Childhood and youth
Biography of Maria Droste Zu Vischering
Prepared by Sister Alexandra Eisenkratzer Rgs
(Based on talks by Sr. Gudula Busch and Dr. Claudia Kolletzki, Germany)
Childhood and youth
Droste, child of a noble family, was born 8th September 1863 in Münster
in the so-called ‘Erbdrostenhof’, a big mansion the family owned in the
city. She grew up in a castle with a moat around it near the village
Darfeld, where the family lived most of the time. She was a pious child
but this was nothing extraordinary in this family. Maria was full of
spirits and had a strong will. It was more difficult for her mother to
deal with her than with the other children. The mother sighed, “She
doesn’t mind her dress. She is running into the mud, jumping into the
wet grass and the bushes until she is so dirty that she has to change
every stitch.” Her siblings complained that Maria would bite and
scratch and spit – so they called her ‘little cat’.
On the other hand Maria had a very soft heart and could not see someone suffering.
The children were taught in the house by their mother and the vicar of the castle. They had also governesses and one of them was Irish: Lizzy McMahon who was more like a friend and sister to Maria. (Lizzy visited Maria in Portugal shortly before her death.)
Maria and Max, her twin brother, went for their first Confession and received Holy Communion and Confirmation. In her biography Maria tells us that she and her brothers and sisters one time talked about their future. When she said she would become a nun they didn’t believe her – she kept silent but said to herself, “And I will do it!” From the outside no one would know about this inner process but since her Confirmation she believed she had a call to religious life.
She felt drawn to the poor in the village, visited the sick in the hospital – she was aware of misery and suffering and tried to help as far as it was possible and with the permission of her parents.
One time when she visited the hospital with her mother she saw this poor creature who had given trouble. The mother being very protective was not too happy about this encounter but Maria thought,”…if the Lord was here now, to which of the sick would he be most kind?
Surely to this poor sinner! I overcame my resistance and the fear of my mother and squeezed the hand of this unfortunate girl.” Later Maria said, “At that time I acted for the first time as Religious of the Good Shepherd.” From April 1879 Maria continued her education at the boarding school of the Sacré-Coeur Sisters in Riedenburg in Bavaria. She felt very homesick in the beginning and did not like it there (the sisters wanted to make a ‘lady’ out of her…) but the spiritual atmosphere of the house had an impact on her.
In a homily the priest used Psalm 44 where it says, “Listen, my daughter, attend to my word…, forget your father’s house..., the king will fall in love with your beauty…” Maria knew, “This is for me.” She spoke with the priest, a Jesuit, and he recognized her vocation and encouraged her to pray for clarity.
But at the same time Maria fell seriously ill. She suffered from pneumonia which had not been diagnosed in the beginning. After a short recovery she had a relapse and from then on her health was never fully restored. Maria’s soul had found her inner call but her body received the stigma of suffering which never left her. Shortly before her 18th birthday Maria returned home to recover her health.
The Young Woman
The life of the Droste family seemed to be almost the life of a monastery with daily Eucharist, meditation, spiritual reading and rosary together with the parents. Maria began to learn Latin and with the help of the vicar translated parts of the New Testament. Her days were filled, especially as the mother insisted that her daughters would know all about household management - in theory and practice. Through her father, an excellent administrator, Maria gained great knowledge regarding administrative and legal affairs. This knowledge would later be of great help and benefit for her.
In spite of her busy life Maria never forgot her call. She knew that at the moment she could not enter religious life because of her poor health but in the ‘cloister of her heart’ she is with the One whom she seeks. She considers whether to enter an apostolic or a contemplative congregation and finally she decided for an active life. Later she would suffer terrible doubts because of this choice. In August 1882 she told her parents of her decision. But what a time of waiting was lying ahead of her!!… These long years of waiting were a struggle for Maria in conquering her pride and strong temperament which, if challenged, could erupt like a volcano. The relationship with her mother, who was in her character very much like her daughter became difficult and even estranged. The mother tried to balance the gentleness of the father with more sternness on her side. Maria rebelled and complained vividly to her brothers her difficulties with her mother. The latter wondered if Maria was not able to moderate her temper, would she be able to live out her vocation? Maria was hurt. (Many years after Maria’s death her mother said; “Today I can see clearly what I did not understand at the time: this suffering and the inner struggle about which no one knew kept her armed from head to toe and in such a state of inner tension that it was almost impossible for her to show herself lovingly and courteously.”)
The other test for Maria during these years was her frail health; she hated having to be always careful and to be minding herself, yet she understood that this time was a time of preparation and purification. She also wanted to give this time to the family to make up for her selfishness (letter to the family).
Maria would hide her inner battles from most of the people; all the more unknown was her deep and mystic experience with the Lord - already happening at this time, which gave her great peace. After receiving communion on the Feast of the Sacred Heart the Lord said to her, “You will be the bride of my heart.” Maria was shocked, ashamed but also overwhelmed and overjoyed. She asked her spiritual director if this was a deception but he calmed her, “How can you say this when HE himself is choosing you?” She wanted no one to know of her ‘great secret’ as she called her inner experience with the Lord.
1885 Maria began to live like a nun in her own house – she cleared all unnecessary furniture out of her room and followed a timetable for herself. Her parents insisted that she would be at least present at the family meals as they were suspicious of anything extraordinary. (Maria however was not too strict herself – some relatives would tell that she left her ‘cloister’ to hear the news or gossip about the wider family…).
During this time she kept and treasured a little statue of the Sacred Heart, a gift of her parents. It was a miniature of the statue in the chapel of the castle which she later took with her when she entered. (This little figure still exists in one of the convents in Germany).