Mother Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, SSND

Marian Shrine Source of Hope - Our Lady of Bavaria, Altoetting

Mother Theresa's favorite Marian shrine was Our Lady of Altoetting, a Black Madonna revered for more than 500 years. Photographer: Hildegard Poletty
Mother Theresa's favorite Marian shrine was Our Lady of Altoetting, a Black Madonna revered for more than 500 years. (Marian images used with the permission of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
Photographer, Hildegard Poletty)

In Jesus! I write this now in Jesus who has shown me indescribable mercy and shared with me his poverty, hardships, suffering, anxiety, and need! I cannot describe my interior peace. Now I am in Jesus! Jesus may do what he wants with me; I trust in him. Remain in me, as I remain in you.” (John 15:4) On him, I will build (March 16th, 1822).

These retreat notes written by twenty-five-year-old Caroline Gerhardinger express a mystical experience that changed her life. This intimate relationship with Jesus was the root of her desire to make the mission of Jesus her own. Her dedication to Jesus was based on learning to live Mary’s total surrender to God’s will. Because Caroline ’s eyes were fixed on Jesus she could understand the “soul” development personified in Mary. As Mother Theresa, she educated girls to believe that Jesus could do great things in them as he had done in Mary. And she nurtured this ideal in her sisters.

Blessed Mother Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, SSND, had several favorite scriptural texts referring to Mary:

  • she often referred to Mary’s Magnificat. in times of great joy;
  • her love for Mary in the Gospel of John was evident in her selection of “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5) as the motto of the congregation;
  • in times of trial she often recalled Mary’s fidelity in standing near the cross of Jesus and her own courage was renewed. (John 25:1)

Mother Theresa saw Mary as the “Superior” of the congregation as well as her confidant and helper in dealing with everything from clerical problems to legal matters. Mary was her Mother, model, and dear friend. A dream by one of the sisters gave her hope of Mary’s protection during negotiations with the archbishop over the Rule.

As a new foundress, Mother Theresa expressed a desire to pray at the Marian shrine at Altoetting, located 90 km east of Munich. While he was still living, Bishop Wittmann, her mentor, had said, "Medicines and spas in foreign countries are for the wealthy people to whom God has given the means to do this. Poor people, however, and especially women religious, should seek recovery and help from the Mother of God in Altoetting."

On July 23, 1828, a priest was kneeling in deep devotion at the feet of Our Lady of Grace in the Shrine-Church of Altoetting. It must have been a very weighty petition he was making, for his visit was long and devout. The petitioner was Francis Sebastian Job, Court-Chaplain and Confessor of the Empress of Austria…On the same day that Father Job was laying his petition before Our Lady at Altoetting, on July 23, 1828, a young theologian, Matthias Siegert, knelt before his Bishop to become a priest.

When Mother Theresa was accompanying the first sisters to the new mission in Hohenthann in 1838, they stopped to pray at Bishop Wittmann's tomb in Regensburg. During that visit, she felt urged to pray for her hometown, Stadtamhof, at the shrine in Altoetting. She asked Auxiliary Bishop Urban for permission to make the pilgrimage to Altoetting and Sister Walburga, one of the former Notre Dame nuns from Stadtamhof who was 72 at the time, accompanied her there.

Before Mother Theresa left for America in 1847, she sent five candidates on a pilgrimage to Altoetting to pray for blessing on the missionary journey. Her wish that Our Lady of Altoetting be a special intercessor for the mission in America is significant in the SSND mother line to Mary.

Another reality in the life of the School Sisters of Notre Dame was a custom of receiving “obediences” to a new mission on July 26th, the Feast of St. Anne, Mary’s mother, thus providing a feminine relationship with Mary.

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