Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, Foundress

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Foundress

Artist: Erich Klimek, Bavaria, 1985.

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.

Spirituality

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.

Innovation

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

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Artist: Sister Mary Leo Hargarten, SSND.

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.

Beatification

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.  Learn more about Blessed Theresa’s beatification here.

On the occasion of her beatification, a daily collection of quotations from Blessed Theresa was published (Trust and Dare: Words for Each Day.) In the forward, Sr. Mary Margaret Johanning (General Superior at the time) wrote:

“To dare to risk something – small or great – because of deep trust in God and in others is a gift possessed by holy people. In the lives of such people, a decisive moment occurs in which the way of God is clear; from that moment, they dare anything and everything to do what they understand to be God’s will. They do this because of their absolute trust in their God who calls and works in and through them, even through their weakness and sinfulness.

“Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, was such a woman. From the moment that she was convinced that it was God’s will for her to direct her entire being to the proclamation of the kingdom, particularly to the poor, and specifically through education, she trusted totally and dared all for this cause. She called others to do the same because she was convinced that in unity there was strength.

“If we trust God and dare all for the kingdom, the world can and will be transformed.”