It is the 28th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1987.
In 1987 I was eight years old. I am fairly certain that the Sound of Music was on television, and I am very certain that I never watched it. And for the next 32 or so years, I never watched it, despite being familiar with much of the soundtrack. Here's the problem. Someone should have told me that it was Mary Poppins with Nazis because the movie is literally Mary Poppins with Nazis.
But Julie Andrews and fascist regimes aren't usually topics on this program. However, perhaps the story of a "postulant wrestling with vocation," that is, a would-be nun wrestling with God's will, would be an appropriate story for this podcast. And what if that story was turned into a book, a play, a musical, and a movie musical? Well, today we remember the life of the real Maria von Trapp (nee Kutscher) who died on this, the 28th of March in 1987 at the age of 82.
The story of the "real" Maria is filled with more tragedy than the film, and her theological convictions are much more pronounced in her writing. The basis for the play and musical is loosely based on her own memoirs, especially "the Story of the Trapp Family Singers."
Maria Kutscher was born in 1905 in Vienna, Austria. Her mother died by the time she was two, and her father sent her to live with an uncle. This uncle was mentally unstable and abusive and led her to leave home as soon as she graduated high school. She intended to become a teacher, and she enrolled in a teacher's college. However, she tells the story of walking in Vienna one Sunday and being drawn to the music coming from a church. Her father was a staunch atheist, and Maria considered herself somewhere in that camp as well. But the music was enticing. So she wandered into a church on what happened to be Palm Sunday (which coincidentally is also today). Her conversion was swift. She was baptized and, within two years, was a postulant at the Benedictine Abbey at Nonnberg.
A considerable difference between the film version and the version as told by Von Trapp in her 1949 autobiography "The Trapp Family Singers" is how Maria's intensely personal faith shaped the story we know so well.
You can find a "film" vs. "real life" breakdown on the web, but let's consider a few crucial beats. Maria and Georg did not fall in love as a kind of odd couple. The real Georg von Trapp was a much older retired submarine commander whose wife had recently died from scarlet fever. One of his daughters, also named Maria, came down with the illness and the widowed von Trapp went to the local abbey looking for assistance.
Maria Kutscher had indeed been a wild spirit in the abbey, and a doctor suggested that she was never properly acclimated to life in the abbey coming from a life in the hills. And so she took a position teaching the young von Trapp. But this involved a crisis of calling. Maria believed that God wanted her in the abbey. Later and in the same vein, Maria was unsure if she should marry the Baron. He was considerably older, and the two were not romantically interested in each other. And marriage would forever close the door to what she believed to be the optimal way to love and serve God. The musical movie dances around the theological implications but essentially gets to the heart of the matter. For the real Maria, her story is about how one serves and loves God wherever they find themselves by loving and serving those people God has put in your life.
Maria's story outside of the confines of the film is fascinating and theologically rich. There are stories from meeting Hitler and refusing to sing at his birthday to having Heinrich Himmler make their old house his new Nazi headquarters. The family was also devastated by the great depression and ended up in America with no money and no English. The daughter that Maria initially came to teach would become a missionary herself and serve in Papua New Guinea.
Religion in popular media is regularly watered down to a form of inoffensive civic religion and watching the popular musical about Maria von Trapp. You might assume that her faith was incidental to the more important love story with a dreamy Christopher Plummer. But you might figure someone who wanted to become a nun… well, her faith was pretty central to her life.
Maria would be named a Dame of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and was given the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Pius XII. Maria von Trapp (nee Kutschera) died on this, the 28th of March in 1987. Born in 1905, she was 82 years old.
The reading for today, Palm Sunday, is from G.K. Chesterton. This is his "The Donkey."
When fishes flew and forests walked,
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry,
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "the hills are alive with the sound of" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who is still upset that Rolfe ditched Liesl like that. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.