Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sister Maria-Victoria of Jesus, O.SS.R. of the Monastery of Ried (1805 – 1874)

God had permitted the religious Orders to be particularly persecuted in Vienna in the 18th Century, but this great capital, in the 19th Century, was to give the signal for their relief. The Emperor Joseph II had pursued them with his hatred, but in the very heart of his court there germinated, without him even suspecting it, vocations that were to give religious life an unexpected flowering.

Marie Anne Ernestine Welsersheimb was born at Graz in Styria on 12th January 1805. She was the grand-daughter of Count Godefroid Suardi, chamberlain to Joseph II. The Countess, her mother, a woman of lofty intelligence and great piety, brought up her eight children in a most Christian manner, her “eight beatitudes” as she called them. Then, when she had assured their future, she entered religion, thirteen years after the death of her husband. This resolution caused a great deal of talk and aroused much astonishment. The noble Christian was content to reply: “If someone goes far away, into a foreign country, to gather a rich inheritance and deprives himself for a few years of the commodities he has enjoyed in the midst of his own family, no one would think of being astonished. So from where does it come that people feel the need to speak to a person who is attracted by the magnificent promises of Our Lord and leaves everything to follow Him, and renounce for just a small number of years the pleasures that the world offers him!”

Marie Ernestine was worthy of such a mother. After smiling for some time on the brilliant world that surrounded her, she studied her vocation under the guidance of a holy religious, the Venerable Father Passerat, and on 4th September 1825, at the age of twenty, she went to rejoin, in the cloister of the Redemptoristines of Vienna, that great Christian who had brought her into the world.[1] Beginning from this moment, a complete transformation was worked in her. In the footsteps of the divine Redeemer she took up her cross and bore it courageously for the space of nearly fifty years.

In fact this life of privations, renunciations and immolation was a long way of the cross that finally ended with a holy death! Marie-Ernestine had scarcely left the world when she exchanged her brilliant home for a very poor convent, and her gentle and tranquil existence gave way to a life of work. First of all she was occupied with poor, abandoned children. She taught these poor children reading writing and arithmetic. When these years of testing had ended, her religious profession (30th January 1832) brought a new task to her who was now called Sister Maria-Victoria of Jesus. Was it not a very heavy cross for a religious of twenty seven years of age to have to direct the educandes? This meant receiving, as they left the world, persons of every age and every condition. It meant helping them to leave behind their ideas, their own habits and their own will. In a word, it meant struggling against habits of life already adopted and substituting others for them. This difficult office was one that Sister Maria-Victoria fulfilled with success. Soon she had to bear a cross heavier still. When she became Mistress of Novices, she had the future of her entire Institute in her hands, but her courage was at the summit of her mission.

However, separations came to add their thorns to cares already so grave. In 1841, Sister Maria-Victoria saw die before her eyes that pious, that heroic mother who, in a manner of speaking, had given her life twice. In the same year, she said farewell to Mother Marie-Alphonse who went to found the convent of the Redemptoristines at Bruges in Belgium. Finally there arrived that year 1848 which was so full of turmoil of every kind. On 6th April, the ferocious mob which had chased out the Redemptorist Fathers and thrown them out onto the highway, including, although they did not know it, Father Passerat, weighed down with his seventy six years, that impious mob laid waste to the nuns’ church, and they too had to seek their salvation in flight.

Once the rabble had been satisfied, the way of the cross continued for Maria-Victoria of Jesus. To the friendly offers of help, seductive to a soul less strong, she replied: “What! Abandon the Institute to which God has called me? Never! Even if I have to walk hundreds of miles on foot, or undergo the most severe privations, I shall seek out my Sisters, and I shall live and die in the midst of them.” She took refuge at Aix-la-Chapelle with six of her Sisters, and accepted the hospitality offered to them by the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth. Then Galoppe, in Holland, became her home. Three years of privations and sufferings did not discourage her. Finally, a beautiful convent, graciously called “Valley of Mary”, Marienthal, replaced the provisional house in 1851. Maria-Victoria was filled with the greatest joy, but the two years that she spent there were once again marked by her devotion to the common cause. She was Mistress of Novices, Consultor, and Secretary to the Superior. There were always responsibilities, and if you wish to call them that, honours, but there was always the cross.

