OUR COVER: The contributions of Rev. Mother Alexandra as princess, nurse, mother, writer, lecturer, and nun are vast and have produced many fruits. Her blessed memory lives on in the hearts of her family, friends, acquaintances and spiritual daughters. However, her memory and her firm conviction in the Christian faith also live on in her writings, some of which surround the photo of her on the cover. The theme of our March issue annually focuses upon "Orthodox Press" and how the Gospel message is proclaimed in Orthodox publications in this country. Mother Alexandra's work as a writer produced some of the first books and articles written about the Orthodox faith in the English language in the United States. Therefore, for her articulate witness w the Orthodox faith, she is also to be remembered as a "pioneer" of Orthodox press in America.
No man can foretell when he will be called before his Maker. The older one grows the closer that hour comes. I feel no fear of death and pray that when it is upon me I shall not be found wanting. I hope that the good Lord will grant me to die fully conscious, at peace with God and man. From the depth of my heart I regret and repent my many sins and transgressions and put my hope in my Savior's infinite mercy. Especially I feel deep remorse for any hurt voluntarily on involuntarily done to anyone. I humbly ask my children, those of flesh and those of spirit to forgive me for any pain I may have caused them. I also in all humility ask forgiveness of my superiors, my friends, and all I have come into contact with. Of all I ask that in their charity they pray for me a sinner.
Of material goods I have little to leave having tried during my life time to give them away. What objects I now possess are of sentimental value and mostly given to my by my children and friends in recent years. Nevertheless, I should like each child and sister to receive some small remembrance of the love I had for them.
I would like to be buried at the foot of the cross dedicated to those who died in concentration camps. If a stone should be put on my grave I should like both my names engraved on it: Mother Alexandra and Ileana Princess of Romania. I should like my standard to be used as a pall (if this is not contrary to monastic tradition). The round gilded box containing Romanian soil should be also buried with me. I want a simple wooden coffin without satin frills.
As a final farewell I want to thank all who have loved me and have had patience with my many faults. In all honesty I must say that I feel no anger or resentment against anyone personally. Therefore I also have nothing to forgive and only ask to be forgiven.
I leave my blessing, for what it is worth, to you all, for I have loved you very dearly. My last prayer is that the Lord God let the light of his Face shine upon you and bestow upon you that joy that no man can take from you.
Monastery of the Transfiguration
The procession bearing Mother Alexandra's body from the monastery chapel to the cemetery. Members of the family and the monastic community carry the casket.
At the gravesite, from left to right: Bishop Nathaniel (Romanian Diocese, OCA), Bishop Christopher (Serbian Diocese), Bishop Kyrill (Bulgarian Diocese, OCA), Rev. Fr. Joseph Morris (monastery chaplain), Bishop Maximos (Greek Archdiocese).
ABOUT PRINCESS ILEANA,
by Stefan Habsburg
I have been asked to write a short piece about Mama. I'll try, but it is really impossible. I have known her intimately for my entire life—nearly 60 years—from when she bore me in her womb to when I stood at her bedside this January as her life faded away. The best I can do is give a few glimpses of her complex personality from a very prejudiced perspective. I am the oldest of her six children and feel deeply honored to have been allowed to be at her Bide during her final hours.
She was born in 1909, the youngest daughter of Romania's King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. Princess Ileana's childhood started in the dream world of a lovely palace. The beautiful and internationally popular Queen Marie exposed her to art and beauty at an early age, while her stern German father talked of duty and devotion to his adopted country. Her love for Romania will be deep and lasting.
She was only five years old when the horror of "the great war" began. History books will call it World War I. The glamour of royal palaces soon gave way to the realities of men dying for their country. The royal family became refugees from the advancing German troops.
Her own youngest brother—Mircea—died of typhoid at the age of five. She saw her mother more often in nurse's uniform than she had seen her in glamorous dresses.
Her education was through family members, nurses, and tutors. From her mother she learned English and French; from her father, German; and from members of the court, Romanian. She was brought up in the Orthodox faith according to the Romanian Constitution. She traveled with her parents to the provinces of the new Greater Romania (Romania Mare) in which the provinces of Bessarabia, Transylvania and Banat had been joined to Moldavia, Oltenia, Muntenia and Dobrogea.
She was 17 years old when she traveled to America with her mother who was honored by a grand ticker tape parade in New York. She accompanied her mother on a trip to Spain. There she met young Anton Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, banned from his own country by the political situation of the time. An electrical engineer by training, he was earning a living as a barnstorming airplane pilot in Spain. A romance developed, and in 1931 they were married at the Pelisor Palace in Sinaia.
Raising a Family
The Spanish revolution prevented the young couple's return to Spain. King Carol II, her older brother, decided that no Habsburg should be born on Romanian soil. They were given permission to visit Austria, but here also their child would not be allowed citizenship. So, yours truly was born "Heimatlos" (without a home country) in Vienna, with a small box of Romanian soil placed symbolically under her bed. My sister, Maria Ileana, was born in 1933—also heimatlos.
