Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Biography of Mother Kostka Bauer Ch. VII


FINAL YEARS - - 1939-1943

“Prayer is our linking bridge.” With these words Mother Kostka bade farewell to the Mctherhouse sisters on April 11, 1939. Accompanied to the port by Sister Donata, she departed for visitations that would take her first to the United States to join in the jubilee celebration there and thence to Brazil, to the two recently canonically established provinces. She planned to be back in Austria in time for Christmas; until then, as always, she would remain linked with her European daughters through prayer.

The parting from her trusted friend and assistant was difficult; nevertheless, she felt relieved by the fact that the care of the European provinces was in capable hands during these trying days. In her last Viennese circular dated January 21, 1939 Mother Kostka sent her Lenten admonitions to the sisters. Then, referring to her impending American voyage, she wrote: “It is impossible that I administer the Congregation from Brazil .... Sister Donata is fully empowered and will make the Austrian visitations.” Little did she know that she would never return to Vienna; that she would never again see Sister Donata in this life.

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 caused immediate concern for Mother Kostka. She would have to return to the Motherhouse as soon as possible. The mother must he with her children to protect and comfort them. To her dismay, her scheduled return to Europe on September 13 aboard the French liner, the S.S. :Normandie was cancelled.

Aware that her passport was to expire on June 1, 1940 and, as a naturalized American citizen not wishing to be stranded in Europe without a current travel permit, on September 9, 1939 Mother Kostka wrote to the passport division of the Department of State of the United States government asking for a renewal of the document and its validation for travel in various countries in Europe.

She explained her position as the superior general of an international congreqation and stated that as part of her official duties she needed to return to the headquarters as well as to visit the various provinces located in Hungary, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the German Reich.

On September 22, 1939 a letter from R. B. Shipley, chief of the passport division, filled her with consternation. He informed her that the State Department had given careful and sympathetic consideration to her appeal, but that it did not feel that renewal of her passport for travel in Europe was possible.

In view of the situation and danger of travel, as well as hazards which may be encountered in residing in belligerent countries, regu1ations have recently been promulgated restricting the granting of passport facilities for Europe to those persons whose immediate travel to that continent is imperative.

Although she was dismayed by this refusal, Mother Kostha felt sure that she would eventually receive the necessary permission. In the meantime, she would Return to Brazil to see how the new provinces were faring. This last Brazilian Visitation, on which she was accompanied by Sister Olympia Maqyar, lasted from October 1939 to May 1940.

In her circular dated January 23, 1940, sent from Brazil, she expressed her disappointment without, however, sounding a note of alarm. “If it were up to me I would have been in Vienna a long time ago. However, my American citizenship forbids me to travel to a belligerent country. Thus, must say ‘fiat’ and trust in Divine Providence.”

Upon her return to the United States, both she and Sister Margaret (Margit) Gergely, provincial superior in North America, began to bombard various religious and secular organizations with letters asking for assistance in gaining validation of her passport and permission to return to Europe. Between 1343-1942 the Most Reverend Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the U.S. State Department, and the International Red Cross were all contacted for assistance, to no avail. On May 11, 1940, the Right Reverend Msgr. Michael J. Ready, General Secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Conference wrote that “.. .there was a note of sympathy toward the request on the part of the officials of the State Department. However, Germany’s march into Holland and Belgium is causing great anxiety.” He suggested patience -- and more waiting.

The need for her return to the Motherhouse was compounded by the unexpected death of Sister Donata Reichenwallner on January 14, 1949. The loss of her vicaress general and loyal friend had a profound effect on Mother Kostka. The account of the death and burial of Sister Donata arrived from various sources. The report that the last words uttered to Sister Fernanda were, “I will work for the Congregation in heaven as I did here,” provided some consolation. Writing to the Motherhouse about this exemplary and faithful religious, Mother Kostka tried to console the sisters by reminding them:

She had fulfilled her office as vicaress with great care, wisdom and loyalty -- so that during my long trips to North and South America I could always be at peace, knowing that I had in her a strong support. It is hard for me to say a “fiat” to this loss.
(GC VIII, pp. 5-6)

During her entire time in office, Mother Kostka had been in close touch with the various members of the exiled Hapsburg dynasty. Whenever the ships she was traveling on stopped at Madeira, she made it a point to pay a visit to the grave of Emperor Charles I who was buried there.

