Tante Elsa

Updated: Nov 10, 2018



Everybody knows at least one.

Mine was Tante Elsa.

‘Tante’ means ‘aunt’ in German.

Technically, she was my mother’s aunt, whom we would visit in Austria with the rest of my mother’s family every other summer when I was growing up.She tried to enter the convent when she was young, but poor health prevented her from staying. She never got married. Her educational level was basic. She spent most of her life as a cook and a housekeeper – for our extended family’s restaurants, but mostly for my mother’s immediate family. My best recollections of her was when she was already in her seventies, and somewhat bent over due to a lifetime of hard work and possibly Osteoporosis. Yet she did not seem to slow down. She needed a cane, but walked faster than I did when I was sixteen. And she did a lot of walking since shopping in a small town meant going to the butcher, the baker, and so forth.

She was constantly doing something for others, usually cooking and cleaning. She was an amazing cook. Wiener schnitzel and apricot dumplings were two of my favorite dishes. She would iron your clothing and mend it… all the menial tasks. But she always did it with a radiant smile.

Her simplicity stemmed from something much more profound than a lack of education. Once when she and my grandparents visited in Houston, we brought them to the beach. Looking at the ocean and stretching out her arms as if to embrace it, she exclaimed with joy: ‘It’s so big!’ Tante Elsa was humble enough to enjoy the simple beauty of the world.

And all these attitudes were rooted in deep prayer. I often saw her clutching her Rosary beads. Her faith was simple. It was strong.

Tante Elsa was a saint.

Pope Francis writes, ‘I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: … Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence... especially by means of a life of faith and charity.”[1]

That was Tante Elsa… our saint next door. Her example spoke volumes, and her prayer undoubtedly had a great deal to do with why my mother and I had our own conversion experiences. Who’s the saint in your life?

Fr. John Bullock, LC

November 10, 2018


  1. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exustate – On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, March 19, 2018.

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