- Pascalina Lehnert
Madre (Mother) Pascalina Lehnert (
August 25, 1894— November 13, 1983), born Josefina Lehnert, was a Bavarian Roman Catholic nunwho served as Pope Pius XII's housekeeper and secretary from his period as Nuncioto Bavaria in 1917 until his death as pope in 1958. She managed the papal charity office for Pius XII. from its beginning in 1944 to 1958. She was born in Ebersberg.She died from a brain hemorrhage in Vienna, at age 89.
= Households in the
Apostolic Nunciatureand the Vatican =
"Madre Pascalina", as she was called, led the Pacelli household in the nunciature in
Munich, Bavaria from 1917.1925 and in Berlinfrom 1925–1929, where Nuncio Pacelli was Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. There she became known for organizing the Pacelli parties, “which were auspicious, tastefully sprinkling glitter with the strictest European etiquette…. The nunciature was soon a major center of Germany’s social and official worlds. Streams of aristocrats including President Paul von Hindenburg, (one of Germany’s Field Marshals during World War I). were frequent callers, blending with students and workers, anyone whom Pacelli, the shrewdest of diplomats, chose to smile upon”. [ Murphy, Paul I. and Arlington, R. Rene. (1983) La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pascalina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History. New York: Warner Books Inc. ISBN 0-446-51258-3 p.59] Pacelli was recalled to Romein 1929 to become Cardinal Secretary of State. Madre Pascalina soon resided as housekeeper with two other sisters in the Vatican. [ For a short interval, she stayed in private quarters due to renovations of the Vatican quarters of the Secretary of State, which was interpreted by both Cornwell and Murphy that her position in Rome was not secure Cornwell, John. Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. Viking. (1999). ISBN 0-670-87620-8. Murphy, Paul I. and Arlington, R. Rene. (1983) La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pascalina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History. New York: Warner Books Inc. ISBN 0-446-51258-3. During this time Pacelli’s sister Elisabetta reportedly displayed some rivalries to Madre Pascalina. Martha Schad, Gottes Mächtige Dienerin, Schwester Pascalina und Papst Pius XII. Herbig, München, 2007] and were the only women inside the Papal conclave, which on March 2, elected Pacelli to become the successor of Pope Pius XI. Later Madre Pascalina remembered the Vatican apartment with the closed windows:
"About 5.30, P.M. we were all still occupied with packing and cleaning the rooms, when we heard from St. Peter’s Square yelling and clapping noises. We did not dare to open the windows and look (this was strictly forbidden) and nobody came to tell us. So we waited … until the door to the Office opened. In the entrance stood a tall and thin figure, - now dressed in white. No more Cardinal Pacelli, it was Pope Pius XII."
"How can one forget such a moment. We sisters cried and kneeled in front of him and kissed the hand of the Holy Father, for the first time. He had wet eyes too. Looking down on himself, he said, look what they have done to me." [Lehnert,Pascalina Ich durfte Ihm Dienen, Erinnerungen an Papst Pius XII. Naumann, Würzburg, 1986, 69]
Undocumented Roman stories called her Virgo Potens, powerful virgin; Romans described the “power” of the first women in the Vatican in colourful ways at the time. Few stories are documented. Many anecdotes about the Pope are in the below-mentioned autobiography of Madre Pascalina, which is actually a biography of Pius XII.
Her co-worker of many years in the Vatican, Sister Maria Konrada Grabmair, said in an official interview October 6, 1992.
* "Madre was a very good but fast driver of automobiles in Rome - She was once stopped by the police for speeding and admonished afterwards by the Pope, "speeding is a sin" When she told him, that she drove for him to the
Gregorian Universityto deliver his text, he continued with a smile, "“speeding is a sin, even if done with the best of intentions”"." [ Interview with Sister Maria Konrada Grabmair in Rome at Casa Pastor Angelicus, October 6, 1992, L’Associazione Pio XII, Roma, 1992]
* "Madre Pascalina did her own grocery shopping at the local market, and, following old Roman custom, always negotiated the prices down, with the argument This one is for the Holy Father." [Once, Konrada reports, Madre took away old worn out shoes from the Pope, commenting, "these look like Gipsy shoes" and replaced them with new ones. Next day Pius insisted, "I want my Gipsy shoes back. They are more comfortable." (Interview with Sister Maria Konrada Grabmair in Rome at Casa Pastor Angelicus, October 6, 1992, L’Associazione Pio XII, Roma, 1992)]
Papal Charities 1944-1958
"Day and night the sound of bombs and canons. Castel Gandolfo houses 5000 refugees and in Rome are four million people hungry, and every day it gets worse. The Holy Father does whatever he can do. But every day is worse. No more medicine, nothing. Whatever little may be left, is taken (by the Germans). How much longer, oh God, how much longer?" [Pascalina, (Letter of Madre Pascalina, Archiv Institut Menzingen, 1.2.1944, in Martha Schad, Gottes mächtige Dienerin, Schwester Pascalina und Papst Pius XII. Herbig, München, 2007, p.107]
