While she never visited the USA in her lifetime, MOTHER MARIA THERESIA BONZEL, foundress of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, made foundations in this country.
There are four provinces in the U.S. and a mission in Brazil.
Mother Maria Theresia was born Aline Bonzel Sept. 17, ( the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis) 1830, in Olpe, a small town in the Sauerland area of Germany. She was the daughter of wealthy citizens of Olpe. Her father died early, and her mother raised her with a strong faith. Aline believed she was called to religious life but her mother protested. Eventually she allowed Aline to enter religious life.
Many difficulties, including heart disease, stood in her way until age 29, when she joined with two of her friends to form a community, although not the Franciscan sisters for whom she would eventually become foundress. This new community experienced conflict with another community doing nursing in Olpe and friction among its own co-founders. Causing more tension was Sister Maria Theresia’s wish to use the Franciscan rule, which ran counter to the established Augustinian rule. The Church authorities stepped in to create two communities. Sister Maria Theresia became the superior of the new community in Olpe, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration came into existence in 1863.
Mother Theresia was resistant to founding this new group, the Poor Franciscans of Olpe, but did what was asked of her. She wrote the Constitutions after the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. She also needed to form a way of life, a style of clothing and provide for the economic needs of the new congregation.
She sought to combine the contemplative and active religious life through an unfailing commitment to perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the works of mercy in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.
Mother Theresia started schools of advanced education for girls, and they began to provide nursing outside Olpe. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), she sent sisters to nurse victims of war, and five sisters eventually died from the diseases contracted there. Mother Theresia and 20 of her sisters were awarded medals by the Emperor for their service.
Their ministries came to an abrupt halt with the beginning of Chancellor Bismarck’s attempt to control the Church. To evade having the young community’s property confiscated as “church property,” it became the property of Aline Bonzel, Mother Theresia’s maiden name. Soon new candidates could not be accepted. The community was at a standstill, forbidden to perform most of their ministries.
At the invitation of Bishop Dwenger, Mother Maria Theresia sent seven sisters to Lafayette, Ind. in 1875. In the U.S. they could not only nurse freely, but were asked to become teachers to the children of German immigrants. Soon more sisters were needed for the work in Lafayette. Since the Kulturkampf forbade accepting any new members into the community, Mother Maria Theresia secretly invested three young women during the night and sent them in lay clothes to America. She even considered sending the entire community to the U.S. But by 1850 the legislation of the Kulturkampf, still in effect, was no longer enforced. Growth came quickly in Germany.
In 1875, Mother Maria Theresia sent six members of the order to the United States, where they established hospitals, schools and other institutions. The nuns landed in New York Dec. 12, 1875, and continued on to Lafayette, Ind., where they established a hospital.
Today, the sisters operate 14 hospitals across the Midwest and serve God’s people, the poor and vulnerable in Colorado, California, and New Mexico.
The remainder of Mother Maria Theresia’s life was spent leading the community in Germany. At each election for the general superior she was overwhelmingly elected, despite her wish to leave that office. In 1900 she was awarded the medal of the Order of the Red Cross by Emperor Wilhelm II in recognition of the great work of the congregation. In 1903 she was near death for weeks, but recovered. In 1904, despite her protestations and weakening health, she was reelected general superior. Mother Maria Theresia died Feb.6, 1905.
Her first miracle occurred with the sudden healing of a 4 year old boy living in Colorado Springs. She will be beatified Nov. 10 in Paderborn, Germany.