Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis
It was September 19, 1937. The early morning mass was over, when a server invited my mother to the sacristy. My mother was very pregnant and the priest said to her: "I believe you are going to have a tough day ahead of you. Therefore I want to give you God's blessing." At 9.30 pm I was born the fifth of six children. And I was given the name of Engeline (Angelina).
My father was a carpenter, and we were quite poor. But we were a happy family and the memories of my childhood years and my parents are loving memories.
f course, we were Catholics like all people living in our village. When I was 16, I was sent to Sisters in order to "learn the kitchen"; basically, it was a course on home economics. My parents thought it a good idea to let me have a proper training. At the time I thought: "One year without laughing and having fun … alright … you'll stick it out … one way or another."
Feeling quite uneasy, I arrived at the Riesenbeck Sisters and was surprised to find the Sisters open-minded and light-hearted. It was not until sometime later that I learned that those Sisters belonged to our religious order; and it was through those Sisters that I became familiar with the Franciscan spirituality.
I stayed for two years! And I worked on a hospital ward. At that time I met a young man that I liked a lot. None of the Sisters ever urged or pressed me in any way to consider joining the order. But every now and then, especially after celebrations, I had to face the question: "Was this supposed to be all?" It was such thoughts that led me to make a choice between marriage and the life of a nun. When one day I had visited the acceptance celebrations of a novice in our mother house, I made up my mind: I wanted to be a nun. I was deeply touched by the words of my boyfriend: "I cannot challenge God; and I will not challenge God."
On October 8, 1960 I entered our order and was given the name Juvenalis, the juvenile! During novitiate I spent six months in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands – a time I will never forget. When I made my first vows, I was convinced that I was making a lifetime decision, which I renewed again and again, giving my professions a new depth of faith.
After my first vows I was trained to be a nurse, and I worked in several hospitals. For 16 years I worked as head nurse on a private patient ward; there I went through the hardest crisis with regard to my call; and for nine years I had to experience a long and serious ailment. This phase of my life certainly made me sensitive to people who were less lucky to unexpectedly get well again. To this day my sudden recovery cannot be explained – to me it is a miracle and a gift!
From the small town of Haltern I was transferred back to the city of Münster and worked with male patients on an internal ward. Many of our patients were homeless and alcoholics. It was from these patients that I learned that – speaking in the Franciscan sense – they were truly "my brothers"!
In 1988 I met my first AIDS patient. It was soon obvious that this man's experience of the Catholic Church was anything but salutary. One week later he said to me: "Here I have come to know a different character of the Church!" Six weeks later we learned that he had passed away.
This encounter alerted me to the problem of AIDS and to the people suffering from this disease. Many discussions ensued among the sisters of our community and when I talked to our prioress, I was convinced that, being a Franciscan Sister and a nurse, my place was by the side of those people.
In 1992 Sr M. Hannelore, who had just renewed her temporary vows, and I moved to East Berlin. Together with five Franciscan friars we lived in the Franciscan convent in Berlin-Pankow. The focus was on those people living on the fringe of society: The friars were involved with a soup kitchen; and we worked with people living with AIDS.
After two years of working in a hospital and in home nursing service we decided that we should be caring primarily for those AIDS patients who were severely ill and dying. Thus we founded an ambulant hospice service in 1997. Its name is Tauwerk, and with this specialization it is unique in both Berlin and all of Germany.
Since the year 2000, the year when I officially retired from professional life, I have been one of 30 hospice workers, a fulltime volunteer. I regularly visit one or two of our 25 patients – no matter, whether they are temporarily hospitalized or live at home or in a nursing home. The course of the AIDS disease is mostly unpredictable; thus we attend our patients for weeks, months or even years. I also feel I want to be there when a person is dying – night or day. I want to be with these people, giving them whatever they need in the last moments of their lives.
I love organizing the yearly bazaar to the time of the World-AIDS-Day; and I love preparing 600 jars of 30 types of jam in the small kitchen of our small convent. For six years Sr. M.Hannelore, Sr. M. Margret and I have been living together in an apartment of a tenement.
Quite obviously, it is not a natural thing that nuns care for people living with AIDS, therefore, our involvement with these people receives wide social recognition. Thus I was awarded both the Federal Medal of Merit in 2000 and the Federal Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in January of the year 2010. More meaningful than decorations are such statements as this, made by Paul one year after we had met: "As long as the Catholic Church has people like you I will not have to leave the Church." He had been deeply wounded by our Church and at the time we met for the first time he was determined to leave the Church.
I have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of my entrance to the order. As a Franciscan Sister I am happy to be able to say about my life and about my apostolate in Berlin: "This is what I want to be doing. This is what I seek to be doing. This is what my heart longs to be doing!"