Hildegard Burjan

* 30.01.1883 11.06.1933 Austria
Author: Margarita Holzer

Unless Vienna Foto Burian

Pioneer in Social Welfare Work

I choose Hildegard Burjan as person of high significance for my life, since for me she represents a role model as founder of Caritas Socialis. My life would have become much harder without the help of this organization, after I was forced to flee from Bulgaria to Vienna.

Hildegard Lea Freund was born into a liberal Jewish family of merchants and studied philosophy in Basel und Zurich. Already during her studies she dealt intensively with Christian ideas. However, only after a grave incision in her life she was blessed with

the grace to believe.

1907 she married DI Alexander Burjan, a Hungarian of Jewish descent. They moved to Berlin. One year after her marriage she fell so severely ill with a kidney disease that her doctors gave up hope. At Easter 1909 her condition improved in a way that medically could not be explained. This apparent miracle strengthened her belief so much that she vowed to devote her life to the service of god and humanity. They moved to Vienna, where she under danger for her life gave birth to her only daughter Lisa.

She then joined dedicated Catholic circles, who dealt with the statements in RERUM NOVARUM (Pope Leo XIII), the first social encyclical. She worked out a concept to mitigate

the misery and deprivation of working class families. To ban child labor and women’s rights were of great concern to her. 1912 she founded the Union of Christian female homeworkers and united 1918 in the society ‘Social Help’ all Catholic associations of working class women. Out of this collective emerged the sisterhood Caritas Socialis headed by Hildegard Burjan. In the beginning they engaged in working with problem children, homeless women and their children, railway missions etc.

For the starving population in the Erz Mountains she started a food program and she also initiated the family assistance in the Sudeten territories.

Because of her outstanding social and organizational capabilities she was elected to the Vienna city council in 1918, and 1919 became Member of Parliament in the first Austrian republic. She was called ‘conscience of parliament’ and ‘mother of homeworkers’, but terminated her function to be able to devote all her time to charitable activities. Gradually the work of Caritas Socialis expanded to Czech Republic, Germany, Southern Tyrol, Israel and Brazil. Nowadays the sisterhood is mainly engaged in hospice care.

A collection of original documents is kept at the Hildegard Burjan Archive, 1090 Vienna Pramergasse 9. The pioneer in social welfare work Hildegard Burjan died scarcely 50 years old on June 11, 1933.

The process for her beatification was started ind1963. The necessary case to prove a miracle was finalized in 2001 and acknowledged in Rome.

Citations by and about Burjan:

“Broad interest for politics belongs to practical Christianity” (Hildegard Burjan)

“She committed herself with an open heart for the adversities in her time to fight for the rights of the underprivileged and against social exclusion of disadvantaged groups by society.”

(Viennese Cardinal Schönborn).


Photocredits: Hildegard Burian, author unknown

Source: Picture Archive  ONB with friendly permission ONB (Austrian National Library) of 20.01.2014