The story of The Godmother, advisor to Pope Pius XII
Updated: Jan 8
Pope Pius XII “did more than anybody in the world ever did for the Jews,” says Fr. Charles Murr, author of a book about his friendship with the close advisor to Pius XII, “and Mother Pascalina was right there to help him.”
Most people have never heard of Mother Pascalina Lehnert. As a young nun, she worked with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the papal nuncio in Bavaria, and then spent many years in Rome as his trusted advisor and assistant when he was elected as Pope Pius XII. A new book tells Mother Pascalina’s story through her friendship with a young American priest. Titled The Godmother: Madre Pascalina, A Feminine Tour de Force, it is the third book of Fr. Charles Theodore Murr. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Fr. Murr studied in Rome during the 1970s, during which time he befriended Mother Pascalina. His fascination with her came from a deep affection for and devotion to Pope Pius XII, whose right-hand-woman Mother Pascalina was for decades.
The book is a memoir, recounting years of weekly meetings between Fr. Murr and Mother Pascalina, during which they would discuss matters theological and ecclesial, and Mother would regale Fr. Murr with stories from her time working in the Vatican’s upper echelons as a strong-willed German woman among hordes of men. The book is nearly impossible to put down, filled with engaging anecdotes and remarkable insights.
Fr. Murr recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his new book, his admiration of Pius XII, and his close friendship with Mother Pascalina.
CWR: How did this book came about? What prompted you to write it?
Fr. Charles Murr: Well, I’m getting older. This next year I’ll be 68, and I thought that I should get some things down in writing before I go to God, and one of the things I wanted to do was write about some kind of incredible, fascinating people that I’ve met. One of them was Mother Pascalina. We were friends for eight years; it wasn’t just a “Hello, how are you” thing. I got to know her very well. Another one was Archbishop [Hilarion] Capucci, who just died. He was a Palestinian terrorist earlier in life! I lived with him for two years, and found him a delightful man. So I’m writing his story about a kidnapping in Beirut.
There are some things that I think should be written down before we all pass away. Mother Pascalina is a particular important person because of her role with Pius XII, her perception of the Second Vatican Council, what was happening, how it was coming about; the election of John XXIII; her relationship with Pope Montini [Paul VI]. She was a religious of the old kind, very old school, so you didn’t talk about certain things. She didn’t take about her past – it was very difficult to get her to talk about her family. She was uncomfortable with that, because you weren’t supposed to go there. It’s a mentality that nobody really understands or appreciates today.