Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sister Marie-Anne-Joseph, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Vienna (1828 - 1893)

How Sister Marie-Anne-Joseph pruned the vine and what resulted from it.

Elisabeth Kretzl was born at Bomilskrut, in Lower Austria, on 4th November 1828. Her parents were poor, but very pious. While she was still young she lost her father and a short time afterwards, her poor mother’s house was destroyed by fire, which was a great trial for the whole family. Elisabeth, the youngest of five children, then said to her mother: “Dear mother, I am going to Vienna to earn something, and I will send you what I can.”

After Elisabeth had served some time in Vienna, Jesus deigned to cast a glance upon her. One day when she was visiting the churches in this capital, she went with her companions into Saint Mary of the Riverbank, the church of the Redemptorist Fathers. The door to the sacristy was open. Elisabeth stopped there for a moment and looked at the priests who were reclothing the sacred ornaments. But at this very moment, the venerable Father Passerat, kneeling on a prayer-stool, with his head in his hands, was praying ardently. Through his fingers he noticed Elisabeth and cried out to her: “Eh, young lady, come here!” She did not understand him very well, and looked at the Father with great embarrassment. Her companions said to her in their peasant language: “He’s calling you. Go and talk to him.” She went up to him and the Father asked her: “Do you know how to prune vines?” When she replied in the affirmative, Father Passerat told her: “Go to the religious of Renweg and tell them that Father Passerat has said: “Take her, you can make something of her.” So she went there, without thinking that she was going to a convent. When she arrived in the Redemptoristines’ parlour, she repeated what Father Passerat had told her. At the words “you can make something of her” the Sisters started laughing. So they accepted the young lady on trial as a postulant door-keeper, and soon she rendered some very great services to the community.

These things happened in the year 1847. The following year, on 6th April, the Revolution broke out, and savage bands of revolutionaries broke into the convent. The religious had to flee in all haste to save their lives. It was in these days especially that Elisabeth showed her admirable devotion. Mr. Ignace Duxmer, one of the most devout servants of the community, was charged with remaining in the monastery, safeguarding what remained and preventing new misfortunes. On the first day he and Elisabeth could only weep and groan, because the scoundrels had smashed everything with their sabres, even the most beautiful pictures. Thanks be to God, on the next day, with the aid of some devout persons, they managed to save many objects, but this was not without courting great dangers.

However, the Sisters had founded the Convent of Ried, and Father Breslmeier was the community confessor. Mr. Duxmer told this venerable priest how faithful and devout Elisabeth had shown herself, and persuaded him that she would be an excellent door-keeper. So he called her, and as soon as she was able to leave service in Vienna, she came to the convent. This was in the month of October 1852. The smallpox epidemic that was raging then allowed her to make use of the knowledge she had acquired in a hospital in the service of the sick, and she took care of the sisters with the greatest devotion. In order to reward her, on 9th June 1853 she was received as a postulant converse. On 5th July 1855 she was given the religious habit, with the white veil and the name of Sister Anne of the Immaculate Conception. Elisabeth’s joy was immense.

* * * *

“You can make something of her.” Father Passerat’s words did not pass out of the good Sister’s memory, but she thought of them only in order to generously fulfil her duties as a converse Sister. Others thought of them too, but for another purpose. This Sister, who was so capable, so devout, and who had already rendered the Congregation some important services, also had a very beautiful voice. One very respected Sister, Sister Marie-Michelle, as she lay dying expressed the desire for Sister Anne to be elevated to the rank of Choir Sister. They agreed, and on 13th May 1857, the good Elisabeth made her profession.

Why was her name changed to Sister Marie-Anne-Joseph? It was no doubt because of her great devotion to the holy Patriarch. As soon as they began telling her about Saint Joseph, she became filled with enthusiasm, her eyes shining with happiness, and she never stopped in the praises she addressed to her great Patron. “I am convinced,” she said one day, “that Saint Joseph is in heaven in body and soul, because, on earth, he bore the Son of God in his arms, and He gave him the name of Father.” The books that spoke of Saint Joseph were her favourite books. Every day she honoured this great Saint and prepared herself for his feasts with a fervent novena, and in order to celebrate the 19th March properly, she disposed herself by the pious practice of the seven Wednesdays, so well explained by Saint Alphonsus. In brief, in all her difficulties, she would have recourse to Saint Joseph and advised others to do the same.

