Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sister Marie-Agnes of the Precious Blood, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Sambeek (1865 – 1898)

Born Marie-Petronille Bruning

Marie Bruning was born in Amsterdam, the capital of Holland, on 5th January 1865. Her father, though he was a good and fervent Catholic, did not really understand the usefulness of the contemplative Orders, and he much preferred the Orders devoted to works of charity. And so Sister Agnes encountered great difficulties in following the attraction which brought her to the Order of the Redemptoristines. However, she managed to enter after the death of her mother, having then attained the age of twenty-three. Because of it, all she received from her family, even after her entry, were some very unpleasant letters. Her brothers and sisters would have no more to do with her, and this heavy cross weighed on her until her death. Mother Marie Agnes bore it courageously through her love of Our Lord, to whom she had sacrificed everything.

The newcomer had a lively, active character, devoted to her work, and her piety was sincere and naïve. After an exemplary Educandate and novitiate, she edified the community by her extreme love for the holy Rule, and by her exactitude in fulfilling all her obligations, even during the last four years of her life, which she spent in her cell or in the infirmary. When she was a novice, she started spitting blood, but she seemed to be cured to such a degree that the Superior felt able to confide the care of the house to her. And then she was first the dispensarian and the Mistress of the Educandes, but in this last task she had a very severe relapse of her former illness, and this forced her, in the fourth year of her communitarian life, to withdraw to the infirmary, where she received the last sacraments on 11th October 1894.

It was feared first of all that consumption would soon put an end to her sufferings. But this was not to be so. Her heavenly Spouse wished to embellish His bride’s crown with a painful illness for four long years. And so we saw her, with such an active nature, condemned to rest. Sister Marie Agnes compensated for this by serving the community through her work in sewing for the linen-room and the sacristy. She made herself even more useful to it by the perfect example of her perfect resignation to the will of God and by the practice of all the other virtues. In summer in her cell and in winter in the infirmary, trying sometimes to join with the others in the refectory, in the garden or in choir, she clung especially to faithfully reciting the Divine Office, in spite of the enormous pain her coughing caused her. The little choir in the infirmary was her abode of predilection, and she spent entire Sundays there, close to the sacred Tabernacle, living in continuous prayer and a generous effort to refuse nothing to God. Her cheerfulness, and the tranquil resignation with which she bore her heavy cross, without the most severe attacks being able to alter her patience or draw from her any complaint, greatly edified all those who visited her. And everyone was happy to go and see her. As for her, she was equally content with the visits or absences of the Superior or her nurses, when they were called away sometimes by other occupations. Her unalterable cheerfulness even struck the doctor with astonishment, and more than once he could not restrain himself from expressing his admiration. To the questions he asked this Sister, she would invariably reply: “I’m all right, doctor”, as if she had had nothing to suffer.

A remarkable thing! Her illness did not in the least diminish her exactitude in observing the holy Rule. In the spirit of poverty, she deprived herself of light at supper and on going to bed. For her work she utilised the smallest bits of cotton. She was always content with what was given to her and never ceased to witness her gratitude for the least services. In the last days of her life, burdened as she was by violent oppressions of the chest, she expressed only one fear, that of losing her patience. “My Jesus”, she exclaimed, “give me perseverance. Mother of Sorrows, help me”. And she was heard. Her patience never gave way, not even on that last night, which was the most painful of all of them for her. At about four o’clock in the morning, her powers began to diminish. After the Holy Mass, the prayer of the dying was recited before her, to which she replied. She then spent a few more moments with the confessor, and at eight o’clock she gave her beautiful soul up to God, on 22nd October 1898. She was thirty three years of age and had spent ten of them in religion.

The Sisters began to invoke her, especially to obtain spiritual favours, and her memory is always venerated in the Monastery. “It was a great sorrow for us”, the Chronicle records, “to lose our little Saint; but we adore the inscrutable decrees of God. In eternity we shall see why He took a Sister from us in the prime of her life when she could have been a pillar of our community. And now she is our advocate with God, she who, before dying, said that she was offering her life for our Monastery. May the divine Redeemer accept her sacrifice and hear her prayers!”

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Mother Marie-Françoise of the Mercy of God, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Sambeek (1837 – 1893)

Mother Marie-Françoise, in the world Jeanne-Marie Cools, was born on 4th March 1837 at Eindhoven, a town in Brabant in Holland. Her father was a Clerk of the Court in that town. As the only daughter, she was the object of the greatest tenderness on the part of her parents, but after their deaths, and as especially when she was sought after by the world, she said a generous farewell to everything tempting that was offered to her, in order to enter the Convent of Marienthal. She was then twenty three years old.

She spent the first thirteen years of her religious life in this monastery. On 16th August 1874 she was sent to the Convent of Vienna with two other Sisters, but three years later she returned to Holland to replace the Reverend Mother Marie-Cherubine at Sambeek, who had been nominated as the Superior at Vienna. Mother Marie-Françoise filled the position of Mistress of Novices several times, she was elected Vicar three times, and Superior twice, and in the exercise of her different functions she showed as much ability as virtue.

She greatly loved prayer and in it she truly found the nourishment for her soul. She was always distinguished by her love for regularity, by a religious zeal for the Divine Office, and by a great affection for everything relating to the service of God. She always had a marked predilection for her Order, and she never ceased to pray for God to bless the apostolic work of the sons of St. Alphonsus. All the religious Orders were dear to her, but her very filial affection naturally went to the one she had embraced and she primarily proved her love for it in sustaining it by her punctuality in observing the holy Rules. Even in her last illness she wanted to ask for inclusion in certain exercises which her illness had discharged her from. She also practised poverty and obedience with a jealous care, even finding a way to match obedience with her office of Superior. She suffered much anguish in her soul and much sorrow in her body. Both of them were a source of humiliation for her, but she accepted them with humility for the profit of her soul. Two simultaneous illnesses, diabetes and a heart problem, whose treatments conflicted with each other, made her sufferings very meritorious for her. She endured them without letting anything show, never complaining, always keeping a laughing, happy face, like the others in recreation, and always ready to render service to her Sisters.

Finally her nature succumbed. Forced to keep to her cell, Mother Marie-Françoise ended up in the infirmary, where the severity of her sorrows soon obliged her to remain in her bed. She received the last sacraments in full consciousness. It was remarked that the scruples and fears that had caused her to suffer so much during her life disappeared completely during the last weeks of her life here below. She spoke of her death with great tranquillity and declared herself disposed to live or die according to God’s good pleasure. She regretted only one thing, she said, which was not being able to pray as well as before. She had the supreme consolation that she had so often asked of God, that of having a good death and dying on a Friday, the last homage she rendered to the Passion of her Saviour.

She died on 29th December 1893, in the fifty-sixth year of her mortal life, and the thirty-second of her religious life.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sister Marie-Vincent of the Child Jesus, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Sambeek (1853 – 1878)

A child of Mary Immaculate

On 8th December 1878, a young religious of the Monastery of Sambeek, Holland, exchanged this mortal life for the eternal homeland. She was the first in her convent to leave this land of exile. Sister Marie-Vincent of the Child Jesus was born in Sambeek. She entered the Monastery in 1877, at the age of twenty three, after living with her brother, a vicar in a parish of Limburg, who had kept her with him for three years to test her vocation. This long and sorrowful delay caused great grief to the young girl, and perhaps even altered her health profoundly. However, the fact remains that immediately after her vesting, the first symptoms appeared of an illness that soon degenerated into consumption. Sister Marie-Vincent was an innocent soul, endowed with everything that could form a perfect religious, and faithful in corresponding to the numerous graces that she received from God. She was very pious, pleasant, obedient and given to mortification. Even during her stay with her brother she was greatly exercised in this last virtue. She was a precious flower that God soon wished to place in the heavenly flower-gardens.

Sister Marie-Vincent languished and wasted away slowly. Some weeks before her death she asked her doctor if she was going to die soon. She very much wanted to die on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The doctor replied negatively, not believing that the end of the illness was so near. She, however, continued to be sure that she would leave for heaven on that day, and although nothing gave any hint of an end so near, she asked the infirmarian to bring the Sisters to her to say goodbye to her, after the second Vespers on the feast of 8th December. The Sisters found her cheerful and pleasant as always, but did not believe that she was to die so soon. However, at eight o’clock in the evening she went to join the Immaculate Virgin to finish her feast in her company. In the course of her illness, she had indicated to her mother her desire to give the Monastery a great statue of the Most Holy Virgin. Her desire was heard. The statue now stands in the choir and reminds the Sisters of the virtues and precious death of this child of Mary. When she left the earth she was only twenty-five. She took her vows on her deathbed, happy, as she said, that she could no longer be sent back into the world, which she had never loved.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sister Marie-Innocentia of the Holy Family, O.SS.R of the Monastery of Marienthal (1847 - 1870)

Born Philomena Huben

The life of Sister Marie-Innocentia was a short one, and the account of her actions can be told in just a few pages, but it contains so many edifying and charming features that we wish to recount it for the good of our Sisters and our future Sisters. [1]

Sœur Marie-Innocentia was born at Munster-Geleen, a village in Dutch Limburg on 24th October 1847, and received the names of Marie Catherine Philomena at baptism. She was the only child of Mr. John Peter Huben, a property owner, and Anna Catherine Donners, who died several weeks after bringing her to the light of day. At the age of seven she lost her father. Some close relatives then confided her education to the Ursulines of Sittard. The very pure heart of the little Philomena thus opened more and more to piety and virtue, and moreover, these were a family inheritance. Two of her uncles were consecrated to God. One was a secular priest and the other died in Ireland in 1893 in an odour of sanctity. He was Father Charles of Saint Andrew, a Passionist.

At the Ursuline Convent, the child was distinguished by her horror of sin, her filial obedience and her friendliness to her companions, and so she was loved and esteemed by all. She remained in the boarding-school until she was fourteen and then lived with her uncle and her two aunts, his sisters. And it was there that she remained until her entry into the convent, on 9th September 1865. She spent only a short time in the world. God gave her the grace of understanding that the world was not without its dangers for her, and even during her years in the boarding-school, He gently attracted her to religious life. Having heard a Redemptorist Father, in the course of a retreat, speak of the Order of the Redemptoristines, she felt herself strongly drawn towards our Congregation, but her attraction was to be keenly challenged.

Having fallen dangerously ill, she thought more than ever of her plan, but her near relatives and the doctor strongly urged her to renounce it. So then she lost all attraction for religious life, but this distaste seemed suspect to her. She wrote to her director, Rev. Father Vanderlinden, and explained the state of her soul to him. The pious Redemptorist did not have much trouble in showing her that she was under the attack of a temptation. He reminded her how he had approved her vocation, forbade her to speak to her doctor on her own, and recommended her to follow God’s call as soon as possible. She followed this advice to the letter.

* * * * *

Presented to the Superior of the Convent of Wittem by Father Vanderlinden himself, Philomena was accepted and entered the monastery a short time later. The prejudices that her doctor had inspired in her against the lack of charity which he said reigned in the convents, and against the lack of care that they gave to the sick, these prejudices, as we call them, soon disappeared. In fact she saw quite the opposite. She loved our house and our community as if she had been born there, and this contentment was only to grow to the degree that she discovered the treasures enclosed in the religious vocation, and so she would speak of this with enthusiasm.

