Sr. Margherita Marchione was a woman of “courage, fidelity and tireless scholarship” — Robert Moynihan, editor of ITV and friend of Sr. Margherita
Sr. Margherita Marchione, an American Religious Teachers Filippini sister known for her defense of Pope Pius XII against attacks against his character, courage and actions during the Second World War, died peacefully in her convent in Morristown, New Jersey on May 19, 2021,at the age of 99.
Born in Little Ferry, New Jersey, one of eight children of immigrants from Campania in Italy, Sr. Margherita entered the Religious Teachers Filippini in 1935. She received the habit in 1938, and made her religious profession in 1941. After receiving a BA degree from Georgian Court College, Sr. Margherita continued her studies in Italian at Columbia University, New York, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. She received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Ramapo College and the “Michael Award” from the N.J. Literary Hall of Fame.
She was a trustee of Opera at Florham and Bayley-Ellard H.S., and a member of the N.J. Catholic Historical Records Commission. Sr. Margherita was a Fulbright scholar and the recipient of countless national and international honors and awards for her literary and historical accomplishments and for her outstanding contributions to higher education and Italian culture.
Sr. Margherita served as President of Walsh College for six years and as President of Corfinio College for 10 years. Sr. Margherita is included in the Congressional Record and in biographical references such as Dictionary of American Scholars, Contemporary Authors, World Who’s Who of Women, and Past and Promise: Lives of NJ Women.
In addition to lecturing here and abroad, Sr. Margherita made numerous radio and television appearances. As a professor of Italian Language and Literature at Fairleigh Dickenson University. in Madison, New Jersey, for 20 years, Sr. Margherita authored numerous books on the Italian friend of Thomas Jefferson, Philip Mazzei, which have been donated to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello along with materials and artifacts. These works reveal quite clearly and colorfully the full import of the mostly unknown and neglected Italian Founding Father of America, as well as the Italian influence on the U.S. Constitution.
Sr. Margherita’s great devotion to the Holy See and, in particular, to Pope Pius XII’s sanctity and fidelity to the office entrusted to him, made her eminently worthy of multiple articles in Inside the Vatican, and the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, awarded by Pope St. John Paul II. Sr. Margherita’s collection of research papers, books and artifacts of Pius XII has been placed in the Msgr. James C. Turro Seminary Library in Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.
For over 82 years Sr. Margherita was a devoted member of the Religious Teachers Filippini, and received their Humanitarian Award. Her zealous commitment as a true daughter of St. Lucy Filippini made her a dynamic leader as she served as Treasurer, Delegate to Provincial and General Chapters, Councilor, and author of numerous community documents and histories.
Defending Pope Pius XII
It was not until she was in her late seventies that Sr. Margherita took on the subject that became her particular area of expertise: the role of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, and the efforts of the Catholic Church to save Jews from the Nazis.
She was particularly determined to prove wrong Pius’ detractors, whose claims that he refused to help the Jews were popularly accepted in the media and academe.
“If Jewish leaders say today that Pius XII did nothing to save Jews, they are disputing the testimony of other Jews who said he did quite a lot … It is terribly unfair to put so much blame on Pius, who had no army besides a few Swiss Guards with which to resist Hitler, while leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who had the means to bomb the concentration camps, failed to do so.” —Sister Margherita Marchione
“Of course, I believe deeply in the righteousness of Pope Pius, but if you were to prove to me that Pius XII did something wrong, I would be the first to acknowledge it. Yet I haven’t found anything so far to indicate that… I know I won’t be around forever, but I very much hope to live long enough to witness the beatification of Pius XII. Until then, I will do what I can to bring that day closer by exposing the falsity of the attacks on this great and good man.” —Sister Margherita Marchione
A remarkable woman of faith
Sr. Margherita died on May 19 at the age of 99, but her research into the life and times of Pope Pius XII will remain as a testament to her courage, fidelity, and tireless scholarship.
“I will never forget the moment I first saw Pope Pius XII in person,” Sister Margherita told me in a conversation some years ago. “It was at the very end of his life, in the late 1950s. (He died in 1958.) I was about 35 years old and I was able to make a visit to Rome. I managed to be admitted to a papal audience. When the Pope appeared, I felt an immediate sense of his holiness. Pope Pius seemed to shine with a special inner spiritual light. He was tall, thin, austere, yet also very warm and human. I was deeply moved and have never forgotten that moment.”
She was so moved that, some years later, when Pope Pius XII was attacked for his alleged “silence” and lack of action on behalf of persecuted Jews during World War II, she decided to refute the allegations. In the last half of her life, she became, arguably, the Number 1 defender of the life, character and action of Pius XII (1939-1958).