After her profession, says the convent chronicle, Sister Marie-Anne- Joseph felt herself at the peak of her happiness, as she had obtained what she had desired so much, and her heart overflowed with gratitude towards God and the monastery too. She successively fulfilled different tasks with great zeal. She sang and chanted psalms in choir with the greatest joy and showed herself no less ardent for meditation on holy things. It so happened one day that the venerable Father Breslmeier was struck down by a grave illness, and soon his life was in danger. When Sister Marie-Anne-Joseph learnt of it, she set herself to prayer with all the fervour of her soul: “My God,” she said, “preserve this holy priest for us, who has already done the convent so much good, and who is still working so much for Your glory. Are we then so rich in good priests? Oh, take me, my God, me, a poor useless religious, take me in place of this holy man.”

God accepted His servant’s offer. Father Breslmeier recovered and was able to go back to fulfilling all his functions, but Sister Marie-Anne-Joseph fell gravely ill. She said: “The good God has deigned to accept my sacrifice, and, in His infinite mercy, He has made me expiate my sins in this world.” The entire year that she had to spend in the infirmary was in fact like a year in Purgatory. In her last month especially, her sufferings became intolerable. She who had been so good and so devoted to the sick, now became incapable of making any movement. She became completely hydropic, having a horribly swollen and apparently gangrenous foot, and she was reduced, in her last days, to wringing her hands with pain, in the embrace of this terrible illness. In spite of everything, her patience did not abandon her. The prayers, especially the indulgenced prayers, to which she was accustomed to saying throughout her life, again found a place on her lips at the approach of death. As necessary, she asked her attendant to help her in this sweet business with God. Finally, on 6th August 1893, surrounded by all her Sisters in religion, fortified by the last sacraments and the exhortations of the holy Father Breslmeier, Sister Anne-Marie-Joseph rendered her soul to God with a smile.

The heavenly Vigneron had also pruned His vine.

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, 19 May 2013

Mother Marie-Aloysia of the Blessed Sacrament, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Vienna (1822 - 1889)

Born Eleonore Donat

Mother Marie-Aloysia was born on 4th September 1822 at Georgswald in Bohemia of parents favoured by property and fortune, but esteemed especially because of their virtues. Her father had so lively a faith that one day he was cured miraculously of a dangerous illness by the single invocation of the name of Jesus.

Young Eleonore had a very lively and outgoing spirit, which attracted many reprimands to her from the part of her mother, whose character was rather inclined to severity. After two years in boarding school spent with the Cistercian Sisters of Marienstern in Saxony, she lived piously in the paternal home, until the marriage of her sister caused her attention to become fixed upon the choice of a state of life. She prayed a great deal to the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin, and spent long hours in the chapel of the Capuchins of Rumburg. Finally, after about eighteen days of prayer and reflection, she woke up one morning quite decided to preserve her virginity. “I dreamed during the night,” she said, “that I entered our parish church to ask for God’s light there. But then on the threshold I saw two great open letters. One of them had written in beautiful characters: “Do not marry!” and on the other: “But rather become an anchorite.” So I do not wish to have an earthly husband,” she added.

Soon afterwards she decided for the religious life, but in a convent where the primitive Rule was still in vigour. This resolution was strengthened by reading the beautiful work of St. Alphonsus called “The true Spouse of Jesus Christ.” Then once more on the occasion of the marriage of another of her sisters, for the first time in her life she heard mention of the name of the “Redemptoristine Sisters,” in reference to an incident that a newspaper in Vienna reported about them. “There is where I must go,” she said resolutely, and soon she had more complete information about the Order that finally decided her vocation. Her father accompanied her to Vienna and put her into the hands of the Superior, saying: “I am bringing you my child, who has never caused me any pain.” This was on 10th October 1846. Eleonore’s extreme love for her father was the great temptation for her at the beginning of her religious life. She emerged victorious from it and received the habit on 16th November 1847, with the name of Sister Marie-Aloysia of the Blessed Sacrament. On the same day, the Venerable Father Joseph Passerat, the Vicar-General of the Redemptorists, came to visit the convent and when he saw Sister Marie-Aloysia, he said: “She who is now the last will one day be the first in the community.” It was prophetic.