From the very beginning of her new life, she recognized her faults and fought against them firmly. She understood that if she had been until then a somewhat spoiled child, she would now have to cut all caprice short and immolate her will, and she did so ardently. Her delicate constitution hardly permitted her any great austerities, so she turned more and more to obedience, which is the martyrdom of the soul. When she took the veil, which happened on 27th September 1866, she received the name, so well chosen for her, of Sister Marie Innocentia of the Holy Family. She took her vows a little later.

Beginning with her taking the veil, our dear Sister had only one desire, and pursued only one end, that of advancing in perfection. One could say that she had a presentiment of the little time that she was still to live, as she was a true spiritual miser, wishing to amass the treasures of merits, and as she had a real hunger and thirst for justice, she was filled, according to Our Lord’s promise.

A great perception about spiritual ways, a perfect obedience, a veritable passion for obliging everyone, but for the love of Jesus Christ, and finally, a sincere humility – these were the characteristics of the life of Sister Marie-Innocentia.

The things of God accorded well with her soul, and so she desired them keenly. Teaching, spiritual books and pious discussions found a well prepared soil in her heart, and it produced abundant fruit. And her delicacy of conscience led her to becoming entirely faithful to God, and we may say that she never committed a voluntary fault against the Rule. This delicacy, towards the end of her life, was even a source of scruples and anguish for her, but even though they harmed her health, her pains and struggles did not make her either sad or melancholy. She obeyed, and it was an edifying spectacle to see her, on certain days of communion, approaching her Superior to explain her doubts to her, and then at a simple sign from her, approach the holy table with the docility of a lamb.

Marie-Innocentia faithfully followed the inspirations of grace. From then on she observed even the least prescriptions of the Rule and even anticipated the wishes of her Superiors. If she heard the ringing of the bell, she flew, if that is the word for it, to the place where it called her. The Angelus caused her to abandon every occupation. She could be seen falling down on her knees while she washed her hands, and reciting the holy prayer before wiping them. She never permitted herself the least reply to her Superiors, and, what is even rarer, she willingly obeyed her subordinate Superiors, even the converse Sisters in the exercise of their charge. Had she not written: “I wish to obey everybody.”? However, she did it with wisdom. When a converse Sister said to her one day that she needed to take a tonic, she went looking for the Mother Superior everywhere in order to obtain the necessary permission.

Her zeal to oblige everyone was not inferior to her obedience. Because of the feebleness of her constitution (as from her childhood she suffered from horrible liver colics), she could not be assigned a particular function, so she took on, if we may so call it, the function of obliger general. And this is how, until her death, she had the task of going into the garden and gathering the different leaves used in making herbal tea. Later on, as an assistant infirmarian, she dried and arranged herbs with the patience of a professional herbalist. As she was not able to hang out the washing, she would at least clean the lines the clothes hung on. The stockings of the Choir Sisters, and those of the Converse Sisters, were all mended carefully by her hands. In the refectory or during the afternoon work, she became the Reader, and on Sundays and feast days and other days as well, she would wash the dishes. In a word, through a thousand little services, either general or particular, she made herself very useful to the community, and the good humour with which she did everything made this service even more valuable.

Her humility appeared in joyfully accomplishing the most insignificant occupations. She lacked the strength for large works, and fine work was forbidden to her, both because her hands sweated and because of the feebleness of her eyes, which she had to preserve because of the Offices. She submitted herself entirely to the will of God and accepted all her incapacities. She was even cheerful when the Mother Superior sometimes laughed at her and said: “After all, you are only a poor unfortunate!” In a word, her conviction on the subject of her incapacity was total, and she was singularly astonished when she was named as Auditrix, [2] as the Rule required a great deal of intelligence and tact for this function. However, she was not as deprived as one might have thought. She spoke and wrote three languages – Dutch, her native language, German and French.

This sincere humility and complete disengagement of herself also appeared in the letters that she sometimes wrote to her close relatives. We especially recall the memory of a letter that she addressed to Mons. the Archbishop Paredis to explain some temporal matters to him. She told him in a truly touching simplicity about her few means and her feeble capacities. In a word, she sought to humble herself in everything. During her retreat for her profession in 1868, she wrote: “From now on, I wish to practise the holy virtue of humility in words, thoughts and actions, and I wish to fight my sensitivities and apply my particular examination to this point.” To effectively keep such a resolution requires a rare virtue. In praise of Sister Innocentia, we may say that she was perfectly faithful in it. In fact, she was never observed as being hurt by any observation, and the shadow of discontent was never seen to appear on her face. If she was contradicted or corrected, she would say calmly and sweetly: “You are right. It is true”, or else she would ask pardon and promise to correct herself. One day, in recreation, she happened to mention the writings of the blessed Henri Suso, whom she loved to read. She said: “I always wish to be the cloth which the Blessed speaks of.” [3] So she let herself be guided and corrected without ever resisting. And may we add to that an extreme delicacy of charity indeed, and then we will have a good idea of her virtue.

Her uprightness of intention was no less remarkable. “I have given my heart entirely to my Saviour,” she wrote, “and I wish to seek nothing other than His holy will. I wish to seek God alone and please only Him.” This elevated and supernatural view singularly highlights the virtues we have spoken of. Her respect towards her Superiors, her kindness towards her fellow Sisters, her attention to judging no one – all this was inspired by supernatural motives, and her life, which in appearance was so little increased with all the beauty of the divine love that inspired it. One day she had sewn some bibs for a sick Sister. She gave them to the Infirmarian who told her the invalid would be very grateful for them. Sister Innocentia replied: “I have not made them so much for her as to warm the heart of the Saviour.” So she always had God in mind. If she visited the sick Sisters, which she did willingly and frequently, she always spoke to them of edifying things, and told them about conferences that she had attended. In recreation, too, she would speak about spiritual subjects, and we would often admire the profound meaning of her questions and replies. So she spread around her, without any doubt, the good odour of her virtues, as the humble violet spreads its perfume around itself. Everyone cherished her, everyone sought to be edified by her, and in the community, all the Sisters had their eyes turned towards this “beloved child” of the house, who dreamed only of becoming forgotten, but whom the Lord loved to raise up.

* * * * *

To a great simplicity, Sister Marie-Innocentia added a gravity beyond her age and a modesty that inspired respect. The source of it was her continual union with God.

Always recollected in God, she would have believed herself to have committed an infidelity or a fault if, even in recreation, she had in some way taken her thoughts away from her Beloved. Day and night, we might say, she was occupied with the Child Jesus, and following the example of the Venerable Marguerite of the Blessed Sacrament, she honoured Him at every hour with a special homage. It was a great joy for her when she got up at midnight, the hour when the Saviour was born. She also had a very special devotion to the holy house of Nazareth, and would plunge herself into the meditation of the great miracles of love and mercy which happened there.

How could she not have been devoted to the Blessed Virgin? It was to this divine Mother that she had recourse with all her heart in her trials and pains. She would kneel down willingly before the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel and would say, after the example of our Father Saint Alphonsus: “Mary, give me always good counsel.” She loved to say her rosary before Terce: “This is how I assure myself,” she would say, “of the protection of the Blessed Virgin for the whole day.”

Her love of prayer was truly prodigious. When she prayed, she seemed to have forgotten about everything. With her eyes closed, she was completely absorbed in prayer, and if anyone came in then to speak to her, she would experience a seizure as if she had been torn away from a deep sleep. How great was her devotion when she approached the tribunal of Penance and the holy Table! One day someone spoke to her about the six “Our Fathers” that she usually said after the holy Mass to gain the Indulgence. “The time of thanksgiving is so precious to me,” she replied, “that I can do nothing else than to cling to Jesus and love Him. I recite the “Our Fathers” afterwards.

This pious soul was in love with solitude and silence.

While still a child she loved to be alone and often passed entire hours in solitude. So she always felt very happy when she was cut off completely from the world. She had little love for visits from her close relatives. She either prevented them or diminished their number. One of her letters addressed a few days before her death to the Superior of the Ursulines of Sittard, clearly shows us her love of retreat. Here it is:

“Very Reverend Mother,
“You will no doubt have a certain astonishment in receiving a letter from me, who has already spent several years in religion without giving you my news. Our Reverend Mother Superior has offered me the occasion. It is in her name that I have come to ask you to be good enough to have the attached little cords of Saint Joseph blessed. Would you please send them back to us by post, and we will cover the cost of sending them.

“Oh, my Reverend Mother, how happy I am, and how I thank God for my holy vocation! Here I am in solitude. I neither see nor hear anything of the world. I have only one care, that of my perfection, my sanctification. Every day I beg Our Lord to give me the strength and courage to work on this sanctification, in spite of my sickly state. I hope, sustained by so many means, the Office, three meditations a day, and many communions – I hope, I say, to attain my end. Have the charity, I pray you, to remember me in your good prayers, especially before the little Jesus, my divine Brother.

“Our Reverend Mother Superior and all the Sisters send you their very best greetings. They have asked me to write you these lines because I knew you beforehand. I greet you very respectfully, and also the Mother Assistant. May she be kind enough to recommend me to the Blessed Virgin, as I am doing for her.

“In the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Your Sister in Jesus,
Sister Marie-Innocentia of the Holy Family.
Convent of Marienthal
5th September 1870.”

One can see from these lines how the good Sister ardently pursued her last end, that is to say, the perfect union of her soul with God in time and eternity. Her keen desire for heaven is easily explained from then on. One day they told her about the death of a Sister younger than herself. “How happy she is to die so young!” was her reply. She willingly watched over dying Sisters, and they heard her say more than once: “Oh, how wonderful their fate is! How much I too would like to die soon. I hope that my little Brother Jesus will not leave me for too long on this earth!” She had a premonition about her premature death. “I shall die soon,” she said one day, “as it is impossible for me to live a long time. I just long to die and go to see my Jesus!” A year before her death, they asked her one day, during recreation, what book she was reading. “The Eternal Truths by Saint Alphonsus,” she replied. “But you have known about them for a long time!” they told her. “Oh!” she replied, “one never knows when the Lord will come.” The pious child always lived in the spirit of the other world. “How much I love,” she said sometimes, “how much I love to hear the sound of a storm! It makes me think of the Last Judgement.” Sometimes too, she would say to the Reverend Mother and the Sisters with a sweet assurance: “No, no, I shall not live for too long. My little boys will not leave me for too long down here.” This is what she called the Holy Innocents with a charming familiarity, those heavenly friends for whom she always had a very special devotion.

* * * * *

Her ardent desire was accomplished. Her “little boys” came to seek her for the heavenly homeland sooner than we thought. Her frequent sorrows led her to gain many merits, and the patience with which she bore them greatly edified the community. Sometimes the crises lasted several days, during which time she could not take any food. She rejected everything, and it was almost impossible for her to have even a moment’s sleep. The Mistress of Novices told her one day that she should not always move around as she was doing, and she tried hard to obey her, but the violence of the crisis made her forget all about it, and then she was greatly saddened, believing that she had failed in obedience. In spite of everything she remained at peace and submissive to the holy will of God. Her lively faith showed her that her sufferings were a special occasion to show God her love. At the same time, she showed the greatest gratitude to the Sisters who were giving her their care.