During her own “exile” –1939—1943-- she corresponded with the ex-Empress Zita, Crown Prince Otto, the Archdukes Felix and Robert and the Archduchess Adelheid. She followed with anxiety their flight from Europe to the United States. She informed Zita of the death of Sister Donata, and later the deaths of Sisters Aloisia and Aquila. The former queen replied with much sympathy saying that she was praying that God bless Mother Kostka and all the Daughters of Divine Charity in their work on both continents and in so many countries. She expressed special thanks for the work done by the Congregation in Austria. (Letter from Therese Schmiring Kussenbrock, secretary to the Empress Zita, December 28, 1941)

The year 1940 was a bittersweet one for Mother Kostka. I the midst of her sorrow over the loss of Sister Donata, Mother Kostka celehrated her 70th birthday. The sisters from the various provinces sent her congratulatory letters and her American daughters tried to lift her spirits by arranging a beautiful liturgy and festive gathering. Although she put on a good front, it was evident that Mother Kostka was grieving and worrying about her European daughters. Also, on August 17, 1940, she quietly celebrated the golden jubilee of her profession as a Daughter of Divine Charity.

Correspondence arrived sporadically from the various provinces months after the letters were written; sections were at times blackened out by the censors. Sister Aloisia Schodt, the procuratrix general, did her best to keep Mother Kostka abreast of conditions in the various branches of the congregation.
“We are doing our best to keep things going, but it is awful not to hear from you for such a long time.” (Sister Aloisia to Mother Kostka, February 12, 1940)

In the meantime, Sister Fernanda who had been with Sister Donata when she died stepped into the breach and, together with Sister Facunda, worked to maintain harmony and community spirit at the Motherhouse; “. . .naturally without the title of Superior”. (Sister Fernanda to Mother Kostka, January 22, 1940)

As the months dragged on without any change in the status of her return, Sister Aloisia sent a letter on August 10, 1940 expressing the opinion that, if the superior general could not return soon, it would be best that for the maintenance of order and for visitation purposes, a superior should be appointed for the Motherhouse to replace deceased Sister Donata. She quickly added that Mother Kostka should not take the advice as urgent. “We are united and the work goes on -- you don’t have to worry about that; all is harmonious and the ‘general good’ is placed above personal good by all.”

In the absence of a Motherhouse superior and visitator, Sister Aloisia took
upon herself the duty of trying to visit the various provinces in Europe. She who wrote to Mother Kostka about the existing conditions, always trying to provide an optimistic outlook on the otherwise bleak conditions that prevailed.

Aware that the position of vicaress general needed to be filled, Mother Kostka appointed Sister Lamberta Plundrak, who had been the provincial superior of the Czech province since 1935 as the new vicaress general. An official announcement of this appointment was sent to Vienna as well as to the European provinces and to Theodore Cardinal Innitzer, archbishop of Vienna. This appointment presented a whole new set of problems. because of nationality restrictions, Sister Lamberta’s many attempts to go to Vienna to assume her new responsibilities ended in failure. Sisters Aloisia, Aquila, Ludovica and others could only write encouragingly that “...God will take care of everything.” (Sister Aloisia to Mother Kostka, November 4, 1940)

Although she could not get to Vienna, Sister Lamberta managed to make visits to
Poland and the Slovak province. Her visit to Poland, as well as that of Sister Aloisia, helped to assuage the worries of the sisters in Cracow. Mother Ludovika, another loyal daughter of Mother Kostka, tried to continue the works of Franziska as she knew Mother Kostka would want it done. On July 23, 1940 she wrote about a letter from a Fraulein Cochet from Berlin who begged her to tell the superior general that the congregation ought to open a home for elderly women in that city because there were so many of these ladies there in need of care. The young lady was ready to house the sisters in her own home at the beginning of the venture. Were not the matter so risky, Mother Ludovica was in favor of the undertaking. She asked Mother Kostka to inform her of any decision..
“It would be an excellent ministry since at the present time we cannot think of schools.”

Both sister Aloisia and Mother Ludovica worried about Sister Huberta and the English foundations; they were not on the continent, thus it was impossible to make any visitation. The bombings of England by the German Luftwaffe caused additional anxiety. “One must worry about Huberta’s family,” wrote Mother Ludovica on August 9, 1940. “The poor people, they have so much suffering.”

Yet it is very evident that in the absence of their superior general, her faithful assistants were working tirelessly to keep the Congregation and its activities on as normal a course as possible. On August 24, 1940, Sister Aloisia reported that 64 sisters and eight novices had made their annual retreat and most “were very happy with it.” Distressing news caused by the war and its relentless surges, (i . e , the bombings in Frankfurt, the military occupation of the second floor of the Elizabeth Home and the take-over of the first and third floors of the novitiate building by Red Cross nurses) were lightened by news of continuous growth and activity.

