The Nightly Holy Hours

Sr. Nepomucena Ziggal recounted these events to Sr. Gertrude Neuwirth, Sr. Angelina Krizanic, and to several other sisters.

She said that as soon as Sr. Margareta returned from Algersdorf all the sisters wanted to know if she had resolved the problem. Without hesitation she explained that her meeting with the Mother Superior had been brief and without positive results. Sr. Margareta said,

My last hope seemed to disappear, for Mother Superior did not want to listen. She simply shrugged her shoulders and left.  I went after her but I couldn’t find her, and so I also left.  We did not even say good-bye to each other. 

As I was returning to Maribor I was thinking, “And now, what are we going to do?  Should we leave Algersdorf as the president of the Association and the Jesuit Father have advised?”  This priest explained everything to me regarding the process to be followed for founding a new diocesan religious community here in Maribor.

Sister Margareta continued,

Dear Sisters, I for my part, will leave our Algersdorf Community.  I will assume the burden of the institution of the new Congregation, trusting in the Providence of God and in Our Lady of the Rosary.  I will do this with the permission of the Bishop of Graz, Bishop Zwerger, and the Bishop of Maribor, Bishop Stepisnik.

Since I am aware of my weakness and incapacity, I would like to make some nightly holy hours before the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to ask for help and enlightenment.  I beg you, Sisters, do not leave me alone in this time of great difficulty.  Pray with me, so that my decision may be according to God’s will, for His glory, and for the salvation of the souls of these youngsters who need to be educated.

Sr. Nepomucena said that the sisters responded and promised that they would certainly pray with Sr. Margareta. They would also pray that the Lord would show them what they must do when their moment of decision came.

Sr. Nepomucena said that for herself, she knew she could not be happy in another place, no matter how orderly it was, without these neglected children who gave her so much joy. She said that when she helped them wash, or combed their hair, or put clean clothes on them, she noticed how they turned around and looked at each other, for they saw how much happier and more beautiful life could be.

Sr. Nepomucena continued, 

Until then I was not acquainted with nightly holy hours.  We asked the Superior, Sr. Margareta, how to make them and what to pray. She knew them well, for as a child she and her mother had prayed holy hours at night before a picture of the Sacred Heart. They had prayed them so that her mother’s second marriage might be blessed. When she was with her uncle, before entering the convent, she had also prayed nightly holy hours.

Sr. Nepomucena also explained how Sr. Margareta taught them about prayer:

Every prayer is a lifting of our spirit to God.  With a pure heart, full of faith, and in total humility, we turn to God and to his most holy Mother with prayers, penance and self-denial, abstaining from food and drink and also from sleep.  This is precisely the situation we find ourselves in, one that calls for fasting and self-denial.

If you want God to hear your prayers, never pray with a conscience burdened by acts against charity.  Remember the prayer Jesus taught us, “... forgive us our sins as we forgive....”  Let us be aware of our lack of charity towards others: the persons with whom we collaborate, our sisters, the superior, and the many people we meet who do not share our ideas and whom we criticize.  We sometimes forget that many of them are perhaps dearer to God than we who are not aware of the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned during his earthly life.

It would also be a good idea to make a good confession and have a clear conscience, making the intention of never speaking ill of our sisters at Algersdorf.  Let us accept everything that happens as the hand of God in His Divine Providence, whose ways we do not know.

I would like to propose these nightly holy hours to you, not just at this time, but for always.

Sr. Nepomucena continued explaining how the nightly holy hours went:

On the vigil of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, at eight o’clock in the evening, we began with the evening holy hours.  We invoked the Holy Spirit and entrusted ourselves to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We prayed, sometimes vocally and sometimes silently, beginning with the recitation of the rosary, then the Way of the Cross, litanies, etc.  We also inserted the reading of the Gospel.  This was an incentive for us to dialogue with God, either in silence or vocally.  

Everything was included in our prayers: our needs and also our projects for the future here at Maribor or elsewhere as the Lord would see fit and in whatever work would be entrusted to us.  We offered ourselves in trusting availability to the Lord’s will - “May everything be done according to God’s Providence.”

After some hours of prayer, Sr. Margareta realized that we were tired and she told us to go to sleep.  First we recited an evening prayer which the sisters say Sr. Margareta herself had written. We recited this prayer every evening after the regular prayers, as long as she was alive. 

The prayer is as follows:

“Immaculate Heart of Mary, since I cannot praise God during the night, please praise him for me.  With every heartbeat may I offer countless acts of adoration and praise to the Most Holy Trinity and to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Accept my every breath as a sign of love toward you and toward your Son.  Dearest Mother, keep watch over me during this night with your special protection and bless me. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.20

The following morning when we arrived in the chapel for prayer we found Sr. Margareta still on her knees, bent over before the altar with her rosary in hand. We recited morning prayers together and then went to Mass.

At breakfast Sr. Margareta was completely calm, as if she had not been up all night praying, nor fasting on bread and water and doing other unseen exercises of penance and self-denial.