In 1935, Mama gave birth to Alexandra followed by Dominik in 1937. They were given Austrian citizenship.
I was quite little when Mama taught me how to swim. She did it by helping me play in shallow water and slowly showing me how to float. I took my first strokes completely on my own in the Black Sea during a visit to Granny at Constanta. As soon as I was able to hold my own, Mama expected me to help with my sisters. It was typical of Mama. She was a gentle teacher who expected her children not only to learn, but promptly to apply what they had learned to helping others.
For me, the transition to what I can only call adulthood and an adult friendship with Mama came early. By the time I was 9 years old she expected me to handle considerable responsibility, including helping her in a soup kitchen she set up for the village children in Sonnberg, Austria (which had become our permanent home).
World War II
By then the signs of war were engulfing us. Herr Hitler annexed Austria. My two youngest sisters, Maria Magdalena and Elizabeth were born as Germans. The storm troops swept into Czechoslovakia. Posters on every street corner proclaimed "our salute is 'Heil' Hitler'," and the local boy scout troop became a division of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler youth).
Granny, Queen Marie, died. Mama is desperate at not being allowed to be at her Bide during the last hours. She is permitted to attend the state funeral.
Papa is drafted into the army along with almost every able-bodied man as Hitler attacks France. Mama finds herself running a large household all alone. She faces the challenge and becomes an efficient manager. She has hopes of putting her children in school in Romania, which is still neutral, but soon that country will be in the world war as well.
Mama spends much time in Vienna ministering to the increasing flow of wounded men who come from various fields of combat. She works for the Red Cross helping wounded Romanians recover and find their way back home.
I am only 10 years old. I see very little of Papa and much of troops, bomber overflights and wounded men. Allied bombs start to hit the industrial towns near the school I am attending, and Mama sends me to school in Brasov, Romania.
In early 1943, the whole family is in Bran. Papa has been discharged by the Luftwaffe, and he has come to stay for a short while. But events turn out differently.
On August 23, 1944, Romania decides officially to disconnect itself from the Axis and invite allied cooperation. By pure chance that date finds the entire family, Mama, Papa, and six children, in Bran.
We experience the Russian "liberation" as troops sweep across the country like uncivilized mobs. We are trapped in Bran, and it will be several days before we can even communicate with King Michael by phone. The entire village of Bran is cut off from travel to the nearby cities.
Bran has only one doctor and no medical facilities. In typical fashion, Mama decides she must do something about it. She has extensive nursing experience and puts it to good use. With characteristic enthusiasm she set out to find a way to establish a first aid facility. Soon the quarters are inadequate.
An industrialist in a nearby town donates some prefabricated buildings. Later—surprise—a completely furnished operating room that had not been used is donated. Mama donates a piece of undeveloped land across the Turcu River. The Romanian military contributes a bridge across that river. With surprising speed, a hospital takes shape. It will be called "Spitalul Inima Reginei" (Hospital of the Queen's Heart), honoring the fact that Queen Marie's heart lies buried in a small rock chapel in Bran. Mama becomes so involved with the hospital, that once she had a pair of good doctors and a staff of some six nurses, she finds herself helping in the operating room.
The communist government starts its takeover of private industry, while in school we have classes in "eclectic materialism" and the absurdity of religion. I come home to Mama telling her of the "brainwashing" to which we students are subjected.
We, that is my parents, six children, a house guest Ilse Koller plus the castle staff, are living in crowded conditions in the guard house at the foot of the castle. The castle is uninhabitable in the winter. Our "temporary stay" stretches into nearly four years.
Mama's work at the hospital has become a passion. She has new stories to tell us every evening. She also expects us to help in whatever way we can. The growth of the hospital is a tribute to Mama's drive and energy. She tackles problems head on. She deals with peasant reluctance to adopt modern hygiene with the same energy she uses to persuade government officials to let her have the proper equipment.
Christmas 1947, Bran is heavily covered with snow. I have come home from school in Predeal on skis. There is a lovely nurses' vocal concert.
Several days later, Mama receives a phone call. King Michael wants to see her right away. I drive, Mama is in the passenger seat, and an armed soldier sits in the back. The news is bad. Michael has been given an ultimatum: We have 5 days to pack and leave the country, or face a later trial and execution.
Mama does not want to leave her country, but she is worried about her family. By the time Mama and I get back to Bran, we find armed guards with Russian machine guns have been assigned to each room. We will have to leave.
Any item of value is considered state property. Bank accounts are frozen and telephones disconnected. Mama has some jewelry in a simple drawer in her room. When there is a moment of inattention from the guards, she raps a beautiful diamond tiara in a nightgown, and I help her sneak it into a suitcase that has already been inspected.
