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A Flower Grows in Communist Slovakia

Story ID:5576
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Biography
Location:various various Slovakia
Year:1955
Person:Sr. Zdenka Schelingova
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I remember recently seeing part of the 40's classic movie - The Razor's Edge.
I had seen the movie before and it was a revelation to me as each character -
the good and the bad was developed. But here, in the interest of time, I can
only relate the part that I found so very beautiful. Herbert Marshall- playing
Somerset Maugham observed at the end re his protagonist character portrayed
by Tyrone Power - few people possess the quality which he has and that is
GOODNESS.

How simple and beautiful. For me it is already a truism and I was glad that I
recently found the true story of a Slovak Religious Sister who also possessed
this quality of goodness. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003. But
she, as well as all the Saints- not only possess goodness, but I'm sure to an even
higher degree then Maugham's wonderful character in Razor's Edge.

While watching the TV news in 2003, I had briefly caught sight of a news clip
showing some Holy Cross Sisters ascending the steps to the platform where the
ceremony of Sr. Zdenka Schelingova's beatification was taking place. But at
the time, I missed even hearing her name and knew nothing re how she earned
this very great recognition reserved for the most deserving in the Church.

Uncharacteristically, I missed doing any research re her then. So, I was glad
when this week I accidentally found a link to her story after looking up info re
the Marian shrine of Levoca in Slovakia. I believe I read that she is the first
woman in Slovakia to have this honor bestowed on her. I am sure there were
probably other deserving women there as well, but these hidden souls will only
be recognized by God in heaven, and after all, for people of faith- that's what is
most important. However, we ordinary mortals do need to know about some of
them now for inspiration and Sr. Zdenka is one of those special souls.

Cecilia Schelingova was born in Kriva, Orava, Slovakia to John and Zuzana
Scheling in a small farming village on Dec. 25, 1916. She was the 10th of 11
children, and so it is no surprise that she probably learned early on the meaning
of sacrifice and responsibility -needing to help her mother with all the work
related with being part of a large family.

In 1929 "Cilka" as she sometimes was called is lucky to have become a pupil at
the new school run by the Holy Cross Sisters who not only provided education
for the children but also medical services for the community as well. The Sisters
noted that she was a good student and a leader at school. But they also said they
found her to be a fearless prankster. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by this part
of her personality. I read somewhere that there are no sad saints.

In 1931- at age 15, she told her parents that she wished to join the Holy Cross
Sisters. I'm sure that her parents must have been pleased that one of their
children wanted to serve God. And so one day Cecilia's mother took her to the Holy
Cross Sisters Provincial House at Podunajke Biscupice. I imagine that this mother
reliquished her daughter to religious life with a great deal of joy in her heart.

At the Provincial House Cecelia received four years of nurse's training and in
1937 she made her first profession as a Holy Cross Sister and is given the Slavic
name Zdenka which in America may well be the feminine for Dennis . Her first
assignment as a nurse is to the hospital in Humenne located in the center of
Eastern Slovakia.

At the end of the war -in 1945 the Germans leave Slovakia and a National Front
Coalition Government is formed. But soon after, in 1948 The People's Republic,
a totalitarian Communist regime, replaces the coalition government. One of its
first order of business is to privatize the Catholic Church- making priests and
sisters dependent on the state while promoting atheism. Priests are made to
sign an oath of allegiance to the state. Many of them flee to the west. The
government releases a stern warning to anyone who will assist any escaping
priests or seminarians and further stipulate that this act will be considered an
act of high treason. While the Church excommunicates the Communists, they
ask the priests and sisters to comply with the government.

In 1950 all convents are dissolved by the People's Democracy. Wearing habits is
disallowed and Sisters are put to work in factories and moved from town to town
at the discretion of the party leaders. The provinical superior of the Holy Cross
Sisters asks Sisters to comply with the authorities and offer no resistance.

In this same year Stefan Kostial, a priest, is caught and imprisoned for trying to
leave the country. Sister Zdenka knows that she must take risks in giving aid to
prisoners who are placed in the Bratislava government hospital where she is
working as a nurse. She secretly helps prepare the documents needed for several
priests and a lawyer imprisoned for subversive activities.