In Hungary, the sisters were still expanding into new areas of ministry. Sister Alicia Kozma, writing on December 14, 1940, informed Mother Kostka that in the spring they would have to begin construction of an additional building in Nyergesujfalu because their existing facilities were insufficient to care for the many students who were applying for admission. Of course, this entailed new financial burdens and so she .asked whether Sisters Margaret and Hermenegilda (two of the original band from Hungary who had gone to America with Mother Kostka) would be able to offer financial assistance in this venture. Sister Alicia touched a soft spot in the mother’s heart by writing: “Very few understand the wishes and ideals of Mother Franciska as you do -- always interested in spreading the work field of the Congregation.”

The Christmas circular (December 6, 1940) which Mother Kostka sent to her European daughters was one which combined her deep trust in Divine Providence with a strong recommendation to the sisters to pray that the year 1941 would bring a restoration of peace to the world. She expressed her deep sorrow that she was unable to return to Europe and encouraged all to work together in unity and love.

Her hopes for a better year were shattered by the news of the death of the second member of the general council, Sister Aloisia Schodt on January 28, 1941. The death of Sister Aloisia intensified the homesickness and anguish of Mother Kostka. Once more she contacted the U.S. State Department for permission to return to Europe, citing the growing administrative problems as extenuating circumstances. She even outlined her proposed route home: she would fly by Clipper from New York to Lisbon; from Lisbon to Rome on a domestic flight or whatever safe mode of transportation could be found. From thence she would take any available and safe mode of transportation through Jugoslavia to either Budapest or Vienna. (Letter to U.S. State Department, March 14, 1941) Washington, however, remained adamant in its refusal because of their reluctance to place an American citizen in danger.

As much as possible, Mother Kostka attempted to continue her leadership from afar. In her Easter circular, dated April 3, 1941, she encouraged the sisters to keep writing; the letters with their expressions of unshaken courage, intense love of God, and genuine spirit of sacrifice were sources of great consolation. She expressed great happiness at the news that “. . .in the distressing times and chaotic European world twelve sisters pronounced their perpetual vows, ready to serve God with their last breath.”
The death of Sister Aloisia, coupled with the fact that Mother Lamberta had not yet received the necessary permission to travel to Vienna forced Mother Kostka to appoint a new superior for the Motherhouse. By May 23, 1941, upon the advice of Sister Josefa, she named Sister Facunda Peterek to that position.

The news fromm Vienna became more alarming. Mother Kostka was deeply worried about her daughters, especially when she heard that Herz Maria Kloster had been commandeered by the Nazi army on August 19, 1941. (GC VIII, p.23). She had barely assimilated this news when another great cross was laid upon her shoulders with the notification of the death of still another general assistant, Sister Aquila Fajmon on October 19, 1941. Now three supporting pillars of the Congregation were gone – in less than two years – and there was no sign of relenting on the part of the United States government.

In a letter to the Motherhouse dated November 7, 1941 she wrote of the great shock which this latest death had caused her. She discussed the many efforts she was making to get permission to return. At this point she had even asked a senator in the United States congress to intercede on her behalf; “. . .if this doesn’t work, there is no more hope.”

Still, the care of the Congregation was paramount. Accordingly, she announced her appointment of Sister Agnes Fischer as first general assistant and Sister Leandra Halsch as fourth general assistant and general secretary. Expressing her belief that her choices would bear good results, she exhorted the sisters: “Accept these new authorities with love and confidence and help lighten their burdens. You will find in both real mothers.” (GC VIII, pp. 26-27)

The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese drew the United States into war. With the declaration of hostilities on December 8, 1941 any ray of hope of her return to Europe was extinguished. In a Christmas message to Laszlo Medgyesy, the Royal Consul General of Hungary in New York, she mentioned her desire to see her daughters on the other side of the ocean; “. . . the war with Japan, however, has made my cross even heavier. As an American citizen I cannot hope to travel now; it would appear traitorous.”

Yet Mother Kostka continued to perform her duties as superior general to the best of her abilities. She wrote a Christmas circular in December, 1941, extending her wishes to her orphaned daughters and saying how happy she would be if she could deliver these personally. Pondering the uncertainties of the coming year, she wondered whether it would bring joy or still more bitter pains -- God alone knows. With her unshakeable trust in Divine Providence she exhorted all to accept the will of God for He “... will decide whether I shall see the Motherhouse in the near future.”

