Origin of the Congregation
The Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate was established in the mid-19th century in Wrocław, which was then owned by Russia. It was one of the first religious communities in Europe, whose members in their activities devoted themselves entirely to the poorest, despised and weakest, pushed to the margins of society. In this situation, many women and girls from poor rural regions have found themselves at the threshold of the era of capitalism and industrial development. Large, fast-growing cities attracted thousands of impoverished villagers who, in mass-emerging but also without any regulation of factories, were looking for ways to support themselves and their own families. A huge social change was also the taking up of regular paid work by women and even children, which often disrupted the way in which the family life that had been shaped over generations. Women were happy to be employed by factory owners because the wages they received were much lower than that of men. Many of them, unprepared for new social conditions and not protected by any law, were victims of fraud, exploitation and all sorts of crimes, which at the time was the norm for lower-status people. The most dignified and reasonably safe occupation that a woman or young girl could find in a growing big city was a servant’s job, although this profession was not always secure and safe. In the mid-19th century, in large European cities, girls and women from the countryside were the social group most vulnerable to contempt, demoralization and social injustice, in need of help and support.
Establishment of the Congregation
At the request of the municipal authorities and the local bishop, the young Priest of Wrocław, Fr. Johannes Schneider founded the Association for the Moral Raising of Servant Girls on December 8, 1854, to help women and girls who were at risk of immorality, the poor and the abandoned. Mary Immaculate was chosen as the main patroness of the Association, and St. Rose of Lima was appointed as the second patron saint. The main patronage holiday was to be the day of December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Special prayers were also introduced, which were denied at all meetings of the Board and members of the Association. Initially, the Association offered a safe accommodation for girls arriving in Wrocław, then help was organized in preparing and finding a decent job in the ministry profession, and provided protection and assistance to members of the Association in case of illness, loss of employment or other problems. Father J. Schneider wanted to invite nuns from the beginning, but the congregations dealing mainly in education or care of the sick did not see the opportunity to undertake completely new tasks, as for those times. Soon, however, they reported to Fr. Schneider that there was a first woman who wanted to sacrifice her life as a nun, caring for girls who were morally at risk, poor, in need of help and support. The first candidates of the future religious assembly undertook the formation under the leadership of Fr. Johannes Schneider, while continuing the work carried out by the Association. In 1863, they adopted a religious dress from the Hands of the Founder, and a year later one of them was chosen, Sister Matilda Scholz, as the first superior of the new community. The procedures for the legal approval of the new Religious Congregation in the Church were very difficult and complicated. It was not until 1897 that Pope Leo XIII approved the existing Congregation, granting it papal rights by decree called The Decretum Laudis. The final legal record was made by Pope Pius XI in 1932, however, as the official date of the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate is assumed to be on December 8, 1854.
During the solemn Mass of Immaculate conception in the Church of St. Matias in Wroclaw, members of the Association joined the Communion of St. and in a special prayer they dedicated their lives to the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate – Patroness and Queen. This is the traditional date of formation of the congregation. This first sacrifice involves the custom of the annual consecration of the Immaculate on the day of the patron saint’s feast, December 8, and the renewal of vows by the sisters.
The first two rooms were opened as a shelter for girls.
At the end of the year, the Association had 1050 girls in need of support.
Help was initiated for the sick servants, members of the Association, funding 6 places in the All Saints’ Hospital.
The final decision was made to buy a house at ul. Krupnicza 10 in Wroclaw (today St. Joseph), who in the future would serve as a shelter for girls and a monastery for sisters.
The first women came forward to be religious sisters and continue the work of the Association.
Adoption of religious attire by the first candidates wishing to prepare for religious life in the emerging Congregation.
The association has been given the powers of a legal person.
Choosing a superior of the new community. Until now, our founder himself was a superior. However, he came to the conclusion that the female religious community should have a woman as a superior. S. Matilda Scholz was chosen and elected. When the Congregation began to establish an institution (the first in Raciborz in 1886) S. Matilda was appointed Superior General.
The Founder’s Priest made a request to Fr. Archbishop H. Förster for the approval of the Congregation of the Virgin Mary by submitting statutes drawn up on the basis of the St. Augustine’s rule
In a building purchased by the Association in Wrocław, a care facility was set up for children who were deprived of parental care. Two sisters worked there.
Recognition by the Archbishop in the Wrocław Association founded by Fr. Johannes Schneider for ecclesiastical association. The request for approval of the Religious congregation was not fulfilled.
Fr. Johannes Schneider made a special request to Pope Pius IX for the approval of his association, as a religious congregation, as well as for the granting of indulgences for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception and St. Rose.
The Archbishop informed our Founder that a reply had come from Rome that statutes and several other missing documents should be sent immediately. However, the statutes could not be sent to Rome because they were not approved by the bishop.
Revised Statutes, Fr. J. Schneider once again presented to the Archbishop.
The number of girls staying in the Association’s house increased from year to year. In 1869 there were 266 girls, and in 1870 330 and dependent association 40 sick servants. In 1873 there were only 278 wards. The number began to decrease when Kulturkampf began.
The congregation was recognized by the Archbishop of Wrocław.
The Founder was appointed as a parish priest of St. Peter’s Parish.
As part of the fight against the Church during Kulturkampf, there was a threat to dismantle the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate under the Law on the Liquidation of Monasteries.
In the intention of saving the Congregation, the sisters made pilgrimages to Filipowo (Czech Republic). There, in the Sanctuary of Our Lady, sister Superior Matilda vowed to Mary that if Mary hears their requests, then in gratitude the sisters of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate will make their pilgrimages to this place every year. The sisters stayed in Filipowo for 8 days. After returning to Wrocław, a letter of its own motion authorizing the functioning of the Congregation was found (25.11. 1876). The tradition of the sisters’ pilgrimage continues up to date. However, the sisters make the pilgrimage not to Filipowo, but to the Bardo, because the border difficulties later prevented the pilgrimage to Filipowo.
Death of our Founder. The funeral was attended by Fr. Prelate Robert Spiske. The submission of the mortal remains of Fr. Johannes Schneider was made at a personal cemetery in Wroclaw.
Purchase of a lot next to the existing house of the Association in Wroclaw. The place was intended to build a shelter for old and sick servants.
The construction of the shelter was completed and the first four old women were accepted.
The first Mass was celebrated. in the chapel of the Virgin Mary’s Association. This was a long-standing desire of the late Founder.
Establishment of the first community house in Raciborz.
The appointment of Mother Matilda Scholz as the first Superior General.
Opening of the first house in Berlin, Melchiorstrasse 31.
Opening of the second religious institution in Berlin, Fehrellinerstrasse 98.
Curator of the Congregation Fr. Aloysius Sambale re-sent the Constitutions to Fr. Bishop G. Kopp asking for their approval.
The first canonical religious profession in Berlin and Wroclaw.
Approval of the Constitution of the Congregation by Fr. Bishop Georg Kopp.
Death of M. Matilda Scholz – the first Superior General.
Election of M. Hedwig Mandel as Superior General.