However, death was approaching. Some months of respite were simply a halt before her final rest. On 16th September 1870 (it was the Friday before the feast of Our Lady of the Seven sorrows), Sister Marie-Innocentia was struck down by her previous illness. In the morning, she went up to the sacred table with all the Sisters, not thinking that this communion was to be her last. In the course of the afternoon, her pains began again, and the doctor declared that he feared a fatal outcome.

The feast of the Seven Sorrows was truly a feast of sorrows for the poor invalid. Because of her continual vomiting, she had to be deprived of holy communion, and what a privation in the midst of such horrible suffering! “My Jesus,” she kept repeating, “give me patience.” To such a sorrowful day an even more sorrowful night followed. The Sister who was caring for her told us: “She did not have a moment’s rest; she was constantly upright in her bed, with her hands behind her back, and leaning against the wall, and from time to time she said: “The Saviour was in this position in His dungeon, [4] and this thought gives me some comfort.” Soon the symptoms became more and more alarming, and all hope was lost. They went to find Rev. Father Van der Linden, and she told him with a touching sincerity: “Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi; in domum Domini ibimus.” * - Turning to her Superior and her Sisters: “Reverend Mother and dear Sisters,” she asked them, “help me to suffer patiently.” She asked for her picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and pressed it to her heart. But in this very simple act, she had, by first kissing the hand of her Superior, and then the picture, observed her Rule to the letter. This is how she wished to die under the protection of Her who, during her whole life, had been, after Jesus, her sweetest consolation. However, Rev. Father Van der Linden still hesitated: “Come now, Reverend Father”, she said to him, “do not leave me to die without the sacraments.” Straight away she received a last absolution and Extreme Unction. Immediately afterwards, she died without agony, and her innocent soul flew up into the bosom of her Creator. This was at six o’clock in the morning. Sister Marie-Innocentia was aged twenty four, and in the third year of her profession.

All the Sisters wept because of the unexpected loss that they had just had. Father Van der Linden could not prevent himself from shedding tears, and as he left the enclosure he said: “Our young and holy little sister is already dead.” He immediately offered the holy sacrifice for her soul.

For several days the body was laid out at the grille and the public was admitted to pray before the deceased. From morning to evening the crowd did not cease to render her this last homage. After the funeral service the body of this dear little Sister was placed in the Convent’s vault. Everyone proclaimed her blessed and said: “She lived a long career in just a short time. Soon she will be reunited forever with her divine Spouse and will contemplate God in His glory.” The Mother Superior said: “I think I can already see our Sister Innocentia entering Paradise, followed by “her little boys.””

Many of our Sisters have addressed themselves to Sister Innocentia and successfully invoked her intercession. Her virtues, her good examples, and above all her innocence, obedience and punctuality, are still the object of our conversations. May we, after imitating her here on earth, one day go and rejoin her in heaven!..


[1] Extract from the Monastery Chronicle
[2] The name of Auditrix is given to the Sister charged with sitting in the background and attending interviews at the grille.
[3] Blessed Suso, preoccupied with the pains that awaited him, heard a voice telling him one day: “Open the window, look out and learn.” He opened it and at the entrance to the convent he saw a dog which had a tattered piece of cloth in its jaws. The animal was playing with the rag, throwing it in the air, catching it, biting it, and tearing it into pieces with its paws and claws. Brother Henri then groaned profoundly, and a voice told him: “This is how you will be torn one day by wicked tongues.” Then the Blessed thought: “may my soul trust in God and suffer without complaining like this piece of cloth!”
[4] The dungeon in which, according to some authors, Our Lord was thrown after His flagellation, and which Catherine Emmerich has so admirably described.
* Ps. 121: “I rejoiced in the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.”

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Sister Marie-Rosalie of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Marienthal (1822 – 1863)

Born Baroness d’Axter


I. Her life in the world. – The lady of honour.

On 24th January 1822 there was born in Ratisbon (Regensburg) the Servant of God whose life we will briefly recount. At baptism she received the names of Bertha-Genevieve-Josephine-Jeanne. Her father, Baron Louis d’Axter, was chamberlain to the King of Bavaria. Her mother, Josephine-Adelaide, Baroness de Verger, occupied herself especially with her family and the care of her subordinates. Their union was blessed, and God granted them a great number of children, and they applied themselves with all their powers to give them a truly Christian education.

From her earliest childhood, Bertha was distinguished by a lively spirit, a jovial character, and an unusually pleasant nature, and so she became the darling of her parents and the whole family. Her piety especially and her love of prayer attracted the attention of those who were witness to it. So one of her sisters wrote the following lines to her at the end of her life: “I still remember very often when we were young, how I saw you absorbed in prayer for entire hours, as pious as an angel, and I greatly regret now that I did not imitate your example better.”

The child was scarcely nine years old when death came to snatch her tender mother away from her. The whole time the illness of she who was everything to her lasted, Bertha admitted nothing that could soften or diminish her pain. Everything that her mother suffered she herself endured in the depths of her heart, and to preserve a life so precious to her, she would willingly have sacrificed her own. But the good God disposed otherwise. “The tree has fallen,” said Sister Marie-Rosalie’s historian, [1] “but the flower will never perish. Protected by the Sun of justice and covered by the beneficent shadow of the mystical Rose, she shall produce fruits in abundance, as Jesus Christ has chosen her for His spouse, and Mary for her beloved daughter.”

Bertha was sent to Munich, to pursue her education at the royal boarding-school for young ladies of the nobility. Everything was put in hand to respond to the views of Baron d’Axter, and to form her in such a manner that one day she would bring honour to the family and render service to society. Her father was not deceived in his expectations. As his daughter was endowed with more than ordinary talents, she made such progress in the different sciences to which the pupils were introduced, that her mistresses were able, a few years later, to confide the instruction of fifty children to her. Besides German, she knew French and Italian, had a deep understanding of music and drawing, and these different abilities were to be very useful to her later on. Add to this the natural qualities and advantages relieved by a noble frankness and modest gravity, and it will be understood why others were attracted to her and sought her conversation. And so, for ten years she fulfilled the duties of mistress at the boarding-school and all her pupils were indebted to her for solid instruction and a true piety.

This is how things were when in 1850, there arrived at Munich the Princess of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, born the Princess of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg. In the course of a visit to the boarding-school for noble ladies, she was struck by the rare qualities of the young mistress, and suggested she might like to enter the Court in the quality of a lady of honour. Bertha accepted. “In the measure,” says the historian, “that these two souls opened themselves to knowing each other mutually, there could be seen growing in them a reciprocal esteem and affection. Both of them had given themselves generously to the practice of the Christian virtues and encouraged each other mutually in works of charity.”

When the good Princess became a widow for the second time, she entered the Order of the Visitandines. But Providence opened a new way up to Bertha and introduced her as a governess in the house of Prince Charles-Antoine of Hohenzollern and his spouse Josephine, Grand Duchess of Baden. This Princess had, of her own accord, abjured Protestantism in order to enter the bosom of the Church. Among her six children, which she had reared with the greatest of care, there were two daughters, Stephanie and Mary, the first of whom was born in 1837 and the second in 1845. She believed she was not able to find a better governess for these two children than Baroness d’Axter, for whom she had conceived the highest esteem. So she begged her to be good enough to take upon herself their education. Bertha accepted with gratitude and went straight away to Dusseldorf, where the Prince and the Princess of Hohenzollern had their residence.

In this new position, the talent and virtue of the pious governess soon shone in the brightest light. In the midst of the brilliant life of high society, and in spite of her daily contacts with Protestants, she was able not only to preserve her faith intact, but even give an example of a true and sincere piety. Princess Josephine treated Bertha as a member of the family, and the young Stephanie, with whom she was especially occupied, showed her the most tender affection.

During their stay at Dusseldorf, Princess Stephanie and her governess would both leave in the early morning to go to the church of St. Andrew and assist in the sacrifice of the Mass. Refusing every place of honour, they would go and kneel down in a little chapel dedicated to St. Louis de Gonzaga and pray there with fervour. In the walks they took in town or in the countryside, they would ordinarily visit the sanctuaries that they encountered. Often they would also direct their steps towards establishments of education, or asylums for aged and sick women, or they even went to console the poor and infirm in their cottages. The needy greatly loved receiving these sorts of visits, because they were sure to receive a rich gift of money accompanied by words of consolation.

However, the idea of renouncing the world and embracing religious life occupied the spirit of the pious governess. As the time approached when the education of Princess Stephanie would come to an end, Bertha called with all her heart on the action of Providence. It happened when the young Princess married don Pedro V, the King of Portugal. This was in 1858. We shall not describe here the complex journey by which the governess’ vocation took her to the Order of the Redemptoristines. We shall instead show the affection which the new Queen of Portugal showed her, and so we shall quote the letter written by her to the new religious. The reader will find there a noble witness of gratitude rendered to the virtues of the servant of God.

Cintra, 1st August 1858.
“My dear and good Bertha,
“I shall continue to call you by this name so dear to my heart until the day when you make your oblation to God in the Institute which you have embraced, and in which you find the means to tend towards the end where we all hope to arrive if we walk unceasingly in the paths that God has traced out for us.

“These paths, although different, however, have this in common that very often they are steep, and that they all lead to the same end. This thought must console us and inspire us in the moments when sadness or despondency wish to take hold of us. It will serve to help us to bear our cross and find it less heavy, and find it even sweet and light.

“Since our separation, dear Bertha, our eyes have seen things of every kind. One thing is common to both of us, and it is that we have seen our desires come about, but not however without having experienced a moment of bitterness at the memory of what we have had to abandon. I avow frankly that I have already had homesickness many time, and have experienced an extreme desire to see my parents, my friends, and my place of birth. What weighs upon me especially, is the thought that I am bound forever to another family and another country, but it must indeed be so, and I render thanks to God for having arranged things in this fashion. For the rest, I must indeed offer up to the Lord these little disagreeable things in the midst of the happiness He has allowed me to enjoy, as my dear Pedro is truly my delight. He is so full of goodness towards me, and I have already spoken to him more than once of my good and dear Bertha.

“I have not been slow in experiencing that it is not so easy nor so agreeable a task to bear a crown in a country where there is so much to do, and where it is so difficult to act according to one's conscience and convictions, and where it is necessary to proceed with great caution so as not to harm the good cause, and often wait for a long time, and dissimulate when one is contradicted.

“Sometimes one loses courage. Ah, my good Bertha, we encounter as many miseries here as everywhere else! God alone can remedy them and I beg you not to forget the Church of Portugal in your prayers. Recommend it equally to the prayers of your pious Superior and the prayers of your holy community. How many times do I enthusiastically recall the beautiful and magnificent solemnities celebrated in the churches of Germany! Here I do not find the sober character and profound sentiments of the German people. Happily, my dear Pedro, who has a noble and generous heart, compensates me amply in return.

“My new family is good and charming.

