Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph
Adapted from an article by Anne Tschanz published in the May/June 2013 edition of Religious Life magazine entitled “Blessed Maria Teresa of St. Joseph: A heart full to overflowing.”
Aroused with Deep Sympathy
Anna Maria Tauscher van den Bosch was born in 1855 in Sandow, East Prussia (now in Poland), to her Lutheran parents, Hermann and Maria Paolina, the first of three daughters to survive infancy. Hermann came from a long line of Lutheran ministers who could trace their lineage back to the Reformation. Anna Maria’s mother was known as “the mother of all the poor.” Anna Maria often accompanied her mother on her charitable visits and “their plight aroused in me a deep sympathy.”
Maria was a serious, quiet child, plagued with an “indescribable bashfulness.” Any form of recognition, even into adulthood, was to her a “great mortification.” Even as a young girl she made sacrifices for Jesus and she deplored vanity in herself. At an early age, she decided that she would depend upon God alone to direct her “inner life.”
The family ultimately settled in Berlin, and in 1870, she was sent to a boarding school out of the city because of her delicate health. The school took it for granted that she was a Lutheran but when asked, she responded, “No, not a Lutheran.” Maria’s parents often spoke about the persecution of Catholics in Prussia, called the Kulturkampf. Her sympathies for the imprisoned and exiled bishops, priests and religious created in her a “true Catholic spirit.” Her father too was under attack for his defense of the the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist which had come to be doubted in the Lutheran Evangelical Church. Eventually, he was forced to take a new position outside Berlin.
Anna Maria was very taken aback when her grandfather tried to arrange a marriage for her and was relieved when her mother told her to decide the issue for herself. Inspired by the self-sacrifice of the sisters who cared for her in the boarding school, she decided to become a sister. In her heart was the image of a red, brick building with the inscription over it: A Home for the Homeless. The death of her mother in 1874 left her inconsolable but “it brought me nearer to God and taught me the value of suffering.” As the eldest in the family, she took over the responsibilities of her father’s home and her mother’s charitable activities. She also raised funds for missionaries who would seek out children who needed to be baptized and people, in civil marriages, who wanted a church wedding.
Overcoming a Crisis of Faith
In 1877, a seemingly devout man who was leading a wicked life caused her to doubt her faith. “I stopped praying and tried out my new way, but I could not live without prayer and faith. A longing for God took hold of me…I now worked for God alone.” She did not know any Catholics nor did she read Catholic literature but her unhappy father told her, “You are more Catholic than Evangelical.”
Anna Maria had the belief that God “would call me into His service” so to support this work she asked for “crosses and sufferings for my whole life.” Shortly before her 30th birthday, she went to stay with a friend in the Rhine country. Seeing the open air Catholic shrines and walking into the Cathedral of Cologne breathed new life into her soul. “All this,” she said, “gave me the first insight into a life which I had so far experienced only in a dim manner.”
In 1886, she applied for the position as head nurse in a home for the mentally ill in Berlin. The residents and workers were Catholic but because the director was Lutheran her father gave his consent. Her first encounters with the dying and the patients with “their wild staring eyes” left her “stiff with horror.” With a little rest and time, she was able to thank God for bringing her to the poorest of the poor. Her devotion to her charges brought about so dramatic a change that the “visiting doctors remarked that this was not institutional life, but real family life.”
Maria did not want to be paid, for this did “not harmonize with my idea of sacrifice.” Eventually she did accept a salary to give treats to the patients and to bury the dead, for the indigent were terrified that their bodies would be turned over to medical science for experimentation. It was here that Maria was immersed in real Catholic culture, participating in the celebrations honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart. When a priest gave her a Catholic catechism, she was astonished to realize that this was “my own religion.”
Kneeling in a chapel dedicated to the Good Shepherd, Maria realized that her love for suffering humanity had led a wayward sheep home to the Catholic Church. But there were grave obstacles to her conversion. The Director threatened to fire her and she trembled with fear to face her father. When he demanded a promise that she would never become Catholic, she replied, in front of her weeping family, “No, I cannot promise that.” Thus, as she said in her memoirs, “I left home forever!”
Received into the Church
In 1888, Anna Maria was received into the Catholic Church. She did not have to make an abjuration, “as I had never belonged to the Lutheran Church of my own free will.” When the Director learned of the step she had taken, she was fired and subsequently given bad references. Unable to find a job, she found a home in an Augustinian convent where she did menial labor. The humiliation of her situation led her nearer to Saint Joseph in whom she placed her great trust. This was a formation period where she was schooled in painful poverty and austere penances. Embracing these sufferings with gratitude, they were “turned into an indescribable sweetness.” Her greatest joy was to be so near the Blessed Sacrament where “she felt penetrated by the warmth of God’s love.” This ardent love for Our Lord present in the tabernacle was to become a hallmark of her spirituality.
