History of the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate
(Pallottine Sisters) and German Province
January 9th, 1835: Vincent Pallotti, while celebrating the Eucharist, had a vision in which he clearly understood that he was called by God to dedicate his life to the service of the Church in the “Universal Apostolate”.
He recorded this experience in his journal, writing:
The service to which I am called will:
1) help to spread the Christian faith throughout the whole world
2) rekindle and deepen Christian faith among all Catholics
3) be expressed through works motivated by Christian love, works which will enable all human beings to recognise the face of the God of love in each and every other human being.
His vision embraced “men and women of every social class, every age, every level of understanding and education”, laity, religious and priests, without exception. It is a vision of unity within universality, the vision of the one Shepherd and the one Flock, a vision of universal peace, a vision of universal cooperation between all people of good will.
On April 4th, 1835, the foundation of the “Union of the Catholic Apostolate” received the formal approval of the Church authority.
In 1838, a group of women, inspired by the ideals of Vincent Pallotti, joined together in Rome, in the Pia Casa di Carita, in Borgo Sant Agata dei Goti, no.8. A cholera epidemic was raging, and there were many young girls ranging the streets of Rome, sent out by their parents to beg for help, asking alms or offering themselves as prostitutes. The group in the Pia Casa offered these girls shelter and care. Some time later, this community was formally named “Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate”, though known to the people around as “Pallottine Sisters”. They experienced the pain as well as the joy of every new foundation, and as time passed, the blessing spoken by Pallotti over the work of the Catholic Apostolate, bore much fruit: “This Society will be blessed by God!”
As the times and politics of surrounding society changed, so the Society was guided by God in many ways, to adapt its ways of service to the needs of the people. In 1890, the male branch of the Society (priests and brothers) was commissioned by the Roman authority for missions, the Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith, to take over the Mission to the Cameroons in Africa. This small country on the West Coast of Africa had surrendered its governance to Germany, thus becoming a German colony. The German authorities were not particularly interested in evangelisation. Their concern was for political power and trade. This was also the time, in Germany itself, of the Culture Wars, and the government was confiscating all the Church property in the country, closing convents and abbeys, preventing new foundations and imprisoning bishops and priests. No missionaries, apart from German nationals, were allowed to enter the German colonies. At that time German young men, who wanted to enter in the Pallottine Community, were trained in the Italian Pallottine missionary College in Masio, Italy. Now more German Pallottines were needed to fill the new stations. It was also essential to have German Pallottine Missionary Sisters. They had to be trained in Italy, too. Father Max Kugelmann, from the Masio College, took over the promotion of candidates. Fr. Wilhelm Whitmee cooperated closely with him, and with the Superior General of the Roman Pallottine Sisters, Mother Raffaela Castellani. In 1891, in Rome, they opened the international Mission College, Regina Apostolorum, in Via Lungara no.231, in Trastevere.
Mother Raffaela Castellani
Mother Mary Fidelis, Pallottine Sister from the USA, was appointed Superior of the new convent, and candidates from Poland, England, Ireland, Italy, Germany and the USA entered religious life there. In 1892, in response to an urgent request from the Pallottine priest, Fr. Heinrich Vieter, who was Apostolic Delegate in Cameroon, Mother Fidelis sent the first German Sisters to this Mission. They were still novices, and had not yet completed their training.
A number of difficulties hindered the adequate preparation of the German Sisters for missionary work in a strange land. Fr. Max Kugelmann, therefore, spent considerable time and effort to get permission from the German government for a foundation in Germany, so that better training could be given to the candidates. Ecclesiastical and political relationships had already enabled the Pallottines to open a house for the priests and brothers in Limburg/Lahn, under the protection of the Bishop there.
Cathedral in Limburg
In 1894, permission was also given for a sister-convent to be founded there. The separation from the International College was a painful experience even though it was clearly necessary and wise. Mother Raffaela Castellani, Superior General of the sisters, sent her “dear German daughters” to the diocese of Limburg/Lahn, and gave them their first directives, formally authorizing them to form this new community: “As Superior General of the Pallottine Sisters, founded by the Servant of God, Vincent Pallotti, I commission my dear German daughters to faithfully keep the following directives…”
According to these documents, the German sisters were regarded as subject to the Roman Superior General. They remained joined to the Roman Pallottine community, and followed the same Rule of Life, although this had to be somewhat adapted to the needs of the new mission. Their novitiate and profession remained canonically valid.
During the years that followed, the relationship with the Roman mother-congregation weakened, and finally broke down. After this, the Missionary branch of the Pallottine Sisters developed further, with its own structure and own Rule of Life. Kloster Marienborn, in the Weilburgerstrasse in Limburg/Lahn became their Motherhouse and the Superior General with her Council resided there.
