Helen Kafka was born in 1894 to a shoemaker in Moravia and grew up in Vienna. At the age of 20, she joined the Hartmann Sisters, or Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, and took the name Maria Restituta after St. Restituta of Sora, who was beheaded in the third century, foreshadowing her own martyrdom.
Seasoned by World War I, she gained renown as an operating room nurse and anesthetist in Modling, Austria. When the Germans took over the country, she became a local opponent of the Nazi regime. Her conflict with them escalated after they ordered her to remove all of the crucifixes she had hung up in each room of a new hospital wing.
Sr. Maria Restituta refused and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. She was sentenced to death for “aiding and abetting the enemy in the betrayal of the fatherland and for plotting high treason.”
She spent the rest of her days in prison caring for other prisoners, who loved her. The Nazis offered her freedom if she would abandon the Franciscan sisters, but she refused. She was beheaded March 30, 1943, in Vienna, the only nun so sentenced in the Nazis’ German territories. Pope St. John Paul II beatified her on June 21, 1998.