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Gerhardinger, Karolina Elizabeth Frances, Bl.


In religious life, Maria Theresia of Jesus, Theresa of Jesus, founder of the School Sisters of Notre Dame; b. June 20, 1797, Stadtamhof (near Regensburg), Bavaria, Germany; d. May 9, 1879, Munich, Bavaria, Germany.

Karolina was the only child of Willibald Gerhardinger, a ship master on the Danube, and Frances Huber. She attended the cloister school of the Congregation de Notre Dame until they were forced to disband by government order in 1809. Michael Wittmann, cathedral pastor and later bishop of Regensburg, continued the King's School for Girls with three apprentice teachers, including Karolina. At 15 she received her government certificate and began teaching in the parish school at Stadtamhof. At 18 she told the bishop she would like to become a nun. Only then did he reveal his wish to see founded the kind of religious institute that St. Peter fourier had planned but that the Church and the world of the 17th century had been unready to accepta community of teaching sisters who would not be confined to monasteries and thus could teach in poor villages.

Rev. Matthias Siegert, who was commissioned by Bishop Wittmann to study the new pedagogy pioneered by Pestalozzi, became educational and spiritual director of the new congregation, in which Karolina's "Teresian spirit" flowered and her teaching genius matured. Only in 1833 was she allowed to take her vows, after the state and ecclesiastical authorities were convinced her community could maintain itself. Gerhardinger opened the first house in Neunburg vom Wald (Oberpfalz) joined by two other women, Maria Blass and Barbara Weinzierl. They lived a common life in poverty dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the model for her sisters and young girls. The congregation received episcopal sanction in 1834 and spread quickly to small towns and villages throughout Germany, 13 other European countries, and abroad. In 1843 the mother house was established at Munich in a convent given to them by King Louis Philippe. In 1847, Mother Gerhardinger and five sisters migrated to the mountains of Pennsylvania to teach children of German immigrants. Although they were unwelcome there, St. John neumann paved the way for a better reception in Baltimore. In America they endured hunger and other hardships, but nevertheless spread throughout the eastern United States. After two years in the United States Gerhardinger returned to Bavaria.

Gerhardinger pioneered a new form of religious life. The sisters were sent out in twos or threes so that they could serve in many small communities. Mother Maria Theresia insisted that the sisters be allowed to direct themselves under a central government, rather than being placed under the control of the local bishop, in order to maintain a common spirituality without a physical community life. Although the sisters found opposition to the new concept, the institute was formally recognized by the Vatican in 1854. Pope Pius IX in 1865 approved the constitution which was the first to allow a sister to govern the members of the women's congregation. For the rest of her life she actively fostered the education of girls and oversaw the growth of her community. Pope John Paul II beatified her on Nov. 17, 1985 and named her patron of Christian educators.

Feast: May 9.

Bibliography: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 79 (1987): 243247. L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., no. 47 (1985). f. friess, Life of Reverend Mother Mary Teresa of Jesus Gerhardinger (Baltimore 1921). c. grÖn, Eine Frau steht am Steuer (Munich 1962). m. d. mast, Through Caroline's Consent (Baltimore 1958). Mother Caroline and the School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America, 2 v. (St. Louis 1928). t. schmidkonz, Du Gott. GebetsMeditationen zu Worten von M. Theresia von Jesu Gerhardinger (St. Ottilien, Germany 1985). Selige Theresia von Jesu Gerhardinger (17971879): ein Leben für Kirche und Schule zum 200. Geburtstag (Regensburg 1997).

[m. d. mast]

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