Sr. Margherita was a remarkable woman of faith, an excellent scholar, and a good friend.
I met with Sister Margherita many times in Rome and in the United States, at her home in a convent in Morristown, New Jersey. We collaborated on a number of projects, and she authored several articles for Inside the Vatican magazine.
Sr. Margherita also became one of the closest friends of my late father, Prof. William Moynihan, who died 14 months ago, on March 28, 2020 at the age of 93. Beginning in the 1990s, for almost 30 years, Sister Margherita and my father would speak often on the telephone, sometimes for 15, sometimes for 45 minutes. Sr. Margherita trusted my father to read a number of her books prior to publication and to make editorial suggestions, which she always took into consideration.
The sorrow I feel at the news of Sister Margherita’s passing is tempered by the memory of her ever cheerful smile, her indomitable strength, her fearlessness, and her goodness and kindness to me and other members of my family.A remarkable woman of faith
May she rest in peace, and may eternal light shine upon her. —RM
Tributes to Sr. Margherita
Tributes to Sister Margherita written by several of her friends and colleagues, collected by the excellent British journalist Edward Pentin
Jewish founder and president of the Pave the Way Foundation, a New York-based nonsectarian organization aiming to bring peace between religions.
“In 2006, I was introduced to Sister Margherita Marchione by then-nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. Sister revealed shocking information about the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, which was the opposite of what I was told about him growing up as a Jew in New York. Archbishop Migliore advised me to meet with Sister Marchione, who had been researching the actions of the Holy See since the 1970s.
“It was the revelation of her massive primary-sourced documentation that she presented to me that prompted me to ask our board of directors of the Pave the Way Foundation to initiate an in-depth investigation of the actions of the Holy See during World War II under the pontificate of Pius XII. This work has taken us around the world and resulted in our posting over 76,000 pages of primary source documentation on www.ptwf.org along with dozens of eyewitness interviews.
“We co-sponsored a United Nations conference on Jan. 17, 2021 with the Holy See Mission to the U.N. I revealed, in my statement, that it is a Jewish responsibility to recognize the life-saving effort of the Vatican under the pontificate of Pius XII, since ingratitude is the worst character flaw a Jew can have. The evidence we have unearthed since 2006 is incontrovertible.
“Sister Margherita will be so sorely missed as an unwavering defender of the Catholic Church.”
Distinguished professor of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, author of several critically acclaimed books on Pope Pius XII and his efforts to save Jewish lives during World War II.
“I first met Sister Margherita while doing a television series on Pius XII for EWTN. I had read her writings on Pius, and I assumed that this was her life work. While she did much for Pius, she did as much or more for many other people (and historical figures) during a life in which she earned a Ph.D. from Columbia; authored over 40 books; served as a Fulbright Scholar; was honored by the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame; and hobnobbed with popes, presidents, scholars and royalty.
“Sister Margherita became interested in Pope Pius XII when she learned that Jews had been sheltered at the home of the Religious Sisters Filippini in Rome during World War II. That discovery led to research and a new passion. She recognized the attack on Pius XII as an unfair stain on the Catholic Church, and she waged a difficult, often lonely battle to defend the honor of Pope Pius XII (and hence the Church).
“Sister Marchione had many benefactors over the years, including Frank Sinatra and Henry Salvatori. I think, however, that she was most proud of her relationship with the late New York Yankee great Billy Martin. She was particularly proud of a photograph of him kissing her that once appeared in the newspapers.
William Doino Jr.
Author and expert on Pope Pius XII’s wartime record and contributor to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII.
“I knew Sister Margherita Marchione for several decades, right up until the time the Lord called her, and I can only imagine the joy she is feeling today, in the loving embrace of her Savior, having devoted her whole life to her Catholic faith, to the Church and the Good News of Jesus Christ. People who knew her loved her, and those that didn’t know her as well were nevertheless amazed by her indefatigable energy, on behalf of her Order, the Church, and those in need everywhere. Her concern for the poor and oppressed was deep and consistent, and her charity for humanitarian and educational projects across the globe boundless. She had the love and commitment of a Mother Cabrini in pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful.
“One of Sister Marchione’s most admirable qualities was her fearless pursuit of the truth and a burning desire to right serious injustices. My most vivid memory of Sister, however, isn’t about her work clearing the good name of Pius XII — as invaluable as that was — but about the joy she experienced being a Catholic nun.