“My dear Bertha, I think so often of you. I also think of our visits to the churches, our walks and our conversations of yesteryear. They are wonderful memories for me. Since that time I have had more than one experience. I have already learnt to understand life a little in its grave and serious side, and I can see that the greatest happiness of the years of our youth and virtue, is not to know many things that are the torment of this life. It is with the greatest happiness that I recall the happy years that we lived together in my father’s house – years, alas, that have passed so quickly!

“I have spoken enough about what concerns me, so let us speak now of you, dear Bertha. I have learnt (not from Dusseldorf, as it seems that there is no news of you there), I have learnt that you seem sad and despondent, and this troubles me. [2]

“Write to me as soon as you can, my dear Bertha, I beg you, and write to me in detail. You can count on my discretion. Do not forget that you are dealing with a heart that loves you and knows how to understand you. Also, you can be well persuaded that many persons cherish you and are devoted to you. I hope that my request will not seem indiscreet to you, as I do it in the name of the friendship that I bear you.

“Farewell, my dear Bertha. Please recommend me to the Reverend Mother Superior.
I embrace you cordially."

II. Her entry into religion. – The virtues of the cloister.

We have said nothing about how the vocation of Baroness d’Axter was confirmed, nor by what mysterious ways God led her to the right end A powerful attraction to the cloister had been inspiring the pious governess for a long time with the desire to leave the world. She opened herself to her director, who dissuaded her from entering a contemplative Order. When a fortuitous circumstance having obliged her to address herself to another confessor, he happened to speak of the Redemptoristine Nuns. This name attracted the Baroness’ attention, who gathered all the information necessary, and then sought admission into the Convent of Marienthal. But how many obstacles rose up before her! The education of Princess Stephanie had not yet been completely achieved; that of Princess Marie seemed in its turn to require the care of her governess and the attachments to high society of the court, the extraordinary esteem given to our heroine – did not all this serve to delay her?

The engagement of Princess Stephanie to don Pedro, the King of Portugal, seemed to resolve the situation; but because of cholera, the marriage had to be postponed for six months. And what heart-ache this caused the Baroness! It required all the skill of the Princess Mother, all the influence she who was one day to be the Empress Augusta, to persuade her to spend a further six months in the world. Meanwhile, she made the acquaintance of her future fellow Sisters, and the Superiors could only applaud her courage and her constancy. Finally, on 10th May 1858, she entered the Convent of Marienthal, never to leave it again.

A remarkable thing! On the very same day, the priest who earlier had told the new postulant about the Order of the Redemptoristines, himself now entered the novitiate of the Redemptorist Fathers of Hamicolt, near Munster. This was on the feast of Our Lady of Mercy.

On the following 25th November, the chapel of the Sisters of Marienthal put on its festive finery. On the altar, around the tabernacle, was woven a crown of roses, and these roses had previously served as an ornament to Bertha’s clothes. As the Princess Mother of Hohenzollern could not attend the ceremony, she sent her son Antoine to take her place. She wrote to the Superior the day before: “It is with sincere regrets that I see myself obliged to excuse myself from coming to Convent of Marienthal for the Miss d’Axter’s ceremony of taking the habit. I would have been very happy to be able to be a witness to her happiness. My prayers will be united with your own on this solemn day, and I keenly regret not being able to tell her myself how much I rejoice in seeing her arrive at the fulfilment of her desires, enjoying the happiness and peace to which her soul aspires.”

The ceremony was a very touching one. Because of the great resemblance of her character and vocation to that of Saint Rosalie, they replaced the name of Bertha with that of this great Saint, and the new novice from then on was called Sister Marie-Rosalie of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Her year in the novitiate was marked by several trials. Our good Sister’s zeal for penance brought her a severe illness from which she nearly died. She also had the sorrow of learning of the unexpected death of Princess Stephanie, Queen of Portugal, whom she loved so much. But she was consoled when she learned the circumstances of her death. On 16th July, when the Holy Viaticum was brought to the dying Queen, she replied with a lively faith and a great calm to the priest’s prayers. All the people surrounding her dissolved in tears. After remaining absorbed in prayer for a long time, she said to her man of confidence (?): “Oh well, if I must die, tell my parents that I love them, that I am thinking of my brothers and my sister, and all those who are dear to me, and I am resigned to the will of God.” As she said these words, she lifted her eyes up to heaven. Then she continued: “And also tell my parents that the King has made me truly happy, and that I recommend him to them. And now, my dear friend, receive my thanks again for the services you have rendered me.” At ten o’clock in the evening, Extreme Unction was ministered to her, and she followed all the prayers with attention. The Empress of Brazil placed a crucifix in her hands, and from time to time, when her breathing became more laboured, the Queen would put this crucifix to her lips, kiss it and say: “Jesus, Mary!” After eleven hours she went into agony, but she still had enough consciousness to reply to her confessor and the Empress. The King had already said his farewell to her, and overcome with grief, he was obliged to leave her. At one o’clock in the morning, on 17th July 1859, the Queen breathed her last.

Sister Marie-Rosalie had still other trials to bear. Spiritual aridities came to take away her heavenly consolations, and to make matters worse, she keenly felt the repugnance of her nature for a humble, mortified and penitent life. Add to this the fact that her ardour for mortification had to be moderated, which was a new source of abnegation. But her courage and her faith made her overcome all the difficulties, so much so that the famous Father Bernard, preaching the retreat in the Convent of Marienthal in 1859, gave this remarkable testimony to the novice’s virtue: “In general, I do not have much confidence in those persons who after living in high society, suddenly enter a rather severe Order, as ordinarily they do not persevere. But it is quite otherwise with Sister Marie-Rosalie. She has all the qualities you could wish for becoming a perfect Redemptoristine, and if she continues in this way, you need not be afraid of electing her as Superior, and she will bring honour to the convent.”

The premature death of our pious Sister did not allow us to see Father Bernard’s views come to pass, but it is of value at least to justify them with some details concerning the virtues of this servant of God.

First of all, humility seems to have rightly attracted her attention.

“For the pure love of God,” she wrote, “I am careful to make sure that no attention dictated by self-love or the desire to please finds its way into my actions.

“I am careful not to say a single word that expresses vainglory.

“I shall listen to others. I shall not defend my own way of seeing things. I shall be silent when I have a desire to speak.

“I shall do all I can to pass myself as ignorant and incapable, in place of flattering my self-love.

“In my relationship with others, I shall endure every disagreeable word with humility and joy, and I shall accept it in a spirit of penance as some small reparation for too great a confidence and for the eulogies and flattery that I have been the object of during my whole life.”

This was the programme that Sister Marie-Rosalie carried out. Let us listen to her historian. “Because of her excellent character and her pleasant manner, everyone loved her company, and nobody was embarrassed by her. Through her desire to advance in perfection, she humbly accepted all the corrections and remonstrances that were offered her either by her Superiors, or her inferiors, religious who were still young. She knew how to hide her talents and make them serve solely for the glory of God and the advantage of her neighbour. She never once spoke of the high rank that some members of her family occupied in society, and when, from time to time, she received a visit from some illustrious personage to the convent, she thought that it was not even worth the trouble of telling the community of these marks of distinction. She would have preferred to live unknown and forgotten. She greatly respected the converse Sisters and sometimes said: “I would give a lot to be in their place, provided that I could keep my breviary, as it would cost me a great deal if I had to make a sacrifice of it.”

This sincere humility was accompanied by a great spirit of mortification. She experienced an attraction for penance that one had no right to expect in a person who had lived in high society, in the midst of the eases and conveniences of life. So they very often had to forbid her to do mortifications which were clearly too much for her powers. But her spirit of sacrifice found a way to immolate even her tastes on this point. She was the author of these good resolutions:

Spirit of sacrifice: For my sins and those of the world, I shall continue the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The convent is like a funeral vault. Each cell is a tomb in which the religious offers herself to her heavenly Spouse like a living victim, and this offering is her joy and happiness. Each tear that drops at the foot of the cross, and every sigh that comes from her heart are counted. Every victory that we win over our passions and inclinations, all the daily pains that are found in religious life, and which we offer up to Our Lord, are so many new and magnificent pearls that will adorn our crowns in our heavenly abode.”

Such were her sentiments and her acts.

During her last illness, she received various candies and select delicacies from both the royal Hohenzollern family and some of the benefactors of the convent that were intended to fortify her. But she hardly touched them or not at all and preferred the community diet. She sometimes said in jest: “My stomach has become too rustic. I can no longer accept fine food.”

III. The virtues of the cloister. – Death in the cloister.

In consecrating herself entirely to God, Sister Marie-Rosalie intended to imitate Jesus Christ, her divine Redeemer, by the resolute offering of herself and the practice of the religious virtues. She also wished to draw from the Heart of her Saviour the graces necessary for this great enterprise, and she wrote these touching words at the head of her resolutions: “Resolutions taken at the feet of my crucified Saviour, in whose Heart I place them so that it may pour down upon me the grace and the courage necessary to observe them.” We have already quoted some of these resolutions, and now we quote the last one, so worthy of her devotion to the Blessed Virgin: “Mary is, after Jesus, my All and my Hope.”

Unreserved meditation on the truths of the faith was the basis of her interior life, and among these truths, the life of Our Lord was for her the object of a special and constant study. She did not limit herself to meditation, but she also loved to discuss, especially during her recreations, this subject so dear to her heart, and speak to her divine Master. She would say, quite rightly, that she often derived as much fruit from such discussions as from meditation itself. If she was tormented by interior pains, she would go into the chapel to open up her heart before the Blessed Sacrament, or else she would take the crucifix into her cell and speak to Jesus Christ her Saviour as if He was visibly present.

Meditation on the goodness of God towards her was familiar to her. Amongst the other benefits, she regarded her religious vocation as an evident proof of the divine mercy shown to her, and once she had been consecrated to Jesus Christ by the holy vows of religion, she hoped fervently that her divine Spouse would finish the work He had begun in her. A remarkable thing! She never had any temptation against her perseverance. One day (it was during her last illness) someone told her that a Father had remarked in a spiritual conference that in general no one was exempt from temptations against their vocation. “In that case”, she replied, “these temptations should hasten to come to me, otherwise, I shall die without having experienced them.”

She had a special talent for encouraging her Sisters, when she saw one of them sad or despondent. When anyone spoke with her about the account that we must render for God’s gifts and graces, she manifested her unwavering confidence and said, with a profound sentiment of conviction: “I cannot be persuaded that the good God would be so severe.” She spoke endlessly to her divine Spouse with the tone of the greatest familiarity. The beauties of nature revealed Him again to her heart. “O heaven, beautiful heaven!” she would often cry out when contemplating the magnificence of creation.

This marvellous confidence was founded upon a holy hatred of herself and an ardent love for God. She often recited this beautiful prayer:

“Myself, a poor and miserable nothing, I declare in the presence of my God that I wish to submit and sacrifice myself so as to do in everything His holy will, and seek nothing else, in all my actions, than His glory and His love. I vow and devote to Him all my being and all the moments of my life. Forever I shall belong to my beloved Jesus. I am His servant, His slave and His creature. Because He is everything to me, I am His unworthy bride, Sister Marie-Rosalie, dead to the world. Everything in God and nothing in me! Everything for God and nothing for me! A single heart, a single love, a single God!”

