Celebrating the beatification of Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger

Mother Theresa and girl

We trace our roots to Germany where in 1833, Caroline Gerhardinger and two other young women began living a common religious life. Caroline, taking the religious name of Mary Theresa of Jesus, grounded the community in poverty and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary Theresa sent sisters to small towns and villages, where they taught girls who would have been deprived of an adequate education. In 1847, she answered a call for sisters to come to North America, and within a year eight missions were founded. The congregation continued to expand and educate women and children around the world.

Shortly after her death on May 9, 1879, people began seeking her intercession. By 1920, the Catholic Women’s Organization in Amberg expressed that Mother Theresa ought to be beatified. When they went on the Holy Year pilgrimage to Rome in 1925, they submitted their request for beatification to Pope Pius XI. The year before, the congregation had petitioned Cardinal Michael Faulhaber of Munich to begin the process. Permission was granted and the work began in 1925.

From 1925 to 1929, all letters, notes, etc. of Mother Theresa were gathered, literally copied and certified; the 42 volumes, weighing 130 pounds, were presented to the Congregation of Rites. Out of 272 living witnesses, 98 were selected to appear before an ecclesiastical tribunal from 1929 to 1932. Six thousand pages of minutes in German and Italian were notarized, sealed and sent to the Congregation of Rites. Further investigation was necessary to ensure that no public veneration had been given to Mother Theresa. By 1933, all the necessary documents were in place and her writings declared theologically and morally satisfactory.

The death of the postulator and the emergence of World War II delayed any further progress. On July 11, 1952, Pope Pius XII signed the decree permitting the beginning of the procedure to show that Mother Theresa practiced heroic virtue. The 30-year probing of virtues concluded with the decree of January 13, 1983, declaring that Mother Theresa practiced the virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and moderation in a heroic manner.

The last phase involved the investigation of the miraculous cure of Sister Tecla Medeiros, SSND, of Brazil who was dying from cancer. On May 9, 1985, Pope John Paul II signed the decree, which declared her healing miraculous. Six months later on November 17, 1985, Mother Theresa was declared Blessed in the beatification liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Beatification is the third of four steps in a process whereby the church declares that individuals may be honored and venerated due to their exemplary life of heroic virtue. This step is preceded by intense study of an individual’s life, writings, and virtues and, if he or she was not a martyr for the faith, proof of one miracle worked by God through his or her intercession. The fourth step of the process is canonization, whereby the person is declared to be a saint worthy of honor and veneration by the entire Catholic Church.

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