In 1853 we find Sister Maria-Victoria of Jesus at Ried. She was there for eleven years as the Superior of a convent of her Order. The material situation there was precarious, but, in the school of adversity, a courageous soul is hardened against obstacles. And we may say more, she found her strength in the cross itself which crushes less generous souls. The 30th January 1854 was for this Servant of God the 25th jubilee her religious life. It was a triumph of a day, a charming feast which was to give way to new sorrows! For an elevated heart, what pains there were in seeing the concordat between the Holy See and Austria denounced, and the war in Italy open a long series of outrages and atrocious crimes! Sister Maria-Victoria keenly suffered these grave wounds given to the faith, both in her dear homeland and in the whole world, and how great was her sorrow in seeing, after the Council, a sect of “Old Catholics” establishing even at Ried, and almost at the door of the convent, its sacrilegious assizes! The “fiat voluntas” of the divine Saviour in the Garden of Olives presented itself unceasingly in the memory of the Servant of God in the midst of these circumstances. We may say more: after such long trials, after such a sorrowful climb up to Calvary, this last blow was truly her death blow.

In the month of June 1874, Sister Maria-Victoria’s strength suddenly ebbed. From then on she concentrated all her thoughts on her approaching end, and on heaven which she had so long desired. On 20th July, a severe crisis failed to carry her off, but her presence of mind did not abandon her. Her eyes were drawn to a picture hanging on a wall near her bed. This picture represented Saint Joseph expiring in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Soon she cried out in a loud voice: “Sedes sapientiae, ora pro nobis” – “Seat of wisdom, pray for us.” A touching invocation, very beautiful in the face of death, and very worthy of this wise virgin who had so faithfully imitated the Queen of Virgins! It seems that at that moment, the prayer that the dying Sister had so often addressed to Mary was heard as it had been for Saint Alphonsus, as the poor invalid suddenly said to the infirmarian: “My Sister, the Mother of God has just won a victory. I have never had an apparition during my life, and now I have had one at the approach of death.” This means in a few words the last temptations of the demon and the miraculous assistance of the Mother of the Saviour. On the same day of her death, 25th July, with the aid of her Sisters she accomplished all the exercises of her Rule – the examination of conscience, the Rosary, and the Way of the Cross. She received the last sacraments. One last time, she renewed her vows of religion, and then she gently inclined her head like her heavenly Spouse on the cross. She had courageously completed her course, and went to receive the crown of life.

The special character of the interior life of Mother Maria-Victoria seems to have been Christian strength. One of our former novices writes on this subject: “Our good Mistress was a soul full of generosity, and a great friend of mortification. She had a particular talent for leading her novices to the practice of this virtue. Her instructions were ordinarily about the dangers that a soul courts with an unmortified life, and she would express herself on this point in the starkest terms. ‘No,’ she would often tell us, ‘you cannot count on going directly to an easy life in Paradise.’ ‘One of the things she inculcated the most into her novices,’ says Father Hugues, ‘was the habit of combating and subduing their natural inclinations. And so she applied herself to humbling them often and testing the promptitude of their obedience by commanding them those things painful to nature. Moreover she had a favourite maxim which she put into practice: ‘With us,’ she would say, ‘prayer and mortification must march in front. The more we advance in mortification, the more we advance in prayer.’ – ‘We only advance in the love of God,’ she also said to us, ‘to the degree that we hate our own selves. We must hate not this or that employment, but our bad inclinations, our sensuality, our bad humour. This is what we must hate, and hate it for the love of God, because we know that this displeases Him.’

A soul so upright could not fail to feel a tender devotion to the Passion of the Saviour. Sister Maria-Victoria was particularly devoted to the mystery of the Agony in the Garden of Olives. When she was the Superior at Ried, she had a little chapel constructed in the garden. It was furnished with a statue representing Our Lord in His agony and fortified by an angel. Her great consolation in her moments of anguish and perplexity was to go and pray in this chapel. There, prostrate at the feet of her divine Spouse, herself delivered to a mortal sadness, she was persuaded that He could not fail to let a look of commiseration fall upon her and come to her aid. Often, after a prolonged prayer in this blessed spot, she would intone a canticle of thanksgiving and would go back to the house with her heart filled with a holy joy. As a true daughter of Saint Alphonsus, the pious Sister had a tender love for the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. In particular she loved the martyr Saints. Without doubt in the midst of her innumerable trials she prayed long and hard to these friends of God. Saint Joseph was also the object of her filial confidence, and this great Saint rewarded her more than once for hoping in him.

The desire for heaven always possessed this beautiful soul. She would often sigh and cry out: “When then shall I arrive there finally to sing the eternal alleluia? Oh, how I rejoice in thinking of the first sight I shall have of eternity.” A holy priest advised her one day to take a remedy that cured her, and then awaited her thanksgiving. “Oh my Father,” she told him, “I cannot be grateful to you for that, for my most ardent desire is to die as soon as possible.” It was with the same sentiments that she wrote to Mother Marie-Alphonse in 1868, who was then gravely ill: “I am happy to learn that the doctor expresses the hope of your recovery. But if I rejoice, it is less for you personally than for your community, as you would wish ardently, I am convinced, to be reunited as quickly as possible with your supreme Good. And so, if I come to hear that you have left this earth, my heart will be sensibly afflicted no doubt, but I should not be able to prevent myself from rejoicing with you, and congratulate myself on having so good an advocate in heaven. We shall act in such a way, believe me, that you will not remain for long at the door of Paradise.”

