Sisters of Christian Charity reflect on foundress

Care for others was a trait Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt absorbed as a child, accompanying her Catholic mother as she helped the poor in Germany and something she maintained throughout her life. 

As “The Woman Who Couldn’t Be Stopped” – a book Sister of Christian Charity Delphine Wedmore later wrote about her – Blessed Pauline exemplified the meaning of courage, fortitude, faith and being a servant of the poor.

“She was a daily communicant and would walk four miles to Mass in the countryside carrying a basket containing a prayer book and medical supplies to help people,” said Sister of Christian Charity M. Joanne Ladwig, who lives in New Orleans.

Sister Joanne said there will be three upcoming local events surrounding the 200th birthday of Blessed Pauline, who founded the Sisters of Christian Charity.

A feast day Mass is scheduled April 30 at 11 a.m. at Transfiguration of the Lord Church on Elysian Fields and Prentiss avenues, site of the former St. Raphael School where the sisters taught from 1948-99.

A second celebration will be a 6 p.m. May 12 Mass at St. Henry Church, the site of the Sisters of Christian Charity’s former convent, where Blessed Pauline visited in 1873 and 1879 and where the sisters staffed the parish school from 1873-1973. Father José Lavastida, a “companion” of Blessed Pauline, will give the homily. A reception will follow Mass. Those attending are asked to RSVP at 288-1626.

On June 3, Blessed Pauline’s birthday, a Mass will be celebrated at 4 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church on State Street, where the sisters served from 1891-1996.

“She was a woman of the church and loved the church so much,” Sister Joanne said. “New Orleans was the first mission. That’s why we are so excited.”


Her innate empathy
Blessed Pauline heeded her mother Bernardine’s dying words: “Walk in the presence of God. … Take care of your brothers and sister and of your father.” At age 17, she entertained dignitaries for her Protestant political father, Detmar von Mallinckrodt, while continuing her concern for the poor.

In 1842, she opened a day nursery for children of working mothers in rooms of a former Capuchin monastery donated by Paderborn Bishop Ledebur. She later converted part of the monastery into a home for the blind.

When her ministry became overwhelming, her former instructor and family friend, Cologne Auxiliary Bishop Anton Claessen, suggested she form a religious order. On Aug. 21, 1849, she founded the Sisters of Christian Charity.

“She had a desire to give herself for God,” Sister Joanne said. “She wanted children in Germany to have the Catholic faith.”

Germany ouster, U.S. gain
Between 1860 and 1890, when Otto von Bismarck (the “Iron Chancellor”) ruled Germany, Catholicism was under attack in what was called a Kulturkampf (cultural struggle). Sister Joanne said Bismarck wouldn’t allow Catholic religious to wear habits. He expelled the Jesuits and began expropriating property from religious orders such as the Sisters of Christian Charity, leaving the sisters without the ability to teach in schools or run orphanages.

Having previously been invited by German-speaking Catholic parishes in the United States, the sisters traveled across the Atlantic to New Orleans in 1873, Sister Joanne said. By 1880, 170 Sisters of Christian Charity were in the United States.

“Lots of Catholics were immigrating to the United States and invited the sisters to come serve where they settled,” Sister Joanne said. “Right away, (the sisters) established novitiates here that novices and postulants from parishes in the United States entered.”

 

Centuries of work continue
Since their arrival in New Orleans, the Sisters of Christian Charity have worked at Our Lady of Lourdes, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans; Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville; St. Mary Magdalen and St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie; St. Joseph and St. Anthony schools in Gretna; Bethany House of Prayer in New Orleans; Marywood in Folsom; and St. Charles Borromeo in Baton Rouge, Sister Joanne said. That’s in addition to the local celebration sites.

Four Sisters of Christian Charity continue to serve in New Orleans: Sisters Francetta Scherer, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Chateau de Notre Dame; Joanne Ladwig, a formation leader for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, training teachers at St. Angela Merici and establishing an atrium for children at Transfiguration of Our Lord as well as a coordinator of the Companions of Pauline and a 4th World Movement ATD supporter; Mary Kim Tran, a vocation group coordinator at St. Dominic, Passages Hospice worker and a dietitian who teaches nutrition at the People Program; and Monica Cormier, a member of the Western Region of the Sisters of Christian Charity vocation team.

During this anniversary year, Sister Joanne said Sisters of Christian Charity worldwide – 442 in North America, South America, Rome, the Philippines and Germany – have united to advance Blessed Pauline’s “essence.” They are studying excerpts from 24 volumes of her letters while continuing to minister outside of New Orleans in schools, hospitals, parishes, operating the Margaretha Home for the Blind mission in the Philippines and providing pastoral care.

Blessed Pauline died in 1881 and was beatified April 14, 1985, by St. John Paul II. 

“For the past three years, we have been looking forward to this anniversary and looking for ways to revitalize her spirit,” Sister Joanne said.  

And hoping Mother Pauline will be canonized as a saint, for they believe she is already one.

“We’re waiting for one more miracle,” for canonization, Sister Joanne said. 

The book, “The Woman Who Couldn’t Be Stopped,” is available locally at Mule’s, the Catholic Book Store and Pauline Books.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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