We travel to Switzerland and then Argentina. Three years later, Mama and her children have come to the U.S.A. while Papa returns to Austria. Eventually, they will be divorced.
Mama sold her tiara in New York to buy a house in Newton, Massachusetts, and clothing for her children. She buys furniture at a used furniture store and pots and pans at the local 5 and 10 cent store. She also buys a cookbook. She must find a way not only to clothe, feed and educate six growing children, but also realizes that she has to start earning an income.
She begins to give lectures about her experiences. She starts to write a book which will be called I Live Again, and two years later, one called Hospital of the Queen's Heart. She manages to place each of us children in boarding schools so that she can make the traveling possible for her lectures. As each of her children grow, Mama feels less and less pressure to support them and more and more the need to return to some form of community service.
1959 is a year that must have been terrible for her. Her oldest daughter Minola, by now married, is pregnant and traveling with her husband Rusch to South America. The airliner misses the runway in Rio, and all aboard are killed. Her oldest son, yours truly, has a nearly fatal attack of viral encephalitis and emerges from it with serious brain damage. For six months Mama lets me, my wife Jerrine, and our three little children stay with her in Newton. After we return to Detroit, Mama sells her house and moves to France where her bishop has sent her as a postulant to the Orthodox monastery at Bussy-en-Othe.
I manage to visit her there once, but do not expect to see her again for some time. She becomes a fully professed Orthodox nun, and her name will become Mother Alexandra.
Her Life as a Nun
I know Mama has found the life she wanted. It comes as a pleasant surprise to me to learn that she is being sent to America by her bishop to help start an Orthodox monastery for women.
I am amazed at her energy. "If God wants me to do this, he will give me both the strength and physical means to accomplish my task," she tells me. In spite of her much slimmer body, her gray hair, and her arthritic pain, she tackles the task of building the convent with the same drive and vision that she built her two hospitals.
Land is purchased in the lovely, rolling countryside in Ellwood City, near Pittsburgh. With typical full energy and enthusiasm, she will get the project under way. She attends to both the building of a spiritual community and the necessary housing. She buys a mobile home and puts it on the site to give her a place to live while construction makes progress.
Slowly, the seed Mama had placed took root. Today there are 12 nuns. A lovely hillside chapel takes form and is followed by various accommodations. Mama is incredibly busy with church activities, writing, and the growth of her community. When I visit her, I tell her that I hope she will now find ways to rest more. But it is not to be.
Her country calls. Romania has a revolution. The long-oppressed people of my Mama's beloved country have overthrown the communist government. Tragic stories start to become public. A whole generation of children are born as AIDS infected orphans. Mama has a heart attack. She recovers and promptly returns to her project of helping the orphans. She is now 81 and in very frail health. Yet, typical of her, she bubbles with enthusiasm for her latest task. She will travel to Romania and see what she can do. My sister Sandi will go with her.
The trip turns into an incredible emotional success for Mama who is received by cheering crowds everywhere. Mama learns firsthand the ghastly magnitude of what the Ceausescu madness has done to her country, and especially the children. She comes home, reports to the bishop and promptly sets to work to support the "Help the Children" fund.
I get a phone call from the monastery. Mama has fallen and is hospitalized. She has a broken hip joint. At her age and poor health, that is very serious. I call my sister Sandi in Europe. She will tell the other family members and fly over to America as soon as possible.
While I was driving to Pennsylvania to be at Mama's bedside, she has had a second heart attack and is now listed as critical.
I will be at her bedside for the next five days. Although she rallies, there is doubt that she will ever be able to leave the bed. Mother Christophora and I alternate as her personal nurses.
She can no longer talk, but she and I find ways to communicate. I write the alphabet on a 3x5 card and have her point at the letter she wants me to write down. It works! She is telling me what kind of cross she wants on her grave. A simple Romanian cross with a wooden roof like the peasants have.
She is given Holy Communion, receives the sacrament of Holy Unction and has the prayers at the time of the parting of the soul from the body read over her by her priest, and she slowly fades to ever shallower breath. She is holding her favorite cross in her right hand, and her left hand is holding mine tightly. It is about noon on Monday, January 21, when her breath becomes ever more shallow and stops. Her hand lets go of mine. I lift that hand and put it on her chest. I gently close her eyes ail the way. I kiss her goodbye, and the nurse goes to call the doctor to officially declare her death.
In her will, she asks only two things: that she be buried with her little box of Romanian soil at her side; and, that anyone she might have hurt, forgive her, for she did not intend it.
Her 3 living daughters attend her funeral along with 7 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. She rests on the Pennsylvania hillside in the exact spot she herself has chosen at the Monastery of the Transfiguration.
Mother Alexandra, Princess Ileana of Romania, we pray for you. You will remain alive in our hearts—your children both of the body and more of the spirit.
We love you.