she added her motto, in her own hand: “More for you than for me”.
On June 24, 1910, St. Pius X received Archduke Charles’ young fiancée and told her this prophecy: « You will marry the heir of the throne. I wish you therefore all good things ». Zita timidly dared twice to point out to the Pope that the heir was Franz-Ferdinand, Charles’ uncle and the nephew of the reigning emperor Franz-Joseph (1848-1916), but the sovereign pontiff had insisted : « And I rejoice greatly, because Charles is the reward that God has set aside for Austria, for all that she has done for the Church ». Zita, troubled, as she left the private audience, replied to her mother: « Thank God, the Pope is not infallible in matters of politics». Unfortunately for the Servant of God, the Pope was right.
The wedding was celebrated at Schwarzau, on October 21, 1911, in the presence of Emperor Franz-Joseph. The couple experienced the army life, since Charles was a soldier. They lived, for example, at Brandeis, in the Kingdom of Bohemia. Very quickly, they were blessed by the close births of children: the heir, Otto (born on November 20, 1912), Adelheid (January 3, 1914), Robert (February 8, 1915), Felix (May 31, 1916), who were followed by more.
Charles and Zita were not really prepared to reign, since, by all appearances, they would not have to ascend the throne until 1940 or 1950 and even then, it could happen that once Franz-Ferdinand became emperor, he would change the rules of succession to the Throne so that his children, born of his morganatic marriage to Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa und Wognin, would not be excluded from the line of succession. But for the time being, Zita was already the First Lady of the Empire, since the Emperor was widowed and Franz-Ferdinand’s wife could not hold an official role. Obviously, with the Sarajevo murder, the couple became the direct heir to the Throne and moved to Hetzendorf, a castle close to Schönbrunn where the Emperor lived.
Mother and educator of her children, the Servant of God tried to support her subjects, her adoptive children. During the war, she visited many hospitals and was not fooled by the last minute improvements that were made in her honor. In order to act more efficiently, she organized personally a home collection which raised between December 1914 and April 1915, a sum of 1.5 million Crowns, for which she received the Medal of Merit from the Red Cross on August 11, 1915. She was very attentive to those that were confided in her care, even to the point of tasting the dishes served in public shelters.
They came to power on November 21, 1916, after the reign of 68 years by Franz Josef (sic), in the middle of an atrocious war. Karl and Zita ascended to the throne in the worst of times. They only lived a short moment of glory before a long Way of the Cross. The moment of glory was their crowning as King and Queen of Hungary, in Budapest, on December 23, 1916. The Crown of Saint Stephen was not set on her head, but the Servant of God was crowned with the jewel made for the queens of Hungary (the crown made for Elisabeth (Sissi) who preceded her). However, the National Hungarian Crown was set on her right shoulder, by the Bishop of Veszprem as a symbol that she was called to help her husband carry out his heavy duty. The words of the ritual are profound in their meaning: « Receive the Crown of Sovereignty, so that you may know that as the spouse of the King, you must always care for the people of God. The higher you are placed, the more humble you must remain in Jesus Christ».
On the other hand, she let her husband run the Empire, even though she followed the affairs of the State through the reports of the ministers. The Emperor was the man who made all the decisions in the end, even sometimes in spite of the disagreement with his wife (such as for the amnesty in July 1917). The following statement from Franz Josef to his daughter, Archduchess Valerie, shows how he appreciated the complementary quality of the couple and how fond he really was of his successor: « He was very happy to see the way in which Zita helped her husband. She was able to develop and grow in him all his excellent qualities and allow them to blossom into maturity».
« Guardian Angel of all the suffering » (Card. Piffl, archbishop of Vienna)
Zita focused on the social issues of her days. In times of war, the activities related to social calls and representations were canceled and Zita devoted most of her time to charitable work. She created the Work for the Child which raised funds for the poorest. As early as December 26, 1916, her financial manager delivered to the President of the Council of Austria a check of 650,000 Crowns and the detailed list of the collected donations : 15 tons of chocolate, 30,000 doses of condensed milk, a wagon full of clothes and 75,000 pairs of shoes. Fifteen days later, she inquired on the efficiency and speed of the distribution of the items. She also reduced the living expenses of the royal family, by eliminating certain items such as chocolate and white bread, so as to share more closely in the deprivation of the less fortunate. The Empress never hesitated to remind belligerents such as German Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, of her concerns for peace, which prompted his criticism of her ‘being anti-war’ in general :
« -I am against the war, as every woman who loves nothing more than to see the human race in happiness rather than tears.