* * * *

Five months of her novitiate passed under the wise conduct of Mother Marie-Victoria, born the Countess of Welsersheimb, one of the first Redemptoristines beyond the Alps. In the month of April 1848, the Revolution broke out and obliged the Sisters to abandon their holy retreat at night. It was in this grave conjuncture that the novice, Marie-Aloysia gave proof of her solid virtue. Disguised in secular clothes, she first of all found refuge with the sister of her Mistress Marie-Victoria, Madam the Baroness of Lago. Fear of being discovered, made more real by the continual pursuits carried out against “the Liguorians” was the reason why she went to stay with a friend of her father, until he brought her to her paternal home. Amongst all these vicissitudes, Sister Marie-Aloysia, in spite of her profound sadness, maintained an admirable calmness and meekness. In the domestic home, she put the Redemptoristine habit back on and continued her life as a novice in the best way possible, without refusing to do manual jobs around the house. She then devoted herself especially to the illness of her youngest sister Marie, who died at the age of fifteen. For eighteen weeks she lavished upon her night and day the care that her state required.

In order to receive Holy Communion more often, she did not hesitate to often make a long journey, in the early morning, through the snow and darkness, and went to the Capuchin church in Rumburg, where they were less miserly than elsewhere in the distribution of this sacred bread. However, she longed for her little cell “which was,” she said, “so near to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” Her wishes were finally heard. Following the circumstances already known to the reader, the Redemptoristine Monastery of Marienthal had just been inaugurated on 26th June 1851, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As soon as she learnt of this happy event, Sister Marie-Aloysia hastened to tear herself away from the love of her relatives and went there, brought once more by her father, and took refuge in the new asylum. On 22nd April 1852, she was united forever to her divine Redeemer by the vows of religion.

So we can see how her trial only succeeded in increasing her fervour. Her love for observance and the interior life, and her devotion to the sacred mysteries, shone out with even greater brilliance, at the same time that her zeal for the Divine Office and her abilities at the different tasks in the monastery. For many years she was Mistress of Educandes and then Mistress of Novices. In the exercise of these two charges, she demonstrated a truly maternal goodness to her daughters, but yet using a holy rigour in forming them in solid virtues and the observance of the Rules. She instructed them besides more by her examples than her words, and thus was able to gain the affection and confidence of them all. “She was an accomplished religious” said a contemporary. In 1868 she was chosen to replace the Reverend Mother Marie-Gabrielle in the charge of Superior. And it was then that she had a little chapel erected in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, whose cult was beginning to be propagated. She also renovated the mortuary chapel of the convent. When her triennium had expired she was elected Vicar and distinguished herself then as much by her love for the hidden life as she had done by her great qualities of zealous Superior.

* * * * *

Who would have thought that Mother Marie-Aloysia had once again to leave her dear convent? However, this happened in 1871. The Convent of Vienna had just lost its Superior, Mother Marie-Madeleine, who as she lay dying, advised asking for the Mother Vicar of Marienthal to succeed her. After long hesitations, Marienthal finally decided to make the sacrifice demanded of them. Mother Marie-Aloysia submitted herself humbly to the will of God. Accompanied by the Very Rev. Father Heilig, the Superior of the German Redemptorists, she left for Cologne. Her spirit of recollection and sacrifice made her renounce seeing the magnificent cathedral in this city and the beautiful countryside along the Rhine. In Vienna, she was received with a jubilation that contrasted singularly with the painful trials that were about to be her lot.

In fact, the Monastery was in such a deplorable state in matters material and financial that they feared they would have to abandon it. Soon the good Mother was seized by a throat infection so painful that it made her unfit for service in the choir, already depleted by the small number of her subjects and the bad health of others. She recovered from this illness after ten months, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, to whom she vowed a special cult. To remedy the lack of vocations, she solemnly consecrated the community, and particularly the educandate, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Heaven’s first response was a new illness that nailed the Superior onto a bed of sorrows for the space of fifteen months, while three other Sisters also fell very dangerously ill.

