Sister Margherita Marchione, a Religious Teachers Filippini sister who has died at the age of 99, worked tirelessly to defend the good name of Venerable Pope Pius XII in the hope he would one day be beatified.
A New Jersey native and one of eight children of immigrants from Campania in Italy, Sister Margherita earned a doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University before going on to write numerous books on historical figures including Philip Mazzei, an Italian immigrant who fought in the American Revolution and became friends with Thomas Jefferson.
But in the late 1990s, and approaching her 80s, she began writing about what had long interested her: Italian Jews saved by Catholics during World War Two and the life of Pius XII.
Convinced of Pius’ righteousness, Sister Margherita went on to become one of his most ardent defenders in the face of posthumous accusations — believed to be a deliberate and orchestrated smear campaign — that he had failed to do enough to save Jews from the Holocaust during the war.
Those who have also striven to defend Pius XII came to know and deeply respect Sister Margherita for her extensive research into the wartime pontiff but also for many of her other qualities and achievements.
Here below are tributes to her life and legacy from four other leading figures in the battle to clear Pius’ name:
Jewish founder and president of the Pave the Way Foundation, a New York-based non-sectarian organization aiming to bring peace between religions.
“In 2006, I was introduced to Sister Margherita Marchione by then-nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. Sister revealed shocking information about the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, which was the opposite of what I was told about him growing up as a Jew in New York. Archbishop Migliore advised me to meet with Sister Marchione who had been researching the actions of the Holy See since the 1970s.
“It was the revelation of her massive primary sourced documentation that she presented to me that prompted me to ask our board of directors of the Pave the Way Foundation to initiate an in-depth investigation of the actions of the Holy See during World War II under the pontificate of Pius XII. This work has taken us around the world and resulted in our posting over 76,000 pages of primary source documentation on www.ptwf.org along with dozens of eyewitness interviews.
“We co-sponsored a United Nations conference on Jan. 17, 2021 with the Holy See Mission to the U.N. I revealed, in my statement, that it is a Jewish responsibility to recognize the life-saving effort of the Vatican under the pontificate of Pius XII, since ingratitude is the worst character flaw a Jew can have. The evidence we have unearthed since 2006 is incontrovertible.
“Sister Margherita will be so sorely missed as an unwavering defender of the Catholic Church.”
Distinguished professor of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, author of several critically acclaimed books on Pope Pius XII and his efforts to save Jewish lives during World War II.
“I first met Sister Margherita while doing a television series on Pius XII for EWTN. I had read her writings on Pius, and I assumed that this was her life work. While she did much for Pius, she did as much or more for many other people (and historical figures) during a life in which she earned a Ph.D. from Columbia; authored over 40 books; served as a Fulbright Scholar; was honored by the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame; and hobnobbed with popes, presidents, scholars and royalty.
Prior to Pius XII, Sister Margherita wrote about Clemente Rebora, Giovanni Boine and Giuseppe Prezzolini, but her most significant efforts were directed towards the promotion of Philip Mazzei, a key figure in the American Revolution. Not only did Sister Margherita write several books about him, but in conjunction with the bicentennial celebration she led the successful effort to have his image placed on an international commemorative airmail stamp.
“Sister Margherita became interested in Pope Pius XII when she learned that Jews had been sheltered at the home of the Religious Sisters Filippini in Rome during World War II. That discovery led to research and a new passion. She recognized the attack on Pius XII as an unfair stain on the Catholic Church, and she waged a difficult, often lonely battle to defend the honor of Pope Pius XII (and hence the Church).
“Sister Marchione had many benefactors over the years, including Frank Sinatra and Henry Salvatori. I think, however, that she was most proud of her relationship with the late New York Yankee great Billy Martin. She was particularly proud of a photograph of him kissing her that once appeared in the newspapers. She paid her supporters by going above and beyond anything that they might have expected.
“The love that those who knew Sister Margherita felt for her is reflected in the first verse of a song sung to her by Joe Piscopo (of Saturday Night Live fame) at a ceremony honoring her as recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the Religious Teachers Filippini. To the tune of The Macarena, Piscopo sang:
Let me tell you something, please listen up, Mister; Mister;
I want to tell you about a ‘Super-Nun Sister’—
If we didn’t see her every day, we would surely miss her…
“Sister Marchione’s contributions to the Catholic Church were inestimable. She had an uncanny knack of recognizing important evidence, verifying it, and recording it for posterity. This put her way ahead of most other researchers on her topics. As Joe Piscopo said, we will surely miss her.”
William Doino Jr.
Author and expert on Pope Pius XII’s wartime record and contributor to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII.
