Today Saint Mary Bütler is celebrated, a nun who left the convent to become a missionary

Every May 19, the Church celebrates Saint Mary Bernarda Bütler, founder of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Help of Christians; religious and missionary who sanctified herself in the evangelizing service of the abandoned towns of South America. Her own words portray her well: “Open your houses to help the poor and the marginalized. Prefer caring for the homeless to any other activity.”

Love the will of God and his times

Santa María Bernarda was born in Switzerland on May 28, 1848. In her early youth, she entered a convent in the city as an aspirant, but did not find favorable circumstances for herself, nor the conviction or maturity necessary to continue. That remained there, without becoming consolidated, and María Bernarda returned to her parents’ house to help them with the work in the fields. For the next few months she gave herself back to manual labor, prayer and apostolic service in a parish. Shortly after her, already 19 years old, she made the second and definitive attempt to become a nun, requesting her admission to the Franciscan monastery of María Auxiliadora.

The Franciscan Sisters of Mary Help of Christians were pleased that Maria Bernarda was better disposed and renewed in her desire to give herself to the Lord. With the Franciscans, she would be confirmed by the Lord to persevere and consolidate her vocation. A couple of years later, the young woman would take the Franciscan habit and adopt the religious name of “María Bernarda del Sagrado Corazón de María”.

Step by step, while the mercy of God changed her heart, the nun was responding with greater generosity to such a beautiful gift, striving to grow in virtue and spiritual life. María Bernarda knew that she also had to acquire the necessary human qualities to live well “in religion”, that is, totally consecrated to God.

An “unforeseen” twist

The effort and good disposition of the saint would be crowned with abundant graces and new responsibilities. With humility and a spirit of obedience, she accepted to be mistress of novices and then superior of her convent, a service that she would carry out with dedication until God entrusted her with a new challenge: to be a missionary.

That call seemed unusual, but it was consolidated little by little, first, in prayer and, second, in recourse to the advice of the pertinent instances of the Order. After overcoming the initial resistance of some ecclesiastical authorities, María Bernarda obtained papal permission to leave the monastery and leave, with six of her companions, for Ecuador to serve remote populations.

This great step, which was originally conceived as the foundation of a branch of her monastery, would later make Sister María Bernarda the founder of a new institute: the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. In Chone, Ecuador, the nuns dedicated themselves to the education of children and young people, assisting the sick and needy at the same time. This experience of faith flourished in that place, difficult to access and spiritually very abandoned.

Another change of course

In 1895, mother María Bernarda and 14 sisters were forced to flee Ecuador due to a revolt against the Church, heading for Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. In the new place that welcomed them, vocations began to spring up and it was necessary to open new houses for the novices. First one was built in Colombia, which would be followed by another in Austria and one more in Brazil.

In attention to the growth of the Order, Mother María Bernarda consecrated herself to the care of her daughters. She began to visit each of the Institute’s convents in all the countries where she had a presence, or where there was any possibility of opening a new foundation. Wherever the saint went she was enchanted by her evangelical simplicity and kindness, edifying and encouraging many people to empathize with the needs of the people of God.

Called to serve and not to be served

The mother led the congregation for 30 years until she resigned her position. She away from the tasks of the government of the congregation, she dedicated herself, to the extent possible, to the spiritual assistance of her youngest daughters. For them the mother was always an example of humility and joy.

Saint Maria Bernarda Bütler left for the Father’s House on May 19, 1924 at the age of 76, 57 of which she lived as consecrated. Of those almost 60 years, her mother worked 38 as a missionary. The mother was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1995 and canonized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008.

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