In the midst of all the sorrows she hoped to raise the spirits of the sisters in Europe by recounting the continued success and ever-expanding circle work of the Congregation in Brazil. Here a new hospital had been opened; another schoo1 had been placed under the administration of the Daughters of Divine Charity and the high school in Natal had received the necessary certification to be a “public school”. “Brazil has struggled very much and now there is a beautiful blooming.”

Her mind was set somewhat at ease when she learned that Sister Agnes had
Arrived at the Motherhouse on December 27; Sister Leandra could not yet come because of problems in Troppau. In fact a letter from Sister Leandra, dated December 21, 1941, and sent to Sister Norberta in Vienna, indicated that because Mother Kostka had been abroad for so long, the new general secretary felt that she had no idea of all the extraordinary difficulties with which every house has had to struggle to a lesser or greater degree. Her institute in Troppau was bearing the burden of the Frankfurt mortgage and was forced to make monthly payments of 1,000 RM (Reich Marks). She then expressed her doubts about accepting the office to which she had been appointed; she felt unready for the great task. “If I am commanded by holy obedience I will do so, but I will not bear responsibility for the consequences.”

A letter from the vicar general for the Sudetanland section of the archdiocese of Olmutz supported the need far Sister Leandra to remain in Troppau and asked that she be relieved of the new assignment. Sister Norberta responded on December 29, 1941 giving Sister Leandra temporary permission to remain in Troppau. She felt that this would be the decision of Mother Kostka. “We must, however, follow the final decisions of the Superior General in this matter.”

In the next two years, Sister Leandra fulfilled two important offices. With the permission of Mother Kostka she remained in Troppau and came to the Motherhouse for general council meetings in May, August and October of 1942 and January, 1943 -— her input and vote were required in making administrative decisions in the absence of the Superior General. (GC VIII, pp. 41, 45, 48)

Sister Lamberta, too, was still in Prague. She had not received the permission to travel from the Nazi officials, and she wondered if she would get it at all. In the meantime, she tried to contact some of the other provinces and informed Mother Kostka about the moves forced upon some of the communities as the convents, schools, and other institutions were taken over by the military for hospitals and barracks. She suggested, therefore, that Mother Kostka appoint another vicaress general —— one who was German/Austrian. Despite the fact that neither of these two general assistants would be able to reside in or near the Motherhouse, Mother Kostka did not relieve them of the duties to which they had been appointed. God would help the Congregation; she and her daughters were in His hands.

During l940-l94l, it was Mother Lamberta who was able to relay to Mother Kostka the most extensive information regarding the conditions under which her daughters were laboring. These letters, preserved in the general archives, are indications of the conscientious performance of duty, and it was through her that circulars from Mother Kostka were distributed to the various convents. The last existing letter from Sister Lamberta, dated November 21, 1941, extended Christmas and New Year greetings from the entire Congregation. A sad note was sounded as she wrote: “The departing year has given our Congregation many new grave mounds —— many of those were totally unexpected. God’s ways are hard to fathom and demands from us total faith.” She reported that in 1941 alone the Congregation had lost twenty-eight members.

It was no wonder, then, that the heart of Mother Kostka began to feel the effects of her stress. The doctors ordered her to do only such walking as was necessary -- she, who loved to walk quickly around the gardens and lanes of the provincial house in Arrochar. She was also being treated for high blood pressure. The doctors who were caring for her knew the difficult circumstances which she faced; unless she stopped worrying, however, they warned her that no medicine would be effective. (GC VIII, letter to the Motherhouse, November 7, 1941, pp. 26—27)

A rough draft of a letter she was writing to a Sister Ladislaus confides “my heart suffers very much.... It is no wonder if my heart refuses its good work. The war brought on the greatest part of it. The best medicine would be the hasty end of the war. The Will of God shall be done, even if it is very hard.”

In early 1942 Mother Kostka was sickened by the news forwarded to her by Sister Norberta, annouhcing the martyrdom of five Daughters of Divine Charity in Pale, Jugoslavia. (Today we call them the Drina Martyrs because of the river into which their bodies were thrown.)

She was also notified that three of the four bells which she had so joyfully obtained for the Motherhouse in 1935 had been commandeered by the Nazi regime. The largest one was broken into pieces before it could be brought down; the two middle-sized bells were carted down the stairs. Only the smallest one was allowed to remain in the bell tower. (It is this bell which is still rung at the Motherhouse every day.)

