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Joy Against Trials: The Blessed Karl Symposium

Editor’s note: to celebrate the feast of one of our patrons at OnePeterFive, we present this report from our contributing editor, Eric Sammons, on the recent event for his cause. 

Last weekend in the Dallas suburb of Plano, the Blessed Karl Symposium gathered together almost 700 men, women, and children to hear about the life and witness of the last Habsburg emperor, Blessed Karl of Austria. Aside from the unique subject matter (how many events in America celebrate an Austrian Emperor and Hungarian King?), the Symposium was special in that it combined an unapologetic embrace of traditional Catholicism with a youthful and infectious joy.

“Joy Against Trials” was in fact the theme of the Symposium, and that joy was evident throughout the day. From the many young people throughout the crowd to the speakers who couldn’t repress their devotion to Blessed Karl, a holy delight permeated the day. There was no complaining about the state of the Church on this day—although everyone there was well aware of the crisis. Instead, the focus was on a man who is a model for enduring trials in a faithful manner—and faithfulness to Christ always leads to joy in one’s heart. 

The audience at the Blessed Karl Symposium in rapt attention.

The speakers for the event included experts on Blessed Karl as well as his own family members. Archduke Eduard von Habsburg, Hungarian Ambassador to The Holy See (and great-great-great grandson of Blessed Karl’s predecessor Emperor Franz Josef), applied the life of Blessed Karl in a practical way to life as a Catholic today. The Ambassador emphasized the need to have a strong prayer life, as Blessed Karl did, always staying close to the Sacraments and the Rosary. 

Charles Coulombe, author of the wonderful Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy, was his usual humorous and gregarious self, regaling the audience with stories from the life of Blessed Karl. Coulombe was masterful at helping us enter into the life of this man who lost all the trappings of power without losing his faith or his family.

A treat for the audience was hearing from the granddaughter of Blessed Karl himself, HIRH Princess Maria-Anna von Habsburg Galitzine. In question-and-answer format, she revealed insights into the family life of Blessed Karl and his wife, Servant of God Zita. It might be natural to see their life as Emperor and Empress as something above the “real world,” but Princess Maria-Anna showed that they were, first and foremost, a devoted couple and loving parents. 

Princess Maria-Anna receives a gift of flowers.

Suzanne Pearson, North American Delegate of the Emperor Karl Prayer League, gave an illuminating talk that detailed in-depth the overall context of the life of Blessed Karl and how he was fated to be the last of the Habsburg emperors. Her description of his acceptance of his trials and even his early death at the age of 34 was a challenge to an age that rages against the slightest hardship.

Not surprisingly, the loudest and longest ovation from the audience was for His Excellency, Bishop Athanasius Schneider. His witness of faithfulness in the midst of mass apostasy was deeply appreciated by the Symposium attendees. Bishop Schneider is not a rousing orator, but instead captures the audience by the sincerity and earnestness of his words. Everyone in attendance was in rapt attention to his call to emulate Blessed Karl in our willingness to suffer for the faith.

Bishop Schneider details the importance of Blessed Karl’s life.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Symposium were the opening remarks by Symposium organizer David Ross. Without any reference to notes, he spoke passionately for 45 minutes on the life of Blessed Karl and the importance of having joy in the midst of today’s trials. One attendee remarked that Ross “has a Baptist preacher hiding inside him”—he is a born orator. Further, his devotion to Blessed Karl was evident and infectious, and his ability to organize this Symposium was impressive.

The Symposium, however, was more than the sum of its speakers—it was an opportunity for Catholics to gather from around the world (28 states and 6 countries were represented) for a common cause. What struck me was that being inside the Plano Center that day was like stepping outside our corrupted modern world for a brief moment and entering an older, better time. The attendees ranged in age from infants to the elderly, but all were there to learn about Blessed Karl and to further devotion to him. They were unapologetically not of this world even while being forced to live within it.

Meeting the attendees was a joy. They were uniformly serious about their Catholic Faith and earnest in their desire to reawaken the Church from her current slumber. The stories of how people came to know and love Blessed Karl were also remarkable, but one in particular stands out. One young couple told the story of how they endured five miscarriages at the beginning of their marriage. But then they prayed at a local shrine of Blessed Karl every week for over a year, and now they have a beautiful baby girl named Charlotte. Seeing this family meet the granddaughter of Blessed Karl was a treat for all who witnessed it.

Miracle baby Charlotte with her parents and Princess Maria-Anna.

The life of Blessed Karl was one of trial and tribulation. It was also one of failure in the eyes of the world. Yet his life stands as a model for us all who are called not to worldly success, but faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Like Blessed Karl, let us thank the good God and be joyful for all we receive from Him, both the good He gives us and the evil He allows us to face.

Blessed Karl, pray for us!

Editor’s note: for more information, questions/comments, contact symposium director: David Ross – David [at] and bookmark the website here for future events.

[Photos courtesy of the Blessed Karl Symposium and @nathanintexas]

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