“Once, when traveling by plane with Sister to appear on EWTN to discuss Pius XII, I had a long and inspiring conversation with her about what drew her to the religious life in the first place. When I asked her if she ever had any doubts about her decision to devote her entire life to the Church, she answered more forcefully than I ever heard her speak. ‘Not for a second!’ she exclaimed. ‘I wanted to become a nun and serve Our Lord and his Church ever since I was a young child, and God fulfilled my prayers in the most extraordinary ways.’
“The word ‘wonderful,’ she continued, could not describe the blessings she received as a Catholic nun — and the same is true, I believe, of the graces she bestowed upon all those who were fortunate enough to know her.”
German Catholic historian and author of several books on Pope Pius XII.
“She deserved to witness his beatification after spending her life rehabilitating him. But at the age of 99, she left us to meet her great hero, Pope Pius XII, in heaven. Her heritage, the result of a life of truly dedicated historical research, will stay with us forever. It inspired so many to see the great, saintly wartime pope with different eyes, with the eyes of respect — and justice.
“Sister Margherita Marchione was herself a witness of the war and its great pontificate. Born in 1922, as one of eight children of Italian immigrants in Little Ferry, New Jersey, Pius XII was the pope of her adult life and her vocation. Being a teacher at heart and with a nun’s soul, she joined the Religious Teachers Filippini. She later learned that, following the call of Pope Pius XII, the Roman mother house of her congregation was one of the most active in rescuing and hiding Roman Jews during the nine months of Nazi occupation. When after 1963, a campaign initiated by the Soviet KGB through the theater play The Deputy by former Hitler Youth member Rolf Hochhuth, tried to discredit Pius XII and claim he was silent during the Holocaust, Sister Margherita knew it was not true. When others remained indifferent, she started to fight for the truth. She traveled to Italy numerous times, collected evidence from her own order and others, and published it.
“She became known as ‘the Fighting Nun’ — the title of her autobiography, published in 2000 — and deserves this title. Her eight books on Pius XII were read by others who were open to the truth and changed lives. Yes, they inspired Catholics and Jews alike. Thanks to her, New York-born Jew Gary Krupp changed his mind on Pius XII (see above) and became, together with his Pave the Way Foundation, one of the greatest defenders of the wartime pope. A whole phalanx of international historians from the US, the UK, Italy, Germany and France searched the archives and uncovered undeniable evidence that Pius XII indeed saved not only 5,000 Roman Jews — as Marchione always claimed — but caused 950,000 Jews to survive the Holocaust. The Pope was the secret guardian angel of the persecuted victims of Hitler’s diabolical racism. Without Sister Margherita, the world might have never learned the truth.”
Vatican archivist defends Pope Pius XII: “There’s a list equivalent to a ‘Schindler’s List,’ a ‘Pacelli’s List'”
— Dr. Johan Ickx, Catholic historian and scholar of Pope Pius XII
By William Doino, Jr.
“Pius XII sought peace until the end”
Dr. Johan Ickx is the author of a study of the Holy See’s assessment of Germany’s tactics in occupied Belgium during the First World War, La Guerre et le Vatican (2018). He argued that Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII who was then the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, played a key role in bringing the Vatican to discount German propaganda and recognize that Germany was trying “to terrorize the population” of Belgium.
As one of the Vatican’s top archivists — he is currently the Director of Historical Archives in the Holy See’s Section for Relations with States — Dr. Ickx, a Belgian, has had special access to these archives for the past 10 years, during which he has meticulously collected hundreds of vital documents pertaining to the Vatican and the persecution of the Jewish community for his new work.
“He [Pius XII] sought peace until the end; from the beginning of his pontificate and during the war he sought the friendship of the Americans, and he rejected Pétain’s anti-racial laws,” said Ickx.
There was a separate office set up at the Vatican devoted to trying to save endangered people, the researcher says: “I think there are 2,800 cases, there’s a list equivalent to Schindler’s list, a ‘Pacelli’s list.’ I wonder how it is that the Holy See never publicized it.”
William Doino, Jr., is an American Catholic researcher and writer who, along with Dr. Ickx, has himself offered a major contribution to scholarship on Pope Pius XII. Doino is the author of a widely-cited “Annotated Bibliography of Works on Pius XII, the Second World War, and the Holocaust,” published in the anthology, The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, edited by J. Bottum and D. Dalin (Lexington Books); to obtain a copy, click here. Doino is a close friend of the eminent German Jesuit priest and scholar, Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J., now in his 90s and residing in the Jesuit Curia a few steps from St. Peter’s Square. Gumpel is the principal author of the Positio for the Cause of Beatification of Pope Pius XII.