Motherhouse in Limburg
Twenty years of fruitful work in the Cameroons followed, with many young missionary sisters sharing the work and cooperating closely with the Pallottine priests and brothers. In later years, they often spoke of Cameroon as their first love, and the people of the Cameroons called them “mothers of our faith”.
In 1915, the First World War brought a sudden and very painful end to this work. All the missionaries were expelled from the country by the English and French troops that invaded it, and found their way back to Germany over various routes. There, the Congregation continued to grow and flourish, developed its clear identity, and sent many Sisters out to new foundations. Within Germany herself, they worked to “rekindle and strengthen Christian faith among the Catholics”. In other countries they were engaged in a wide variety of service in whatever field was needed.
Some years before the outbreak of the First World War, in 1909, the first European foundation took place, when a convent was opened in England. This was intended to prepare Sisters to go to the USA, and in 1912, the first four embarked in Bremen, to open a convent in Richwood in the USA. In 1913, they sent further missionaries to Benque Viejo in British Honduras, (today, Belize) Central America.
Four Pallottines leaving for America.
In Germany, the war was making further demands on the Sisters. Kloster Marienborn was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Sixty-seven Sisters cared for these patients, and six were ordered by the Red Cross to nurse wounded soldiers on the war-fronts. One died in this service, and was buried in Romania.
In 1923, Sisters were invited to South Africa, by the Pallottine Bishop Hennemann, who had been previously in the Cameroons and was now Bishop of Oudtshoorn, in the rural area of the Cape Province. Further new foundations were made in the following years, in Switzerland, Poland and a number of German parishes. The Motherhouse was enlarged in 1927, when the Sacred Heart Retreat House was dedicated for service. One year later, a candidature was opened, so that a good foundation could be laid in the education of young women, before they entered religious life.
The year 1939, the Second World War broke out. The National Socialistic ideology laid a heavy cross on the shoulders of the Pallotine priests, brothers and sisters. The army took over the Motherhouse and it was again turned into a hospital. However, this also had the effect of saving the property. Damage by bombs and other attacks was severe, but God’s protection was clearly experienced. When the war at last ended, new foundations were soon made and further sisters were also sent to the missions.
On 22nd Januay, 1950, Vincent Pallotti was beatified by Pope Pius XII, and this gave the community new encouragement and enthusiasm. Soon after, on 20th January, 1963, Pop John XXIII canonized Vincent Pallotti, and one year later, on 13th July, 1964, the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate were formally declared to be Congregation of papal rights. This paved the way for the return of the Superior General and her Council to Rome.
Procura Generale in Rome.
In 1965, the Procura Generale was opened in Rome, in the Viale delle Mura Aurelie. In 1968, the 11th General Chapter of the Congregation took place – the first to take place in Rome itself. During this Chapter, the transfer of leadership/administration to Rome was formally decided. The districts of England, USA, Belize, Poland and South Africa were raised to the status of Provinces and were given relative independence. The German communities were also united to form the German Province, equal to the others. Up to that point, the Motherhouse in Limburg had been the centre for all the Pallottine foundations in the different parts of the world. The Congregation had been subject to the authority of the Bishop of Limburg. All the reports from the different areas had had to come to the Motherhouse, and all the sisters sent out were sent from this centre.
Now the German Province has had to establish its own identity and develop its own inner structure. This renewal and reorganization was given impetus by the directives of the II. Vatican Council (1962-1965) which required all the religious congregations to “return to their sources”. The inspiration of Vincent Pallotti, his ideas and goals moved strongly into the foreground, and found clear expression in the revised Constitution of the Sisters. The Province also developed its own provincial directives.
In 1980, the German Province founded a missionary station in Timbiras/Maranhao in Brazil. To the present day, this is its only foreign mission. The active engagement of sisters in missionary outreach has had to change, due to the increasing age of the sisters. However, their love and enthusiasm for missionary outreach remains unabated, and they are tireless in the various works that they engage in for these needs. These include creative ways of raising funds, besides bazaars, flea-markets and other activities. So they continue to express their union with all the efforts of their own Province, of their sister Provinces and of the whole Church.
In order to secure the continuity of the German apostolic work, the Province began the “St. Vincent Pallotti Foundation” in 2003. The German Pallottines have made this the framework for the various services that they carry out in Germany itself:
1) Pastoral work in many variations
2) Religious formation and retreats for individuals and groups
3) Treatment, care and nursing of sick, old and dying persons
4) Help for liminalized people, on the borders of society
5) Educational involvement at various levels
6) Ecological awareness as expressed through Christian faith, justice, and protection of the world in which we live. (From the founding constitution)
The St. Vincent Pallotti Foundation is not meant to be an end in itself. It is intended to further the service of humanity and the universe in which we live in a wide variety of situations. It is based on the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti, who told us that the basic rule of our community is the Gospel itself. We hope that the heritage of the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate will be preserved and developed for future generations.