- Sorrow and pain, what of it? I never work better than on an empty stomach; it is all about tightening one’s belt and hanging in there.
- I cannot bear to hear one talk of hanging in there, while one is sitting in front of an abundant meal. ».
However, the most important service that the imperial couple tried to render to its subjects was to bring them peace. The old emperor Franz Josef in order to prepare for the future, had refused to include his heir in any way into the declaration of war with Serbia which sparked the worldwide conflict. Emperor Karl is known as being the « only honest man» involved in the First World War, because he sincerely wanted and tried his best to reach peace under honorable conditions for all. These separate peace offers (made secretly, unbeknownst to his German allies who were stubborn and a nuisance) were dealt with by Zita’s two brothers, the princes Xavier and Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, but the initiative came from Karl, and not from the Empress who followed and approved of them.
Zita left Madeira soon after Karl’s death for Spain (May 19, 1922). She gave birth to Elizabeth, their third daughter, at the royal palace of El Pardo, on May 31, 1922. “How can I now make every decision by myself? Karl ran and managed everything.” This admission shows, without doubt, that she was not “the man of the household” as it had been slandered in order to accuse her spouse of weakness. From now on, she must find the strength to face alone, with God’s help, the task of being a mother and regent for the sake of her son Otto, the titular Emperor. “I have a grave political duty, and maybe only this one. I must raise my children according to the mindset of the Emperor, turning them into good men who fear the Lord, and before everything else I must prepare Otto for his future. None of us knows the future. The history of peoples and dynasties – which do not count time by the yardstick of human life, but by much longer measures – must inspire confidence in us.”
It is in the education of her children that Empress Zita found a new reason to live. She declined the generous offer of King Alfonso XIII of Spain to take care of Otto’s education at the best secondary school in the kingdom, because she was determined to educate him according to Austrian and Hungarian methods (programs were followed and examination taken in front of Karl’s former ministers). She left the Castile for the Basque county and settled at the villa Uribarren in Lekeitio, thanks to a generous offer to use it for as long as needed before it was to be turned over to a charitable institution. Otto’s education was entrusted to Count Degenfeld, who was assisted by five monks from the Hungarian Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma, and a few other tutors who helped the younger children. The education that she oversaw was very strict, but her son was always grateful to her for that.
She set her own daily rhythm very rigorously. She went to bed at midnight and got up at 5 a.m., to attend Mass with fishermen’s wives at 5:30. Back home by 7 a.m., she woke up the younger children who made their beds and polished their shoes by themselves. As they got ready, Zita read to them a passage from the life of the saint for the day. At 7:30, the household assembled in the chapel for mass (the second for the Empress), which was served by the boys. She taught them their catechism herself. They all made their first communions very young. She made each of them a prayer book in which she glued holy cards. She also led them in evening prayer.
The financial situation improved thanks to the lifting of the confiscation of some of their private properties, as well as donations collected from prominent Austro-Hungarian families by Margrave Pallavicini. She also, as “head of the family,” used these funds to help any Habsburg who also lost their properties, or any of their servants in need. This did not mean that they lived in abundance, far from it: the household had to spend sparingly.
As adulthood was approaching for her oldest child, and because she desired to give her son Otto the best possible education in a Catholic university, Zita chose to move to Belgium where they lived for a little over ten years (September 1929 - May 1940). They settled quickly in the Castle of Ham at Steenokkerzeel, conveniently located halfway between Brussels and Louvain, where he studied until receiving his doctorate in 1935 from the School of Political and Social Science. All her children would be educated in French-speaking Catholic schools. Zita lived surrounded by a few faithful friends who made up a second family, among whom a Hungarian Benedictine monk became her chaplain, Dom Weber. There, the Empress found a favorable and simple atmosphere to raise her family. Life in Belgium was a mixture of small court life (etiquette was maintained, but “nothing is overdone, Her Majesty naturally imposes some, even though her simplicity keeps her close to those who serve her”) and country life (she occasionally cared for the animals given to her children: 25 goats and sheep whose straw she changed when the children had extra work, and she cultivated roses). Avoiding worldliness, she led an austere life, because she had suffered so much that she could not help but keep gravity in all things. Her true source of happiness was her family.
