Caroline Gerhardinger (1797-1879) lived during turbulent times in Bavaria. At the age of 15, she was already a certified teacher in the school for girls in Stadtamhof near Regensburg. She was a very gifted educator whose enthusiastic and encouraging acceptance of the children soon made her a beloved teacher. Under the spiritual guidance of Bishop George Michael Wittmann (1760-1833), Caroline gradually recognized God’s call to found a religious community in order to respond to the needs of the times through education.
On November 16, 1835, Caroline professed her religious vows and took the name, Mary Theresa of Jesus. Her love for God, nourished and strengthened by her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, enkindled the burning desire of her life: to know God and to do God’s will. God’s cause was the only concern of her heart. Blessed Theresa anchored her community in poverty and dedicated it to Mary.
In 1822, Caroline Gerhardinger had written, “The love of Jesus sees into the future.” As foundress, she endeavored to give the new congregation a future. She sent her sisters in communities of twos and threes to small towns and villages where they taught girls who would have been deprived of an adequate education. This brought about the development of a new form of apostolic religious life whereby all the sisters and houses were governed by a member of the congregation, a general superior. As a result, the congregation experienced rapid growth and acceptance, but Blessed Theresa and her sisters also suffered great hardship and painful struggle. In 1865, the rule and constitutions of the School Sisters of Notre Dame were finally approved by Pope Pius IX. Blessed Theresa then continued to govern the congregation as its general superior until her death in Munich on May 9, 1879.
On November 17, 1985, Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger was declared “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Beatification is the third of four steps in a process whereby the church declares that individuals may be honored and venerated due to their exemplary life of heroic virtue. This step is preceded by intense study of an individual’s life, writings, and virtues and, if he or she was not a martyr for the faith, proof of one miracle worked by God through his or her intercession. The fourth step of the process is canonization, whereby the person is declared to be a saint worthy of honor and veneration by the entire Catholic Church.