In these terrible trials, the Superior showed a profound humility, a perfect resignation to the will of God, and a confidence truly magnanimous in His mercy. In spite of obstacles that appeared to be insurmountable, they maintained the service of the choir as well as they could. This faithfulness was rewarded in a touching manner. All the Sisters attested that on Sundays especially and on feast days, an unknown voice resonated with theirs in the chant for Terce and Vespers, and the miracle lasted until the number of religious was increased. This was like a signal of deliverance. The worthy Superior and her courageous daughters sought their support in prayer. They held processions and introduced a Holy Hour in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These prayers were heard. Mother recovered against all hope, vocations multiplied, and benefactors opened their hearts and hands to meet the needs of the Monastery.

Mother Marie-Aloysia held the position of Superior from 1871 to 1877. Then, after three years as Vicar, she was re-elected Superior and remained so until her blessed death, which arrived in 1889. It was her religious virtues, whose example she gave constantly, that caused her to be so long the head of her Sisters. They admired her love of poverty, and that spirit of perfect obedience which made her say one day to a religious: “My Sister, we must not permit ourselves even thoughts contrary to those of the Superior, as these thoughts will make us lose the merit of obedience.”

Her recollection was continuous, and she practised it everywhere, even in the garden, where the modesty of her eyes was admirable. So she was so filled with the spirit of God that a special grace accompanied her words. One day, a visiting priest had her called to the parlour and asked her for a word of consolation and encouragement. Mother Marie-Aloysia was astonished and replied timidly: “My Reverend Father, God is so good! Yes, He is extremely good!” The priest replied: “This is enough for me, my Reverend Mother”, and he left completely consoled.

As Superior, she always demonstrated a very maternal goodness and solicitude to her daughters. The sick especially were the object of her scrupulous attention. Even though she was ill herself and overloaded with occupations, she visited them often.

After the Immaculate Virgin and Saint Joseph, she especially honoured Saint Alphonsus. The spiritual works of the holy Doctor were her preferred books, and she frequently recommended reading them to her daughters. Finally, the souls in Purgatory found in her a tender and devoted friend.

Such were the principal features of the life and virtues of the good Mother Marie-Aloysia. During her last years, the heavenly Spouse announced His approach several times by illnesses and infirmities. On 8th September, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, she took Holy Communion in choir with her Sisters for the last time. Soon afterwards, she had to go to bed and receive the last sacraments. Finally, on the night of 20th September 1889, she went to sleep peacefully in the Lord, at the age of 67 and 16 days, in the 36th year of her religious profession.

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, 3 May 2013

Mother Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Vienna (1805 – 1871)

In the world : Rosalie Handschky

Mother Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament was born in Vienna in 1805, as the only child of very well-off parents. Losing her mother very early on, she received from her father, who loved her tenderly, an education in keeping with her rank and fortune. She learnt several languages, acquired an expert knowledge of the musical art, and enriched her spirit with a broad range of knowledge. As for manual work, it seems that she had little acquaintance with it. Her father could not bear her to be parted from him, and he took her with him to the Chancellor’s office, where he was a government lawyer, and sometimes gave her a part in his work. She accompanied him everywhere – to the theatre, on visits, on innumerable pleasure trips, and horse-riding, in which she showed a great deal of dexterity. This kind of life gave her a certain virility of character which served her marvellously.

Her piety, which at first was quite ordinary, soon grew through the visits she made, in the company of her governess, to the church of the Redemptorist Fathers. From then on she began to receive the sacraments more frequently, but without her father knowing. For her confessor she chose the Venerable Father Passerat. Under the direction of this great Servant of God, the desire for the religious life soon took hold of her heart. The visits she made to the Redemptoristines in the capital only served to inflame this desire, and she resolved to enter their Institute after the death of her father. This death happened in 1830, during an epidemic of cholera that claimed many victims in Vienna.

