Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis

Sister M. Respicia Heitkamp

The Story of Sister M. Respicia, nee Maria Heitkamp, shared in an Interview in her 100`th year of life in behalf of her 75 th Jubilee of first profession in May 2023:

„There is a reason why hardly anyone knows what a crown jubilee means: almost no one achieves it. It requires 75 years of deep commitment. This is the case with Sister M. Respicia. The Franciscan Sister has experienced everything - strict rules, homesickness, war. And much more this: a faith that nothing can shake.

Days like these. They would have to be invented if they did not exist. First of all, Sunday. Sister M. Respicia led the procession of the 44 jubilarians of the Mauritz Franciscan Sisters. At the side of the provincial superior, the 99-year-old strode, barely noticeable, leaning on her walker, down the center aisle into the convent church. "It was so fulfilling," she says. A day in the here and now and at the same time on a long journey through time. Memories flashed like flashbulbs. Her childhood in Osterfeine. Her mother in a plaster bed. Bomb nights in Cloppenburg. Knocking mortar off bricks in the almost destroyed mother's house and studying for the nursing exam at the same time. Stations in Marl, in Seppenrade. And again and again he, God, with whom she feels in safe hands like nowhere else.

"Life has passed me by like a movie," she says. Sister M. Respicia has taken a seat at the table of a living room of the Mauritz Franciscan Sisters' home for the elderly three days after the jubilee. The celebration is not over yet. In two hours she expects a visit from her niece from Munich. A day later, all the other nieces and nephews of her family will come to celebrate with a woman who has impressed many people in her life. Christiane Schlemmer has known her for more than 20 years. "I have never met another person who thinks as positively as Sister Respicia. Not one who has never stopped educating herself and moving forward," says the so-called caregiver. 99 extraordinary years.

They begin for Maria Heidkamp in Osterfeine. Her father is a roofer, her mother takes care of children, household and small farm. She is loving - and seriously ill. She has to lie in a plaster bed for half a year. Maria interrupts school and takes over her mother's duties. She has five siblings, the youngest brother is two years old and she herself is 13. "I didn't find it a burden. I enjoyed it," she says. The young girl envisions her future with a large family. Many children, preferably a dozen - that's what she dreams of.

Four years later, a different image is increasingly pushing its way in front of her dream of the future. A life in a religious community, a life with God, for God. "The thought first came in between and then more and more frequently," she says. And finally it displaces the other. She can't talk about it with anyone, especially not with her mother, who needs her and whom she doesn't want to disappoint. But the longing for a life in the convent is greater.
1944. Maria Heidkamp comes closer to making a decision in her search for the order that suits her. She is a trainee in the kitchen of a hospital run by the Franciscan Sisters in Cloppenburg. The bomb nights are short and filled with fear. Patients lie shoved bed to bed in the basement. Maria Heidkamp shares a tiny basement room with the other trainees. Some lie on mattresses on the table that almost completely fills the room, the others underneath.

The decision is made. Maria Heidkamp became a novice of the Mauritz Franciscan Sisters and made her profession in 1948. At first she sleeps in a room with 68 other women, later - after the reconstruction of the motherhouse - she shares a room with two other members of the order. Now called Sister M. Respicia, she is happy, but homesickness tugs at her. The rules are strict: "I was never allowed to enter my parents' house again." In 1949, she takes her first vacation. Her destination is the order's convalescent home in Kroge. "In Osnabrück, there was an announcement on the train. I was to come out," she says, smiling at the memory of her brother, two years older, standing on the platform, laughing conspiratorially and leading her to a car. "I'll drive you," he says. A short time later, he stops unexpectedly in front of her parents' house. Sister M. Respicia is happy - and desperate. She is forbidden to enter the house after all. The family finds a solution. The young woman stays in the car, rolls down the window and absorbs the conversations and the sight of her family. But it is not until her mother dies that the homesickness ends.
The rules loosen. Family visits become possible, the religious dress and veil more comfortable. At first it is white, covering the forehead and tightly stretched parts of the cheeks. The order debates, opinions are divided, but the majority welcomes the change to the veil pulled into the hair. Sister M. Respicia works long and hard.

At 90, she is retiring - after decades of serving institutions of the order as a nurse, educator and caregiver at a Mauritz Franciscan convalescent home. "I can't be grateful enough," she says. "I love living and enjoying the outdoors. And I rejoice when I break off life and am completely with God."“