Maria Skobstova was born in Latvia in 1891. That would have made her about 26 years of age at the time of the Russian Revolution. She turned to atheism in her teens when her father died prematurely. Moving in literary and intellectual circles, she was drawn to Christianity while reading a book on the humanity of Jesus. Two failed marriages, the death of her daughter, Anastasia, and having to flee to France, via Georgia and Yugoslavia, during the turbulent years of revolution in Russia, informed her theological studies and heightened her sensitivity to suffering.
In France she met Bishop Evlogy, who encouraged her to profess vows as a nun, to which she agreed, provided she would not have to live in the seclusion of a convent. Taking the religious name, Maria, she opened a house of hospitality in Paris for refugees, the destitute, the needy and lonely. At the same time the house became a place of gathering for theological discussion.
A cigarette smoker, she never fit the bill as a traditional monastic, and one bishop was scandalized when he saw her in a Paris cafe enjoying a beer. It's said that her habit was dirty and paint spotted and that she would leave the liturgy to answer the door. She coined the phrase: The Asceticism of the Open Door.
When Paris fell to the Nazis in 1940 Jews started coming to the house looking to obtain forged baptismal certificates, which Maria's chaplain, Father Dimitri Klepinin issued. The house also served as a temporary shelter for Jews who Maria and Dimitri were helping to escape.
When a sports stadium in Paris was turned into a holding pen for Jews being readied for transport to concentration camps, Maria used her nuns habit as a kind of ticket to get inside with food. Discovered that she was smuggling Jewish children out in trash cans, she was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
Like Maximilian Kolbe, Maria took the place of another woman and was sent to the gas chambers on Holy Saturday, 1945. She is sometimes called Mother Maria of Paris. Her monastic method was not to disparage traditional religious life but to "push the envelope hard" believing the Church now existed in times of such horror and suffering, that the traditional ritualized and secluded forms had become an unwarranted luxury. One priest said of her, "She lived in the desert of people's hearts."
Mercy-Kindness is creative and active: "Smuggling Jewish children out of the death-stadium in garbage cans to freedom..." That's creative!