One day, she distinctly understood: “Do not enter an order but found one yourself.” She then asked a rather strange question of Our Lady, “What kind of garb shall we wear?” Immediately, she saw a Sister in a brown habit with large stripes under a brown veil. None of the sisters she knew resembled the vision she had seen.
In 1889, Maria became a companion to a woman in Berlin. Without money, family or home of her own, she was deprived of all earthly consolations “because God wanted to be my all.” She developed the burning hunger not only for personal sanctification but also to make atonement for the sins of the world and “to gain souls for the Sacred Heart.” One day, as she read St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, she realized, “Carmel was my real vocation!” In fact, the Carmelite habit was the one she had seen in her vision. Was she meant to enter a Carmelite cloister? It was later discerned with the help of her confessor that Anna Maria’s vocation was to bring the “contemplative spirit of Carmel into the active service of the apostolate.”
One memorable day in July of 1891, she saw herself standing on a hill with a “vast host of sisters in our habit.” God showed her a large cross of gold and silver and she knew what it meant: “If you found this Order for Me, if you take these sufferings upon yourself signified by this large cross, then My Son will be your everlasting reward.” She embraced the Cross “with loving gratitude like a friend for whom one has yearned for a long time.” Soon afterward she founded the first Saint Joseph’s home in a small, old house in Berlin with fifteen children under its roof. Now the work could begin to “dry the tears, to heal the spiritual wounds and to lead innocent children to the Heart of Jesus.” What joy the day the Blessed Sacrament came to stay: “He was mine and I am His!”
A Life of Suffering and Sorrow
Anna Maria had an ardent longing to suffer for the love of God and for the salvation of souls while on this earth, for “to suffer for God is the only joy which heaven does not have.” Suffering came. A monsignor, her chief promoter, temporarily withdrew his approval and forbade others to provide support because he thought her work could not survive. With a second home and over seventy children now in her care, the lack of funds reduced them to dire poverty. Maria also had a confessor who “caused her an ocean of sorrows.” Postulants were told by him, “This will never be a religious community.”
Another obstacle was Cardinal Kopp who in 1897 told her that he would never approve a new congregation—either leave Berlin or join another order. A misunderstanding with him further tarnished her reputation. Maria would rather leave Berlin a thousand times over “than give up my dear Carmel.” During a visit to Rome, she had the joy of being aggregated to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. However, with 200 children, six homes and fifty sisters under her care, she was forced to look elsewhere for a bishop who would welcome a motherhouse and novitiate. A priest friend told her, “Now God can show that it is His work!”
The motherhouse temporarily moved to Sittard, Holland, and then to England. Saint Joseph continued to be their protector and “so the work grew and struck deeper roots despite storms and persecutions.” As Anna Maria put it, “The soul may indeed rejoice over sufferings which it bears for love of the Sacred Heart, but nevertheless, the body suffers more or less under the strain.”
Finally, the bishop of Frascati in Italy gave her permission to establish a Motherhouse in Rocca di Papa (Rock of Peter). Amazingly the view from the top of the garden was the view she had seen in her vision in 1891. In 1905, the Carmel of the Divine Heart of Jesus “became a ship by itself, but chained to the Giant Ship, the old Venerable Order of the Carmel, whose spiritual father is St. Elias the prophet.” In 1906, she made her first profession and took the name Maria Teresa of St. Joseph.
A Rich Legacy of Love
More homes followed in Germany and in Hungary, where souls were transformed by “heartfelt, sincere love.” She established her first home in the New World in 1912 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by homes in Kenosha (the first for the aged), Indiana, Texas, , Michigan, Missouri, and Canada. The houses thrived despite more assaults on her character and the horrors of World War I. After the war, her house in Rocca di Papa was confiscated but the “walls that rise from this foundation – humility and trust in God – have proved themselves….Fildelity (to the Rule and Constitutions) is the means of preserving religious orders.” In 1922, the motherhouse permanently returned to Sittard.
At the age of 83, Mother died in Sittard after a long illness. She left behind a legacy of 58 homes and 1,000 sisters caring for 10,000 children. In 2002, Edward Cardinal Nowak said, “She showered the poor, the sick, the elderly, her sisters, and all who sought her counsel and assistance with motherly care, help and consolation.” Pope Benedict XVI approved the miracle for her beatification in 2005. Pope Pius XII said of her, “Never in the history of humanity have events required on the part of a woman so much initiative and daring, so much fidelity, moral strength, spirit of sacrifice and endurance of all kinds of suffering – in a word, so much heroism.”