The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration are thrilled at the approved beatification of their German founder, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel, after a Vatican-recognized miracle in Colorado.
“We are enthusiastically surprised,” Sister Clarice Gentrup, the congregation's vicar general, told CNA April 2.
“After all these years, we’re coming closer and closer to beatification and canonization, possibly.”
Pope Francis approved the 19th century nun's beatification on March 27. The ceremony will be celebrated at the Catholic cathedral in Paderborn, Germany on Nov. 10 and her hometown of Olpe will host an event on Nov. 11.
The miracle attributed to Mother Maria Theresia involves the healing of a Colorado Springs boy named Luke Burgie. In September 1998, at the age of four, he began suffering from a severe viral infection that caused chronic diarrhea. Many doctors and specialists could not cure him.
“Nobody could really diagnose what the cause of it was,” Sr. Gentrup said. “They tried to heal him, but nothing helped. He was losing weight, and a little four-year-old doesn’t have a lot of weight to lose.”
Luke's older sister Jill met some Sisters of St. Francis when they visited her parish elementary school, where she was a student. Her family invited two sisters to supper at their home, where they learned about Luke’s illness. The sisters began a novena to Mother Maria Theresia for Luke in late January 1999.
Luke was suddenly cured on Feb. 22, 1999, without scientific explanation.
His mother said that he “just got up from the couch and began playing like a normal happy kid,” the Sisters of St. Francis reported on their website. At the time, Luke simply said “Jesus healed me.”
Sr. Gentrup, who lives in Colorado Springs, said the boy is doing well fourteen years later.
“He was a healthy strong, wrestler in high school. He rides his bicycle and runs marathons,” Sr. Gentrup said. “He’s a normal, healthy teenager.”
She and her other Sisters of St. Francis are glad to see recognition of their foundress.
“Right now we’re very grateful she will be beatified. She was such a wonderful woman and such an inspiration to so many, many, many sisters.”
Mother Maria Theresia was born in Olpe in the German region of Westphalia on Sept. 17, 1830. She founded the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Olpe in 1863.
Her sisters cared for orphans, worked in teaching, and provided health care among many other acts of charity. They suffered under the “Kulturkampf,” the nineteenth-century German government’s program against the Catholic Church.
“She lived in some very difficult times in Germany,” Sr. Gentrup said.
Many laws and regulations tried to suppress religious work. Government officials said Mother Maria Theresia could not take care of orphans and they had to be placed in homes. One day a government officer came to her door and objected that she was still caring for orphans.
“She called all the orphans together and said 'officer, here they are, they’re yours,'” Sr. Gentrup recounted. “And he said, 'okay, we’ll give you a few more months to place them in homes.'”
“That’s the kind of determination Mother Maria Theresia had.”
She died on Feb. 6, 1905, at which time about 1,500 sisters were members of her congregation. Her sisters now minister in Germany, the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil.
Sr. Gentrup said Mother Maria Theresia had “a deep, deep faith in God and in Jesus, the Risen Christ.” Her devotion especially focused on the Blessed Sacrament.
“She always wanted a sister in the church or in the chapel, always praying for her work and for the work of everybody in the world, to move the whole world closer to the reign of God here on earth.”
The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration foundress wanted her congregation to “balance works of mercy with prayer.
Mother Maria Theresia’s advance towards beatification also drew comment from Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs
“I share the joy of our Franciscan sisters that their foundress Mother Bonzel will be beatified. It’s wonderful to know that she has been so close to us in her intercessory prayer,” Bishop Sheridan said April 2.
After she is beatified, Mother Maria Theresia will need one more recognized miracle to advance towards official sainthood.