The heartbreaking news which she received from time to time from the Motherhouse and the different European provinces, and her inability to get her letters through to Europe, caused Mother Kostka to seek help wherever possible. A rough draft of a letter that she sent to a Father Tahsel in mid—1942 is indicative of her deep concern. Reverend Paul Teves, O.S.A., whom she knew in the United States, had encouraged her to contact Father Tahsel —— presumably in Rome. She explained to him that any letters she had sent after December 6, 1941 to the various provinces had been returned to her at the end of April marked “service suspended”. Therefore, she asked the priest to write to Sister Agnes in Vienna for information which he, in turn, would be able to forward to her through the Vatican post. She inquired about Sister Norberta’s health, the conditions in
Breitenfurt, the fate of the convents in Frankfurt-am-Main, Greifswald and Berlin. Like an anxious mother, Mother Kostka wanted to know if Sister Deocara had gone to the hospital as she had ordered. Was Sister Lamberta, the vicaress in touch with the various provincial superiors and had Sister Leandra assumed her office as general secretary. She requested more information on the sisters of Pale and also asked for the names of any sisters who had died since December 1941. She wanted Sister Agnes to be told: ”The sisters should not worry about me. I feel better and I do everything what is in my power to be able to face the difficulties. of the trip to Europe after the war.”

Whether she ever received a reply to this letter is unknown. No letter from a Father Tehsel was found among her existing correspondence. None of the letters from the various sisters indicate that they had been contacted by the priest.

On October 12, 1942, she wrote to the Cardinal Protector of the Congregation, Cardinal di Belmonte. Mentioning the death of the three assistants general and her subsequent appointment of Sisters Lamberta, Agnes and Leandra, and the fact that she does not know if they have succeeded in arriving at the Motherhouse, she wrote:

Night and day my thoughts are in the Motherhouse, with my abandoned daughters. I find consolation only in prayer… But at times I am discouraged, thinking that I might not survive until the day of my return to Vienna.

She informed the Cardinal that in England the three convents of the Congregation were able to continue their ministry without any major disturbance. Correspondence with the rest of the European convents, however, was impossible.

It would seem that somehow Mother Kostka was able to contact the Hungarian province. An entry in the congregational chronicle, Volume VIII, states that on September 1, 1942 the Motherhouse got a message from Hungary indicating that the superior general, unable to return to Europe, had appointed Sister Irene Szabo as the new provincial superior and had made a number of other appointments as well.
(GC VIII, p. 44)

Unable to return to Europe, Mother Kostka continued to make her official visitations in the United States in 1941, 1942 and 1943. With great interest and untiring attention she performed her duties, always full of understanding and kindness. She wholeheartedly participated in the remodeling, repairs, renovation and beautification of the provincial house in Staten Island. After all, she had been responsible for the initial purchase of the property and the construction of the academy building. In 1941, she was very much in charge of the acquisition of the adjoining Barrett property which was to be transformed into a spacious playground for the students.

It may have been this exercise of her authority and her constant presence which began to wear on the provincial superior, Sister Margaret Gergely, or at least so it seemed to some of the sisters who loved Mother Kostka dearly. Thus, by 1942-1943, the constant worry about her European daughters was compounded by a growing feeling that she was wearing out her welcome in the United States. Sister Olympia Magyar, writing her recollections of Mother Kostka, opined: “In 1942 and 1943 Mother Margaret ... on the pretext of safety sent Mother Kostka to different convents, for example to Windsor, Canada, to South Bend, Indiana, or to Chicago, Illinois. Mother Margaret’s purpose was that she did not want Mother Kostka’s interference with the government.”

It was her special interest in the spiritual formation of the novices that led Mother Kostka to appoint Sister Leonore Mohl as novice mistress in 1942. When she was in Arrochar, her greatest joy was to visit the novitiate to spend time with her “little white doves”. On St. Stanislaus Day, 1942, imitating Motherhouse customs, the novices presented a brief program in the novitiate honoring their spiritual mother. Under the guidance of their mistress, the novices sang a German hymn which had been Mother Kostka’s favorite since her youth-- “Jesu, Kindlein, komm zu mir.” (Child Jesus, come to me). The little booklet which they prepared for her also brought her much joy. She felt at home in the novitiate returning, in memory it seems, to her first task as mistress of novices in Budapest. How ironic that it should be one of her novices who would now begin to spurn her.

On May 9, l943 Mother Kostka left the provincial house in Arrochar, accompanied by Mother Margaret, ostensibly to make her visitation of the midwest convents. In the last minutes she gave the gathered postulants, novices and sisters her motherly blessing. Those who knew her best noticed that she appeared much more tired and weaker than at other times. None of those who waved goodbye to her that day realized, however, that this was their last farewell.

