By Britta Dorre
ROME, JAN. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Hildegard Burjan (1883-1933), founder of the Sisters of Social Charity (Caritas Socialis), will be proclaimed blessed in St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna on Sunday.
“For the Archdiocese of Vienna, but also for the whole of Austria, Hildegard Burjan is an impressive figure, a person who should be made known,” said the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn.
The process of beatification was opened in 1963 by the then cardinal of Vienna, Franz Konig. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will preside over the solemn beatification ceremony.
Burjan was born on Jan. 30, 1883, in Gorlitz, Germany, a city on the Neisse river — since cut in half due to a change in the German-Polish border after World War II — the second daughter of the Freund family, which had Jewish origins. From her youth, Hildegard was distinguished by her interest in social problems and for her free spirit. She was one of the first women to attend university and the first to occupy a seat in the Austrian Parliament.
She concluded her study of philosophy in Zurich, Switzerland, with a doctorate summa cum laude. After her marriage in 1907 to Alexander Burjan, she went with her husband first to Berlin and then, in 1909, to the Austrian capital.
In Vienna she witnessed great social contradictions. However, instead of ignoring the great state of poverty there, she began to commit herself seriously to social matters.
She joined a group of women who were striving to implement the ideas of Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclical Rerum Novarum(1891). Hildegard Burjan’s commitment was profoundly marked by the Catholic faith, to which she converted in 1909 after a serious illness.
She considered interior liberty and the correct formation of personality as indispensable for people’s interior development. She was convinced that genuine social care lies in helping others to help themselves. For her, human dignity always came first.
In 1912 she founded the Association for Domestic Christian workers (Verein christlicher Heimarbeiterinnen) and in 1918 she amalgamated all the organizations of working women in the Social Assistance Association (Soziale Hilfe). She also helped the starving people of Erzgebirge (the Ore Mountains) with a food collection and created a network of assistance for families (Familienhilfe) in Sudetenland.
Faithful to the principle according to which social action requires a combination of private and political commitment, Hildegard Burjan entered politics in 1918, the year of the end of World War I and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her objective was to change social structures permanently, demonstrating a great sensitivity to the economic and social problems of her time.
She fought for equality, for a minimum salary for domestic workers, for care for those involved in dangerous activities. She combated child labor.
With the help of a Catholic priest, Ignaz Seipel, who after World War I was chancellor of Austria twice, she founded the apostolic society of the Sisters of Caritas Socialis in October 1919. Putting flexibility first, Burjan gave up the idea of a cloistered life for her congregation and other aspects of religious life, which she considered too limiting.
Today, the congregation she founded runs a number of centers in Vienna, among them a hostel for mothers and children, day nurseries, health clinics and specialized clinics for the elderly and chronically ill, and day centers for patients affected by Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. In the Austrian capital, the congregation runs the Rennweg Hospice of Caritas Socialis, which specializes in palliative care.
With her tireless commitment and example, until her death on June 11, 1933, this mother of a daughter, Lisa (whom doctors advised she abort for health reasons, a proposal she point-blank refused), Hildegard Burjan created institutions that continue to be very important and which will continue to help future generations.