A royal romance. A country torn apart by war. A pleading pope. An emperor and king and his devoted empress, who, together, had eight children. A kingdom in exile and a heroic death.
If you think this sounds like the plot to a pretty awesome movie, you would be right, but this story is better than a movie – because it is true. This is the story of Blessed Karl, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and his wife, Servant of God Zita, Empress of Austria. Together they lived a life of love, devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts and to the Eucharist, and service to the less fortunate. Below are some amazing facts about their heroic lives.
1. No one thought Karl would be emperor
Blessed Karl was the grand nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916). Grand nephews don’t usually end up ascending the imperial throne, but a series of events transpired (including the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) that ultimately resulted in Karl of Austria and his wife, Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, being crowned Emperor and Empress.
2. Family came first
It is tempting to think that the path to Sainthood is only for the famous, the well known, or the publicly pious, but that is not the case. All are called to sainthood and holiness, and one of the surest paths is to live one’s state in life according to the Will of God. For Blessed Karl and Servant of God Zita, this meant being faithful to their vows as husband and wife and raising their children in the faith. On their wedding day, Karl turned to his new wife and said, ““Now we must help each other to go to heaven.”
3. Blessed Karl was known as ‘The Emperor of Peace’
Bl. Karl was crowned during the tumultuous Great War (World War I). According to the official website of his Cause for Canonization: “As emperor he understood peace to be his absolute, kingly duty. In his ascension manifesto, therefore, he named peace as his central goal. Only Karl took up the peace proposal of Pope Benedict XV, incorporating its principles in a set of proposed peace accords (which historians have evaluated as thoroughly realistic and having had great potential)….As emperor, he created a comprehensive social program. He created the first social ministry in the world, which was commissioned with overseeing rent control, child and youth protection, family rights and social insurance, industrial law and employee welfare, thereby adding new dimensions to social politics. The basic structures of these reforms are still in place today.”
4. The Royal Family of Austria was exiled
Austria was not immune to the tensions and instability created by the warring powers during the Great War. According to Vatican’s biography on Blessed Karl,
“Thanks to his conduct, the transition to a new order at the end of the conflict was made possible without a civil war. He was however banished from his country. The Pope feared the rise of communist power in central Europe, and expressed the wish that Charles re‑establish the authority of his government in Hungary. But two attempts failed, since above all Charles wished to avoid the outbreak of a civil war. Charles was exiled to the island of Madeira. Since he considered his duty as a mandate from God, he could not abdicate his office. Reduced to poverty, he lived with his family in a very humid house. He then fell fatally ill and accepted this as a sacrifice for the peace and unity of his peoples.”
5. Emperor Karl died at the young age of 35
Ill from pneumonia, Blessed Karl offered up his suffering for his people. Faithful to her beloved husband to the last, Servant of God Zita stayed with her husband. Before his death he told her, “We will always be together in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Karl’s last words were, ““Thy Holy Will be done. Jesus, Jesus, come! Yes—yes. My Jesus, Thy will be done—Jesus.” Before drawing his last breath, he asked for his oldest son, Otto, to be at his bedside to “witness how a Catholic and an Emperor conducts himself when dying.”
6. Empress Zita lived to be almost 100 years old
A widow after ten years of marriage, Zita lived an exemplarly life of service to the injured, poor, needy and displaced. She continued to raise her children in the faith after her husband’s death and to protect her family’s name and legacy. Servant of God Zita died on March 14, 1989.
7. Servant of God Zita received a Papal Indult
Wishing to continue living a life of prayer and service, the Empress received a Papal Indult in 1929 allowing her to become an Oblate of St. Peter’s Abbey of Solesmes and to spend three months of each year within the enclosure of St. Cecilia’s abbey. All counted, the Empress spent about 1400 days at Solesmes, i.e. almost 4 years. Her intense spiritual life included, after rising each day at 5:30 a.m., praying part of the Office, hearing several daily Masses (usually three), and reciting the Rosary.
8. Holiness is attractive
It is no secret that we live in a tumultuous time. Political angst, world tensions, violence and the destruction of family life are all on the rise. It is for such a time as this that great and holy men and women are put forward as examples of hope and to remind us that holiness is attractive – even in the current craziness of our daily lives. Blessed Karl of Austria and Servant of God Zita are such examples for our times. May the pray for us!