Her first stop was at St. Elizabeth-Briarbank in Michigan. Here the new building was being prepared for dedication on June 20. With special permission from the bishop, however, holy mass was celebrated in the chapel on May 11. With a promise to return for the dedication and a few weeks’ rest, Mother Kostka proceeded to make her visitations in Chicago, East Chicago, the three South Bend convents and finally Gary, Indiana. It was at Gary that she finally admitted, .”I cannot carry on any longer, let us return to Briarbank.”

Mother Kostka and Mother Margaret arrived at St. Elizabeth’s on May 25. Her weariness was very apparent to all, especially when, instead of taking her walk or talking with the sisters, she retired early and decided to stay in bed theI following morning. This was so unlike Mother Kostka who did not like to remain in bed even when urged to do so by her doctors. It was believed that a good bed rest would revive her spirits.

Important provincial matters made it necessary for Mother Margaret to return to Arrochar. She had barely arrived home when she received the news that, despite the extended rest, Mother Kostka was daily getting weaker and sicker. Her side hurt very much; her abdomen was very distended. The doctor who was called for her did not like the rapidly deteriorating conditions and gave orders to have the patient taken to the hospital. On June 4, the first Friday of the month, Mother Kostka was taken to St. Joseph Hospital which was maintained by the Sisters of Mercy in nearby Pontiac.

Immediate tests and X-rays indicated that the patient was suffering from a chronic liver and kidney problem which was draining her of strength. The illness was diagnosed as critical. Upon receiving the doctor’s report, Sister Teresa Arvay, the superior at St. Elizabeth-Briarbank, called the provincial house to impart the alarming news. An immediate relay message was sent to all the houses of the province informing the sisters of the serious nature of Mother Kostka’s illness and requesting immediate prayers for her improvement and recovery.

The doctors in attendance were not very optimistic about the possibility of recovery. Instead, they felt that Mother Kostka should be honestly informed of the extent of her illness and the fact that recovery was not very probable; it was best that she prepare for death.

The medication which she had received had relieved her pain and so on , June 6, she was up and about dictating letters to Sister Huberta in England and Sister Rigalda in Brazil - She was responding to anxious letters which she had received, especially since communication with these two countries was easier, since they were allies of the United States. She was placing her health and future into God’s hands.

During the two following weeks she prayed and meditated a great deal. It is reported that she told one of the sisters that she daily prayed three rosaries: for “Mutter” (it is unclear as to whether she meant her mother, Mother Franciska or Sister Donata), for Sister Aquila and Sister Valeria.

With all those sisters who came from the nearby convents to visit with her laughed and chatted, encouraging them and allaying their fears. Sister Mary Winkler had been sent from New York to nurse her. Until the last week, when she was too weak to raise her arm, she signed the forehead of each daughter with a cross as she had always done. According to a Professor Sales Hess, who reported her last illness and death to a Frau (Sister?) Steden in a letter written from Engelberg, dated September 18, 1943, “Grandmother Bauer” spoke daily of her distant children whom she had hoped to see once more before dying.

Ncw, Mother Kostka grew more and more anxious to see Mother Margaret and Sister Hermenegilda Szabo, two of the original American pioneers. The two were notified of the request and immediately made arrangements to travel to the Midwest. The two sisters finally arrived in Detroit on June 16. Sister Melissa Gubica, superior of St. Mary’s Residence there, met them at the railroad station and immediately the three went to the hospital where they found Sisters Olympia and Mary at Mother Kostka’s bedside. The drastic change they witnessed shocked the two; Mother had lost a great deal of weight in just two and a half weeks; her breathing was labored.

Yet even now, in the midst of her sufferings, she was the ever-loving and consoling mother. When she noticed the effect her condition had on Mother Margaret, she tried to console her and the others, saying that all was in God’s hands; they were not to worry.

To the sisters it was evident that the end was near. Accordingly, they asked the chaplain at the hospital to administer the Holy Viaticum and to bless Mother Kostka and give her absolution. The priest came immediately into the room and told her that he was going to bless her and give her the last rites of the church. With serenity and resignation Mother Kostka replied, “Good, Reverend Father.” In a few minutes the priest returned with a nursing sister who brought a cross, candles, and holy water. All the sisters who were present knelt and prayed with and for their beloved mother. Mother Kostka was completely conscious throughout the administration of the sacrament and with great fervor recited the prayers with the priest. With her customary politeness, she thanked the chaplain for his kindness. Then she looked lovingly at the sisters kneeling around her bed.

Mother Margaret stood up, bent and kissed Mother Kostka’s ring and started to speak. Before she could utter a word, however, the patient spoke up.

