"All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain, but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier."
Today, May 9, we celebrate the feast day of Blessed Mother Maria Theresa von Jesus Gerhardinger (1797-1979), the Foundress and First Superior General of the Congregation of the Poor School Sisters of Notre Dame (1833 to 1879). Blessed Theresa was selected to govern her community at a time when men generally oversaw the spiritual development of religious communities. Possessing a deep spirit and keen mind, Theresa recognized that the Sisters of Notre Dame required her leadership, and through her guidance, the community spread through Europe, and later the world. It is written of Blessed Mother Theresa:
"Longing for the oneness of all in God, grounded the congregation in Eucharist, anchored it in poverty, and dedicated it to Mary. A woman of faith, ever seeking God's will, she struggled for unity in our international community and responded to urgent needs, preferring the poor and educating with a world vision. In these gifts of the Spirit to our foundress, Mother Theresa, we recognize the evolving charism of our congregation." (Prologue, You Are Sent, p. 17-18)
Blessed Theresa was born Caroline Gerhardinger, to a working class family in Bavaria. As a child, she demonstrated a love for the Lord, a gentle spirit, and a concern for others in her parish. Her parish priest encouraged her to pursue an education, to become a teacher. Caroline approached this task with a sprititually balanced view, believing strongly that a child's need for love, safety and food were as important as formal education. She wrote, "Let us never forget the love of Jesus for children, whom he took upon his lap and blessed."
Gradually, through her work, Caroline felt drawn to greater service to the Lord. She received education from the Canonesses of Saint Augustine, until 1809 when all religious orders were closed by decree of the Bavarian government. Caroline was discouraged, but not disheartened, and soon came to realize that she was to found a new religious order, once which would remedy social difficulties through education. She dedicated her life to assisting the downtrodden, namely women and children, to achieve and succeed through education. This founding principle was the driving force behind her new order, the Poor School Sisters of Notre Dame.
In 1828, when the Vatican was able to negotiate the reopening of religious communities with the Bavarian government, Caroline and the sisters of her order moved into a refurbished convent. Caroline took the name Theresa in religious life, and soon became known as Teresa of Jesus due to her devotion to the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The congregation’s Rule and Constitutions were approved by the Vatican in 1854 and the Order began to quickly spread. While most religious orders of her time were governed by men, she was convinced that a woman could better understand, direct and motivate her sisters. The Constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, approved by Pope Pius IX in 1865, allowed Mother Theresa and her successors, rather than local bishops, to govern the congregation. Teresa spent the rest of her life devoted to the work.
Under her leadership, the congregation spread across Europe, and later to America following the wave of German immigration. Within a year, they established a presence in seven US cities. By the time Blessed Theresa died, the congregation numbered more than 2500 sisters, working in elementary schools, orphanages, industrial schools, nurseries, and Kindergartens. Today, there are over 7500 Poor Sisters of Notre Dame, spread across 825 convents in 31 countries on five continents!
Blessed Theresa once said, "For us education means enabling persons to reach the fullness of their potential as individuals created in God’s image." We pray today for all those who are deprived of education due to poverty, oppression, or other factors. We pray for liberation through education, for spiritual growth that comes from freedom, and for grateful hearts for all we have received.
Prayer for Education
Father, we thank You for our children and our lives, they are our heritage. Thank You also Lord for those You have gifted and called to teach our children. We pray for their protection, and we ask You to shield their innocence.
Lord, let Your anointing rest on those who educate. Bless those in school administration with Your wisdom that comes from above and brings peace. Grant them knowledge of Your will and courage to follow after it. We pray that Your name would be exalted above all knowledge that puffs up, and we ask You to establish Your throne in the hearts of all through education. We pray that all would be taught of the Lord and that their peace would be great.
We ask You Lord to cause all peoples to be of excellent spirit, just as Daniel and Joseph were in their day. Holy Spirit, we pray that you would teach us, and help us to remember what you have taught us. Most of all, Lord, we pray that we would learn how to inquire of You and to receive what we need through You. Amen.