History of our foundation

Capuchinesses in Baden

Maria Anna experiences personally the closure of that convent

In 1840 Father Theodosius opened the boarding school of the Coronation of Our Lady. The school was meant to train "able teaching sisters". He also developed plans for the reform of the school education.

Father Theodosius intended to begin his plan of the education of society at large in the convent of the Capuchinesses in Baden. The enemies of the church would be fought with its own weapons i.e. promotion of education of society, especially through education of girls.

He was able to pursue his plans because of his position as chaplain of that convent since the autumn of 1838

Maria Anna Heimgartner (17 years), Anna Kramer (16 years) and Walburga Maeder (15 years) allowed themselves to be stirred by the enthusiasm and dynamism of the Capuchin. They became students at the pensionate of the Coronation of Our Lady, 1839. At the time Sr Seraphina Bochelen was superior.

2 February 1841 the sisters had to leave the convent in the midst of winter within 48 hours. The Canton government had declared the closure of the eight convents in the Canton Aargau and the arrest of Father Theodosius.

The rights of the catholic church were severely hampered by the Articles of Baden. The three girls had to discontinue their education and return home.

The Storm against Convents in the Canton of Aargau

The dissolution of the eight convents, 1841

The dissolution of the convents (four male monasteries – Benedictines; Cistercians of Wettingen, Baden and Bremgarten) were a serious offence against the Federal Treaty of 1815 which guaranteed the safety of religious houses.

From the speech by the director of the seminary in Aargau: "place a monk on the green pastures of paradise and you will see that as far as his shadow falls the grass will die and no longer grow. The monasteries began with idleness and intrigues and in idleness and intrigues they will end. In the orient and occident all they left behind were bare steppes, barbarity and a state of incivility". 

The Ursulines of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany

In June 1841, after the disruption of their studies at the Capuchinesses in Baden, Maria Anna Heimgartner, Anna Kramer and Walburga Mäder left their home country to continue their studies in Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany. There they continued their education with the Ursulines under the guidance of the superior and directress Sr Karoline Kaspar.

The political situation of the grand duchy Baden-Württemberg was not very different to the one in Switzerland. The state promulgated regulations for all female teaching orders. The sisters were not allowed to have enclosure, pray their office, make final vows or take in novices. Their existence was allowed only in view of one goal, the education of female youth.

Since they had no noviciate the three young women could not continue their way into religious life with the Ursulines.

In Freiburg Maria Anna had the opportunity to experience openness to the world, tolerance and respect for other Christian denominations. Here she gained a wide general knowledge and practical experience of sound teaching methods from which she would benefit later on in the training of her novices in Menzingen.

Karoline Kaspar (1780 – 1860)

Karoline Kaspar had the reputation of an energetic woman with a masculine character. At the same time it is said about her that she was kind, had a captivating humour, was a good organiser, clear-sighted and prudent.

1801 she made her final vows. After that she taught at the convent school for girls in Freiburg. She taught primary school subjects as well as French. In 1809, at the age of 29, she was elected by her sisters as "directress and superior".

In Sr Karoline Kaspar, superior and directress of the newly established school, the three young women met "an energetic, convinced and convincing teaching sister. A woman who was stamped by the spirit of enlightenment coming from the church" (Wessenberg). A woman, who in the face of constant supervision by the state and threatened by the danger of dissolution of convent schools, had to fight repeatedly for the identity of her community.

Sr Karoline Kaspar was concerned about a religious atmosphere in her institute. She was determined to retain a conventual life-style for her sisters. She wanted well educated and dedicated teaching sisters 

 Sisters of Divine Providence, Ribeauville

Mother Bernarda's Vision gains shape

In May, 1843 the three young women left Freiburg and went to the Sisters of Divine Providence in Ribeauville. In autumn 1843 they entered the noviciate and received the following names: Sr Bernarda Heimgartner, Sr Feliciana Kramer and Sr Cornelia Maeder.

Mother Bernarda most probably received the greatest initiative for the foundation of a new religious congregation in Ribeauville. Here she learned to know an apostolic congregation with the two components: openness to God and openness to people. She received a clear concept for her future work: to contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God through education of young girls in public schools.

The three novices were formed by the Spirituality of the Sisters of Divine Providence in an unlimited trust in God.

Mother Bernarda remained united throughout her life to the Sisters of Ribeauville. For her Ribeauville remained her spiritual home.

"No doubt the Spirit of God was at work in that house". (Mother Bernarda)

History of Ribeauville

Mother Bernarda's spiritual home

The spiritual father of the Sisters of Divine Providence is the Priest Jean-Martin Moye (1730 – 1793)

Moye sent the first five women into the villages to teach. They had no special education and no guarantee for financial support. In this way they had to express in the concrete situation their trust in God. Moye called them: "Daughters of Divine Providence".

They lived without a fixed income and were prepared anytime to move to another place. On days when they had no lessons to give, they worked in the fields. They did not form a settled community. They had no convents, no Motherhouse, no enclosure, no religious dress, no rule, no vows.

This movement was actually against the thoughts of enlightenment prevalent at the time. To put one's trust completely into the Will of Divine Providence was something that shocked many farmers, the clergy and people of higher society. But Moye did not give up.

Moye's association grew very fast. After 12 years there were almost 60 sisters of Divine Providence active in 40 schools. In spite of some adaptations their radical life-style had not changed much.

After the French Revolution the two priest brothers Bruno and Ignace Mertian undertook a reform. In 1824 the sisters received the approbation of their rule.

The novices, and so Mother Bernarda, were instructed in the spirit of the Sisters of Divine Providence and learned to know that rule. What she learned here was taught 100 years later still in the noviciate in Menzingen: "faithfulness in small things can be an expression of our love for God and neighbour".

The expression frequently used was: "dedication to the work of Christian Education in the spirit of faith".

Ignace Mertian said in 1843 that the noviciate had two functions: preparation for the religious life and preparation for professional life. The noviciate was a kind of teachers' training college.