On February 20, 1953 Stefan Kostial (priest) escapes from prison via the Bratislava
Hospital. Sister Zdenka drugged the guard and earlier had contacted people to
help him flee across the Danube into Austria. She is found out and arrested
and imprisoned on the same day.

For her crime of "high treason" on June 17, 1952 Sister Zdenka is tried and
convicted and sentenced to 12 years of prison. She admits to having performed
the actions charged, but denies the accusation of high treason. Her only motive
she said was driven by compassion and only to spare the lives of the priests.
(Judge Pavol Korbuly who had handled her case -later repented of his mistreatment
of her after her death.)

Sister Zdenka is repeatedly tortured in prison in an attempt to turn her into an
informant. She resists and the only bright spot in this time of suffering was
being allowed to see her family on two occasions.

In 1954 Sister Zdenka is diagnosed with breast cancer. One breast is amputated
without benefit of anesthetic or follow-up medical treatment. Helena Kordova, a
fellow inmate, volunteers to care for Sister Zdenka. Later she is transferred to
Pardubice, a Bohemian prison where she receives radiation treatment in a hospital
in Prague. Apolonia Galis who had visited her in her earlier incarceration now
petitions the communists to release Sr. Zdenka. They do so only because she is
now mortally ill and could be of no further use to the Communists.

On April 19, 1955 Sr. Zdenka returns to Bratislava where Apolonia Galis is waiting.
Together they visit the provincial superior of the Holy Cross Sisters. Sadly, fearing
reprisals by the communists, she forbids Sr. Zdenka to stay in Bratislava with the
other sisters. Even the Holy Cross Sisters at Trnava refuse to take in their dying
Sister. Sr. Zdenka is deeply hurt by this rejection of her own community and
who could blame her?

Apolonia Galis takes her into her own home. But soon Sr. Zdenka's deteriorating
health requires that she be taken to the local Trnava hospital where she dies
on July 31, 1955. Her only friend at this time was Apolonia Galis who later herself
becomes a Holy Cross Sister.

My thanx to the Holy Cross Sisters who provided a chronological account of Sr.
Zdenka's life. It is on the internet - along with a wonderful account by Sr. Zdenka's
American niece. Sr. Zdenka's brother John had immigrated to America during
this period and settled in Cleveland. Her niece now lives in Virginia and her
in depth account of Sr. Zdenka's life reflects the great happiness and pride that
family and friends - both from Slovakia and America experienced at being at this
most wonderful of religious experiences - the beatification ceremonies of Sr.
Zdenka who at ceremony's end would now be called Blessed Sr. Zdenka Schelingova.
Her copy under "News" at the Holy Cross Sisters internet site is wonderfully written
and contains many pictures of Sr. Zdenka and family. (www.holycrosssisters.org)

Holy Cross Sister Barbara Misner, SCSC past archivist of the Holy Cross Sisters,
USA Province provided the chronological listing of pertinent biographical
information re Sr. Zdenka's life which this post utilized, and she also posted many
of Sr. Zdenka's own thoughts in her own words. I copied some of them:

I called her a flower growing in Communist soil. I was surprised to find that
she also saw herself as a flower: She wrote OF HERSELF: "My tongue shall not
speak proudly about myself, nor without love about others. I do not want to be
a garden rose, admired by people, but a simple wild flower, pleasing in the
sight of God."

ON TRUE VALUE: "Christ is the hidden treasure. What a pity that so very few
souls find Him because they love only what shines, glitters, and dazzles on the
outside."

ON SUFFERING: "Let us not be afraid of suffering. God always gives the courage
and strength needed for the present moment. This is grace. I will always believe
that. Nothing shall intimidate me, neither strong winds nor thick clouds. Should
it happen all the same, it will be over quickly. In the end, my trust and my
security will be strengthened."

ON JOY: " What joy it would be for me if I could spend the days of my life in a
manner pleasing to Christ."

ON PARTING WITH HELENA KORDOVA IN PRISON: Let's not cry. You will be free
one day --not I, however, never again. And if things happen as I think they will,
do come and put some white roses on my grave. I like them so much.