Pardon me for all I did wrong. Ask the Sisters, in my name, for their forgiveness. Tell them they should hold together, they should be one heart and one soul and remain united with the Motherhouse. Do not be afraid, I will help you in all your problems; come to me with everything. Also tell the sisters, I am ready to help them. Tell them, they must make a good retreat.

A weeping Mother Margaret then asked for pardon in the name of the entire province. “I have nothing to forgive,” replied the compassionate mother. “I thank you for everything you have done for me.” At this, the sisters present all began to sob. With a calm smile she looked at her beloved daughters as though to say “don’t cry -- I am happy.” After a few minutes of silence she tried to ease the sorrow that pervaded the room by inquiring about Arrochar: the postulants, novices, sisters, boarders and students. Then she began to joke with them in her usual jovial manner.

Her lightheartedness, however, did not conceal the critical nature of her condition. Sister Myriam Kovacs, the superior of the provincial house, was called and told of Mother Kostka’s impending death; she, in turn, relayed the distressing news to the eastern convents while the nearby convents were immediately contacted -- it was just a matter of time.

Sister Myriam left Arrochar for Detroit immediately after receiving the message. From the midwestern convents, the sisters began to arrive to get their Mother’s last blessing. Sister Leonore Vurnik arrived from Rankin, Pennsylvania; Sisters superior Fidelis, Medarda, Irma, Marietta, Elvira, Callista, Marianna and Erica all knelt at the bedside and were consoled by her. To Sisters Margaret and Leonore she said, “I cannot wish for a more peaceful death.” She was ready to go home.

Hour by hour Mother Kostka grew noticeably weaker. Now her greatest sorrow was that she was unable to participate in the dedication of the new house at St. Elizabeth-Briarbank. Therefore on June 20, she instructed her nurse to awaken her at 3 o’clock so that she could be with the sisters in spirit.

The dedication ceremony on June 20 was subdued; in the midst of the joy, the imminent loss of the mother saddened the gathered sisters. After the ceremony His Excellency, Most Reverend Edward Mooney, Archbishop of Detroit, traveled to St. Joseph’s Hospital to visit Mother Kostka. The deep love and loyalty to the Church, its priests, and especially its leaders, shone forth as Mother Kostka expressed her deep gratitude to the prelate for the special honor he bestowed on her by this visit.

From the evening of June 20 on, there were always at least two sisters at the bedsideof their failing mother. In the late afternoon of Tuesday, June 22, the sister superior of the hospital suggested to Sister Olympia that she call the sisters to recite the prayers for the dying. A telephone call brought Sisters Margaret, Hermenegilda and Myriam hurrying to the hospital.

Moth er Kostka was in her last agony. Her breathing was heavy and irregular. Her eyes were half-open; her face, although peaceful, indicated that she was in intense physical pain. When they spoke to her, she nodded weakly. She understood, but was too weak to respond.

As they recited the various litanies, she made a great effort to strike her breast whenever they intoned “Lamb of God. ..” A number of times she tried to speak but she was too weak even to move her lips. For more than two hours the death struggle continued. The hospital sisters summoned the chaplain to the bedside. As he entered the room at 7:25 p.m., the sisters whispered, “Mother, Father is here to pray for you.” Peace transfigured her suffering countenance: this is what she had been trying to say. Slowly the priest began the prayers for the dying. As the invocations reached her ears, her face was transformed; a beautiful other-worldly expression appeared. Repeatedly she tried to raise her head; her eyes widened and she gazed into the distance with a look of wonderment on her face. Her breath became shallow, then stopped altogether. She had entered eternity at 7:33 p.m., in the 74th year of her life. The chaplain finished the prayers and then imparted a final blessing. She was with her beloved.

Immediately the sad news was cabled to Sister Agnes in Vienna. Because of the war, the message was brief: “Mother Kostka died June 22 in Detroit, Michigan. Details will follow.”

The body of Mother Kostka was brought to Briarbank the next day. The sisters from the midwest convents gathered to pay their last respects and to bid farewell to their beloved mother. After the recitation of the solemn Office of the dead, Monsignor Hickey, secretary to Archbishop Mooney, and Reverend Stephen Bali, assistant pastor at Holy Cross Church in Detroit, conducted a prayer service. Following the service, her sorrowing daughters lighted candles in their hands, processed to the gate where the hearse awaited the coffin which was to be transfported by train to New York City.

