Sister Zdenka will be remembered for her heroic courage she showed while living under the oppressive totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia in 1950. Her silent suffering singled her as an exceptional member of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, who in spite of being brutalized by the state, retained her dignity and resolved to serve her neighbours in need. Her beautiful life was cut short when she became a victim of human barbarity displayed by the totalitarian regime and died as a martyr at the age of 39.
Sr. Zdenka was born on 24th December 1916 in Kriva, Northern Slovakia. Her father, Paul Scheling, was a farmer, and her mother, Susanne, a housewife. She was the 10th of eleven children, and was baptized on 27th December as Cecilia. The children were brought up in a loving atmosphere with an exemplary religious education. At a young age, Cecilia felt the call of God and on 6th July 1931 she decided to join the congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross. On 28th January she entered the novitiate in Podunajke Biskupice where she was given the name Sr. Zdenka. On 30th January 1937 she took her first vows, and on 28th January, 1943 she dedicated her life totally to the Lord by her final profession.
Sister Zdenka initially worked as a nurse at the Government hospital at Bratislava, later she became an X-Ray technician. Her amiable and radiant personality and her obliging ways quickly won the hearts of both here co-workers and patients. She lived her life recognizing the meaning of the words of Christ:
"If you wish to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me."
The impelling commandment of Christ 'to love God and neighbour' took deep roots in her heart which ultimately bore fruit in her sacrificing mission. In 1948 when the Communists assumed to political power in Czechoslovakia the Catholic Church had to face open persecution. It was then that she rescued a priest who was unjustly imprisoned and was admitted as a patient in the hospital. Again when she tried to help a group of priests to escape from spying police. She was arrested on 29th February 1952, as an accomplice, which was a trap laid by the suspecting authorities.
The arrest was followed by interrogations which consisted mainly of inhuman treatment and cruel torture. On 17th June, 1952 she was convicted for alleged high treason and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment as well as 10 years loss of civil rights. Bearing this unjust sentence she spent her time in silence and solitude in different prisons of Rimavska Sobota, Pardubice, Brunn and Prague-Pankrac.
The cruelty and torture during the interrogations and trial left their mark on her failing health. Serious health problems appeared already in the early months of her imprisonment, and with the passage of time her health deteriorated. The opponents of the Church did not want martyrs. When it became clear that Sr. Zdenka's condition was so grave that she had only a few more weeks to live, the prison authorities discharged her on 16th April, 1955. Seriously ill and totally exhausted, she spent the last days of her life in the oncology department of a hospital at Trnava, where she died on 31st July, 1955 and was buried on 2nd August 1955 in Trnava. Today the remains of Blessed Zdenka are venerated in the church at Podunajke Biskupice.
From the time of her arrest till the last moment of her earthly life, Sr. Zdenka endured her sufferings with heroic patience and offered her life to God and for the humanity. She was ready to die, without any hatred towards the persecutors as well as the authorities who had done her great injustice.
On 14th September 2003 Pope John Paul II declared her "Blessed" during the solemn Beatification Rite in Bratislava. We pray and hope that soon she will be added in the number of saints!