The Institution of the New Congregation
On September 13, 1869 Bishop Stepisnik officially sanctioned the foundation of the new religious Institute, confirming Sr. Margareta Pucher in the guidance of the Congregation and conferring upon her the title of Superior, according to the practice of the Church regarding foundresses of religious institutes.
In the history of the province of Maribor written by Sr. Leonita Rojs and Sr. Augustina Zorec we read, “This is the day of the birth of our Congregation, and Maribor is its birthplace.”
The Congregation of the School Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, often called the School Sisters of Maribor, was the first religious Institute founded in Slovenia. It was a diocesan Institute under the direction of the bishop of Maribor, Bishop Stepisnik, who was the successor of Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek.
The year 1869 was also significant for the city of Maribor, because the first ecclesiastically approved religious institute in Slovenia for the education of youth was begun there.
The many aspirants were happy and content, and seven of them were preparing to embrace religious life. Countess Brandys, the president of the Association of Catholic Women, founded in Maribor in 1860 by Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek, was also particularly happy. She came to find Sr. Margareta, the foundress of the new community, and shook her hand as a sign of their faithful future collaboration for the children of Maribor. The sisters then assumed total responsibility for the mission of the education and instruction of the youth.
Naturally, wherever the sisters were the children followed. They all went into the chapel together to sing the “Te Deum” and recite the rosary in honor of the Queen of the Rosary.
That day after evening prayer the sisters received their first blessing as School Sisters of Maribor from Mother Margareta. Kneeling, they kissed her hand and promised to remain faithful until death, dedicating themselves with all their energy to the education of the neglected children of Maribor. Following her example, they promised to remain faithful to God and to learn from our Seraphic Father Francis how to love and serve Christ Crucified.
In this way the first day came to a close. All the sisters except Sr. Margareta went to retire. Sr. Nepomucena relates:
She remained in the chapel until the early hours of the following day. We understood she wished to have some moments of peace after such a full day, and where could she find greater peace than in chapel before the Blessed Sacrament.
Whom did she pray for during those evening hours of thanksgiving and supplication? Perhaps for the children who came to school carrying their hungry and neglected younger brothers and sisters. When bread was given to these little ones they ate it ravenously, pushing it into their mouths with both hands, then sitting on the road opposite the school doors they waited, hoping the doors would open again. They waited for lunch time and again received food. They even received something for supper before returning home. Such scenes became more and more frequent.
Not only the brothers and sisters of the school children came, but also quite often other “street children.” They would come to the sisters for bread, holding each others hands. The sisters didn’t know all these children, because the Association didn’t have their names listed among the needy. Nevertheless, the sisters knew that they had to do something for these children who sat outside with nothing to do, and with their hungry eyes longing for bread, for love, and for a kind word.
Mother Margareta knew the sisters would willingly give all this to these children, but that was not enough. She sought an answer in prayer.
If only I had a roof to shelter them, I would accept them and not leave them stranded out on the street, poorly dressed and barefoot, in every kind of weather. It isn’t just the space, we also need more sisters. Now we have aspirants. These good girls from the villages could help wash, clean and mend their blouses, clothes, and aprons. They could play with them, sing to them and tell them some nice stories about the guardian angels who watch over little children. The aspirants could listen to what the children are saying, see what they are looking at, and notice what they are doing. They could teach these children to pray as their mothers had taught them. Our aspirants could speak to them of Jesus and of His most holy Mother.
Mother Margareta turned with confidence to the Madonna and begged, “O Mary, be our patron, our Protectress and Mother...”
We need a nursery school as soon as possible, so that these little children, left to themselves, will not be scandalized by bad company, nor will they learn bad words, or to lie and steal, or perhaps even worse things.
At night during these hours of prayer Sr. Margareta had before her eyes the future growth of this new Congregation authorized by the Church. She saw that with the help of God this Congregation would grow in Maribor and the surrounding country. She also saw that it would entail much work. New vocations were arriving; however, there was no place to put the aspirants. There was insufficient space in the school and for the homeless children.
A large building would be needed to house the future grade school and the Teachers’ Institute needed to prepare the aspirants. Workrooms would be necessary for sewing and cutting material, for manual work, for the making of sacred vestments. Cabinets would be needed for the various scholastic disciplines, etc.
What could be done about a convent for the new Congregation? Already there was insufficient room. What would happen when the number of Sisters increased? And that number would have to increase to accommodate the scholastic needs of the Institute. It would be necessary to have at least a hundred sisters and aspirants to meet the needs.
Since there must be space for God in our midst, what about the chapel for the future School Sisters, aspirants, and children? We will come together there to adore the Blessed Sacrament, for community prayers, for Mass, for reception ceremonies, for the profession of novices, and for retreats - not only for the sisters at Maribor, but also for those who work in other regions, or perhaps even on other continents. They would probably wish to return from time to time for spiritual renewal and refreshment, and so be able to work better upon their return to their missions.
St. Joseph, how will our little Congregation be able to do all this? These buildings will have to serve at least a hundred years or more, and we do not even have the land for their construction, let alone the money to buy it or the construction materials.
St. Joseph, be our administrator. Take our small Congregation under your care. Administer and guide all these works which are so necessary now, and in the future, and in other places.
St. Joseph, you who took care of your family and found a house for them, help us. We entrust all our concerns to you. Direct everything as you have done even to the present. You have never abandoned me, and have guided everything in the right direction. St. Joseph, be our administrator and our guardian also in the future. With your help we will be able to do these great works, and face unforeseen burdens in connection with our new educational Institute. St. Joseph, help us! St. Joseph, pray for us!
Beloved Jesus, you who live among us, remain with us and with our Congregation. O Divine Master, I entrust to You all our educational and scholastic works. Bless them so that they may bear fruit in time and for eternity. I place my whole being, the youth, and the sisters of whatever time who will come to be a part of our Congregation, and all the persons who will be entrusted to us, into Your hands and those of Mary,Your Mother.
I place everything into the Divine Heart of Jesus. Reign in our hearts and in our souls because they are Yours. I beg You to enlighten us. Turn Your eyes upon our souls and to our needs, so that we may be able to adore You with all our hearts and remain faithful to the vows we have professed to You for all our lives, O Divine King.
Bless us so that we may listen to Your voice, to the Word of Your Good News, and to all the divine inspirations which are the gifts of Your goodness. Grant that we may be open to live them with the help of Your grace.
Bless us, so that we may never say anything that is not pleasing to You, O good Jesus. Grant that our words may always correspond to the truth and to justice and that they never cause offense, either to God or to our neighbor.
Bless our poor human hearts, so that they may not become unfaithful to the Divine love You have shown us in facing Your passion and death on the cross.
O Jesus, aware of my unworthiness and my nothingness, and prostrate before You, I beg You with all the thankfulness and gratitude You granted me during this hour, to reign over us. You alone, O good and merciful Jesus, be forever our King and the Lord of our hearts and of our minds.25
25. The first sisters were very familiar with Sr. Margareta and asked her how she had passed that night of September 13, 1869 in prayer, after Bishop Stepisnik had named her Superior of the new Congregation of School Sisters of Maribor. At first she remained silent, as if she did not wish to speak of that night; then she satisfied the sisters, revealing to them her reflections upon the needs of the new Congregation and her concerns and also her prayers addressed to Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. One of the sisters had written this down and spread it among the sisters. Our superior at Repnje, Sr. Fabijana, read everything to us, and so it has been conserved to this day.