German Immigrants in Ohio—Sisters from Germany Welcomed

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 15, 2024 |

The first Sisters coming to the United States spoke German while making valiant efforts to master English. Their area of apostolate became the towns of German immigrants, for example in Delphos, Ohio, where Reverend John Bredeick, whose inheritance would make him comparable to a millionaire today, had great influence on commerce, especially railroads in the western part of the state. In 1879 German-born farmers made up one-third of the agricultural industry in Ohio and Kentucky. The first Sisters of Notre Dame received many requests to teach in the area. Bishops expected the sisters to help the children preserve the customs of their homeland, while preparing them for American citizenship.

In 1876 Sister Mary Modesta Többe accepted a ministry in Delphos, Ohio. It is in this town that the foundress Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring taught. A history of the congregation spoke of Sister Maria Aloysia: “She who had begun the new congregation a quarter of a century earlier brought its living spirit to St. John convent. This was a spirit that makes Christ and his message the radical center of the Sisters’ lives, a spirit of simple trust that God would bring to completion the work he had begun through them.”

Sisters continue to teach and minister in Delphos today, 148 years later. Believe it or not, some doors in the convent today were transferred from an earlier convent, one in which the foundress lived. How exciting to close the door that the foundress also closed—but not so exciting that the Sisters can’t sleep at night.

Sisters Go Shopping in the United States in 1870’s

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 13, 2024 |

Perhaps you’ve seen one of your current or former teachers or parish leaders in the grocery store. You chatted and she got into her car for home. That didn’t happen during the 1870’s and 1880’s when our Sisters bought food. Sisters always went everywhere in twos. Cars weren’t invented. And the Sisters were limited in speaking English, as happened when a salesperson wanted to sell Sister Landelin horseradish, to which she responded, “We don’t have horses.” Let’s imagine. Like the popular TV show, The Price is Right in the paragraph below, but we have no historical records of the sisters’ grocery lists.

The Sisters enter a general store serving small towns and villages. Perhaps some farmers’ wives are bringing in eggs and jam to sell. They greet the Sisters who respond in a thick German accent. They ask the price of a bag of flour. $1.80 seems expensive, but they need to make bread and included the flour on their list. What else could they buy? Tea was 38 cents for a quarter-pound. Fortunately the Sisters were accustomed to coffee and asked the grocer to measure one pound. Its price of 35 cents suggested this was the cheap kind of coffee, but the sisters would have gone for the cheapest kind anyhow. The Sisters could pass by the apples and vegetables, because they had a garden, and milk was obtained from a neighbor who owned a cow. A small measure of potatoes at $1.19 could last for a week on their frugal diet. And the walk home would be easy with a light load. Maybe a passer-by might offer to carry the bag of flour. That would quicken their steps to be home for mid-day prayer.

Towns of Sisters of Notre Dame in the First 50 Years in USA

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 11, 2024 |

Annals will apprise you of exact dates and places. For now, let’s look at the homes where one sister—Sister Justina Rickert—lived. Do any of these towns surprise you? Do you know Sisters of Notre Dame who have lived there? Can you find Sisters there now? Ask a Sister if her life sounds like that of Sister Justina.

Sister Justina and other Sisters spent their first night in the United States in Hoboken, before boarding a train to Cleveland, Ohio, the next day. Within a couple weeks Sister was sent to Covington, Kentucky, but already in September of that year she was sent back to Cleveland and from there to Rockport, Ohio. The next year found her in Burlington, Iowa. In 1877 she was sent to Toledo. Needing recuperation from a fever the next year, Sister Justina was sent to Cleveland and Millersville. From there she went to Covington and spent time in the Academy kitchen and laundry. Her next assignment was in Newport, Kentucky, where she was missioned for several years before being sent to Steelton, Pennsylvania. After several months of diphtheria, Sister was again back in Cleveland. Then she was involved in what she called “varied programs” taking her to Norwalk, Delphos, Raab, and Mount St. Mary’s (12 years) and eventually back to Toledo. She writes, “For a time I was sent here and there to little houses mostly to help out.”

