Biography of Julia Danzas (Sr. Justina, Sisters of the Holy Spirit)

Born in 1879 in Athens into the family of the First Secretary of the Russian Mission to Greece. In 1888 she was living in Russia; educated at home. In 1896 she passed the entrance exams into the Sixth Boys Gymnasium in St. Petersburg. She studied as a non-matriculated student of history and philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1907 she became a lady-in-waiting for the Empress. She undertook scholarly work in Paris and Rome; authored two books – Zaprosy mysli [The Requirements of Thought] (1907) and V poiskakh za Bozhestvom: Ocheri po istorii gnostitsizma [In Search of God: Essays on the History of Gnosticism] (1913). She was a member of the editorial board and a frequent author of articles for the Journal Okrainy Rossii [Borderlands of Russia]. In August 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, she managed a frontline depot of the Red Cross for the 10th Army; in 1916 she was serving as a volunteer in the 18th Orenburg Cossack Regiment, first as a private, then as a non-commissioned officer of the 3rd Hundred Unit. She fought in battles and earned the Cross of St. George. In March 1917 she returned to Petrograd. She was admitted to the defense of her master’s dissertation on World History at Petrograd University, but it did not take place because of the change of scholarly ranks in Russia by the Bolsheviks. From November 1918 she worked in the Public Library, first as assistant librarian, later as head of the sections for philology and incunabula [books printed at the earliest period of printing, pre-1500]. In November 1919 she began teaching English and French history at the Hertzen Pedagogical Institute in Petrograd. In March 1920 she was the head of Student House. March 5, 1920 – arrested, but released on her own recognizance upon a petition by Maxim Gorky, and October 18 the case was closed for “the unprovability of the accusation.” November 17, 1920 – converted to Catholicism, and September 14, 1921, the religious community of the Holy Spirit was founded in her apartment. The community was led by Fr. Leonid Feodorov, Exarch of Russian Catholics. March 25, 1922, she was accepted into the community and took the name Sr. Justina. She fulfilled the duties of a psalm reader [psalomshchik] in the Russian Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit. She read papers and lectures at St. Catherine Church; was a member of the religious-philosophical society of Petrograd; collaborated with the publisher of “World Literature” and prepared a monograph titled “Plato.” During the night of November 17/18, 1923, she was arrested in Petrograd in connection with a case against Russian Catholics. She was charged as “an active member of a Leningrad counter-revolutionary organization, responsible for distributing counter-revolutionary pamphlets; a member of illegal circles of the organization and its ideological leader.” She was taken to Moscow for further investigation and imprisoned in Novinskaya Prison – then transferred to the internal prison of the GPU at Lubyanka, and later to Butyrka Prison. May 19, 1924 – sentenced under Articles 61 and 66 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR to ten years in prison [OGPU Collegium]. Sent to the Irkutsk isolator; in the spring of 1928 she was transferred to the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp; in 1931, to Belbaltlag, whence she was given an early release in June 1932 thanks to a petition on her behalf by Maxim Gorky. In 1934 she was “redeemed” by her brother [for twenty thousand francs] and she left the USSR. At first she lived in Germany, but by 1935 she was living in France. She entered the order of St. Dominic, taking the name Sr. Catherine, but she found that the religious life was not her vocation. In the fall of 1935 she went to Paris where she became a collaborator at Istina [Truth], a Dominican center for the study of Russia; she also wrote articles for the journal Istina. She was the author of several books: Krasnaia katorga [Russian Penal Servitude], Gnosticheskie reministsentsii v sovremennoi russkoi religioznoi filosofii [Gnostic Traces in Contemporary Russian Religious Philosophy], and Katolicheskoe bogopoznanie i marksistskoe bezbozhie [Catholic Knowledge of God and Marxist Atheism]. From 1939 she lived in Rome, where she died April 13, 1942. November 19, 1923, Julia Danzas stated at her interrogation: “I refuse to identify members of the Community of the Holy Spirit for the simple reason that I do not wish with my statements to implicate people who are completely innocent.” January 2, 1924, she stated her attitude toward Soviet power: “My attitude toward Soviet power was at its very beginning one of indifference. Then, having been convinced of its durability, I also became convinced that this power could, in many cases, defend Russian interests. However, I must add that the acceptability of Soviet power, as far as I am concerned, lies chiefly in its defense of Russian interests. Many measures of internal politics have aroused a lack of sympathy on my part on grounds that are purely theoretical – with the exception of the question of religion, concerning which [measures] I have actively protested since the moment I became a Catholic.” Translator’s Note: Miss Danzas served as secretary to Exarch Feodorov. See Paul Mallieux, Exarch Leonid Feodorov, for additional information on this remarkable woman. Sources: GARF, f. 8409, op. 1, d. 26, l. 156-158; d. 74, l. 43, d. 75, l. 107-108; d. 113, l. 11, 280-281, 296; d. 255, l. 2; d. 256, l. 19-21; d. 362, l. 53-55; d. 728, l. 75-81; d. 1699, l. 46, 97; Osipova (1996), p. 163; Osipova (1999), p. 330; Abrikosova et al. (1924); Sokolovskyi, p. 57; Shkarovskii, p. 259
Variant Names:
Danzas, Julia; Sr. Justina, Sisters of the Holy Spirit; Danzas, Iulia Nikolaevna Iustina
Athens (Greece); Saint Petersburg (Russia); Paris (France); Rome (Italy); Moscow (Russia); Germany
female; clergy and religious; survived