“I knew Sister Margherita Marchione for several decades, right up until the time the Lord called her, and I can only imagine the joy she is feeling today, in the loving embrace of her Savior, having devoted her whole life to her Catholic faith, to the Church and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“People that knew her loved her, and those that didn’t know her as well were nevertheless amazed by her indefatigable energy, on behalf of her Order, the Church, and those in need everywhere. Her concern for the poor and oppressed was deep and consistent, and her charity for humanitarian and educational projects across the globe boundless. She had the love and commitment of a Mother Cabrini in pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful.
“One of Sister Marchione’s most admirable qualities was her fearless pursuit of the truth and a burning desire to right serious injustices. Among these was the scurrilous campaign against Pius XII, whom she spent a good deal of her life defending — and successfully exonerating — against his dwindling detractors. As was demonstrated recently by the Holy See’s full-scale tribute to her on the Vatican’s website, she was highly regarded in Italy and Europe, and had a strong following in the United States as well.
“Her series of works powerfully defending Pius XII’s record on behalf of Jews and other persecuted peoples during the Second World War, are packed with irrefutable facts, primary source material, and firsthand witnesses. She was among the first to answer the contemporary critics of Pius XII, so she deserves enormous credit for persuading other scholars to reassess their views about Pius XII, whose reputation has been steadily rising — his cause for sainthood has been gradually advancing ever since Sister Marchione took up his worthy cause. Shortly before she died, she was delighted to hear about the newly-released Pius XII archives proving and strengthening many of the things she had been saying about his lifesaving works for years.
“My most vivid memory of Sister, however, isn’t about her work clearing the good name of Pius XII — as invaluable as that was — but about the joy she experienced being a Catholic nun.
“Once, when traveling by plane with Sister to appear on EWTN to discuss Pius XII, I had a long and inspiring conversation with her about what drew her to the religious life in the first place. When I asked her if she ever had any doubts about her decision to devote her entire life to the Church, she answered more forcefully than I ever heard her speak. ‘Not for a second!’ she exclaimed. ‘I wanted to become a nun and serve Our Lord and his Church ever since I was a young child, and God fulfilled my prayers in the most extraordinary ways.’
“The word ‘wonderful,’ she continued, could not describe the blessings she received as a Catholic nun — and the same is true, I believe, of the graces she bestowed upon all those who were fortunate enough to know her. A beautiful nun and magnificent defender of our faith, in all its dimensions, she will be missed on earth, even as Our Lord and the Saints — and Venerable Pius XII! — are now doubtlessly celebrating her arrival and presence in Heaven.”
German Catholic historian and author of several books on Pope Pius XII.
“She deserved to witness his beatification after spending her life rehabilitating him. But at the age of 99, she left us to meet her great hero, Pope Pius XII, in heaven. Her heritage, the result of a life of truly dedicated historical research, will stay with us forever. It inspired so many to see the great, saintly wartime pope with different eyes, with the eyes of respect — and justice.
Sister Margherita Marchione was herself a witness of the war and its great pontificate. Born in 1922, as one of eight children of Italian immigrants in Little Ferry, New Jersey, Pius XII was the pope of her adult life and her vocation. Being a teacher at heart and with a nun’s soul, she joined the Religious Teachers Filippini. She later learned that, following the call of Pope Pius XII, the Roman mother house of her congregation was one of the most active in rescuing and hiding Roman Jews during the nine months of Nazi occupation.
When after 1963, a campaign initiated by the Soviet KGB through the theater play “The Deputy” by former Hitler Youth member Rolf Hochhuth, tried to discredit Pius XII and claim he was silent during the Holocaust, Sister Margherita knew it was not true. When others remained indifferent, she started to fight for the truth. She traveled to Italy numerous times, collected evidence from her own order and others, and published it.
She became known as “the Fighting Nun” — the title of her autobiography, published in 2000 — and deserves this title. Her eight books on Pius XII were read by others who were open to the truth and changed lives. Yes, they inspired Catholics and Jews alike. Thanks to her, New York-born Jew Gary Krupp changed his mind on Pius XII (see above) and became, together with his Pave the Way Foundation, one of the greatest defenders of the wartime pope. A whole phalanx of international historians from the US, the UK, Italy, Germany and France searched the archives and uncovered undeniable evidence that Pius XII indeed saved not only 5,000 Roman Jews — as Marchione always claimed — but caused 950,000 Jews to survive the Holocaust. The Pope was the secret guardian angel of the persecuted victims of Hitler’s diabolical racism, and the hidden coordinator of the greatest humanitarian campaign in history. Without Sister Margherita, the world might have never learned the truth.
The Vatican Archives on Pius XII are open now and every month historians discover new documents completing the picture first drawn by this tireless little nun. The beatification of Pius XII is only a question of time. At Yad Vashem, Jewish historians are discussing when they will announce that Pius XII belongs to the Righteous Among the Nations. Margherita Marchione, the little teaching nun, has shown us that one person alone, man or woman, can indeed write history and fight the lies of our times. Her life and work are a message of hope. May she receive her heavenly reward!”