The Self-Effacing Heroines of Our Diaspora

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Jozo Župić’s The Apostolic Work of Croatian Nuns Abroad is focused on the migrant worker experiences of nuns from twenty conventual communities in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and has been printed following three years of serial publication in the CHF’s Matica magazine.

The Croatian Heritage Foundation recently published Jozo Župić’s The Apostolic Work of Croatian Nuns Abroad. Župić, a Roman Catholic priest, has been working for many decades in Germany and has a noteworthy literary oeuvre under his belt. This volume is a collection of his selected essays on the topic of the religious orders of women in the Church, accompanied by photographs and other illustrations, including the original correspondence of mother superiors and other officers of the Roman Catholic Church, men and women, with some of the more forbearing heroines of our time. The fantastic fruits of Župić’s investigative journalism on the activity of the female members of religious communities hailing from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and active in Germany, was published from May 2015 to November 2017 in the Croatian Heritage Foundation’s Matica magazine, under the leadership of its editor-in-chief Hrvoje Salopek.
The almost three-year serial publication of these essays—penned by a publicist with an undeniable narrative gift—on the work of our nuns abroad, faced with the challenges, both spiritual and profane, of the turbulent European society of the second half of the twentieth century, offers readers a credible elucidation of, on the one hand, the sacrifice made by nuns as migrant workers in the leaden years of socialism gone awry and, on the other, their massive and manifold contributions to various fields of human endeavour—from providing welfare and healthcare to creativity in the arts and in the meetings of cultures as advocated by Roman Catholic pontiff Francis in his message this year on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2018).
On his Twitter account the Roman pontiff, referring to migrants, underlined four key ideas: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. The Bishop of Rome also noted that integration was not an assimilation that leads to the disintegration or loss of one’s own cultural identity, saying, rather, that it is a lengthy process that supports a culture of encounters, ensuring that the Roman Catholic Church stands open and that it should reinvigorate its efforts in this regard. In this mission Croatian nuns in Germany have walked in step with their compatriots during the half-century period that saw an exodus out of the communist “paradise” of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, through the years of the Homeland War for independence, and right up to the latest wave of homeland leave-taking that has gripped Croatia and its broader neighbourhood, the European south impoverished by economic transition. Our nuns have also reacted to the challenges of contemporary mobility on the Old Continent faced by today’s European youth.
Župić’s book, written in concise and clear style, can be divided into three sections. In the first and largest section the book is further divided into twenty separate thematic units with indicative titles: The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculata [the Virgin Mary], Šibenik; The Scholastic Franciscan Sisters of Christ Our King, Split; The Daughters of God’s Love, Zagreb, Nova Ves; The Society of the Sisters of the Queen of the World, Zagreb, Dubrava; Congregation of the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ, Zagreb; The Servants of the Infant Jesus in Essen, Province of Split; The Servants of the Infant Jesus in Geretsried; The Scholastic Franciscan Sisters of Sarajevo; The Sisters of Mercy of the Third Conventual Order of St Francis; The Scholastic Franciscan Sisters of Mostar; The Servants of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus in Neuss; The Sisters of Mercy of St Vincent de Paul of Split; The Dominican Nuns of Hamburg; The Sisters of Mercy of St Vincent de Paul, Aachen; The Sisters of Mary in Hannover; The Work of the Carmelite Nun Cecilija Mikac in Ludwigsburg; The Sisters of Our Lady in Holzkirchen; The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Dubrovnik; The Society of the Sisters of Mercy of St Vincent de Paul, Zagreb; The Presence of the Servants of Mercy in Germany; The Servants of the Infant Jesus in Burgkirchen; The Merciful Sisters of the Holy Cross, and, finally, the fascinating story of Sister Julija Vidmar from the mission in Rosenheim.