Thus, November 20, 1930, the day that marked the majority of the titular Emperor, Otto, marked a new roles for them both. She was no longer morally his regent. Her mission was accomplished. From then on, even though she still made some decisions, she consulted with her son. Moreover, she supported him in his efforts for the restoration of the monarchy in order to save Austria from Hitler. That little Alpine country had become a mere shadow of the great empire it formerly was. Partitioned in what appeared to some Austrians (especially the Social-Democrats and the Nazis) as a sort of failed state, the pull towards uniting with Germany was strong. During the peace treaties following the Great War, Karl successfully prevented any annexation of Austria to Germany. The only valid force of opposition at the time was the monarchist movement, which was not based on nostalgia or demands for historic rights, but was rather a real alternative wanting to instill in Austrians a patriotic pride that would prevent them from desiring to unite with their more powerful neighbor of the same language.
Zita freely gave him advice, as she was always interested in politics. In particular, she made sure to point out the social doctrine of the Church in the publication of the royalist program of Weisner, in July 1930.
During one of Zita’s last trips to Austria, her health became more precarious. She continued to deteriorate; she had already lost her eyesight and movement became more and more difficult. She was always accompanied by some of her children and was cared for by her lady-in-waiting, Marie, Baroness von Plappart. The testimonies of the nurses charged with her care, the Sisters of Familia Spiritualis "Opus" are absolutely edifying. She serenely awaited death in order to see her loving spouse once again. Her prayer was answered on March 14, 1989, when she was almost 97 years of age.
During her funeral in Vienna on April 1, 1989, the 67th anniversary of the death of her beloved husband, the ceremonial used to take her mortal remains into the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars expresses very well the humility of the Servant of God:
The court chamberlain rapped three times on the heavy church door.
- From inside, the voice of a Capuchin friar answered: ”Who begs entrance?”
- The Chamberlain responded: “Her Majesty Zita, by the grace of God, Empress of Austria, Apostolic Queen of Hungary, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria, Queen of Jerusalem etc…; Archduchess of Austria, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow; Duchess of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukovina; Grand Princess of Transylvania, Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Sator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara; Princely Countess of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Görz and Gradisca, Princess of Trient and Brixen, Margravice of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria; Countess of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz and Sonnenberg…etc…; Lady of Triest, Cattaro and in the Windic March; Grand Vojvode of the Vojvodeship of Serbia…etc… ; born Princess Royal of Bourbon, Princess of Parma…etc…” .
- The Capuchin friar answered: “We know her not.” The door remained closed.
- A second time, the chamberlain knocked. “Who begs entrance?”
- “Her Majesty Zita, Empress and Queen.”
- “We know her not.”
- And a third time, three knocks resound: “Who begs entrance?”
- “Zita, a mortal sinner.”
- “Let her enter.”
Prayer for asking the beatification of the Servant of God Empress Zita
God, our Father, You redeemed the world through the atoning sacrifice of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He who was King became the Servant of all and gave His life as a ransom for the many. Therefore You have exalted him.
Now deign to grant Your servant Zita, Empress and Queen, to be raised to the honor of the altars of Your Church. In her You have given us an admirable example of faith and hope in the face of adversity, and an unshakeable confidence in Your Divine Providence.
We beseech You that Zita, alongside her husband Blessed Karl, will become a model of love and marital fidelity, and be an example for families in the ways of a true Christian upbringing. May she who in every situation gave her heart to others, especially the poorest among us, be an example of service and love of neighbor to all.
Through her intercession, grant our petition (mention your intention here). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One Our Father, three Hail Marys, and one Glory Be
Imprimatur : 09/07/2009
† Mgr. Yves Le Saux
Bishop of Le Mans (France).
We would be grateful to those who have received graces through the intercession of the Servant of God, Empress Zita, that you share it by writing to:
Association for the Beatification of Empress Zita
1, place Dom Guéranger
72300 Solesmes, France
See the web site here
I recieved a nice letter from M. l'Abbé Cyrille DEBRIS of the Diocese of Rouen. What a blessing that the Dicese of Rouen the place of the martyrdom of La Pucell should be the seat of the Cause of the Beatification of the Empress Zita.