Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis

Sister M. Hannelore Huesmann

When I think about the history of my vocation, I realize that in retrospect many things have come together and have led me to the place where I stand today.

I was born on January 10, 1960 in a small village in the Münsterland. My eight year older brother was overjoyed, because he wanted a sister since a long time.

Shortly after I was born I became seriously ill and it was questionable if I would survive this crisis. My parents brought me for treatment to the University Hospital in Münster. They asked a relative who had just begun her novitiate with the ‘Clemens Sisters’ for a prayer. Three months later, I was allowed to go home and experienced a happy childhood and youth in which the family gave a reliable stability.

When I was 14 years old, my father, who had heart problems since the war, died. The period of his acute illness was brief, but he used the time to prepare me that very soon I had to live without him. This was probably the greatest gift he could give me: to take away the fear of talking to seriously ill people about their situation!

Our family was Catholic. That was a matter of course, but not a central theme in everyday life. It was a matter of course, that - at the age of 15 - I entered the Catholic rural youth movement. The annual program of this youth association was filled one third with socio-political events, one third with festivals and celebrations and one third with spiritual events. I found friends and until today I have a good relationship to them. Through the youth association, I got to know closer the work in the parish. As a representative of this association I became a member of the parish council. A short time later we got a new Priest, who was open-minded and creative, so that I got a picture of God and the church which accompanies me to the present day: a God who turns to man and a church whose mission it is, in all life contexts to witness the goodness and kindness of God.

After graduating from high school, I first decided for a theological education, for working later on full-time in the parish.

In 1980 and 1982, I got to know religious who did not fit into the picture of religious life I had so far. From the theological education, religious orders were known to me, but this knowledge had no meaning for me personally at that time.

In an internship in outpatient nursing I realized that pastoral care always includes the care for the body. The connection between the practical concern for the sick and the role of faith in such an existential life situation became more and more clear to me: one can only speak of the philanthropy of God if one offers at the same time solidary help, which reflects and makes something of this philanthropy experiencable.

Therefore, in 1984, I decided to learn nursing. During this time, on several occasions, I asked myself in which way I want to live my life. “When God in the texts of the Holy Scriptures means me personally, what answer do I give him?" With this question it was clear that the faith should play a significant role in my life. However, at that time a monastic life was unimaginable for me. The two religious I had met were, for me surprisingly, devoted to life and to the people. They were friendly, humorous and at the same time of a spiritual depth that had touched me. This made me curious and I began to wonder why they had chosen this way of life, how they live, what is important to them in their respective spirituality.

Our Sister M. Juvenalis Lammers was one of those two people. Through her, I became aware of the content of a course offered for Franciscan spirituality. I discovered more and more how up-to-date the view of life of St. Francis is in our time. And I realized that this spirituality was exactly what I wanted to live for: making the philanthropy of God tangible, where people experience exclusion and rejection. And so in 1987 I took the step and entered our Congregation.

At the end of the eighties the disease AIDS led in Europe to massive deaths of young people and at the same time massive stigmatization - the latter also through the Catholic Church! This was the impulse to think in concrete terms of what this situation means for us, as sisters living in the Franciscan tradition, and whether - in the spirit of St. Francis - it is an obligation to be present at the side of those affected.

These considerations became concrete in a conversation with the General Leadership of our Congregation. This conversation led Sr. Juvenalis and me to Berlin. In 1992 we got a few rooms in the monastery of the Franciscan Brothers in Berlin-Pankow. We initially worked in the care of people with HIV and AIDS. Then in 1997 we founded an outpatient hospice service with the name "TAUWERK". Since the foundation, I have been leading this service with 30 volunteers and a full-time colleague.

The disease AIDS has changed in the 20 years, but has not lost its explosiveness: instead of the rapid and numerous dying processes, today those affected often live for many years with massive limitations, which in addition to the symptoms also bring a further burden.

A significant reduction in social contacts is not uncommon, when someone is bedridden, speechless and completely dependent on care or if the progression of the disease brings a constant up and down of health status.

To support people in this situation over a long period of time, to make the reliability visible in the vulnerability of life and to give room to life is the aim of our work.

Now, our convent with three sisters lives in a rented flat.Sister M. Margret Steggemann has been living with us for 8 years and is a pastoral care worker at the inpatient Caritas Hospice. Our Convent life is characterized by the openness and flexibility that hospice work brings with it. In our own individual ways, we strive to enable the seriously ill and the dying to experience the healing presence of Christ - without them having to fulfill conditions, without any form of provision or compensation.

We are committed to this Franciscan mission of our Congregation here in Berlin. And after 31 years in our Congregation, I can say, like Francis, "This is what I want...".