Arrival in the United States—July 4, 1874

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 9, 2024 |

If you’ve been reading these blogs, the last account told of the Sisters’ voyage to the United States in 1875. Today let’s backtrack to 1874 with a segment of the autobiography of Sister Mary Justina Rickert of German descent, who was the last of the sisters driven from Germany. Sister Mary Benedict, provincial superior of the Toledo province, asked Sister to write her autobiography. Let’s read what she writes about the Kulturkampf and the arrival in the United States:

The terrible Kulturkampf spread unrest over the country and the persecution was very gradual but deeply felt….Bible Histories were forbidden in the schools. To circumvent the ruling the children were told to study their Bible History at home, but then not to bring it back to school.

When the Sisters left for the United States in 1874, they settled in the Cleveland Diocese. This is how the city of Cleveland was chosen:

The pastor of St. James Church was a friend of Father Francis Westerholt, pastor of St. Peter, Cleveland. The latter secured from Bishop Richard Gilmour the permission to allow the sisters to settle in the Cleveland Diocese. Thus it happened that in 1874 Mother Mary Chrysostom Heck, second Superior General, with a group of sisters formerly active along the Rhine, left Germany from Port Bremen and landed in New York on the Fourth of July. When the sisters arrived in Cleveland, Father Westerhholt put them in charge of the girls of his parish.

Boarding the Rhine, the Third Trip to America, May 1875

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 7, 2024 |

When the sisters boarded the steamer, RHINE, they saw many men on board. They soon learned that there were 90 Franciscan Fathers and several of the priests’ students also making the trip. After waving goodbye from the ship, the sisters returned to their cabins, crying all the while. To console them the Franciscan Fathers “opened their doors a trifle and began to sing four-part harmony hymns to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin as loudly as they could in order to cheer us and make the exile seem less heart-rending.” (Written by Sister Mary Justina, who was part of the group)

            After a day on the RHINE, the big steamer ROTTERDAM came to the small ship and let down a long ladder. At that point the Sisters were no longer on German soil and had nothing further to fear from the Kulturkampf. The captain of the ROTTERDAM insisted that the Sisters have an opportunity for Mass on the ship, a privilege they enjoyed four times weekly. The trip had many situations causing worry among the passengers: dense fog, a near collision with another ship, icy cold temperature, fear of icebergs. There was only one warm day, the day of landing, June 29, 1875.

How the Sisters Arrived in Ohio

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 5, 2024 |

Due to the Kulturkampf when Sisters were banished from their homeland in Germany, they needed to find other countries. One connection between the United States and Germany brought more Sisters to the shores of America after the first trip arranged by the bishop of Munster, Johannes Bernard Brinkmann. This trip was arranged by Bishop August Tobbe, brother of Sister Maria Modesta Tobbe. He wanted Sisters for his school, so Mother Mary Chrysostom requested more sisters to come from Germany, but feared they wouldn’t be released as one of their number Sister Maria Hildegardis Husing, had at one time been taken prisoner by the Government. Fortunately they were free to leave.

On July 4, 2024, we will have a Mass of Thanksgiving for the blessings of the past 150 years of presence in the United States. Of course, there will be several celebrations of  the 150 years of our presence in the USA. Keep posted for more episodes. Watch us grow as we cross the country.

One Hundred Fifty Years and Still Going Strong

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 1, 2024 |

We Sisters of Notre Dame were founded by Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring and Sister Maria Ignatia Kühling in 1850 in Coesfeld, Germany. Our congregation grew rapidly in the first 20 years, as sisters taught school, cared for orphans, and welcomed those aspiring to religious life. But that would change with the Kulturkampf when the Sisters were forced to leave their homeland. This was the catalyst to bring Sisters of Notre Dame to the United States 100 years ago, arriving on American shores on July 4, 1874. Today’s blog and subsequent ones throughout the summer months will share some of our history especially in the United States. I hope you will find interest and inspiration in them. Let’s start with the Sisters’ expulsion from Germany, 20 years after their founding.

