Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sister Marie-Cecile of the Precious Blood, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Vienna (1821 – 1849)

Born Jeanne Koch

Sister Marie-Cecile of the Precious Blood was born at Innsbruck (Tyrol) on 24th June 1821, of parents of an ordinary station in life. Brought up piously by her mother, little Jeanne, from the moment of her first communion, felt herself so strongly attracted to the religious life that even then she made a vow of perpetual chastity. Her love of prayer was already extraordinary. At the age of twelve, she entered the Third Order of Saint Francis, and as her confessor recognized the signs of a vocation to the contemplative life in her, she learned to play the organ, so that she might be admitted one day into a monastery, in spite of lacking a sufficient dowry. But at just that very time, the Convent of the Redemptoristines in Vienna was looking for an educande who understood music. So Jeanne succeeded, with the help of her other qualities, in being admitted. She was then seventeen years of age.

Pious indeed though she may have been, she did not cease to severely test the patience of the Mother Mistress through the impetuosity and noisy vivacity of her character. But her good will, aided by the grace of God, triumphed over this defect, and ten months after her entry into the monastery, Jeanne was as though transformed! During her novitiate she was seen to make astonishing progress in virtue. Her love of prayer became a grace of high contemplation, and she received extraordinary favours from heaven. Her devotion to the Holy Child Jesus made her in her turn resemble an innocent child. Her candour and the purity of her soul were reflected in her features and in her eyes. Almost every year, the approach of Christmas saw her become completely ill, so much did she long for this touching feast! Her heart would beat violently, thinking of the coming of the Saviour of mankind, and she even went so far as to start spitting blood, so great was her emotion. But once the feast actually arrived she recovered her former health. She displayed the same ardour for the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. She was often seen remaining motionless for hours on end before the holy Tabernacle, and whenever she took Communion, she was transported so far out of herself that for several hours she was quite unable to take any food.

Sister Marie-Celeste’s virtues were the best guarantee of the heavenly origin of these favours. Her love of regular observance was admirable. Her humility made her give preference to performing the most distasteful tasks, in spite of the opposition of her character, which was by nature somewhat proud. Insatiable for mortification, she persuaded her confessor to intercede with her Superior to give her a little more liberty to appease her thirst for penance. She had been encouraged in it, she said, by Jesus Christ Himself. And yet her obedience was the greatest of her other virtues.

The novices had the custom, on 25th of the month, to write a letter to the Holy Child Jesus in which they expressed their desires. Sister Marie-Cecile continued this custom after her profession, but she would always give her letter to her Superior to read and approve. One day when she had just accomplished this act, she met a Sister who asked her why she had so joyful an air. She replied: “It is because I have just read out to my Superior my letter to the Holy Child Jesus, but next month, I will bring it to you.” And in fact, the following month, this Sister had become the Superior. In addition to this it was noted that Sister Marie-Cecile knew many things that she could not have known naturally, and she often even knew of the thoughts and dispositions of others.

* * * * *

Sister Marie-Cecile had received the holy habit on 20th August 1839. She had to wait until 20th August 1842 to make her profession, since the laws of Austria required this delay. And so the close union that she contracted with the divine Redeemer caused her to make new progress in perfection. For their part, her Superiors thought of making a more direct use of her talents. The Mistress of Novices asked her for spiritual exercises for the times of Advent and Lent. The young professed acquitted herself of this task with success. Charged with care of the educandes, she succeeded marvellously in forming them well. A Sister, greatly troubled in both her body and soul, was confided to her care, and she healed her in both respects. However, these different tasks and the macerations she inflicted on herself, adversely altered her health. She became so feeble that, to play the organ, she had need of a support to sustain her. She often lost sleep, but her infirmities in no way altered the vivacity of her spirit and the joy of her heart. If they pitied her over her insomnia, she would reply: “I was not alone.”