She knew the path she had chosen to follow would be wrought with many concerns. The future autonomous Congregation would need to be administered with much wisdom.  She would do whatever was necessary and make use of every opportunity. She would pray herself and also with the sisters, trusting that God’s Providence would guide them. Everything would be done for His glory and for the good of the children.

Now the trips began again for our superior.  First she went to Bishop Zwerger of Graz21. She spoke openly to him about her problems and of her plan to leave the Community of Algersdorf and found an independent Congregation at Maribor. She was prepared to sacrifice herself totally for this.  Bishop Zwerger understood her situation and spoke personally to the government of the religious Community at Algersdorf.  It was decided that any sister who wanted to leave the Congregation of Algersdorf and be part of the new Congregation in the diocese of  Maribor must do so of her own free will.  This was done under his direction.22

Bishop Zwerger of Graz released the five sisters who had chosen to remain in Maribor from all the obligations that bound them in their religious 1ife to the Community at Algersdorf of the Graz diocese23.

Several of the elderly sisters maintained that, after Sr. Margareta had explained to Bishop Zwerger the need to dedicate themselves to the neglected children of Maribor, he was very supportive of the sisters leaving Algersdorf.  Among the sisters affirming that this was the case were: Mother Angelina Krizanic, Sr. Regina Gosak, Sr. Felicita Kalinsek, the Neuwirth sisters, Sr. Brigita and Sr. Gertrude, Sr. Fabijana, Sr. Aleksija Erzar and others.

The government of the city of Graz delayed for a time the permission for the new Congregation of School Sisters.  According to the law of the Austrian monarchy of that time, the diocese could not allow a new religious institution in its territory without permission of the government of that same territory.  

The State was particularly concerned with economic factors such as: who would maintain the new religious institution,  who would be responsible for the members,  who would assume financial liability should the community go into debt with the eventual acquisition of property, and who would guarantee that property, etc.

Finally the state government authorized the new Institution on the basis of the written intervention of the Ordinary of the diocese of Maribor, and on the guarantee of the Association of Catholic Women who were officially registered.  With that, the last obstacle hindering the founding of the new Congregation of School Sisters of Maribor was removed.

This is what Dr. Kovacic, historian on the life of Bishop Slomsek, wrote:

Bishop Slomsek instituted the Association of Catholic Women….From that Association blossomed the Institute of the School Sisters of Maribor, which developed into a huge tree.

As soon as the state government at Graz authorized the new Congregation in Maribor, Sr. Margareta Puhar, trusting in Divine Providence, began to prepare for the expansion of  the boarding school at Maribor. This involved the purchase of another house and land for the future construction of the necessary buildings for the school, study halls, a residence within the school, and a convent for the future School Sisters of Maribor.

Sr. Nepomucena confirmed with pleasure that “our foundress,” Sr. Margareta, was helped materially by the good ladies of the Association.  Mrs. Schmiderer was a great benefactress, the Count and Countess Brandys helped the sisters with personnel, and many others helped as well.

However, according to the sisters’ accounts, not everything went smoothly. There were difficulties and even some opposition.  The sisters continued their nightly holy hours, fasting on bread and water, using hair shirts and other means of penance.  They begged in imperial Vienna, in Prague, Bohemia, and then in all of Austria.  The most frequent begging took place in Steirmark. It was from here that young girls began to come as aspirants - the future Sisters of Maribor.

The care of the new vocations was assumed by the  foundress, Sr. Margareta. Much prayer and great trust  was needed in the face of everything. The Queen of the Rosary was invoked many times, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

With what joy the first sisters recited the rosary. With what joy they did penance.  They did it for their new Congregation at Maribor, which would teach and train the children. The sisters had chosen to leave the Community of Algersdorf and remain in Maribor under very poor conditions for the sake of these neglected children, for these souls which belonged to God. They sacrificed all this so that the children would have more dignified lives and happier futures.

---------------

20. Dr. Franc Kimovec had heard this prayer recited at Repnje and corrected it from a linguistic point of view.  I (Sr. Hedvika) carried the corrected formula of this evening prayer with me to all the communities where I was sent, and we always recited it.

21. Translator’s note:  Sr. Margareta at this time was still a School Sister of Graz and, therefore, under the jurisdiction of Bishop Zwerger.

22. Translator’s note: The Bishop asked each sister to secretly write, without anyone influencing her choice, whether she wished to remain at Algersdorf or join the new Congregation in Maribor.  Each response was to be placed in a sealed envelope and given directly to the bishop. (Graz Chronicles)
Since the new community in Maribor would need about nine sisters, the bishop was surprised to find that only 5 sisters had decided for Maribor: “…I am sorry. I didn’t expect such a result after I had talked to all the sisters together.” (Letter of Bishop Zwerger to Bishop Stepisnik of Maribor, June 2, 1869)
The Superior at Algersdorf and her Council had also decided that any sister who chose to go to Maribor would not be permitted to return to the Graz community.  (Graz Chronicles)

23. Translator’s note:  The actual permission for the dismissal of the sisters needed the approval also of the Sister Superior in Graz.  This took over a month to coordinate.