About six weeks had passed since the death of Mother Maria-Victoria, when two religious consultors fell dangerously ill. Overcome with grief, the Superior felt herself brought to pray during the night at the tomb of the venerated deceased. With great confidence she said the following prayer: “Dear Mother Maria-Victoria, you know through your own experience that a Superior will find herself in pain when the consultors of the Monastery cannot fulfil their office, so help me in my distress and obtain for these two Sisters the recovery of their health.” An astonishing thing! A notable improvement was produced immediately, and at the end of five days the two invalids had entirely recovered. Some months before her last illness, Sister Maria-Victoria had written to the Superior of Marienthal that, if she was the first one to die, she would hope to warn by her death two Sisters who were no longer giving her any sign of life. Then on 23rd July 1874, on the same day of the death of Sister Maria-Victoria, a religious of Marienthal heard, at ten o’clock in the evening, a noise very close to her cell. Suddenly she perceived, standing before her bed, a Redemptoristine nun whom she did not know. The apparition was tall. Her veil was of a dazzling white. Her whole cell, which until then had been plunged in darkness, now became ablaze with light. Coming up to the bed of the invalid, the apparition blessed her and told her: “I have come from Purgatory, where I still endure a sharp pain from these two fingers.” And as she spoke, she showed her the thumb and index finger of her right hand. “I am praying for you,” she added, “so that you may go to Paradise.” Then the vision disappeared. The poor rheumatic, more dead than alive, could not close her eyes the whole night. The next morning she hurried to tell her Superior what had happened to her. Three days later, they received the news at Marienthal that Sister Maria-Victoria had died on 23rd July. On that very day, by God’s permission, she had kept her promise and by her own death she had warned her former companions.


[1] See the charming work by Rev. Father Hugues called: Deux religieuses Rédemptoristines [Two religious Redemptoristines], 1 vol. Casterman

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, 2 February 2014


Foundation of the Convent of the Redemptoristines at Ried (Upper Austria), in 1858

The Convent of the Redemptoristines of Saint Anne of Ried [1] is rightly called the fruit of the sacrifices, tears and prayers of the Redemptoristines of Vienna. Driven out by the Revolution, these fervent religious had to leave their peaceful home on 6th April 1848 and look for a refuge, some with their families, and others in other convents further afield. And also, like the hart thirsting after a spring of refreshing water, this dear Community wished for nothing other than to reconstitute itself anew. But Providence, which is always at hand, did not remain deaf to the sighs of the exiles.

In March 1851, one of the religious learnt through one of her relatives that at Ried, in Upper Austria, there was a house for sale with an adjoining church. The inhabitants desired to see the establishment of a community of religious there. The clergy were also interested in this matter. Consequently, the necessary applications were begun immediately. Mons. Ziegler expressed it thus: “Since I have not been able to attract the sons of Saint Alphonsus to my diocese, I desire to receive his daughters here.” Pius IX himself entered into the matter and wrote about it to the Bishop of Linz.

However, the enemy of all good placed a thousand obstacles in the way of the realisation of this project, and everything seemed destined to fail. But this was when God showed Himself. His hand visibly conducted this work, and on 23rd August 1852, the Emperor Franz-Joseph signed the authorisation needed for the establishment of this convent. On 15th October, they proceeded to the solemn blessing of the house. Mons. Schiedermayer, surrounded by a dozen priests, officiated pontifically in the presence of a dense crowd. The parish priest of Ried, Father Brelsmayer, at once showed himself favourable to the foundation, and deservedly acquired the name of founder of the convent. A truly holy priest, he was charged by his Bishop with the direction of the Community, and fulfilled his duties of Chaplain to the general satisfaction. God blessed his work. His apostolic words attracted such a crowd of the faithful into our church on Sundays that it became too small. This chapel attracted admirers. Count Arko enriched it with a magnificent painting by Strasser that even to this day decorates the master altar.

However, the house, formerly an asylum for lepers, was a very poor one. The roof was in such a pitiful state that the religious found themselves obliged to open their umbrellas in order to protect their beds against rain or snow. This evil was remedied only gradually, as funds were lacking. Everything had been spent on the purchase of a parcel of land, which was indispensable for the growth of the convent. In addition, it had been impossible to bring anything from Vienna, as the revolutionaries had destroyed everything, including the pictures of the saints themselves. All in all, there remained for Ried no more than a poor florin! And with this they had to provide for the support of six religious!