The Revolution of 1848 was the last and supreme trial for the poor Sister. Driven from her convent, she had to take refuge in a private house, and then painfully find her way to Innsbruck, her native town, and ask for shelter from her married sister who, poor herself, could not, in spite of her excellent heart, give her all the help necessary. Sister Marie-Cecile, ill, bed-ridden, consumptive, often subject to spitting up blood, also saw herself separated from her Superior and her Sisters in religion. But this pain, for her the most bitter one, was the triumph of her love for her divine Spouse. Her resignation was heroic, and the Sisters of Mercy in Innsbruck, who gave her shelter in their monastery, admired in her the patience and charity of a saint. She died only slowly, but the joy of soon contemplating Him whom she loved so much shone out on her face. When she had received the last sacraments, Father Ladinski, a Redemptorist, had her renew her vows of religion by pronouncing the consecrating formula with her. But he deliberately put the vow of obedience in the last place. When he arrived at the word Obedience, he stopped and said to the dying woman: “Sister Marie-Cecile, you have always loved obedience, so practise it now in this supreme moment: die now through obedience and the love of Our Lord.” At the same instant, she inclined her head and rendered her soul to God. This was on 30th March 1849, on the feast of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin.

The virginal body of Sister Marie-Cecile, clad in her Redemptoristine habit, was then laid out in the monastery parlour. An incredible number of the faithful from all classes of society hurried to these precious remains and venerated the humble bride of Jesus crucified. Her funeral was more solemn than that of a princess. The divine Saviour glorified in this world she who had vowed all her love to Him.

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, 6 April 2013

Mother Maria-Benedicta of the Holy Trinity, O.SS.R. Superior of the Monastery of Vienna (1791 - 1852)


Superior of the Monastery of Vienna [1]
Born Maria Rizy

Sister Maria-Benedicta Rizy was born in Vienna on 13th October 1791, and received the name of Maria at baptism. Her father was a lawyer and occupied an honourable rank in Viennese society. For two years, the young lady’s confessor was the Rev. Father Clement-Maria Hofbauer, now canonised. After his death, she entrusted the direction of her soul to Father Madlener, a man of great virtue, and finally, when her confessor had to change his residence, she chose as her spiritual guide the Venerable Father Passerat, the successor of the Rev. Father Clement-Maria Hofbauer, as Vicar General of the Redemptorists beyond the Alps.

It is not astonishing that under so holy a direction, the young Maria led a most exemplary life in the world. For a period of time she was the governess of the two daughters of Count Gilleis. The Countess and her two daughters, one of whom embraced the religious state, have retained a grateful memory of her. She herself, on 23rd December 1824, entered the little establishment founded by the Ven. Father Passerat and called Saint Mary of the Refuge, which was the origin of the first Redemptoristine monastery beyond the Alps. The Superior of that establishment was then a French woman called Eugenie Dijon, later Mother Marie-Alphonse of the Will of God. Maria Rizy had reached the age of thirty three. She was the fourth of the first Redemptoristines in Austria.

Her knowledge and talents were extraordinary. She spoke German, French, Italian, Latin and English fluently. Painting, drawing and music, both vocal and instrumental, were all familiar to her. She even excelled in musical composition and poetry. She was perfectly instructed in all the feminine works and in all the branches of teaching. Estate management, the management of livestock, gardening, culinary art, and even medicine and jurisprudence all fell within the circle of her learning. All these gifts the young Maria consecrated exclusively and forever to the glory of God and the good of her Order.

Something even more astonishing was that these gifts of the spirit in no way harmed the qualities of her heart. On the contrary, she was so sensitive to the ills of others that she experienced an almost irresistible attraction to helping her neighbour. Thus she would say quite rightly that God had given her, according to her own expression, a hospitable heart.

