Honoring Blessed Theresa
Blessed Theresa was born Caroline Gerhardinger (1797-1879), and lived during turbulent times in Bavaria. At the age of 15, she was already a certified teacher in the girls’ school in Stadtamhof near Regensburg. She was a gifted educator whose enthusiasm and encouragement made her a beloved teacher. Under the spiritual guidance of Bishop George Michael Wittmann (1760-1833), Blessed Theresa gradually recognized God’s call to found a religious community in response to the current educational needs.
On November 16, 1835, she professed her religious vows and took the name Mary Theresa of Jesus. Her love for God helped define her goals: to know God and to do God’s will. Blessed Theresa anchored her community in poverty and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary.
The first sisters were received in Neunburg vorm Wald on April 10, 1836. Blessed Theresa sent sisters in twos and threes to small towns and villages where they taught girls who had been deprived of an adequate education. In 1843, she moved the congregation to a new motherhouse in Munich. Missionaries from America soon came to visit and to ask if the School Sisters of Notre Dame would come teach the children of the German immigrants who were arriving in rapidly increasing numbers. Blessed Theresa and five sisters, including young Mother Caroline Friess, arrived in the United States in 1847.
Blessed Theresa returned to Munich a year later, leaving Mother Caroline as a leader in the United States. Upon her return to Germany, she began opening motherhouses in Germany and present-day Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Poland. The demand for sisters throughout these areas rose in schools and orphanages.
In 1865, Pope Pius IX approved the rule and constitutions of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Blessed Theresa continued to govern the congregation as its general superior until her death in Munich on May 9, 1879. On November 17, 1985, Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger was declared “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.