The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Maria of the Sacred Heart

Blessed Maria Droste zu VischeringArticle

(Countess Droste zu Vischering)

When Leo XIII dedicated the whole world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the end of the last century, few were aware that he did so at the suggestion of a German nun. It was Maria of the Sacred Heart, born Countess Droste zu Vischering, superior of the convent of the Good Shepherd at Oporto, who on 10 June 1898, wrote to Leo XIII that it was the desire of the Divine Saviour to have the whole world consecrated to His Sacred Heart. The letter remained unanswered. On 6 January 1899, she wrote a second time. In the meanwhile Rome had inquired concerning the writer of the letter and had maturely considered the matter. At the beginning of April 1899, there arrived at Oporto a letter and the decree of the Holy Father declaring that the desired dedication would be carried into execution on the coming feast of the Sacred Heart after a triduum. What is narrated in the biography of Mother Maria was read to Pope Leo and was expressly approved by him.

Maria Anne Droste zu Vischering, daughter of Count Clement Droste zu Vischering, was born in the ancestral home at Münster, 8 September 1863. She was of an extremely lively disposition and her nature was impetuous, but the excellent training she received at home and in the convent school of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart at Riedenburg turned the enthusiasm of the young and talented countess in the right direction. She appreciated clearly the truth and beauty of Christian ideals and devoted herself to them with all the fervor of her uncorrupted mind. When about twelve years old she received Confirmation and resolved to renounce all the pleasures of the world and to become a religious. She burned with zeal to announce Christ to the heathen and lamented that she was not a boy and so could not become a missionary. But her desire to gain souls for Christ was to be gratified, though not in the manner she had imagined in her earlier years.

In her twentieth year, when she was about to follow the divine call, she was seized with a lingering disease. It was a period of interior purification and of great spiritual profit. Her parents permitted her to lead the life of a religious at home as far as was possible. Her overmastering desire was to practise magnanimity toward Our Lord and to serve Him with pure love. This noble intention determined her in 1888 to enter the convent of the Good Shepherd, though before this time she had not thought of this Order. To gain for Our Lord the most unfortunate of creatures and to live unknown to the world was in keeping with the desire of her great soul. After five years her health had so much improved that she was able to join the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Münster on 22 November 1888. God overwhelmed her with consolation, but at the same time proved the genuineness of her vocation by severe trials. Homesickness, discouragement, anxieties of conscience, and doubts of her vocation pressed heavily upon her. But it was not in the character of Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart to fail in a resolve she had so clearly understood because there were difficulties in the way. These difficulties rather confirmed in her her favorite virtue – magnanimity in serving Our Lord.

Soon after the completion of her noviceship, Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart was given the office of mistress of the pupils, which duty she performed with great skill. At the beginning of 1894 obedience sent her to Portugal, and after a short stay at Lisbon she was appointed superior of the house of Oporto. They expected from her the accomplishment of a difficult task. The convent lay under an immense burden of debt; means of subsistence were altogether wanting; and the loss of the convent was to be feared every day. By her prudence and her confidence in God, which was often miraculously rewarded, Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart not only saved the house from ruin, but soon brought it prosperity and reputation. She labored with superhuman endeavor for the welfare of her Sisters and the penitents, and showed herself a heroic bride of the heavenly King. But spinal disease soon cast her upon the bed of sickness from which she was never to rise. Still her painful ailment did not end her activity, and she was carried to the parlor on a portable couch to satisfy the many who sought her help and advice.

Our Lord had never spared His chosen bride interior trials. Now also her exterior appearance was a picture of misery. Yet thirst for suffering was never quenched. “My Jesus, My Jesus, more suffering – more love” was her prayer. The lights and revelations vouchsafed her during this time were frequent, consoling, and full of profound wisdom. Her biographers not unjustly compare her with Saint Gertrude and Blessed Margaret Mary. For her, too, the Heart of Jesus was the fountain of her ardent charity and her heroic wisdom. The response of Leo XIII that he intended to consecrate all mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was the greatest joy of her life.

But she was not to celebrate the day of the consecration on earth. Just when bells were ringing for the eve of the feast and the triduum of consecration had begun at Rome, she departed this life on 8 June 1899, before she had completed her thirty-sixth year. At the news of her death rich and poor hastened to the door of the convent to see once more the face of the revered Mother and to recommend themselves to her protection. The funeral was like a triumphal procession. Six noblemen asked the privilege of carrying the coffin on their shoulders to the grave, an event before unheard of in Oporto, and an immense crowd of the people followed on foot. Leo XIII took information on all the particulars of her death.

The renown of Sister Maria of the Sacred Heart increases from day to day. The story of her life is echoed with joy in thousands of hearts. She is a proof of God’s liberality toward those who distinguish themselves by generosity to the Sacred Heart of His Son. We may surely hope that the Church will honor the memory of this daughter of an illustrious house. She is a heroine of whom her people may be proud. God grant that her example may incite others to the same heroic courage.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Maria of the Sacred Heart”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 March 2018. Web. 24 September 2018. <>