Inspired by such sentiments of love towards her Saviour, the pious Sister necessarily made rapid progress in perfection. There were many witnesses to the violence she did to herself to be rid of her imperfections, and to exercise herself continually in the so-called little virtues, which would certainly have cost her much effort.

For a person who had lived in high society, the virtue of poverty must have been more difficult for her to practise than the others. However, Sister Marie-Rosalie had so much love for it that she always sought out in preference what was the most poor. At table (and the Sisters noticed this) she would choose the morsels left over from the preceding meal, and the least appetising. In her last illness, when she was convinced that there was no longer any hope of a cure, she said: “Don’t let the doctor come again. This good man is in a dilemma because of me, because he can no longer cure me, and I too am also in a dilemma because of him.” But this was no more than a pretext not to cause expense to the house. In her last letter to the Princess of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, she said amongst other things that she considered herself happy to be able to sleep and die upon straw. In fact she had been insistently begging the Superior not to oblige her to make use of a mattress.

Her obedience to her Superiors was perfect, and she found this virtue easier to practise in the convent that at Court. She observed the Rules of the Institute with the greatest exactitude, especially in what concerned the common exercises. In her illnesses, she suffered more from not being able to keep up with the community than from her bodily pains.

As for the duty of fraternal charity, the Servant of God fulfilled it with a very special fervour. Her happy character, said Father Van Krugten, lent itself admirably to the common and social life. Considerate, helpful, and full of friendliness, she seemed but to live for others, and considered herself happy when she could do them good. She was one of those souls who knew how to subjugate hearts with an irresistible power and sacrifice herself for others. She loved all her fellow Sisters with the fullness of her heart, and in return she was loved by all. When she had some task to fulfil among the converse Sisters, she experienced a true pleasure in seeing them happy and content and she had for them all the charity of a mother for her children. When she was still in the world, she found herself frequently in contact with Protestants. She even had contacts with personages of so-called reformed religion, but these were relationships of pure civility and which did not cause any peril to her faith. The error and blindness in which these unfortunates found themselves afflicted her profoundly, so she did not cease to offer God her prayers and penance for their conversion.

A heroic patience crowned all these virtues. During the year 1860, following a cold snap, Sister Marie-Rosalie developed a violent cough that did not leave her. She was diagnosed with bronchitis. During the summer of 1862, the cough redoubled in intensity, especially at night. In October she also developed an internal inflammation which became incurable because the invalid’s body was unceasingly agitated by the violence of her cough. This complication caused her great pain, and the Servant of God understood that she did not have long to live. She asked the doctor if she was in danger of death, and when he in his turn, asked her if she desired to go to heaven, she replied: “Oh yes, and also to Purgatory, if this is the will of God.” When the doctor warned her that the end of her life was not far away, she expressed her gratitude for his care and trouble to him in such moving terms that the good doctor was astonished and extremely edified. Then she told her parents and the royal family of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen about her illness.

Her last farewells to her Sisters were imbued with the most lively faith. She told them how happy she was to die in religion, and warmly thanked each one of them for all the good that she had received from them. The thought of death did not terrify her at all. She discussed it with the Sisters in the calmest tone, and spoke of her funeral as if she was talking about someone else. During her long hours of suffering, her soul was lifted up to heaven and drew power and courage from it. One day, an infirmarian wished to close the window so that the invalid would not be inconvenienced by too much rough weather. Sister Marie-Rosalie told her quietly: “Oh, let me go on seeing beautiful heaven!”

On 9th January 1863, Extreme Unction was administered to her. She received it with great fervour. In the midst of her sorrows, she looked at the image of Jesus crucified and the Mother of Sorrows, and drew a sweet consolation from them. She also had a great devotion to Saint Joseph, and wanted to die on 19th March, the day of his feast. The Saviour, however, disposed otherwise. On the third Sunday after Easter, 26th April, the feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph, at the request of the invalid, a little altar was put in her cell in honour of this great Saint. Her pains soon increased in a frightening manner. On Wednesday morning, they asked her if she wished to receive communion, and she made an affirmative sign in reply. After a few minutes of waiting, she then received holy communion and made a sign that she had been able to consume the sacred Host. Her hands crossed over her breast seemed to press her beloved Saviour against her heart one last time. Soon she entered into agony, and while the confessor and the Sisters were reciting the prayers of the agonising, Sister Marie-Rosalie peacefully rendered her soul up to God. This was on Thursday, 30th April 1863, on the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena.

Thus died this faithful servant of God, after having exchanged the splendours of the world for the obscurity of the cloister. Her religious life had been a short one, but marked by heroic virtues. Everyone’s hearts were united in praising her holy works and in proclaiming as blessed she who, in the example of Saint Agnes, had seen, loved and cherished with all her heart Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, the Saviour of mankind..


[1] Rev. Father Van Krugten, Redemptorist.
[2] Following her change of regime, and especially because of the summer heat, Sister Marie-Rosalie was indisposed for some time. Also, her Superiors took it upon themselves to moderate her desires for mortification and her aversion to exceptions. It was for this reason that Princess-mother Josephine urged her by letter to look after her health. Queen Stephanie was informed of it, and from this comes the allusion to her momentary despondency.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sister Marie-Gabrielle of the Incarnation, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Marienthal (1806 - 1868)

Born Claire Verheyen

Sister Marie-Gabrielle was born on 26 May 1806 at Grave, in the Kingdom of Holland, then governed by King Louis Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon 1st. Her parents occupied a very considerable position in the world. Her father was Secretary to the King, and later on, after the accession of the House of Orange, he was a member of the Senate.

Young Claire received a very careful education and was distinguished from her childhood by her goodness towards her inferiors. She had a very strong and educated spirit, and she felt herself soon drawn to the religious life after her years at boarding school. A general confession that she made to the famous Father Bernard, Redemptorist, was her deciding moment. But it was her own brother, Father Francis Verheyen, who caused her choice to fall on the daughters of Saint Alphonsus. He was himself a Redemptorist, and later became the Provincial of Belgium, England and Holland, and then Consulter General in Rome, where he died.

Claire had never heard the name of Saint Alphonsus mentioned! As soon as she heard it, she felt an extraordinary devotion to this great Saint, and the rest proved clearly that the holy Doctor wanted her as his Daughter. Although she was now thirty seven years old, she requested and obtained admission into the Monastery of Vienna, and entered there in 1844, but not without strong opposition on the part of her mother.

* * * * *

At Vienna, they soon saw that the new postulant would one day be one of the pillars of her Order. She was so well able to adapt herself to her new situation, the youth of her companions and the Austrian customs, so different from those of her own country, that they admired in her a brilliant victory of grace over nature, a spirit of childhood in the Gospel sense, a greatness and a strength of soul in every trial.

From that time on until her blessed demise, her favourite maxim was: “Give of yourself;” and also: “Everything for Jesus, nothing for me.” This firm resolution brought her through many things which, for others, would have been great sacrifices. “All of you are a cross,” she would sometimes say to other educandes. “For myself, I have none.”

Admitted to profession on 9th July 1845, she soon had the occasion to give unequivocal proof of her spirit of sacrifice. This happened first of all in the task of infirmarian, in regard to a Sister whose illness filled her with great repugnance. And then even more so, when the Revolution of 1848 forced her to go into hiding in the house of Baron Buhl, whose wife was a relative of one of the Sisters of Vienna. She was then forced to seek shelter at Cologne with the relatives of another Sister, and finally at Aix-la-Chapelle, in the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth, where many Redemptoristines were reunited and where Sister Marie-Gabrielle, to her great stupefaction, was named Superior. Soon she moved on to Holland, where a little community had been established at Galoppe that later became the Monastery of Marienthal.[1]

In these temporary situations, she was distinguished by her love of suffering and regular observance. Although she had always been sickly since her entry into religion, the greatness of her soul gave her superior powers in all the difficulties, and she showed this especially when in 1860 she was elected Superior of the foundation, which had existed for only a few years. She often felt herself so weak that she feared that she would not be able to last until the end of the day. In the space of fourteen years, she suffered from a tumour on her knee without saying anything to anyone. To a wise severity for regular observance, she added so much goodness and kindness, and so much patience and solicitude, that she was dearly loved by all the Sisters both in her capacity as Superior and Mistress of Educandes and Novices, and also as Housekeeper in regard to the converse Sisters. To console tested and tempted souls, she did not hesitate to devote entire hours to them, and her efforts were most often crowned with success. As for the novices, she treated them very differently, according to their character and the degree of their virtue, reproving some of them for the slightest failings, and letting many things go with the others, and in this way she managed to gain all of them for Jesus Christ. Neglecting her own infirmities, she exhausted herself in her concern for the sick Sisters, and she went so far in her love of suffering that she would say: “A soul who loves God sincerely must desire the revolt of all her lower nature, in order to have the occasion to witness her fidelity to Him.”

We can summarize the interior life of this good Mother in just a few words: most of all she valued her quality of Bride of Jesus Christ, and her heart burnt with the most tender love for this divine Saviour. Just the words “Lord Jesus!” or “Everything for Jesus!” when she said them, gave this love an extraordinary efficacy. Her humility was no less. In a mass of things she recognized her own misery, and she took pleasure in accusing herself in the most humiliating manner. But she willingly forgot herself and thought continually of the needs of the Church. Her great soul needed to extend out to the needs of her divine Master and the penances that she imposed on herself in the chapters were most often prayers or mortifications to this end.

When her first triennium had ended, Sister Marie-Gabrielle of the Incarnation was named Admonitrix, and then re-elected unanimously as Superior. However, her infirmities got worse, and in 1868, she was forced to ask the Bishop of Roermond to be relieved of her duties. This she obtained, but instead of being free to take a much needed and well merited rest, she felt herself constrained (and this was the object of general admiration) to assist at Choir, even at the Great Matins, in spite of her extreme exhaustion. “Her great soul,” reads the Monastery Chronicle, “seemed to give her new strength at the thought that a Redemptoristine must be consumed entirely in the service of her heavenly Spouse.” She would very often say: “It would be shameful for us, if our zeal for the glory of God does not shorten our lives by ten years.”

Towards the end of this year of 1868, she started spitting up blood and this told the good Mother of the approach of death. She received the holy Viaticum on 18th October. In the midst of her atrocious sufferings, she was inspired to patience by this verse from the Gospels: “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras.” [2] The blood that she coughed up in abundance she offered up for the holy Church, the conversion of England and other similar intentions. God in His turn loved to console His faithful servant. While during her life she had ordinarily been guided by her simple faith, in her last days she received some ineffable consolations, and the thought that she was dying as a Redemptoristine made her weep with happiness. Finally, on 12th November, she rendered her beautiful soul up to God.


[1] This Monastery was inaugurated on 26th June 1851, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
[2] “In your patience you shall possess your souls.”

