It was announced recently that Mgr. Yves Le Saux, Bishop of Le Mans in the traditional province of Maine (Pays de la Loire), France has opened the cause for the beatification of Zita of Bourbon-Parma, the long-lived wife of Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria. Charles, the last (to date) Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, and King of Bohemia (&c.), died in exile in Madiera in 1922, aged just thirty-four years. Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriella Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese de Bourbon-Parma, meanwhile, was born in Tuscany in 1892 and lived a long life, giving up the ghost in March 1989, and interred in the Capuchin vault in Vienna following a funeral of imperial dignity.
“The process was opened in Le Mans,” Gregor Kollmorgen of TNLM reports, “and not in the Swiss diocese of Chur, where the Empress died twenty years ago in 1989 in Zizers, with the consent of Msgr. Huonder, the Bishop of Chur, and the permission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, because within the diocese of Le Mans is situated the Abbey of Solesmes, well known to NLM readers for its leading rôle in the early liturgical movement in the nineteenth century, especially regarding Gregorian chant, and which was the spiritual center of the Servant of God Zita, her home among her many exiles.”
Zita’s relationship with Solesmes dates back to 1909 when she first visited its sister-abbey of St. Cecilia on the Isle of Wight in England. She became an oblate of the Abbey of Solesmes itself in 1926. Her daily life after the exile & death of her saintly husband included the Rosary, hearing multiple daily masses, and praying part of the Divine Office.
Zita was the daughter of the deposed Duke of Parma, Robert I, during his second marriage to Maria Antonia of Portugal. The Duke’s first wife, Maria Pia of the Two Sicilies, died in 1882, and Zita was the seventeenths of the Duke’s twenty-four children by his two wives. Three of Zita’s sisters became nuns, a vocation which she explored, but in 1909 she became reacquainted with her childhood friend Archduke Charles of Austria. In June 1911, they were engaged and then married at the castle of Schwarzau that October.
After the horrendous Sarajevo Assassination of 1914, Charles became heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and the empire was thrown into the catastrophic First World War. When the Emperor Franz Joseph died in November 1916, Charles succeeded to the imperial throne. Zita accompanied their son & heir Otto to the coronation of her husband in Budapest.
First as Archduchess and then as Empress, Zita proved a suitable match for Charles, happy to don the national costume of the many nations over which the Hapsburg empire spread its vast and benevolent dominion when the occasion arose.
In November 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and the Hapsburgs were forced to flee Austria in the March of the following year. The family were first exiled to Switzerland, but after two nearly successful attempts to regain his Hungarian throne, the Swiss revoked his residency privilege and the allied powers transferred him to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he died in 1922. Zita and the children moved to Spain shortly after the death of the Emperor, and then to Belgium in 1929 as Crown Prince Otto prepared to begin his studies at Leuven, the oldest remaining Catholic university in the world. Friendly overtures by the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuß and, following his murder by Nazis, Chancellor Schuschnigg came to nought when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.
As Catholics, the Hapsburgs were opposed to everything Hitler stood for, and as former monarchs Hitler considered them potential rivals. When he invaded Belgium in 1940, Zita took the family through France and Spain to Portugal, where the United States government granted them entry visas. After sailing into New York, they spent varying periods of time around the metropolitan region. As the children’s English was paltry at best, they (being Francophones) eventually made their way to Quebec. In the province’s capital, arguably the most European of North America’s cities, they were so poor that the children resorted to collection dandelions from the public parks to boil into an almost tasteless soup. (I reflected up this point when I, on my visit to the grave of the holy Gen. Georges Vanier in that city, I came across the frozen remnants of a dandelion in the snow).
In 1952, however, the Empress Zita returned to Europe, first to Luxembourg before finally making her final home in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. In 1989, at ninety-six years of age, the Empress Zita died. The Austrian Republic allowed her funeral to be held in Vienna, and the former imperial capital witnessed the finest Hapsburg spectacle since the funeral of the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916.
In many ways Zita’s cause is not a surprise. When Charles of Austria was beatified, October 21 — not his death day but the anniversary of his marriage to Zita (photo above) — was chosen as his feast day, which suggested the possibility that this married couple might some day be jointly praised on the altars of Christendom. The following is the official prayer to invoke the intercession of Empress Zita:
We ask you that your servant Zita, Empress and Queen, will be raised upon the altars of your Church. In her, you have given us a great example of faith and hope in the face of trials, and of unshakeable trust in your Divine Providence.
We beseech you that alongside her husband, the Blessed Emperor Charles, Zita will become for couples a model of married love and fidelity, and for families a guide in the ways of a truly Christian upbringing. May she who in all circumstances opened her heart to the needs of others, especially the poor and needy, be for us all an example of service and love of neighbour.
Through her intercession, grant our petition (mention here the graces you are asking for). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Any graces received through the intercession of the Servant of God, Empress Zita — especially those which are possibly miraculous — should contact:
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