Long before I started thinking about what faith in Jesus, and following Him, should look like today, approximately two thousand years after the New Testament was written, I had an example and model of someone who took her faith (back then we would have said her religion) so seriously that she wanted to give her entire life to God and His service: my mother’s older sister, Maria Zitta. My first conscious memory of her is on the occasion of her entry into the convent of the Mary Ward Sisters (now Congregatio Jesu) in Sankt Pölten, sometime probably in 1962; then, apart from occasional visits the other memorable events were her successive vows, culminating in the perpetual vows.
Now she was Sr Maria Magdalena, and she taught at the schools run by the Sisters, first in Krems, then in St. Pölten, where she retired as the principal of the elementary school. The picture above shows her at an event in 2007, celebrating the tricentennial of the Mary Ward Elementary School in St. Pölten. The picture shows her as the happy, joyful woman I remember throughout the years.
She was the eldest of ten children, and when my mother, who was the second eldest, spent her last few years in a care home in Vienna, suffering increasingly from old age dementia, Maria kept visiting her, despite her own old age. The last time I saw her was on the occasion of my mother’s funeral.
Recently she had not been well and spent some time in hospital; she had only just come home when it became clear that she would not recover. Last Sunday her brother Peter, a Roman-Catholic priest in Vienna, was notified that the end was imminent; he and two of her sisters drove out to Krems and spent the afternoon with her: singing, praying, annointing her and sharing the Eucharist. One of her sisters stayed with her through the night, and on Monday morning around 5 o’clock Sr Maria Magdalena Zitta CJ went home to her Lord, faithful to her vows to the end.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” — Psalm 116:15
(1)The photo above is linked from Mary Ward Private Elementary School St. Pölten.
(2) She came to my daughter Jessica’s wedding in July 2011, but only to the church ceremony and we didn’t really see each other then.