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sister Maria-Seraphica of the Five Wounds, O.SS.R. Of the Monastery of Marienthal (1810 – 1865)

Born Catherine Merckelbach

Sister Maria-Seraphica, [1] in the world Catherine Merckelbach, was born on 7th April 1810 at Wittem, in Dutch Limburg. She was the youngest of the twelve children of Simon Merckelbach, Mayor of the village and the local judge, and Elisabeth Schervier. She lost her father at the age of two; but the intense and pious education that she received from her mother compensated her for this dreadful loss. Moreover, this truly Christian mother exercised the most happy influence over all her children: they were all good Christians; two of them became excellent secular priests, one the Dean of Galoppe, near Wittem, and the other the parish priest of Montzen, in the Diocese of Liege.

Young Catherine, though endowed with precious qualities, was not however without her faults. Her stubbornness went so far one day that she threw the food she had received from her mother onto the ground. An unexpected reprimand punished this misdemeanour. “It would be better,” a solemn voice suddenly said, “it would be better for this child to die rather than remain so capricious.” It was the voice of Catherine’s brother, who had succeeded his father in the position of judge. This severe utterance, pronounced in the presence of the young girl and her mother, made the deepest impression on Catherine. Quite resolved not to die, she became distinguished from then onwards for the politeness of her manners.

And then precious virtues germinated in her heart and promised a wonderful future. A tender piety, a filial fear of God that led her to carefully avoiding the least faults, a sincere and true modesty, joined to her other qualities, soon attracted the eyes of the world to her, but she remained deaf to the advances that were made to her. In 1834, a mission preached by the Redemptorist Fathers at Montzen determined her to give herself totally to God. Finally in 1837, after the death of her mother, she left her own country in spite of the resistance of her family, and entered the Convent of the Redemptoristines in Vienna. This was on 19th October. The 7th January 1839 was the day of her vesting. On 9th January following, she made her profession together with her niece Marie-Xaveria.

* * * * *

Sister Maria-Seraphica began her religious career under the direction of the Venerable Father Joseph Passerat, who was then residing in Vienna. This is to say that she gave herself very particularly to living a life of prayer. Her tender love for the divine Redeemer and His most holy Mother maintained this sweet spirit in her, a true prerogative of the Daughters of Saint Alphonsus, and thence led her efficaciously to the exercise of the virtues. Prayer, the common life, fraternal charity, these three foundations of the religious life, were especially dear to her heart, but to believe her contemporaries (and their witness is impartial), she truly excelled in all the virtues. Only an excessive over-sensitivity of conscience which degenerated into scruples and prevented her from ever becoming Superior threw a light shadow over this scene. But on the other hand, her extraordinary purity of heart profoundly amazed all those who knew her, and one day it even evoked this exclamation from a holy priest: “I have never met so pure a soul!”

Upon this admirable foundation, the fruit of the predilections of the Lord, Sister Maria-Seraphica quietly, but without ever relaxing, elevated her spiritual edifice. Humble and loving humiliation, obliging and sweet towards all her Sisters, always ready for anything and also to take on the tasks that were asked of her, loving to suffer and often without seeking to understand why, she was able to practise the most difficult virtues in an extremely simple and, might one say, monotonous life. She attracted everyone’s regards, while fleeing in horror from any human praise, and was able to deflect the most severe criticism. Was it not true that her fervour, or rather we may say, that her holiness was indeed so extraordinary that it merited from the Sisters eulogies such as the following? – Sister Maria-Seraphica was a mirror of all the virtues.” – “If she was not a saint, I do not know how the saints could have been,” and this other one, more decisive still: “Sister Maria-Seraphica was the living Rule. If you want to know what she did, how she did it, and what she did not do, just read our holy Rules.”

We can add some other features to this scene. Suffering, both interior and exterior, was the assiduous companion of Sister Maria-Seraphica; and she found in the cross one kind of food for her love. She searched for another in the pious dialogues that Saint Alphonsus recommends so vividly to religious souls. Ordinarily little given to talking, she became eloquent whenever anyone broached the subject of the divine love; her looks then betrayed an indefinable happiness, and the picturesque expression of one of the Sisters sums it all up for us: “all the registers of her interior organ seemed drawn in an instant.”

* * * * *

The task of Superior excepted, our good Sister several times fulfilled the most important and difficult tasks in the monastery. She did them to the satisfaction of all the Sisters, as her charity was immense. And so she spent the years of her religious life, first at Vienna, and then after the revolution of 1848, in the new Monastery of Marienthal, near to her birthplace. It was there that the last fifteen years of her life were spent. From 1857, a cancerous tumour in her breast made her suffer some cruel agonies. The illness did nothing but get worse, and death was soon approaching rapidly. On 29th June 1865, they had to give the invalid the last sacraments. Before doing so, the famous Father Bernard Hafkenscheid, Redemptorist, gave the Sisters a sermon in which he was not afraid to propose Sister Maria-Seraphica as a model of religious perfection, and notably, of a marvellous charity. Then he brought the Holy Viaticum to the invalid and fortified her with Extreme Unction. She received these two sacraments with the most fervent piety. She went on living until the 23rd August, giving all her Sisters the most touching examples of resignation. On that day, the Lord conveyed her to the eternal wedding.

After her death, from the hearts of her fellow Sisters and all those who had known her, a chorus of praises was raised. They can be summarized in the words of a former Sister of Ried: “This humble Sister, under the appearance of the most pleasing simplicity, constantly practised all the virtues so well that we may say of her: She has done all things well.” From then on they began to invoke her confidently. One converse novice had become almost entirely deaf following a very severe fever. Praying before the body of the deceased, she asked for her help, and was not afraid to put Sister Maria-Seraphica’s finger into her deaf ear. A noticeable improvement was produced immediately, and the following morning, after experiencing severe pains in her head after communion, she was completely cured.

A Franciscan Sister from Aix-la-Chapelle suffered for six months from a feebleness of nerves and stomach that resisted all the efforts of medicine. Following a novena that she made to Sister Maria-Seraphica, and swallowing a little piece of her vestment every day, she found herself not just cured of her illness, but suddenly as robust as if she had never suffered. The doctor himself recognized this fact as humanly inexplicable.

Many similar facts, both spiritual and temporal, were recollected by the companions of the pious deceased, and they continue always, in the Monastery of Marienthal, to confidently invoke the humble Sister whom the Lord glorified in so touching a manner.


[1] See “The Life and Virtues of Sister Maria Seraphica of the holy Five Wounds written by one of her fellow Sisters” [Leben und Tugenden der Schwester Maria Seraphika von den hl. Fünf Wunden beschrieben von einer ihrer Mitschwestern], Marienthal 1884.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sister Marie-Raphael of the Five Wounds, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Marienthal (1791 – 1861)

Born Julienne Wold

Sister Marie-Raphael was born at Stein, in Upper Austria, on 6th January 1791. Her family were pious Christians, favoured by the gifts of fortune. One of her sisters entered the Carmelite Order. At first, Julienne, the youngest, did not feel the least inclined towards religious life, and her rare beauty inspired in her a vanity no less rare. But God, who wanted her for Himself alone, sent her various trials when she was quite young – first of all dropsy, then smallpox, which left her with numerous marks afterwards. And finally, she remained undersized and even a little deformed.

All this provided her with material for great sacrifices; but, although she was pious and good, she was still not yet convinced of the vanity of the world. The example of her sister brought her to confess herself to a Redemptorist Father, and this was the means which God used to attract her closer to Himself. Not that she greatly esteemed the sons of Saint Alphonsus. On the contrary, she had a sort of aversion for them, caused by the calumny that the hatred of the wicked had poured out against Saint Clement Marie Hofbauer and his disciples. So she never wished to be confessed by this great Servant of God, but after his death, she repented and set herself to following the direction given to her by the Redemptorists very faithfully. And when they told her about the Institute of the Redemptoristines, she felt herself drawn to ask for admission.

* * * * *

Different circumstances prevented her, however, including the question of knowing if this Order would ever obtain the Imperial authorisation, for which influential persons had made approaches for a long time, but with no success. The young lady was bold enough to ask for an audience with the Emperor Francis. Admitted into his presence, she asked him for the authorisation she desired so much, explaining to him point by point the reasons that Father Petrack, her confessor, and the Venerable Father Passerat had suggested to her. The Emperor replied to her with great goodness and assured her that he would take the matter in hand. She curtseyed, and she had hardly left the apartment when she remembered with alarm that she had forgotten a point. Without hesitating, she returned to the audience chamber and explained to the Emperor, who was still there, the point she had forgotten. The point was that her parents would not give her permission to enter the Order unless the Imperial authorisation was obtained. We can say immediately, that when the Emperor had signed the Decree authorising the Redemptoristine Institute in Austria at Pressburg on 11th November 1830, he had it sent, not to the Community of the Sisters, but to young Julienne who was still in the world, and it was she who gave it to the Sisters.

While waiting for the Emperor to keep his promise, Julienne learnt everything she thought would be useful in her future state of life. She even learnt the Latin language so that she would be able to understand the Divine Office. Finally, after an interruption of eighteen months, during which she had to care for her father in his last illness, she entered the Convent and received the habit and the name of Marie-Joseph-Raphael of the Five Wounds. The name of Joseph was given to her in addition because of her great devotion to this good Saint. In the month of January 1835, she made her profession and applied herself with redoubled fervour to all the exercises of religious life.

What distinguished her especially, with her love of regular observance, was her profound and sincere humility. She always considered herself the least worthy of God’s graces and judged herself useless at everything, so consequently she always chose the most humble tasks for herself. Inspired by a great spirit of penance, she practised severe mortifications, in spite of her delicate health, and her frequent migraines did not prevent her from always refusing any exception. Hard on herself, she was sweet and charitable towards her Sisters. Her concern for them was so great that she would even lose sleep over them, especially in her position as Mistress of Educandes, which she held for a long time. Always very conscientious in the use of her time, she never forgot, in spite of her great activity, to be closely united to God by continual prayer.

* * * * *

She was in the position of Mother Vicar when the Revolution of 1848 broke out. Forced to take refuge with her brother, she would soon have succumbed to privations and especially to the grief of being separated from her Sisters, if God had not opened the way to asylum for her at Marienthal in Holland. Back in her own element, she re-established herself and was once again, for the space of twelve years, the model of the Community, especially for her charity full of condescension, her humility and her love of her own abjectness. In spite of her indispositions, she continued to take part in community acts, even recreation, which she held quite correctly as a very important act of religious life. In her last years she suffered greatly in her legs. For three years, because of them she lost sleep almost completely.

So drained of her strength little by little, Sister Marie-Raphael ardently desired to be united forever with her heavenly Spouse. Whenever she learnt of the deaths of priests or Sisters younger than herself, she would envy their fate and wonder why God still left her in this world, she who was useless at everything. But God does not always judge like men. The hour of her deliverance finally arrived. On 25th January 1861, Sister Marie-Raphael received the holy Viaticum. “Come, O my Jesus, delay no longer!” she cried aloud. She often repeated this prayer until her death. On 27th, at about 9 pm in the evening, she rendered up her beautiful soul, while pronouncing the name of Jesus.

She was in her seventieth year.