In her distress, Reverend Mother Maria-Victoria of Jesus, born Countess Welsersheimb, prostrate at the foot of the tabernacle, expressed her distress to the good Master. She had scarcely terminated her prayers when a basket was brought to the Monastery full of bread and other provisions. Moreover, the divine Host permitted a young child, who had heard people talking about the nuns, to become bold enough to want to see their poverty for himself. Profiting from a favourable moment, he secretly penetrated the enclosure, and after a sufficient examination, he escaped in all haste. He made the extreme poverty of the good religious known, and his account made such an impression in the town and beyond, that he provoked a compassionate generosity. Gifts arrived from different directions. The Emperor Ferdinand, the Counts Welsersheimb and von Arko, and Baron von Lago became the benefactors of the house. The venerable Servant of God, Mons. Rudiger, having been able to take stock, on the occasion of a taking of the habit, of the great poverty of the Monastery, also sent some help. It was thanks to these generous gifts that it was possible to finish the building in October 1853.

However, they still suffered from the rigorous coldness of winter, as wood was lacking to dry out the new walls. In addition, a furious tempest in one fell swoop demolished the enclosure of wooden planks, and took 8000 tiles off the roof. These new setbacks made them doubt the possibility of a definitive establishment at Ried. In 1857, the situation was again so sad that Reverend Mother Maria-Victoria believed it to be her duty to write about it to His Holiness. Always supportive, Pius IX responded to her request with a beautiful letter preserved in the archives of the convent. He encouraged the Religious, and exhorted them to confidence and perseverance, but especially to tend more and more to perfection. He blessed them and promised them his prayers. The Sisters felt great joy because of it, and, inspired to a new courage, they continued to struggle on. God rewarded their confidence.

In 1860, Mons. Hagn, the Abbot of the Benedictines of Lambach, became the Vicar General of the diocese. Having obtained authorisation to establish a cemetery in the enclosure, he wished to give the benediction of it himself. They immediately brought in the remains of two Sisters, who had previously been interred in the town cemetery. In 1862, the church was enriched with two magnificent windows, and a Way of the Cross, a new Gothic altar, a pulpit and other embellishments. The wooden enclosure was replaced by a solid wall. Finally, in 1867, the convent, now that it had been finished, was able to house the number of religious required by the Rule.

Nothing was dearer to the good Superior than to see the house of the Lord decently furnished. Although the church was not her property, she was always careful to employ the charitable gifts that came her way to a pious end. In 1905 they proceeded to its decoration. Under the able direction of Mr. Schrems, the paintings were harmonised with the colours of the windows. Between the columns, upon the walls, Mr. Streikner, the religiously inspired artist, in his first painting displayed the divine Saviour giving Himself to the soul in Holy Communion. Another painting represented Saint Francis of Assisi who, disdaining the world, gives himself to his divine crucified Lord, who detaches His arm from the cross and embraces him lovingly. Then it is the Patriarch of monks, Saint Benedict, full of a sweet gravity, surrounded on the right and left side by Saint Maurus and Saint Placidus. Saint Gerard Majella has his place before the choir. He contemplates Jesus crucified, is consumed with love and is pouring out abundant tears.

The choir of the religious was also decorated with beautiful paintings. First of all you see the image of the founder, Saint Alphonsus. Plunged into a profound meditation, the artist shows him in the attitude of editing the Rules and Constitutions. Before him he has Saint Francis of Assisi, absorbed in contemplation, Saint Francis de Paul, Saint Dominic armed with the Rosary, and Saint Augustine enraptured in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. A little further on there is Saint Francis de Sales, whom the Redemptorists must honour, because of the numerous points in their Rule borrowed from the Constitutions of the Visitation. Another picture represents the divine Mother with the Child Jesus. Her eyes are saddened by the fear of seeing her Son escaping from her. Then comes Saint Gertrude, totally absorbed in Jesus whom she bears on her heart, then Saint Mechtilde, with her eyes questioning heaven, from which she receives the revelations consigned to the book which she holds in her hands. Above the door, you can see the Sacred Heart and the blessed Marguerite-Mary. At the back there is a painting representing the Annunciation, and then two escutcheons bear the arms of the Most Holy Redeemer and the Eye of God, which recalls His presence in every place.

How much people love to visit this pious church! Early in the morning, or to greet the evening, but especially on Sundays, a large number of people come for the recitation of the Rosary. On days of the taking of the habit or of religious profession, a numerous public crowds to the grille, to see the touching ceremony as closely as possible, which is presided over by Mons. Baumgartner, the Chaplain of the convent. We should not forget that it was this worthy priest who had a retreat house for ecclesiastics constructed near the Monastery. It is to him also that we owe the beautiful Calvary in the cemetery, and the tombstones on which are engraved the names of our dear deceased Sisters.


[1] Taken from the Monastery Chronicles.

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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