Early Life, Education and Conversion
Hildegard Freund was born on January 30th, 1883 into a non-practicing Jewish family from Germany. After her Baccalaureate in Basel, she began to study language, literature and German studies in Zurich. She also followed parallel courses in philosophy which introduced her to Christian thinkers. During her studies she met Alexander Burjan, a Hungarian entrepreneur of Jewish origins. They married in 1907 and settled in Berlin.
Attracted since her youth by high ideals and the pursuit of something great, Hildegarde’s conversion was prompted by her surprising recovery from a grave sickness. In 1908 the young woman was hospitalized for renal colic. Although the doctors had given up hope of recovery, her condition improved visibly on Easter Monday. Hildegard was profoundly affected by the way God had led her life. She was baptized on August 11th 1909. She then moved with her husband to Vienna, where she bore her only daughter Elisabeth, even though the pregnancy had at times threatened her life.
Commitment to social issues and the founding of Caritas Socialis
“Religious organisations are not sufficient nowadays (…) We have to do everything within our power if we don’t to want to sit back and watch the world being ruled and destroyed over our heads (…) Interest in politics is a part of practicing Christianity”
Hildegard Burjan soon started to interest herself in social issues, especially concerning the working conditions and spiritual welfare of poor women and children. She was both the wife of an executive director and representing the poor, the oppressed and the without rights. The action and work of Hildegard Burjan find their origins and motivations in her deep relationship with God and her conviction that her mission was to proclaim God’s love through social action. Upon her arrival in Vienna, she was particularly concerned by the situation of homeworkers. Collaborating with volunteers, she visited women at home, draw their attention to their rights and fought for better salaries, legal protection and access to higher education. In 1912, she founded the "Society of Christian women working at home" and in 1918 the "Society for Social Help". She was proclaimed "Mother of the homeworkers". Hildegard manifested an extraordinary gift for organization and also knew how to surround herself with volunteers. She demonstrated a real talent for finding funds and drawing the attention of political leaders.
Her main achievement remains the founding of a religious congregation for serving the poor which revolutionized social apostolate: Caritas Socialis. Hildegard Burjan founded the congregation of sisters in 1919. The order cares especially for women and children in difficult conditions and for the elderly and terminally ill people. It provides shelter for the homeless, day clinics, employment agencies for the poor, convalescent homes and support for unmarried mothers.
Her work as a politician
“It is not enough to help people with money or small gestures. It is necessary to make them stand on their own feet and to give them the belief: I am a person who can achieve something.”
Beginning in 1918, Hildegard Burjan was also politically active in the Christian-Social Party. In 1919 she became the first female member of the Parliament of Austria. As a christian, she felt compelled to accept the office offered as an opportunity to improve the lives of the poor. During her parliamentary activity which lasted nearly two years, Hildegard took a lot of initiatives towards women and children. She concerned herself especially with issues such as equal wages for men and women, social security for the working class as well as social and spiritual care for poor families. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Friedrich Gustav Piffl called her «the conscience of Parliament» while the leader of Christian-Social Party, the priest Ignaz Seipel said of her: «I have never met a man so politically gifted and with a finer sensitivity than this women».
Hildegard Burjan died on June 10th 1933 at the age of fifty. Three years after her death, the Caritas Socialis became «community of diocesan right’ and in 1960 «community of papal law». Even today, the sisters continue their work in the spirit of their founder.
The beatification process for Hildegard Burjan was initiated in 1963 by Cardinal Franz König, then Archbishop of Vienna. On January 29th 2012, her beatification was celebrated in the Cathedral of St. Stephan in Vienna.
Read more about Hildegard Burjan:
In English: http://www.hildegardburjan.at/files/hb_vita_english.pdf
In French: www.hildegardburjan.at/files/hb_brochure_fr.pdf
In German: www.hildegardburjan.at