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Mother Marie-Celestine of the Five Wounds, O.SS.R. Foundress of the Monastery of Marienthal at Wittem (1808 - 1878)

Born Cecile Stenitzer

Cecile Stenitzer was the youngest of fourteen children that God granted her good parents. She was born in Upper Styria, in Austria, on 30th September 1808, at Gös, a short distance away from Leoben, where her parents retired to later. One of her brothers died at the age of twelve. While the pious child was in his agony, his mother sat beside his bed and wept. Suddenly the child told her, “Don’t weep, mother, but get up quickly. Can’t you see the beautiful Lady entering here?” As soon as he spoke these words he died, leaving behind the sweet hope that he had seen the Queen of the Angels appearing to him.

Cecile herself owed a great deal to Mary’s protection. One day she swallowed a piece of lead and found herself in the most perilous state. Her mother immediately promised to make a pilgrimage in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and she was fortunate enough to be able to take the piece of metal out of her daughter’s throat that was choking her. Another time Cecile was out on the street and was knocked down by a horse, but she did not receive the least injury.

She made her first communion at the age of nine, but without the necessary preparation. In fact, we can only say that Christian life was languishing in Leoben at this time. Those who should have been instructing the faithful and leading them to good were of a distressing tepidness, and although Cecile’s parents were not lacking in piety, they were too immersed in the affairs of the world to be able to supervise the education of their children very actively. Then the worries of the household, the crowd of visitors and the great number of domestic servants were for Cecile the cause of a great number of distractions and impressions harmful to her soul. She said later on, “I did not see too much good, but rather too much evil, and the worst was that I was led into not seeing it as such.” Add to this her outgoing and jovial nature, and her pleasant manners, and it can be seen how great the peril was to which she was exposed.

However, God had chosen her for Himself. She often experienced a strong attraction for solitude, and the desire to pray and weep over the frivolities of her youth. Even then she was filled with a tender devotion for the Five Wounds of Our Lord, and every evening, before taking her repose, she was in the habit of kissing a crucifix suspended above her bed. One evening, weariness made her forget about it, but she suddenly remembered it, and generously breaking with the sleep that was weighing upon her, she got up and devoutly venerated the Saviour’s wounds. This little sacrifice was the first moment when the divine love triumphed in her soul. God in His turn, covered her with His buckler against every seduction and kept her entirely for Himself.

* * * * *

At this time, religious life was very little known in Leoben and even less valued. So it is not astonishing that Cecile thought more about marriage than any other state of life. Moreover, her fortune, her beauty and her lovable character brought her many admirers. Amongst them, two managed to capture the attention of the young girl for quite a time. One day, however, when one of them, having invited her to walk unaccompanied with him, made her a dishonest proposition, she suddenly saw a very fine young man appear, whose presence confounded the tempter. Cecile believed with good reason that it was an apparition of her guardian angel. Another day, a young officer who had been courting her was permitted some liberty, and she cried out and showed him an image of the Blessed Virgin. “No, no! What would the Mother of God and the Child Jesus say?” And she ran away. The officer was sent elsewhere and Cecile was left alone. Later on she said: “I was like a fly hovering above the boiling water without falling in.” Praise be to the mercy of God, we can state here that Cecile kept the lily of her virginity and her baptismal innocence intact until the hour of her death. This is what resulted from her own confession.

However, she was not yet entirely God’s. But then the moment arrived. One evening when she could not get off to sleep, it came to her in spirit that, on the same bed where she was lying, her young niece, aged eight, had died a short time before. Then the thought of death, judgement and hell profoundly pierced her soul. It was as if someone had told her: “If you continue living like this, you will be damned.” The flames and pains of hell, she admitted later, were so vividly represented to me that I was quite overcome and filled with a dreadful fear. I found myself suddenly changed and I resolved to convert myself. In the light of the eternal flames, the truths of the faith appeared to me on that very extraordinary day, and as they had never been shown to me before.

From that moment her resolutions corresponded to the greatness of the grace received. Here are some of them: “Struggle courageously against the inclinations of your nature. – Fast every Friday on bread and water, and take nothing then before evening. – Sleep on a plank on Friday nights. – Every day, for the space of half an hour, deplore the sins you have committed. – Do not eat fruit, except on Sundays. – Pray every evening until midnight. – Never go to the theatre or the ball. – Get rid of all vain objects. – Take the discipline every day, if it is possible. – Attend Mass every day and receive the sacraments often.”

Whatever opinion one may have on these different resolutions, it was the last point that was the most difficult for Cecile, because of the lack of religious spirit that reigned in Leoben, where piety had turned into derision. She was often very distressed to find herself deprived of this support and lack any good spiritual direction. However God was to provide. From Mautern, a locality not far from Leoben, the Redemptorist Fathers would come from time to time into her town, and beginning in 1829, they would descend to the hotel belonging to Cecile’s parents. But she had been warned against them by the public opinion of the people of Leoben, who depicted the “Liguorians” as “fanatics” and would mock anyone who went to be confessed by them, and so at first she hesitated in making use of their ministry.”

Finally she overcame her fear, and although she was exposed to the laughter of the world, she presented herself in the missionaries’ confessional. The first ones she met were the disciples of the blessed Father Clement-Marie Hofbauer. Soon afterwards, it was the venerable Father Joseph Passerat, the Vicar General of the Redemptorists who heard her. She placed herself entirely under his direction and made a general confession to him, and from then on her ideas of religious life became a firm resolution to leave the world and consecrate herself irrevocably to God. It was then that she learned one day from one of her friends that there was a Redemptoristine convent in the capital of Austria. She conceived a vivid desire to enter it, but as soon as she spoke of it, opposition to it burst out from every side. Parents, friends and even the pious people in Leoben rose up against her; the whole town, we might say, conspired against her design. And several times she was forced to absent herself by fleeing from the temptations of seduction. Her mother, who was sixty-six years old, claimed she could not manage without her daughter, who alone was capable of managing the house. Her father refused to give her any part of her inheritance. But Cecile placed her trust in God and was fortified by the decision of Father Passerat who managed to obtain her admission. She separated herself from her weeping family without herself shedding a single tear. This was on 1st June 1829. She was then only 20 years old.

* * * * *

Scarcely had she entered the convent when God, to purify her, made her severely expiate the pleasures and faults of her past life. The Monastery of Vienna was only a temporary house, and the situation there was precarious, as the Emperor had not yet legally authorised the Institute. The Sisters called themselves Penitent Sisters. But there were many other painful subjects capable of discouraging a less courageous postulant. The Superior, Mother Marie-Alphonse, was French and knew the German language only very imperfectly, and consequently she could converse only slightly with the young postulant placed under her direction. Also, she found herself confined to a very small cell, and she was given the task of patching the vestments. After having been up till then, we might say, the principal object of the attention and esteem of her parents, she who had directed the affairs of her house, now saw herself as if neglected or given tasks which did not in the least seem suitable for her. But the courageous young lady realised that she had not entered the convent with any other aim than triumphing over herself, and she had an unequalled occasion there to carry out her first resolution, that of overcoming all her repugnances. An interior dryness, a terrible disgust, temptations against the faith, all worked to deliver the most horrible assaults upon her, but she held firm in spite of everything, supported by her obedience to her venerable director, who was also prey at this time to the most severe tribulations. Finally the Emperor authorised the Institute (November 1830), and on the following 8th February she received the red habit with ten other novices. And then Father Passerat gave her the significant name of Sister Marie-Celestine of the Five Wounds. Finally, on 2nd October 1832, after a novitiate that the laws of the Empire had prolonged by eight months, she made the entire sacrifice of herself by her religious profession.

It was soon evident how serious her oblation had been after such a long and severe preparation. Named Assistant to the Mistress of Educandes, she was distinguished by her fervour, and her profound and continual recollection, but also by a great goodness and a rare affability. Knowing the human heart very well, she was able to guess the interior struggles that the Sisters had to endure, and address them by means of words of encouragement and consolation. After having fulfilled various tasks, in 1839 she was elected Vicar, and at the canonical election of 1841, the choice of the Sisters made her the Superior. She was only thirty three years old.

Shaken by this unexpected choice, Mother Marie-Celestine was as if choked by her tears, and according to the expression of one of the Sisters present (later Mother Marie-Gabrielle of the Incarnation), she was like a lamb that was led to the slaughter. – Her government was stamped even more with the Spirit of God. The Venerable Father Passerat, who knew her so well and was so good a judge in matters of spirituality, gave this precious testimony of her: “Mother Marie-Celestine has acquitted herself in a perfect manner of all the tasks that have been confided to her.” Returning after her triennium to the exercise of obedience and recollection, she tried to obscure herself entirely and we may say that she was no longer found except in choir or in her cell. It was about this time that with Father Passerat’s consent, she made the vow of always doing what she recognized as being the most perfect.

In 1847, the confidence of the Sisters called her once more to the task of Superior. This time, the tribulations came from the outside. The Revolution of 1848 had broken out. When they saw the signs of it, the Redemptoristines of Vienna omitted nothing to divert the anger of God. Continual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, penances – nothing was left undone, but the chalice of tribulation had been prepared and it had to be drunk.

Mother Marie-Celestine did it with an intrepid heart. On 6th April 1848, the insurgents assailed the Redemptorist convent in the morning. In the evening, at five o’clock, they attacked that of the Sisters, who scarcely had the time to flee through a breach in the garden wall. More than the others, the Superior was the object of pursuit by the rebels. She had to separate herself from her daughters and, with a broken heart, wander from one house to another belonging to the relatives and friends of the Sisters. And what did she not suffer then, seeing her daughters dispersed, denuded of everything, with no hope of being reunited again! Finally she found refuge with Baron Lago, the relative of one of her Sisters, and she remained in hiding in their house for the space of six weeks. She did everything she could to at least keep the property of the convent and the church, but it was all in vain. She even had to leave Vienna again in all haste with the family that had sheltered her. Soon afterwards, the suppression of the Order was decreed, and there was nothing else the poor Mother could do than rejoin some of her daughters who had found refuge with the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth at Aix-la-Chapelle, and who ardently desired her to come to them.

However, our divine Redeemer wished to draw good out of evil. The tempest which seemed to have destroyed everything determined the foundation of a new monastery in a country which had not possessed one before, and the convent of Vienna was soon able to be re-established. From Aix-la-Chapelle, the Sisters directed their steps to Holland, the hospitable land where since 1835 the Redemptorist Fathers had possessed at Wittem a former Capuchin convent founded in 1732, the same year that Saint Alphonsus had instituted the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. In the village of Galoppe, not far from Wittem, a provisional monastery was being prepared for the Sisters, and Mother Marie-Celestine and her daughters made their entry there on 14th October of this same year of 1848. The enclosure was established. The next day, on the feast of Saint Teresa, the Sisters once more put on the habit of the Order, and everyone, after the first Mass celebrated in this sacred asylum, renewed their religious vows. The joy and gratitude of the Mother and her daughters was great and reached its peak when, after three years of waiting, the community was able to make its entry into the new Monastery of Marienthal, built in the village of Wittem, not far from the convent of the Redemptorist Fathers.

* * * * *

And now Mother Marie-Celestine had been chosen by God as the foundress of this new Monastery which was to give birth to many others, in particular the first Redemptoristine foundation across the Ocean. And she was to govern this house which until our own days has remained a model of regular observance, sanctity and apostolic spirit.

