St. Zdislava Berka (c. 1220-1252, feast – Jan. 4) was a wife, mother, and one of the earliest lay Dominicans. Being raised by a faithful mother, she too was devout from a young age and even tried to run away to become a hermit at the age of seven. As she grew, she matured through a life of prayer and generosity, and it is because of this that she is mainly remembered in the Czech Republic.
At a young age, St. Zdislava was married to Havel, Count of Lemberk. He was a good man, but he tested Zdislava’s patience by asking her to dress in a worldly manner and join in his somewhat indulgent feasts. For her part, she too tested his patience, but this with regard to her generosity to the poor. She provided generously for the poor, even working as a nurse tending to them. It is said that one night when Havel went off to bed, he discovered it was missing. Zdislava had given the bed to a poor man, leaving only the crucifix in place of the bed. This changed his heart, and he began to support her charitable work.
The support from her husband led St. Zdislava to found two Dominican priories in what is now the Czech Republic. During her childhood, she had gone with her mother to serve Queen Kunegunda, who probably first exposed her to the Dominicans. It is possible that Zdislava met St. Hyacinth and Bl. Ceslaus, and she eventually became a lay Dominican. She continued to live a devout life, receiving Holy Communion nearly every day (which was an extremely rare practice in the beginning of the 13th century). She also had visions and worked many miracles (including raising someone from the dead).
St. Zdislava is a wonderful example of faith, perseverance, and sanctity in the secular world. Through her intercession, may God raise up many saintly lay men and women.
O God, the exaltation of the lowly, who willed that blessed Zdislava should excel in the beauty of her charity and patience, grant, through her merits and intercession, that, carrying our cross each day, we may always persevere in love for you. Through Christ our Lord.