November 21 – the story of saving the Congregation

The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a special memory for the Congregation, not only because of our Marian spirituality, but because of the miracle of salvation years ago our sisters experienced in the first days. In the 1870s, our Congregation was only “putting up the first steps”. It wasn’t actually a religious congregation yet, and it was recognized by the bishop for the church association. The Founder, John Schneider tried very hard and he did a great deal to ensure that the small community of women devoted to God would finally be recognized by the Church and approved as the new Congregation. This beautiful dream was meeting him however, with constant resistance and refusal from the Church authorities.

The political situation at that time was also not conducive to the creation of new monastic communities. On the contrary! State of Prussia, where the first community of our congregation was established, began an intense fight with the catholic Church at that time. This policy was called “Kulturkampf”. It was mainly about limitation influence and total subordination of the Catholic Church to the state. It wasn’t an armed fight, but mostly administrative. The rights and activities of the Church were limited by introduction of state laws. The most famous are the so-called “May Acts” of 1873, when it was in May that a new act came into force almost every day for some time restricting the normal functioning of the Church. Education was interfered with and appointment of clergy, disciplinary penalties, or the way it was supposed to be carried out withdrawal from the Catholic Church. Repression quickly followed . Many of the dioceses in Prussia were left empty, some bishops were imprisoned, and many priests were urged to disobey their superiors. It  became such repressions to our Founder, who openly took the side was also affected. Ecclesiastical authority and fidelity to one’s bishop were deprived of the right to receive payment by the state to parish priests. In the following years,new subsequent legal regulations were introduced. It was not for him to collect funds  as severe as the law that entered into force two years later, in May 1875 on the liquidation of monasteries. According to the new regulations, could stay in Prussia only orders and congregations that took care of the sick, and also those subjected have been subject to numerous restrictions. All Other religious communities had to leave the country.Initially, it seemed that this provision would not apply to the young community founded by Fr. John Schneider, because despite his best efforts, the congregation officially had not been approved. It was only at this point that the sisters and their Founder could read God’s plan in the adversities they encountered before. For 14 months they managed to survive in difficult conditions, explaining in the offices the lack of an official approval. It was not until September 8, 1876 that the government began to control the Foundation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to see if it is not acting as a religious congregation. The inspection started around 4:00 p.m. and lasted until 10:00 p.m.

The government delegate examined all the premises, realized the life of the foundation and the members who ran it. Then he questioned Father Schneider and every sister separately. The inspector asked insightful questions and then made a long report.

The atmosphere during the inspection and questioning was very serious, but before that leaving the Foundation, our founder had the courage to ask for the opinion of the controller, how long he thinks it will take to get the result of the investigations and what it is supposed to be. The inspector’s response was disturbing, the ex officio decision was to come within four weeks, and in his opinion the plant will have to be dissolved, while the sisters should leave this place. After over twenty years of building this foundation, which was supposed to be a new religious congregation, it seemed that this great effort was undertaken over and over again, with patience and trust in God, trying to strengthen the community of sisters was over. Given the unfavorable times, it was easy to fall into pessimism and hopelessness. However, in such great difficulties, both the Founder and the first sisters always had a positive attitude. The adversities happened as inspiration for even more intense activities! In the days following Inspector’s visit, Fr. Schneider undertook correspondence with government offices in which tried to prove and convince that the Foundation was not subject to the law on the dissolution of religious orders.

However, he and his sisters were afraid that this might not be enough, because similar communities and houses in Prussia just ceased to exist. Something else had to be done.

At that time, about 230km in the town of Filipowo in the Czech Republic, a way from Wrocław, a new pilgrimage site was becoming known. In 1866, therefore ten years earlier, Our Lady appeared there, to a simple girl Magdalena Kade healing her from many serious and incurable illnesses from which she had suffered for years. Place of apparitions,of the girl’s room in Filipów, began to be the destination of many spontaneous pilgrimages for people suffering from serious diseases and difficult life situations. It was in that time a place of living worship of Mary and many miraculous favors received by her intercession. So it seemed natural that this is where sisters should go to pray for the grace of saving the young religious community and the work to help women who had arisen through such toil. Sister Superior Matylda z and a few sisters went on a pilgrimage to Filipów and spent eight days there in prayers. At that time, there was no church at the apparition site (it was built only 9 years later), so the sisters went for Holy Mass in  the church, more than 2 km away. During this eight-day prayer, Mother Matilda made a promise to Mary that each year the sisters of the  Foundation of the holy Virgin Mary will make a pilgrimage to Filipów if the Mother of God will hear their prayers and will keep the Foundation from dissolution.

Immediately after returning, the Foundation received the following government letter: “Based on the results of the survey conducted on September 8 this year. In the house  of the Blessed Virgin Mary  on the so-called sisters of Mary Immaculate, in connection with the Act of 31 V last year concerning orders and congregations of the Catholic Church, after the trial, gentlemen,the minister of the interior and the minister of worship decided that the so-called Sisters of Mary Immaculate can remain. This positive response in such difficult times was for our Founder, and for the first community of sisters a sign of God’s Providence and Mary’s protection over the new congregation. Since then, M. Matylda, and later her successor and subsequent generations sisters, kept in their hearts the memory of saving the Congregation and made pilgrimages every year to Philipov to give thanks for the graces that the Lord bestows on the community of sisters and their works. Yes it was un interrupted until the First World War. New order in Europe, political changes and territory after the war prevented the sisters from easily crossing the border with the Czech Republic, where it was located in Filipowo, but the sisters did not want to give up this beautiful tradition only because of political difficulties. Therefore, they decided to change the place of pilgrimage and continued their annual thanksgiving pilgrimage in Bardo Śląski, where there is a statue of the Mother of God, the Keeper of Faith. In the sanctuary in Bardo in 1926,  in the presence of the Superior General,sr. M. Klotilda, there was a solemn dedication of Congregation to the Mother of God. After Another war and political turmoil made the sisters for some time again not able to continue their thanksgiving  pilgrimage. Today is a tradition the pilgrimage to Bard on the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God is still upheld and let us hope that even this year we are going through endurance because of the many pandemic limitations, even a small group of sisters will manage to make a pilgrimage to the throne of Mary. Through her holy hands, we thank God for saving our congregation, but also for the care and many favors we experience to this day.

Today, the Congregation is much larger than it was in the first years of its existence, our communities live and evangelize in different parts of the world. Not only by coronavirus, but also simply by the long distances between some communities and the sanctuary in Bardo or not through sickness and age all the sisters can take part in this beautiful continuing pilgrimage of thanksgiving for generations, but we can make this day our thanksgiving together!

We thank God together for His favors towards the Congregation and we can thank ourselves everywhere, even thousands of kilometers from Bard. May this day of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Virgin Mary  be for our entire Congregation and all our loved ones an opportunity to express their gratitude in prayer for so many graces,and what happened to us thanks to God’s grace.

Sr.M. Sybilla Kołtan