She fulfilled her mission with a zeal worthy of a true spouse of Jesus Christ, worthy of a privileged soul and endowed from her earliest years with very special graces. The Ven. Father Passerat, who visited her sometimes in her new abode, and the Superiors of the Convent of Wittem judged it necessary for her to continue exercising the functions of Superior, although her triennium had expired. The necessary dispensations were easily obtained. Under her government, the Monastery soon began to prosper. Her activity successfully faced all the difficulties in the beginning and soon the vocations came forward. The Order of the Redemptoristines having been re-established in Austria (1853), Mother Marie-Celestine generously made the sacrifice of two of her daughters, Mothers Marie-Victoria and Marie-Aloysia, the one being elected as the Superior of Ried and the other of Vienna. But God compensated her amply, so much so that, six years after her entry into Marienthal, the buildings were found to be insufficient to cope with the number of vocations, and they had to be extended.

Re-elected Superior in 1857, the good Mother then had a thought most worthy of her great heart. As a true daughter of the Church, she wished to console the heart of Pius IX by giving him news of the Monastery and asking for his holy blessing. Her letter was accompanied by several pictures painted by the nuns. Here is the text:

Most Holy Father,
“Sister Marie-Celestine of the Five Wounds of Jesus Christ, Superior of the Religious of the Most Holy Redeemer in the Convent of Marienthal, Diocese of Roermond, in Holland, - most humbly prostrated at the feet of Your Holiness, takes, in the name of her community, the respectful liberty of expressing to the Holy See and to the most worthy successor of Saint Peter the sentiments of profound veneration and entire devotion by which the spiritual daughters of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori are animated in regard to the common Father of the faithful.

“We always remember with a sweet consolation, Most Holy Father, the great part that Your Holiness played in the destiny of the Daughters of Saint Alphonsus at the time of trials in 1848, when they were victims of the revolution in the capital of Austria. Chased from Vienna, they took refuge in a solitary place in the Dutch province of Limburg, where, first of all renting a little house, they lived together in community, observing as far as was possible the Rules of their holy Institute. After surmounting many obstacles, we had the happiness of constructing a regular monastery with a little chapel. But what gave us the greatest happiness was that Your Holiness deigned, by a quite extraordinary favour, to bless our enterprise and grant our new foundation canonical approval, dated from 30th January 1852.”

Since this time, the Lord has filled us with graces, as although we are living in a Protestant kingdom, we nonetheless enjoy a happy liberty which has given us every facility for observing our holy Rules to the letter. Moreover, the Lord has favoured us with numerous and good vocations. Many persons from the best families in society have asked for and obtained their admission into our new monastery, delivering themselves now heart and soul to the contemplative life, the principal aim of our Order. We are already twenty five religious, and our monastery is no longer sufficient for so many requests for admission, and we see ourselves obliged to think of increasing the present buildings of our convent considerably, with the consent of our Most Reverend Bishop.

“So now we come before you very humbly to ask for Your Holiness’ blessing upon our new enterprise and especially upon the community of Religious Redemptoristines of Marienthal. So give us a place in Your paternal heart, Most Holy Father, and keep us always under Your beneficent protection. Thus united in heart and spirit to the visible Head of our Mother the Holy Church, we shall be able entreat the Father of mercies with greater confidence to fill Your Holiness with the consolations and graces necessary for the government of the Church. And in truth, we are already obliged by our holy Rules to offer up our prayers daily for the needs of the Church; but the numerous proofs of paternal charity that Your Holiness has given us up till this moment, leads us and obliges us in a particular manner to say special prayers for the happiness and preservation of Your sacred person.

“And so, Most Holy Father, please accept the sentiments of gratitude, respect and devotion that Your spiritual daughters of Marienthal offer You. Humbly prostrated at the feet of Your Holiness, I dare once again to reiterate my respectful request for You to give me Your holy blessing, and to also especially bless each one of my spiritual daughters.
“With the most profound respect,
“Your Holiness’ most humble and obedient servant.
“Sister MARIE-CELESTINE of the five sacred wounds of Jesus Christ.”
Marienthal, 21st March 1858.

This letter was to go straight to the paternal heart of Pius IX. The holy Pontiff deigned to send the following reply on 14th July of the same year. We translate it from the Latin.

PIUS IX, Pope.
To our dear Daughter Marie-Celestine of the five sacred Wounds of Jesus Christ.
“Dear Daughter in Jesus Christ, greetings and apostolic blessing.
Your letter of 21st March last has reached us. It is a new and dazzling witness of your filial devotion towards us, your faith, your piety and your obedience. It has mitigated the sorrow that we experienced long ago when we learnt that in the very grave political troubles, turbulent and seditious men chased you away from your house in Vienna and sent you into exile. It has been a great consolation for us to learn from your letter that in the midst of these troubles and tempests you have been able to find a safe and tranquil asylum in Holland where you can attend in peace to the duties of your holy state, and where your religious Institute has recruited numerous vocations. Blessed be God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Providence has thus determined many people to let themselves be guided by the example of your virtues and embrace religious life!

“You must thus recognize all the blessings of the divine clemency with the greatest zeal and walk with the greatest eagerness in the way of perfection. Apply yourselves with all your powers, my dear daughters in Jesus Christ, to practise these virtues which have cast the greatest lustre on this brilliant model of sanctity, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, your Father. Never once cease to honour and serve, with an entirely filial zeal and piety, the most holy Mother of God conceived without original stain, through whom God willed all graces should come to us continually. Remember also every day in your prayers our own feebleness, so that our actions and efforts may contribute to the greatest glory of the name of God and the good of all the faithful.

“As a measure of Our paternal charity, for you and your companions, and as a harbinger of heavenly grace, We give you with Our love, to both you, dear Daughter in Jesus Christ and to all your Sisters, Our apostolic blessing.

“Given at Rome, the seat of Saint Peter, on 14th July 1858 in the thirteenth year of our Pontificate.
“PIUS IX, Pope.”

This letter from the Vicar of Jesus Christ was a great consolation for the faith and apostolic zeal of Mother Marie-Celestine and encouraged her singularly in the exercise of her charge. And indeed she was re-elected Superior in 1863 and 1871, in spite of her sickly state. This languor began in 1859, at the time of the first death that took place in the new monastery. A remarkable circumstance marked this first departure for heaven. In 1849, and at the beginning of the foundation, Mother Marie-Celestine had instantly asked the Lord not to let any Sister die before ten years had elapsed, and this was to let the community be established solidly. She was heard to the letter, but at the same time she received, until her death, the prerogative of bodily sufferings which often confined her to a bed of sorrows. The death of her long-time companions and the departure of two other Sisters for the Convent of Vienna which was then suffering, were all new crosses for her heart. These crosses, it is true, found some compensation in the joy of a new foundation established at Sambeek in Dutch Brabant in 1874. Thirteen Sisters were sent there. Mother Marie-Celestine succeeded in the same year in dissuading her daughters from their plan to re-elect her, and she even begged the Bishop of Roermond not to grant the dispensation required. She was named Mother Vicar, and while she was exercising this charge, she suffered the terrible trial of the year 1877, when the Convent of Marienthal became the prey of flames. The poor Mother, suffering and confined to bed, was brought by the Countess of Ansembourg to her mansion at Galoppe. When she felt a bit better, she joined her Sisters who had found refuge near Maastricht, and re-entered Marienthal with them in the month of October 1877.

From this time on her life was simply a long succession of sufferings. According to the doctor, her last long illness was accompanied by sorrows such that the doctor had never seen greater. To these exterior pains was added an interior abandonment which afflicted her to a supreme degree. Since she was thirty she had never tasted consolations, but this time, it was rather a moral agony to which no one could supply a remedy. And yet, in the depths of this resolute soul, the Lord imbued a powerful grace that sustained her without her realising it and helped her prepare herself for her eternal wedding. This sorrowful preparation, according to God’s plan, was to replace the religious help which ordinarily was not lacking in the monasteries. The death of Mother Marie-Celestine was most unusual. On 12th December 1878, the community was reciting the Office of the Dead for a Sister who had died at Sambeek. Suddenly some noises could be heard coming from the Infirmary. They ran there in all haste and found the dead body of Mother Marie-Celestine sitting in her chair, dressed in the habit of the Redemptoristines. She had reached the age of seventy, and she had spent nearly fifty of them in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer.

A wise and strong woman, a great and generous soul, with a tender and solid devotion, endowed with a sure and practical common sense, full of faith and a very active love, she was, for nearly half a century, the pillar and strength of the Order of the Redemptoristines beyond the Alps. As a Superior, she united a very maternal goodness and tenderness with a wise rigour for the observance of the Rules, always avoiding the extremes. She had a special talent for consoling the afflicted and souls who were tempted. In her general conduct there was nothing arrogant, nothing hard or harsh. Cheerful and gentle in conversation, she made the best impression on strangers.”

The source of her great strength of soul and the immense services she rendered the Order was her profound humility, her love of obedience and the hidden life, and especially her love of prayer. The Venerable Father Passerat once called her a soul of prayer. And it was especially before the Blessed Sacrament that she opened up her soul, and found strength and light for herself and for the matters that she was responsible for. She truly merited the title of Bride of the Blessed Sacrament. Her soul is depicted marvellously in Farewell to the Blessed Sacrament that she loved to recite: “Farewell, my Jesus, farewell, my Spouse, remember Your bride in Your mercy. I recommend to the holy Wound in Your side, all my interests, those that are mine and those of this community and the entire Order. Through Your holy wounds and Your blood, be propitious and merciful to us, O my Jesus. Through Your blessing that I ask of You and without which I shall not leave You, ensure that I live uniquely for You in love and reverence. While I am waiting, I leave my heart before Your tabernacle like a burning lamp, with the most lively desire that every time it beats it will praise and glorify You in my place during my absence, in the sentiments that inspire Your adorable Heart in this sacrament of love.” Mother Marie-Celestine also had a very special devotion for the Mother of Sorrows, and she took her as Patron for the chapel in Marienthal. She propagated her cult in the new Monastery. She counselled her Sisters to have recourse continually to this tender Mother in all their needs and in all the difficulties and contradictions that they would have to suffer. “One Ave Maria on these occasions,” she would say, “is worth more that all your words and all your complaints. I have often had this experience.”

One day, a novice who was strongly tempted to abandon her vocation went to tell her of all her pain and ask her for permission to leave. The good Mother replied to her that it was the will of God for her to remain in the monastery. She encouraged her and made the sign of the cross on her forehead, saying: “Jesus crucified be in all my thoughts! Jesus crucified be in all my words! Jesus crucified be in my heart!” The temptation disappeared immediately and the novice persevered.

May these words, which are like the motto of a Redemptoristine, be confirmed in all the daughters of St. Alphonse who recognize a model and mediatrix in Mother Marie-Celestine. May this worthy Bride of Jesus Christ, through the effect of her words, live especially in the hearts of all the Redemptoristines of Marienthal, for was she not their Foundress, was she not their Mother, through her love, her actions and especially through her sufferings?

This necrology is translated from Fleurs de l'Institut des Rédemptoristines by Mr John R. Bradbury. The copyright of this translation is the property of the Redemptoristine Nuns of Maitland, Australia. The integral version of the translated book will be posted here as the necrologies appear.

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