Mother Alexandra aka Princess Ileana

Mother Alexandra aka Princess Ileana

Easter, an Air Raid, and a Veil

Written by Elizabeth Staszak

A modern-day church mother comes to us in the form of a Romanian princess, with heritage going back to Queen Victoria of England.[1] Her name was Ileana, and she lived through two world wars as Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria. This story is about suffering and lament, and it is also a story about joy and bravery. It comes to us in a time of deep sorrow as a world, a time in which we feel the pressures and demands of scarcity, fear, and sickness. Her story also comes to us at a time of celebration, a time of reflection on the Easter story.

The princess was born in 1909 and her parents were the king and queen of Romania.[2] She grew up in periods of turmoil: the horrors of World War I, the global economic depression which followed, and the political and social oppression leading up to tragedies of World War II.

When Ileana was 35, she was the mother of six children and was also working in Brasov, Romania as a nurse. Soldiers and others who had been wounded in the battles of World War II depended on her service. Ileana had to put her own fears for her children aside, leaving them in Bran so that she could go to work in Brasov.[3]

A Courage Princess and Mother

On Easter Sunday of the Orthodox Church calendar, Ileana decided to dress up in Romanian peasant costume to bring red Easter eggs, joy, and celebration to the wounded soldiers.[4] These are the same sorts of eggs created in celebration of the tradition of Saint Mary Magdalene and the red egg.

That fateful Easter morning, Ileana and the village were informed of an incoming air raid. Having little time, Ileana fought to remain with the soldiers, but eventually she was persuaded to join the other women and children in the bunker, knowing her services would be needed later as a nurse. Doctors too needed to find shelter as they would be first to serve the wounded after the raid.[5]

On her way to the bunker, Ileana saw a woman running with her child, but the woman was frantic and could not be persuaded to join Ileana in the bunker. Ileana bravely grabbed the child from the mother’s arms so that the mother would follow her into the bunker. Frightened, the women and children huddled together around Ileana when she joined them inside. When Ileana opened her eyes at the end of the air raid, she found that as the bombs fell, women had gathered under the lengths of her costume veil as if for protection.[6]

Emerging from the bunker, Ileana rushed to treat the wounded.[7] Afterward, the Romanian military asked her to proceed with her visit to the soldiers and wounded, to bring the joy of the resurrection to the soldiers who had been awaiting her arrival. She did her best to wash herself with what little water there was and change into her nursing uniform. The princess was able to deliver the Easter eggs to those suffering during the war.[8]

Though Easter that year in Romania was so difficult, it was still a day of celebration even amidst the day’s horrors. Christ was there that day, within the princess’s spirit, within the care shown to those suffering, and even perhaps within the edges of Ileana‘s veil as she hid in the bunker that day, providing comfort to those around her quivering with fear as she was, too.

Later in her life, living in exile from her beloved country which had become Communist, Ileana became known as Mother Alexandra, an Abbess in the Orthodox church, later founding her own monastery in the United States in western Pennsylvania.[9] Ileana's story and journey into the monastic life will be continue to be explored by Know Your Mothers, as her story is one rich with truth, beauty, and female leadership in the church.

Mother Alexandra as a model leader for us today

In 2020, we are living under the threat of COVID-19, and are likely longing for the protection of ourselves and our loved ones from this dreadful virus. Are you a mother? Have there been times when you’ve needed to hold your children close for fear of their life? Do you ever feel like a mother to others? What does this style of motherly-leadership look like to you?

Have there been times in your life in which you wished that you could hide under the veil of another woman much stronger than yourself? Have you ever been the person other people lean on? What would it take for you to provide shelter for those fearing for their lives around you? In an act of bravery, Ileana grabs a woman’s child in order to persuade her to follow her to a place of safety. What would it take for you to become as brave as Ileana? Would we be willing to leave our own children for the sake of helping others, like Ileana? Can you think of any examples of women who make the choice to leave their children and help others in today’s world?

Leading like a mother: Reflect.

  1. Oftentimes, it seems like no one is willing to step into the role of leader. How do we see this happening now during this pandemic?
  2. In what ways could you exercise leadership that would be helpful in your community? Spend time asking God to guide you in how best to lead, serve or help in your context.
  3. How can we lean into Ileana's style of  leadership while also remaining faithful to serving and celebrating a holy day such as Easter? How can you be an example of joy and faith in the face of uncertianty and fear?
  4. How does Ileana's motherly leadership inspire you or concern you? In what ways is her example of leadership during a time of crisis relevant in your life?

About the Author

Elizabeth Staszak is currently a student at Fuller Theological Seminary working toward her Master of Divinity degree. She has an MA in Religious Studies from Claremont Graduate University and a BA in History from St Norbert College. Elizabeth is passionate about encouraging women in the church to exercise their spiritual gifts. She adores Orthodox Christianity, history, photography, trivia, and candy. Lately, Elizabeth is learning how to advocate for disability access in both secular and religious spheres as a disabled woman.

About the art

In this modern icon, Ileana is represented at the age she was during this Easter story above. She is in her mid-thirties, a mother, a nurse, and a pillar of strength for the Romanian people who look up to her as a source of normalcy in such an uncertain time. The patterns in the circle around her and in the background are typical for traditional Romanian attire. In her memoir, I Live Again, Ileana records that she put aside her nurse uniform on this day to wear the traditional veil seen here (which would have been long, almost touching the ground), along with the traditional Romanian peasant dress in a spirit of celebration for Orthodox Easter.  Little did she know that her veil would become a symbol of refuge as she sheltered with her people during the bombing raid that tragic Easter Sunday.


1. Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, I Live Again, (Chesterton, Indiana: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2018), 42.

2. Eric Pace,” Ileana of Romania Is Dead at 82; Princess Founded Convent in U.S.,” New York Times, January 22, 1991,

3. Ileana, I Live Again, 177.

4. Ileana, I Live Again, 177.

5. Ileana, I Live Again, 177.

6.  Ileana, I Live Again, 178.

7. Ileana, I Live Again, 178-179.

8. Ileana, I Live Again, 179-180.

9. Pace, “Ileana of Romania.”