Empress Zita, Beloved Wife of Blessed Karl, Is an Example for Our Times

Servant of God Zita exemplified a saintly level of trust in Divine Providence and remained devoted to the memory of her husband, from the day of his death in 1922 until her own death in 1989.

Carl Pietzner, “Archduke Karl of Austria and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma,” July 12, 1911
Carl Pietzner, “Archduke Karl of Austria and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma,” July 12, 1911 (photo: Public Domain)

In conjunction with the feast of Blessed Karl of Austria on Oct. 21, I conducted an email interview with Diane Schwind, the President of the American Foundation for the Beatification of Empress Zita. Blessed Karl and Servant of God Zita must be taken together — this is why Pope St. John Paul II chose their wedding anniversary as Blessed Karl’s feast day. The example of a holy wedded life is so needed today, and this is why Blessed Karl and Empress Zita are an example for our times.

Who is the Servant of God Empress Zita? Could you give us some milestones in her life?

Servant of God Empress Zita was the last empress and queen of Christendom. She was the wife of Blessed Charles von Habsburg, Emperor and King. Together they reigned over the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I from November 1916 to November 1918, when they were exiled from their country. After a two-year attempt to regain the throne, the family, now including seven children, were exiled to a small Portuguese-owned island off the coast of Africa called Madeira. Only five months later, Blessed Karl died of pneumonia, leaving Zita with their seven children and another in the womb.

Born into a large and happy family of the Bourbon-Parma lineage, Zita, who was one of 24 children, was raised with a beautiful Catholic faith which gave her great trust in Divine Providence. She became a widow and single mother to eight children just shy of her 30th birthday. The next 20 years were filled with decisions regarding what was best for her children. In devotion to her husband, Blessed Karl, she strove to raise the children as he would have them raised — first Catholic, and then royal. This desire was with the hope of regaining the throne and leading the empire in adherence to the Catholic faith.

Even as she devoted her life to her children and their needs, the Empress continued to remember her people in the war-torn countries of Austria-Hungary. During WWII, her family had to escape Hitler and fled to the United States. While there, and later when living in Canada, she made tours throughout both countries collecting food, clothing, blankets and money to send back to Europe to help the people of her countries.

Servant of God Zita exemplifies a saintly level of trust in Divine Providence as she remained devoted to her husband and his wishes, wearing black to honor him from the day of his death until her own death 67 years later at the age of 96, just two months shy of her 97th birthday. Her faith in Our Lord guided her as she raised their eight children to become Catholic leaders throughout the world in different levels of service. She remained a dignified leader to countless followers for generations and was greatly honored by many as her body was presented for burial at the Imperial crypt under the Capuchin Church in Austria. But even after death, her heart remains with that of her husband’s, preserved at Muri Abbey in Switzerland, where together in peace their love and honor of Our Lord is remembered.

How did you become acquainted with her life? And how did you become involved with her cause here in the U.S.?

God works in mysterious ways, right? My husband, Robert, and I are Benedictine Oblates promised to Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. Each October we have an annual Oblate Day Retreat at the Monastery. In October of 2019 a symposium for Blessed Karl was scheduled in our area on the same day as the annual Oblate Day Retreat. We spoke with Father Prior, who is the Oblate Director, to ask if we should attend the retreat or the symposium. He said without any delay that we most definitely should attend the symposium because we needed the intercession of Blessed Karl and Servant of God Zita for our marriage and family apostolate, Three Hearts Institute.

He instructed me to begin reading about Servant of God Empress Zita. I did and very quickly saw how she is the example of a holy woman; wife, mother, grandmother, and even widow, that we need in our world today. Long story short, at the symposium, we ended up meeting one of the granddaughters of the holy couple, Princess Maria-Anna Galitzine. I asked her if there was an organization in the U.S. working for her grandmother’s cause. There had been, but it folded due to the ecclesiastical overseer being transferred many states away from where the organization had begun.

We had shared our affiliation with Clear Creek Monastery and that it was a daughter foundation of Solesmes, where Servant of God Zita had visited many times throughout her life. In fact, in her older years, she petitioned the Holy Father to allow her to enter the Convent of St. Cecilia, the sister convent to Solesmes. However, her family petitioned the Holy Father and asked that he not allow her to enter as a nun. Instead, he allowed Zita three or four months out of the year to stay.

A great excitement came over Princess Maria-Anna and she asked if I would speak to Father Abbot at Clear Creek Monastery about the abbey becoming the official home for the U.S. cause and if I would head the charge. How do you tell a princess who is the granddaughter of a Blessed and a Servant of God no? I immediately contacted Father Abbot Anderson, who had spent quite some time in France as a new monk before returning to the U.S. to be part of the core group of monks who came to establish Clear Creek Monastery. He was thrilled with the idea, as he had studied about Zita while in France. He obtained necessary permission from Solesmes and from the family and that was the beginning of the American Foundation for the Beatification of Empress Zita.