In the autumn of 1830, the two Mothers Eugenie Dijon and Antonia, Countess of Welsersheimb, went to St. Agatha of the Goths and were comprehensively instructed, in this Redemptoristine monastery, in all the practices of their Order, and they resided there until 8th February 1832. During their absence, and even after their return, Maria Rizy exercised the functions of Superior with great prudence and charity. It was she who took the first steps to introduce the Order of the Redemptoristines to Vienna. It was she who established the enclosure, and it was under her auspices that the first solemnity of the taking of the habit took place, on 25th January 1831. On that day she received the name of Maria-Benedicta of the Most Holy Trinity. As we know, the two absent Sisters received their habits in Rome itself from the hands of Cardinal Odescalchi. She herself made her profession on 30th January 1832, and on the following 25th February, when their first canonical election took place, she was named as Superior.

Then especially, it was a very hard task. In fact, everything had to be started and learnt: the choir office, the ecclesiastical chant, the observance of the Rules and Constitutions, the Ceremonial and the community customs. To these were added a multitude of material and financial difficulties. However, Mother Maria-Benedicta triumphed over everything and displayed an extraordinary skill, an admirable activity, and a confidence in God that nothing could shake.

She exercised this prodigious activity in spite of great infirmities, and what was even more precious, with a great calm and self-possession. She therefore succeeded in introducing a very exact observance, without, however, making herself odious or disagreeable to anyone. Her benevolence and affable manners helped her to win the sympathies of even those many people who, until then, had placed little esteem on religious in general and the Redemptoristines in particular.

We understand that after all this vocations began to multiply around her, coming from Austria, Saxony, Poland, Bavaria and Tyrol and even the Rhineland. Many of them even came from the ranks of the nobility. Mother Maria-Benedicta was thus able to attempt a new foundation in the little town of Stein, in the Diocese of Saint Hippolyte. She went there on 7th October 1839, bringing five religious choir Sisters and two converse with her. Several educandes soon joined her. This town of Stein was dear to the foundress, as she had spent a great part of her youth there and hoped to be very useful to it through the prayers of her Sisters. The revolution of 1848 was to dash all her hopes and suppressed this house just as it destroyed the one in the capital.

* * * * *

Mother Maria-Benedicta then withdrew with some of her Sisters to Eggenberg. The Princess of Lowenstein provided for her subsistence, and the Redemptorist Fathers lent them the help of their spiritual direction. Her hope of being reunited with her Sisters in another monastery was to be disappointed. She submitted in this too, to the will of God, and not long afterwards, saw in the aggravation of her infirmities, the heralding of her approaching end. On one occasion, during the night, she had to call the converse Sister who was taking care of her, and became the object of the special attention of Providence. Indeed, the converse, who herself was ill, was at that moment suffering an attack of nerves. “My God!” she cried out aloud. “You can see what my good Superior is suffering! She has made so many sacrifices for you, so give me the strength to come to her aid. If this is done, then I consent to suffer anew.” Her prayer was heard. She immediately recovered her strength, rendered the service required of her, and then fell prey again to her illness.

On 17th May 1852, Mother Maria-Benedicta received the last sacraments. She humbly asked pardon of the Sisters who had run to her from all sides. As if to reward her for her life of sacrifices, the divine Redeemer filled her at that moment with His heavenly consolations, and on the following day she went to sleep peacefully in the Lord. She was then in the 61st year of her age.

* * * * *

As a worthy daughter of Saint Alphonsus, Mother Maria-Benedicta was always inspired by a lively faith and a great spirit of prayer. The Divine Office was dear to her, and she would recite it fervently for the intentions of the Church. Like all the souls enraptured by the beauties of our holy faith, she would enthusiastically recite the Apostolic Symbol, and the touching mysteries of Religion filled her with the sweetest affections. Her delicate conscience made her avoid the least faults, but her filial confidence in God made her love Him as a Father. Finally, her extraordinary talents left her always humble and distrustful of herself, and in the example of her blessed Father, she showed herself always sweet and resigned in suffering, charitable towards her neighbour, and severe and mortified to herself. She most surely was one of the principal columns of the Redemptoristine Institute, and her intercession in heaven will continue to affirm it, propagate it, and make it work zealously for the salvation of souls..


[1] On the foundation of this monastery, see the work by Father Nimal, already quoted.

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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