The Life of the Foundress and the Early Years of the Sisters of Mary in Vorau

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Barbara Sicharter, Foundress of the Vorau Sisters of Mary         

Barbara Sicharter was born on the 4th of December 1829 on a farm called “Kroneggerhof” in Wenigzell, Styria. She was the third of seven children. With the example of her devout mother constantly before her eyes, the young Barbara grew into the devotional life of her family and parish. Although she only attended school for three years, Barbara learned as much reading, writing, and arithmetic as was customary for a country girl of that time.

In the middle of her twenties, Barbara was walking through the woods when she saw a young tree, which had fallen down. She felt a desire to know what could cause such a young tree to fall over, and found that the tree was rotten and hollow on the inside. She was struck by a question: “What if I too, despite external health and beauty, am rotten and hollow inside?” This question continued to occupy her, and lead to a concentration on the interior life that enabled years of growth and maturation.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the 8th of December, 1861, Barbara Sicharter fell grievously ill. Her illness confined her to her bed for five months. During these months she began to feel a deep longing to give herself totally to God in a life of community. The years of severe trial that followed did not change this wish.

On the 30th of May, 1865, Barbara followed the call of God in her heart. Accompanied by a friend and carrying only the most necessary belongings in a basket strapped to her back, she set off into an uncertain future. In the vicinity of Vorau the two young women rented a little cottage called the “Tonihäusel”. One week later they were joined by two women from Wenigzell. The young women received spiritual direction from the Rev. Dom. Karl Engelhofer. Under his direction they lived a withdrawn life, working for their sustenance and praying together.

A Community Develops

Scarcely a year later the Lord began to call the young community to works of charity. A woman with an incurable disease asked them for admittance and care. In 1866 Barbara was asked to allow her sisters to visit houses to take care of the sick. These two events were the beginning of the care of the sick in the hospital and in homes, which was to become so important to the community. Most of the sick were very poor, so that the sisters were drawn into care for the poor.

 

In the summer of 1875 the community, which now included seven sisters, bought the “Stroblhaus” in Vorau. This house was large enough to enable them to shelter the ten sick and infirm patients that they were taking care of.

By February 3rd, 1876, the sisters were taking care of sixteen sick and infirm persons, and they received permission to open a hospital. In 1885 it became necessary to expand the hospital by adding a second story and two wings. While expanding the hospital the sisters also built their first chapel.

 

The sisters dressed in blue dresses and skirts with white scarves and blue or black kerchiefs as veils. Thus the people called them “the blue sisters.”

On the 4th of November 1897 the sisters became a legally recognized association, and received the right to call themselves “Society for the Glorification of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception.”

Up to that point they had been members of the Third Order of St Francis.

On the Feast of the Rosary, 1898, the sisters received a proper religious habit for the first time.

In 1897 Barbara Sicharter had been elected as the first canonical superior.

She had already been leading the community for over 25 years.

She was reelected in the years 1900 and 1903.

 

In 1902 a further expansion of the hospital became necessary as the sisters were now taking care of about 100 patients.
In the summer of 1903 the house chapel was also expanded.



November 4th, 1903 was an important day for the community; on that day the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in the house chapel for the first time.
Mother Barbara’s dearest wish was thus fulfilled.

 


The Foundress’s Last Years

In the winter of 1898 Mother Barbara was on the way to church when she fell and broke her foot. Her foot never properly healed, and so crutches and canes became her constant companions.

For a long time this prevented her from going to Mass, which was a great sorrow for her as the Eucharist was the center of her life.

The love of God and of neighbor constantly drove Mother Barbara on, so that till the end of her life she continued to limp through the hospital on her crutches making sure that all was well.
 

 


She loved to see her sisters joyful. She saw their work in the hospital as a missionary vocation. Her burning love for Christ was expressed in long hours and some times whole nights of prayer.

She constantly gave her sisters the assurance
“I will pray for you.”

On the 4th of February 1905 Mother Barbara Sicharter fell ill with pneumonia. Her condition worsened, and on the 7th of February she received the sacraments still perfectly conscious.

On the 9th of February she died with her sisters gathered about her.

 

The Rev. Dom. Karl Engelhofer, an Augustinian Canon Regular, had an important role in the foundation of our community.

As curate in Wenigzell he became Barbara Sicharter’s first spiritual director. Although he was at first hesitant what to think of Mother Barbara’s vocation, he later gave her his full support.

She found in him an important friend and spiritual director for her community. He drafted the first statutes of the association and helped the community to buy the “Stroblhaus.”

Three virtues particularly distinguished Dom. Engelhofer: his care for the poor, his love of the sick, and his zeal for prayer. He remained spiritual director for the community till prevented by serious illness in 1900. The chronicle of our community says of him that he was gifted priest, full of the grace of God.

 





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