The second part of the book is an excellent supplement in the form of a short essay on Croatian Nuns in Western Europe penned by Roman Catholic priest Vladimir Stanković. For the uninitiated reader it will shed light on the tribulations of the many thousands of Croatian migrants working “temporarily” in western countries—unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the state provided no care but, rather, doubly exploited them. In this essay Stanković, the much-praised director for three decades of the Croatian pastoral directorate for Croatians abroad, draws on the report penned by the head of the office for Croatian nuns abroad in Vienna and Jesuit priest Filip Johler. In his testimony Johler tells of several hundred young nuns from twenty conventual communities in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina that were expelled from the communist regime (in which there was no place for them) to work abroad for their sisters and providing care for the dying. This was a violation of their human and labour rights. To the delight of all they bore all these tribulations with superhuman strength. In the supplement the author also provides a list of nuns that have worked in Germany. Thus the reader learns that over 880 nuns built their lives into the missions, parishes, kindergartens, culture associations, old age homes and hospices across many parts of Germany, all the time adopting a foreign language and engaging in arduous physical labour.
The third section of Župić’s book provides a list of the author’s published articles on female conventuals and exhaustive notes about the author.
Jozo Župić (70) was born in the town of Sinj. Along with his demanding service as a priest to the Roman Catholic Church and to his nation, both in his native Mediterranean land and among our emigrant communities in Germany, he has to date penned twelve books and translated a number of essential theological reference books from the German.
The book closes with a selected bibliography. The bibliography of Župić’s articles on Croatian nuns in Germany published in the CHF’s Matica magazine at the end of the book lists a total of twenty-nine selected titles, edited or penned by our leading writers on the topic of the faithful abroad from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, and the pre-eminent award-winning recent specialist monographs that systematically treat the topic of Croatian pastoral care in the European Union, including women’s religious orders. Cited among the selected pre-eminent editors and authors of, for the most part, commemorative books on Roman Catholic missions of exceptional documentary value are: Miroslav Barun, Nediljko Brečić, Petar Lubina, Branko Brnas, Željko Ćurković, Boris Čarić, Stjepan Čovo, Nikola Čurčija, Ante Branko Periša, Alojzije Duvnjak, Tomislav Beronić, Hrvatin Gabrijel Jurišić, Stanko Mandac, Josip Klarić, Josip Lucić, Mario Marinov, Vinko Marović, Dinko Aračić, Miroslav Modrić, Andrija Nikić, Berislav Nikić, Ante Branko Periša, Petar Vučemilo, Luka Tomašević, Marinko Vukman and Župić himself, who wrote a memorial book dedicated to the fortieth anniversary of the Croatian Catholic Mission in Ludwigsburg (2010). Along with the significant oeuvre of editor and author Vladimir Stanković (The Catholic Church and Croatians Abroad, 1980), Župić also lists among the consulted literature The Pastoral Care of Croatians in Germany (2017), the latest synthetic specialist monograph penned by Adolf Polegubić. Among the writings of conventuals and the editorial contributions, Župić also consults—among the many conventual narrators cited in the literary section—Dobroslava Mlakić, who penned a bilingual monograph on The Sisters of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus in Neuss 1969–2009 (2010) and Marija Petra Vučemilo and Natanela Radinović, editors of a collection of papers from a symposium on the topic of The Centennial Heritage of the Scholastic Franciscan Nuns of Christ Our King of the Split Province of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus 1904–2004 (2009).
These twenty-nine consulted volumes in the bibliography round out Župić as entirely au courant in his excellent fact-finding adventure across Germany, which has, in the final tally, resulted in his fantastic three-year series on nuns in Matica magazine, the content of which the author has brilliantly and with great, fatherly empathy bound into a volume that will forever be available to both the specialist and broader readership wishing to learn more of the self-sacrificing work of a generation of Croatian nuns in missions and parishes, humanitarian, education and culture associations, church choirs and institutions providing welfare and healthcare for the most demanding conditions faced by elderly wards in their golden years.
Believe me, once you pick up Župić’s collection you won’t put it down until done, as it reaffirms the culture of encounters in an otherwise consumerist society, the greatest challenge of which is the inclusion of all people and of all living beings in the green environment of this world. Croatian nuns are well aware of the signs of the times, sharing the light of hope in the general betterment of all people.

By: Vesna Kukavica

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