Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis

Sr. M. Theophania

This year I had the privilege of celebrating my Golden Jubilee of Religious Profession. With gratitude, even happiness, I look back on my life although there have been many instances which were painful and calamitous.

I was born on May 8 in 1930 in Ober-Turz, a German enclave in Slovakia. I was the sixth of 9 children. When I was 9 years old, I came to Westphalia under a holiday and welfare scheme for children to spend some time on a farm [Kinderlandverschickung - sending children to the countryside]. We had a great time; but it was unfortunately and suddenly disrupted by the beginning of World War II, and we all had to return home. How sad!

After I finished school, I went to work as a nanny in a Slovakian village called Male-Ripnany. There, I became ill with homesickness. So, when one day there was a telegram saying "Come home immediately, we're fleeing;" I was almost happy about the news. While I was glad to be home again, I was also crestfallen about the dreadful time that followed. My brother was abducted, and when we saw him again, he was seriously ill with typhus.

It was in February 1944, when we were ordered to pack and leave the following morning by the Wehrmacht [Hitler's domestic armed forces]. The first destination was given as the Böhmer Wald [a mountain range along the border between Germany and Czechia]. We were accommodated in one small room there. During the day, we went to work on a farm so that we would have something to eat.

But soon enough, the front reached the Böhmer Wald. We were loaded on to a cattle car, and what followed then was like a descent to hell. Along the route, Slovakian people called out at us using insulting language "You Germans must be destroyed!" On top of it, the army personnel who accompanied the trek behaved quite impertinently. We first had to live in shacks and were divided into groups to go to work every morning. When we were finally allowed to move into a house of our own, this was totally ravaged. Nothing was in tact, and it was quite uninhabitable.

And once again, we had to leave and flee. Our whole family was taken to a detention camp and from there sent to Mecklenburg [a federal state south of the Baltic Sea]. Everyone was hoping for an improvement through this displacement. However, what was ahead of us were years of hunger and privation. Finally, we found a place to live in the town of Dargun. Altogether 20 families were accommodated in the town dancing hall. There was only one wash-basin and one toilet for all of us.

There were no signs of any change for the better. So, my sister, a niece of mine, and myself decided to cross the border to the West illegally. This was something I would not choose to go through a second time. It was very hard to leave our parents and our brothers and sisters behind. And when I hugged my mother good-bye, I did not know I would never see her again. It was icy cold when we escaped into freedom and there was hardly anybody to give us any help. We finally reached our destination, the family in Stadtlohn, where I had spent those summer weeks at the time of the Landverschickung. In spite of all the good care given to us, I became very ill. I nearly died. But the 'cross' of my illness turned into a blessing. It was during this time that I strongly felt the call for religious life. A time of inner struggle followed. I often tried to suppress the idea. But God did not let up.

In the year 1953, I approached the Franciscan sisters in Münster. However, I was rejected on the grounds that I was not healthy enough for this sort of life. I was immensely disappointed. So, I went to train as a nurse. During these years, my sister Agnes became a nun. And finally, in 1957, I was also allowed to enter the world of monastic life. With the greatest confidence, I placed my life into God's hands. And I have never regretted this step.

I spent most of the years of my religious life as a nurse. I was in charge of a large male surgical ward in Cloppenburg as a staff nurse for 11 years. Since 1975, I have lived in Bremen, and I like it here. On the occasion of my jubilee, the house newsletter had the following to say about me, "Here, everyone knows her, the petite religious with her friendly charisma who always finds time to soothe and comfort those burdened with worries. Warmth and cheerfulness are two of her virtues."

It makes me happy when people see me like this. Maybe, it is my heritage - the love and affection I was privileged to experience in my family - and also the experience that God has been there for me which has made me so rich and given me plentiful to share with others, and to always feel grateful. I have one great wish: that is to visit my homeland, my Slovakia if that was possible. But what I wish most for all of us is a peaceful world.