Mother Kostka arrived for the last time in Arrochar on Thursday morning, June 24. She, whose life had been spent in traveling on behalf of her beloved Congregation, had made her final journey. As the convent bell tolled, announcing the arrival of their faithful mother, the sisters, novices and postulants, together with the chaplain formed a guard of honor at the main entrance, just as they had done countless times before. After the blessing, the coffin was placed into her office where now in death, as often in life, she had been visited by her daughters for advice and consolation. Throughout the day and night the sisters kept vigil by the coffin, praying and grieving for their deceased mother. That evening, the solemn Office of the Dead was recited.

The solemn requiem mass for Mother Kostka Bauer was celebrated at Saint Joseph Hill Chapel on Friday, June 25. Priests from all the parishes which were served by the Daughters of Divine Charity; Father William Biskorovanyi, who welcomed the weary traveler as she arrived in America; representatives of the House of Hapsburg, the Hungarian consulate, and numerous acquaintances attended the funeral to express their respect for this indefatigable woman and in thanks for her thirty years of missionary zeal in the United States.

The liturgy was offered by Reverend Stephen Chernitzsky, one of the first priests to offer her support in 1913. The eulogy was preached by Reverend Terence A. McNally, O.F.M., pastor of St. Stephen of Hungary Church in New York City. The line from St. John’s gospel, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and appointed you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and your fruit shall remain” was the basis for his evaluation of the life and work of Mother Kostka.
Only God and herself -- with perhaps a few close associates can know the pains and the sorrows -- the disappointments and the joys which accompanied the fulfillment of her vocation and apostleship....

Her spirit of love and charity were the fruit which she had brought forth.... If true humility -- if the sincere love of God and man -.- if the spirit of patience and tolerant understanding combined with honest zeal for the law of God -- if all these constitute sanctity and sainthood -- and we firmly believe that they do -- then in all truth we can say of her in the words of Scripture, “PRECIOUS IN THE EYES OF THE LORD IS THE DEATH OF HIS SAINT!”

After the singing of the Libera and the final blessing, the coffin was placed on a hearse behind which the priests, sisters, and a large number of people went in procession, praying the rosary, to St. Mary’s Cemetery, to the plot reserved for the Daughters of Divine Charity. After the final prayers, the earthly remains of Mother Kostka were laid to rest in a grave next to those of her American daughters who had predeceased her. This was to be her resting place until the end of the war when the General Chapter would make the final decision as to her permanent resting place.

Cardinal di Belmonte, the Cardinal Protector of the Congregation, was informed of the death of Mother Kostka by Mother Margaret Gergely. In a letter dated July 1, 1943, addressed to Sister Agnes, the general vicaress of the orphaned Congregation he wrote: “Be brave and be that mother full of love who will continue work in the Congregation, as Vicaress General, until more peaceful times will let us have a General Chapter which for the moment is impossible.”

A solemn requiem mass was celebrated at the Motherhouse Church in Vienna on July 7, at 8 o’clock. Now, the mother was gone; Sister Agnes would trust in God and continue on, according to the advice of the Cardinal Protector.

Two letters, one from Professor Sales Hess, and another dated September 30, 1943, provided Sister Agnes with further details of the last days of Mother Kostka. At that time, she reported what she knew to the sisters and wrote:

... .Mother Kostka had traveled throughout all parts of the world in order to settle disputes, and to bring comfort and help -- she had a holy fervor; in self1ess sacrificial courage she did not draw back from any difficulties which she encountered; her confidence in God, as well as her acceptance of God’s will were examples; she worked assiduously to develop her spirituality and she worked with her whole heart for God and the Congregation -- it is the wish and prayer of all that she be rewarded by the Almighty Merciful God for the power and strength to struggle for the good of all which she had continued for decades.
(DC VIII, pp. 55-61)

It was not until January, 1946, that a very detailed record of the illness, death and burial of the third superior general would arrive in Vienna and, from there, in the various provinces of the Congregation.

The Daughters of Divine Charity had lost a woman of faith, a loving soul had striven to be a mother to all; a victim soul who was tried by the conflagration of the world chaos who said, the day before she died: “I had always wished to see all my loved ones once more; God, however, wished this sacrifice and I do it willingly, as God’s will is my joy.”

The last will and testament of this faithful steward to future generations of Daughters of Divine Charity around the world: “to work together in love and unity,” should continue to be the most sacred obligation and commitment of every daughter of Mother Franciska. Undoubtedly, Mother Kostka Bauer continues to pray for this love and unity for her beloved Congregation before the throne of the Almighty -- it was her quest -- it should be our goal!

[1] The General Chapter of 1947 acceded to the petition of the North American province to allow the foundress to remain among her daughters in the province which she had co-founded.