What is involved in your work on her cause?

The purpose of the Foundation is simply to spread the news of her story as a beautiful daughter of God who lived her vocation as wife, mother, grandmother, empress and queen under complete obedience and trust to and in Divine Providence. We are working on a website to publish as much as possible about her as well as a place to announce upcoming events. We will be offering an annual event at Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery each May as close to her birthdate, which is May 9, as possible. We will be hosting symposiums in other locations as well. I would be honored to be invited to speak on the Servant of God as well.

Where does her cause stand internationally? Has there been much advancement?

Madame Elizabeth Montfort is the secretary-general of the Association for the Beatification of Empress Zita at Solesmes, France. Here is a quote from her [taken from an Oct. 8 email] answering this question precisely:

The trial of Empress Zita opened on Dec. 9, 2009, in the diocese of Le Mans where Solesmes is located, because she made many stays at the Abbey of Solesmes where she met her grandmother and her three sisters.
The first part, the interrogations, is now over. The people interviewed had known the Empress: they were members of her family, her doctor, people who knew her well, the nuns of Solesmes and Kergonan.
Simultaneously, the work of the historical commission takes place. It is a question of listing the writings of the Empress — she sometimes wrote 200 letters a week — the newspapers which speak of her, in order to identify what they show of the heroic virtues of the person. This work is far from finished, because Zita wrote many letters in German that need to be translated. The commission also lists the books written on the servant of God, without forgetting the contrary positions because it is important to listen to the ‘devil's advocate.’
The theological commission has also been appointed: two theological censors, whom we do not know, analyze the conformity of the person's life and his writings with the doctrine of the Church, to bring to light her heroic virtues.
When the work of these two commissions is finished, a secretary will compile all these data in what is called the Positio, that is to say, the final document which will be presented in Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The diocesan process will end with a ceremony: the trunk containing all the documents will be solemnly sealed and sent to Rome. It will be necessary to find another postulator in Rome to advance the cause in the Roman phase of the process. His mission will be to examine all the work of the diocesan process, and to authenticate the two healings being examined by approved doctors. It is about a young man who has recovered from a car accident, and a little girl cured of meningitis.
Throughout the trial, the association for the beatification of Empress Zita is responsible for making her life known and praying for graces through her intercession.

What example does Empress Zita leave us that is relevant for us today?

The life of Servant of God Zita is an example of what so many women today misunderstand — the life of a strong and powerful woman immersed in her femininity, not the attempt to perform with masculinity. But what is misunderstood is that her strength and power are the virtues of a woman grounded in union with Our Lord, immersed in her faith by participation in the Liturgy and personal mental prayer, and her devoted focus to the duties of her state in life as wife, mother and empress/queen.

We can learn from her example and put in place these same practices in our own lives. First, a deep union with God, participation in the Divine Liturgy, personal prayer. And then a head-down approach to the choices of our lives — true submissive devotedness to our husbands, care for our children with their eternal souls as the primary concern and service to God’s people in whatever way he calls us.

How can we help to advance her cause? And how can people find additional information about her life?

The official location of Servant of God Zita’s cause is at Solesmes in France. They have written a beautiful prayer that asks Our Lord to raise her to the altar of the Church. This prayer also asks for Zita’s intercession for the needs of others or for those praying. We invite everyone to ask for the intercession of Servant of God Zita. The Holy Spirit has already offered many graces through her intercession. Of course we are looking for a miracle that could bring about her beatification. We ask that any occurrences of grace due to her intercession be shared with the Foundation so that we can get the information to Solesmes for her files that are then shared with the Vatican.

Here is the prayer for her beatification:

God our Father, you redeemed the world by the humility of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He who was King became a Servant and gave his life as a ransom for many, therefore you have exalted him.
We ask you that your servant Zita, Empress and Queen, will be raised to the altars of your Church. In her, you have given us an admirable example of faith and hope in the face of trials, as well as an unshakeable confidence in your Divine Providence.
We beseech You that alongside her husband, the Blessed Emperor Charles, Zita will become, for couples, a model of conjugal fidelity and love, 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 very poor, be for us all an example of service and love of neighbor.
Through her intercession, grant our petition (mention here the graces you are asking for). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One Our Father, three Hail Marys and a Glory Be.

Kindly inform the American Foundation for the Beatification of Empress Zita [[email protected]] of any grace or favor obtained through the intercession of the Servant of God Zita.

You can watch an interview with Father Mitch Pacwa and Princess Maria-Anna about the life of Empress Zita here: