September 7, 2019

They are close to the People

Patricia Hobi, Mels, Switzerland

A journalist lives a day with the Sisters of Mary

Excerpt from a newspaper article by Patricia Hobi, Mels, Switzerland

(Part 1)

A life for God and our fellow men: 28 Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary live in the Neu-Schönstatt Center in Quarten.

A visit to them shows that they are anything but withdrawn.

In advance, I expected: a lot of peace, little talking, experiencing a world unknown to me. But it came differently – because the New Schoenstatt Center is not a “real monastery”. The members do not live like a religious community, but “in the world”. They do not live isolated, but close to society and current events. The Sisters of Mary, with their warm and “tough” nature, have given me an extremely interesting and warm stay.


 Blue eyes and black hair

At 4.00 pm I was welcomed at the reception desk of the New-Schoenstatt Center by Sister M. Florence Harder. She is friendly, young, has blue eyes, wears glasses and a sister’s dress. Her dark hair is under a night-blue veil.  A guided tour with her through the rooms is the first item on the agenda. We walk through the building. Sister M. Florence shows me the house chapel, the provincial house and the small Marian shrine, behind which the idyllic mountain world and the Walensee are to be seen. It is over 85 degrees– hot; I wear a T-shirt and airy trousers. Sister M. Florence is “wrapped” in her traditional dress. How does she deal with the heat? You get used to it, she says.

After eight years of membership

After the tour comes the thirst. We sit down with a glass of Rivella on the terrace. I enjoy the cooler temperatures and the beautiful view. Sister M. Florence also likes it here very much. She appreciates the location and the nature all around. We talk about her life and that of the community. I have many questions and she has an answer for everyone. Eight years ago Sister Florence decided to live with the Sisters of Mary. Soon the 32-year-old will be “forever” committed to the community. The sisters make this covenant after eight years of membership. So much time is needed to become really sure of this step. For the founder of the Movement, Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), it was important to have satisfied sisters in the community.

Deciding for a life without needs

I learn that the sisters live completely undemanding. They only buy something when they really need it. They spend their vacation visiting their family, retreating or relaxing in the mountains. Many things that make me and many others happy, like going out with friends, buying a nice shirt, going to the movies or swimming in Lake Walen, they never do. Because the sisters have decided for a life without needs. Consciously. And that is why they are satisfied with the decision. Does she ever have the feeling that something is missing? “No, not really,” says Sister M. Florence.

Soon the glasses are empty: It is 6 pm – time for Holy Mass in the Quartner Church. The Sisters of Mary stand silently in the benches. The sun shimmers through the glass windows and makes the colors shine.

Her eyes shine friendly

After the service Sister M. Alessandra Kempf welcomes me and she will eat with me. She is not wearing the traditional dress or a veil, but a green long shirt and a beige long skirt. She says she is on her way “in civilian clothes” and her blue eyes shine friendly.

Stealing horses with her

We enjoy the food from the buffet. It is a wonderful summer evening. Sister M. Alessandra laughs often and gladly, is open and somehow doesn’t seem to fit into the structured everyday life of the sisters. She seems much more spontaneous and as if you could steal horses with her. But obviously she likes it very much in the sisterhood – she has been there for 25 years. On her finger is the ring with a cross on it, which she received 17 years ago and which symbolizes “eternity”.

Carrying Christ to the people

It doesn’t take long, and we’re sinking into a conversation about values and decisions. She explains to me that the sisters see something special in every person and that God can be found in everyone. Within this framework lies the task of the sisters: They want – like Mary, the Mother of Jesus – to carry Christ to the people. To be a link between God and society. This is their main profession next to all their tasks. Many sisters have a task in the community. Sister M. Florence is responsible for the youth, and Sister M. Alessandra runs the sewing studio.

And as it is when two women drink coffee, time flies. Sister M. Alessandra briefly shows me her sewing studio, which is bright and spacious. The windows offer a view of the Provincial House and the Shrine of Mary. Outside, the sisters are already going in the direction of the chapel: the evening prayer is due at 8.30 pm.

Then they retreat quietly.

In the shrine I get a booklet and I recite the verses. One sister prays a passage, then all together say the next. In between there are pauses for their own prayer. The sisters know all the sentences by heart. After the 15-minute prayer time, the women retreat quietly.

At this time of day the evening would really start for me. I sit down next to the chapel on a bench, enjoy the sunset and write down my impressions of today. And soon I also try to sleep, because I know: Tomorrow at 5.45 o’clock is wake-up time.

(to be continued)