February 14, 2023 // Bishop

Honoring the Honorable

We all are called to be saints. We are all called thereby to be religious. Even Jesus said we need to be perfect as Our Heavenly Father is perfect and to pray always. Jesus also said that we will be judged on how well we serve the needs of others. As Christians, we are expected simply to be Christlike.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration around the world … in Germany, the Philippines, and even some 50 strong here at the Motherhouse of their Eastern Province in the United States at Mount Alverno in Mishawaka, along with many others joined Bishop Rhoades for a Mass to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the year foundress Blessed Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel (1830-1905) was beatified by Pope Francis.

To be beatified, one’s life must go through the thorough and rigorous process of being seen as a Servant of God, then Venerable, and after a proven miracle, Beatified, and then canonized after a second miracle.

Photos by Phil Niswonger
A candle and flowers surround a photo of Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel on display at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka during a Mass on Tuesday, Feb. 9, celebrating the 10th anniversary of her beatification.

The documented miracle defying medical explanation for Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel was the instant cure of Jan Burgie’s 4-year-old son, Luke, in Denver, Colorado, who had suffered for six months from an incurable and severe intestinal illness. On Jan. 26, 1999, Mrs. Burgie called the Sisters of St. Francis, St. Joseph Province, in Colorado Springs. Sister Margaret Mary, OSF, sent Mrs. Burgie Venerable Mother Maria  Theresia Bonzel’s prayer cards. The sisters also prayed a novena every morning for Luke (The sisters pray 24/7 in Adoration for prayer requests). On Feb. 22, 1999, Luke was suddenly healed. This was the first time that he had no symptoms since September of 1998. He just got up and started playing. And Luke said, “Jesus healed me.”

Then in 2001, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel’s beatification process, first begun in 1961, was intensified. Finally, the medical experts confirmed their investigation in 2011. On Jan. 15, 2013, the Commission of Cardinals unanimously agreed, declaring Luke’s healing as a miracle. Luke was able to attend Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel’s beatification.

According to Sister M. Angela of Mount Alverno, 49 sisters from the United States, Bishop Rhoades, and five other priests traveled from the United States in 2013 for Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel’s beatification in Olpe, Germany, which also happened to be the 150th anniversary of their order.

Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel founded the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in 1863. Shortly thereafter a widespread anti-clerical reaction in Germany early in the 1870s restricted the sisters’ work and the reception of new candidates. As a result, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel accepted the invitation of Bishop Joseph Dwenger to establish a convent within his diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Bishop Rhoades gives the homily during Mass at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka on Tuesday, Feb. 9, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the year foundress Blessed Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel was beatified by Pope Francis.

Bishop Rhoades concelebrated the Mass on Feb. 9 with six other priests; Father Tim Alkire and Father Gustavo Lopez from the Diocese of Lafayette; Father Dan Scheidt, Father Jason Freiburger, and Father Terry Fisher from our diocese; and Father Leonard Cornelius, OFM, the Chaplain of St. Francis Convent.

Bishop Rhoades’ homily spoke of Blessed Maria Theresia Bonzel’s example working for the Food of Eternal Life as she served the poor, the orphan, and children, and advocated Adoration. He said, “Mother Maria Theresia cultivated a life of prayer and recollection throughout her life. This transformed her. She was a radiant woman because Christ dwelled in her. It was evident by the way she lived. She had the true spirit of Christ in her which was seen in her beautiful love for the Sisters, in her love for the orphan children and the sick, in her patience and perseverance through her sufferings, which she united to those of Jesus. I think her frequent praying of the Stations of the Cross especially helped her to bear the crosses she had to bear. The greatest source of all her strength, the fount of the love she showed to so many, was Jesus in the Eucharist. In adoration, she expressed her overflowing love for Christ and she received from Him the gift to bring His love to others. She was constantly aware of Christ’s presence and people could see this, especially the Sisters.”

She represented the Living Word of God in Jesus. Bishop Rhoades shared from the Gospel that her life exemplified how we are to live the Eucharist and seek the Bread of Heaven. He said, “Her motto, ’He Leads, I follow’ is the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. Christ lived in her … and she united her suffering with Jesus, prayed on the Passion of Christ, and shared it with others.” He related how when the Papal Declaration was read for her beatification in Saint Martin’s Catholic Church in Olpe, Germany, the packed congregation erupted in joy. Blessed Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel was baptized there and her home is still across the street from the church. Bishop Rhoades said, “She grew under the soft light of the Eucharist.”

He finished with a prayer and said, “May the Eucharist be rediscovered in our diocese and in our country.” And to the gathered Sisters of St. Francis, “Bless you, her daughters, with His bountiful Grace and Love.”

The Mass concluded with the recessional “Hymn to Mother Theresia,” composed by Franciscan Sister Anita Holzmer, OSF, and text by Sister Belane Apel, OSF.

Sister M. Angela Mellady, OSF, Provincial Superior, said, “Our goal is to live as she lived and to spread her message to all those with whom we come in contact. Our primary charism of perpetual adoration is as relevant today as it was in 1863 when she founded our Congregation.” 

Sister M. Regina DeVress, OSF, who was a novice when she traveled 10 years ago to Germany for the Beatification said, “In the Collect for Blessed Maria Theresia, the Church acclaims her for ‘burning with a pure faith in the sacramental presence of Christ, to support her brethren in every need, regardless of the cost.’ Blessed Maria possessed that same seraphic love that led St. Francis to receive the wounds of Christ on His own body. Her burning love for Jesus in the Eucharist and His for her overflowed through her to her Sisters and those she served, seeming to know no limits. Adoration was the favorite occupation of her grateful heart, and we are so privileged to be in our 160th year of carrying on the Perpetual Adoration. Each time I go for my hour of adoration, I am amazed and honored to be entrusted with carrying on the torch of this long-standing legacy which we will continue in eternity.”

Sister M. Elaine Brothers, OSF, said that she was filled with the tears of joy as she reflected during the Anniversary Mass on her presence 10 years ago in Germany for Blessed Maria Theresia Bonzel’s Beatification.

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