Pius XII. responded to Madre Pascalina and the human tragedies of the war by organizing a two tier papal charity. Monsignore
Ferdinando Baldelli, Carlo Egger and Otto Fallerstarted on behalf of the pope the official Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza[Primo Mazzolari, La Carita Del Papa, Pio XII.e la ricostruzione dell’Italia, Edizione Paoline, 1991)] Madre Pascalina was asked by the Pope to direct his personal charity efforts, officially under Monsignor Montini, later Pope Paul VI, with whom she seemed to have a complicated relationship. To assist the pope in the many calls for his help and charity, Pascalina organized and led the Magazino, a private papal charity office which employed up to 40 helpers and continued until 1959. “It started from modest beginnings and became a gigantic charity”. [Pascalina Lehnert, Ich durfte Ihm Dienen, Naumann, Würzburg, 1986, p.104)] By Christmas 1944, 12000 packages were delivered to the children of Rome alone, many of which were handed over by Pope Pius XII himself. [Martha Schad, Gottes Mächtige Dienerin, Schwester Pascalina und Papst Pius XII. Herbig, München, 2007, p.112] Pascalina organized truck caravans filled with medicine, clothing, shoes and food to prison camps and hospitals, provided first aid, food and shelter for bomb victims, fed the hungry population of Rome, answered emergency calls for aid to the Pope, sent care packages to France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germanyand Austriaand other countries. After the war, the calls for papal help continued in war-torn Europe: Madre Pascalina organized emergency aid to displaced persons, prisoners of war, victims of floods, and many victims of the war. Pascalina distributed also hundreds of religious items to needy priests. In later years, priests with very large parishes received small cars or motor bikes. The Pope was personally involved, constantly asking bishops from the United States Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, and other countries for help. Cardinals and Bishops freely visited Madre Pascalina, who by now was nicknamed Virgo Potens, powerful virgin.
Madre Pascalina’s autobiography
Madre Pascalina wrote her autobiography in 1959. Church authorities permitted its publication only in 1982. [ Pascalina Lehnert, "Ich durfte Ihm Dienen", Naumann, Würzburg, 1982, 1986.] In some 200 pages she describes the human qualities and sense of humor of the late Pope, whom she served for 41 years. It includes numerous personal impressions on the personality of Eugenio Pacelli, historical events such the
papal conclaveof 1939, occurrences during World War II, the consistoryof 1946, beatifications, the Holy Year 1950, and the illness and death of Pope Pius XII. Historically significant are the detailed descriptions of the personality of Pius XII, for whom she worked over forty years. Madre Pascalina also published several articles, in which she described the daily life and routine of the pontiff.
Honors for Madre Pascalina
Madre Pascalina received in 1958 the Papal Order Pro Ecclesia and Pontifice from
Pope John XXIII. In 1969 she received the Bundesverdienstkreuzfrom the Federal Republic of Germany and in 1980 the Bavarian Order of Merit. In 1981, the Austrian President awarded her the Goldenes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich.
During her lifetime, the influential Madre Pascalina was not without adversaries in the male dominated Vatican, which gave rise to much gossip and stories. Her communication style was clear, determined, more
Prussian than Austrian, not always soft or diplomatic like the normal communication of the Holy Seewas. Madre Pascalina died in 1983. She is buried at the Vatican Campo Santo. Several bishops and cardinals, among them Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, himself a Bavarian too, attended her funeral.
Cardinal Ratzinger also delivered the eulogy at the tenth anniversary of Madre's death in 1993. While he jokingly referred to her as the most powerful Bavarian ever in the Vatican, he highlighted her life of complete service to the Church.
"“As housekeeper and secretary Madre Pascalina managed to create the human living space for Pius XII, which he needed, to fulfil his duties in a most difficult time.” [ Martha Schad, Gottes mächtige Dienerin, Schwester Pascalina und Papst Pius XII. Herbig, München, 2007, p 218]
*Lehnert,Pascalina "Ich durfte Ihm Dienen, Erinnerungen an Papst Pius XII." Naumann, Würzburg, 1986
*Lehnert Pascalina "Brief "(Letter of Madre Pascalina), Archiv Institut Menzingen, 1.2.1944
*Lehnert Pascalina ("Brief"Letter of Madre Pascalina), Archiv Institut Menzingen, 16.2.1944
*Lehnert Pascalina ("Brief "Letter of Madre Pascalina), Archiv Institut Menzingen, 7.4.1944
*Lehnert Pascalina "Brief "(Letter of Madre Pascalina), Archiv Institut Menzingen, 19.5.1944
*Lehnert Pascalina, "La Giornata del Pontifice Pio XII.", Osservatore Romano,Citta del Vaticano, March 22, 1952
*Mazzolari, Primo, "La Carita Del Papa, Pio XII.e la ricostruzione dell’Italia", Edizione Paoline, 1991
*Murphy, Paul I. and Arlington, R. Rene. (1983) "La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pascalina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History". New York: Warner Books Inc. ISBN 0-446-51258-3
*Schad Marta, "Gottes mächtige Dienerin, Schwester Pascalina und Papst Pius XII". Herbig, München, 2007
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