Sister Mary Justina Rickert was among those forced to leave. She wrote: “The authorities said that if the sisters wanted to stay in Germany and keep their activities, they were to put aside their religious habit and appear in secular clothing.” Consequently, the bishop of Munster, Johannes Bernard Brinkmann, called the sisters together and assured them that they would leave the country, but he did not know where. Soon a priest in Germany acquainted with a priest in Cleveland secured permission for the sisters to settle in the Cleveland Diocese. “Thus it happened that in 1874, Mother Mary Chrysostom Heck, second superior General, with a group of sisters formerly active along the Rhine, left Germany from Port Bremen and landed in New York on the Fourth of July.”

We Sisters will celebrate 150 years with a special liturgy and picnic on July 4, 2024. More about that later.

“In Him We Live and Move”

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 23, 2024 |

In the Areopagus Paul told the Athenians “In Him [Jesus Christ] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17). There is nothing else we need. Jesus Christ is our life; his Spirit is our breath. We’ve got it all! We need nothing more, so why do we feel empty, unsatisfied, wondering where is the “more” for which we long?

It’s just another ordinary day. We work, we do the next thing on our to-do list, we wish more hours in our day. Accomplishment is a fleeting feeling, while fatigue or boredom lasts longer. If only there could be a little more excitement or interest or success in our life.

Stop the self-pity. Take a deep breath. Recall that you live and move and have your being in God, who is infinite love, creativity, joy, success. On the day of creation, the Big Bang, when God “so loved the cosmos,” he flung himself into the world with abandonment smothered in creativity. After hundreds of eons, including this very day, God’s love and creativity surround you, giving you life. Breathe in the love, the creativity, your very life. Then exhale the fatigue and boredom. Be impressed.

Pentecost

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 19, 2024 |

            Christmas lets us know Christ in his humanity. Epiphany lets us know Christ better in his divinity. The grace of Holy Week lets us know Christ in his suffering and death, while Easter lets us know him in is triumph over sin and death. The grace of the Ascension is to know him as the Cosmic Christ. What about Pentecost? “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus said this to his apostles. The bishop said this to you when you were confirmed. The Spirit, then, is not given only once. The Spirit is an ongoing promise that is always being fulfilled, because the Spirit is infinite and boundless and can never be fully plumbed. The Spirit is all gift, all ours when we give Him away. It is the Spirit who makes us one with God and in God. The Spirit is the gift of God welling up in the Trinity from the common heart of the Father and the Son. The Spirit is the overflow of the divine life into the sacred humanity of Jesus, and then into us.

Another Look at Jesus’ Ascension

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | May 17, 2024 |

            When Jesus became human, he annihilated the dichotomy between matter and spirit. In the Person of the Divine-human Being, we see God’s plan to make matter divine, something already done in the glorified humanity of his Son. The grace bestowed on us by the Ascension is the divinization of our humanity, meaning our person is permeated by the Spirit of God.

            The grace of the Ascension offers an incredible union, that is, the invitation to enter into the cosmic Christ—into his divine person, the Word of God, who has always been present in the world in a saving way because of God’s foreknowledge of his incarnation, death, and resurrection. This is the Christ who disappeared beyond the clouds not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation. In particular, he has penetrated the very depths of our being. Our separate-self sense has melted into his divine Person, and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.  Consequently, when you mow lawn or fold laundry, it is Christ living and acting in you. Our transformation into Christ appears in the guise of ordinary things—yes, in your daily routine. The Spirit transforms everything into Christ. “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). Do you see in everyone and everything the presence of God’s light, love, and glory?  (Resource:  The Mystery of Christ, Thomas Keating)