Now the young lady found herself suddenly free, and in possession of great wealth, at an age and in a position where everything smiled upon her. But with a greatness of soul which is most uncommon, she despised the money, made abundant donations, and after having put her affairs in order, she entered the Redemptoristine Convent on 5th May 1852, in spite of the great astonishment that her resolution caused to those around her, and the malicious insinuations that accompanied her. She took her contempt of the world so far that when her cook obtained her admission to the monastery at the same time as herself, but in the quality of a converse, she kneeled beside her at the door of the enclosure and resolutely asked to be admitted in the same capacity. They did not give way to these desires, and it was as a choir Sister that she was received into the Institute.

No one was astonished that the beginnings of her religious life were very painful for a young lady accustomed to all the comforts of life. They admired even more in her a courage that was more than manly, and truly heroic, in overcoming herself on every occasion. Moreover, she had expected all this. Firmly resolved to overcome herself, she took as her motto: “God alone.” Thus she succeeded in accommodating herself to all the ages and all the characters with which she had to deal. She never spoke of what she had seen in the world, and never wished to pass herself off as a person of substance above the ordinary.

* * * * *

On 21st January 1833, the novice received the habit with the name of Marie-Madeleine of the Blessed Sacrament. On 23rd January of the following year, she consecrated herself irrevocably to Jesus Christ. She spent five years in the practice of the religious virtues and in the humility of the hidden life, but in 1839 she was elected as the Superior. In this charge she displayed a great zeal for regular observance, and especially for the pious recitation of the Divine Office. What her conscience dictated to her she carried out without human respect, but at the same time she demonstrated a truly maternal goodness to all her Sisters. Re-elected after an interval of three years, she remained in charge until 1847, and had the sorrow of seeing her community violently dissolved by the Revolution of 1848. This trial did not diminish her courage. After spending some time with some of her companions at the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth in Aix-la-Chapelle, she went on to Holland, where other Redemptoristines had found a refuge close to the Redemptorist convent at Wittem. First of all she went to live in the provisional house called the “house of Jonas”, situated at Galoppe, and it was there that it was noticed for the first time that she played the piano with a remarkable ability. Then, when the convent of Marienthal was built, she entered it on 26th June 1851 with the other Sisters. But, from the month of October of the following year, she left it to go and govern the Monastery of Ried in Austria, which the young Emperor Franz-Joseph had just re-established.

A trial even harder than the others now awaited the courageous Superior. Hardly had she been installed than she was struck down by smallpox, which attacked her brain, and when the housekeeper, Sister Marie-Xaveria, succumbed under the onslaught of this illness, Mother Marie-Madeleine suddenly lost her spirit. In this terrible conjuncture, heaven was stormed with prayers. At Marienthal, a vow was made to recite the Memorare of the Sacred Heart of Jesus every day in choir. This divine Heart had pity on the poor invalid. She then recovered and had to leave for Vienna, where she was named Superior. This was in 1853.

This only served to change one cross with another, but the intrepid Mother truly sought just God alone. The Monastery of Vienna had by now been re-established. Nevertheless, poverty exercised its rigours with a bitterness hard to bear for the maternal heart of Mother Marie-Madeleine. Everything was lacking inside, and hearts outside seemed closed to pity. Although assisted by the Sisters of Marienthal, the community in Vienna carried its cross, and we may say very quickly that it carried it with courage, with their eyes fixed on their worthy Superior, whose greatness of soul and profound humility never appeared more clearly.

However, under the weight of so many trials, Mother Marie-Madeleine’s soul ripened for heaven. At the end of the year 1870, the good Mother was struck down by a pericardial hydropsy. Patience and continual prayer were all that she could oppose to this terrible illness. On 2nd January 1871, she expired without agony, surrounded by her desolate Sisters.

Her funeral was, we may say, the reward granted here below by Heaven to one who had had so little esteem for the favour of the world. It caused an extraordinary sensation. The crowd of people was incredible. The whole world wished to see “the Saint” as they called her, whose mortal remains shone with a superhuman beauty. The service was on the grand scale. The church was filled to bursting point and decorated as for one of the great days. All those in attendance, in the ranks of whom the numerous priests had pride of place, prayed with great fervour. This was how the divine Redeemer now honoured on earth the one who had left everything for love of Him, and who, through her renunciation and her sufferings, showed herself as the faithful imitator of His virtues.

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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