Two events mark this day: one for the universal church, and another for the Congregation. In 1854 Pope Pius 9th formally defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception- nine months before the nativity of Mary on September 8. That is why this feast falls in Advent, when in fact, we are preparing ourselves for the nativity of the Lord. It is a singular grace and privilege granted to Mary by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ. It echoes the biblical notion of the free gift: I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy (Ex. 3: 14, Rm 9: 15). The second reading from Ephesians (Eph.1) captures these sentiments aptly: God accomplishes all things according to the intentions of his will.
Second event is for the Congregation: on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, on a Saturday December 7th 1889 just as dusk was approaching, the maids, now six, which included Helena Stollenwerk and Hendrina Stenmanns who made their way to the altar as Blessed, made their way in a non- ceremonious procession, led by Fr. Arnold, and followed two by two into the vacant Capuchin Convent, just across the road past the Mission House in Steyl. They entered the chapel and sang the Te Deum. The next day December 8, marked the beginning and regular establishment of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, or simply called Holy Spirit Sisters. Fr. Arnold placed the nascent Congregation under the maternal protection of the Immaculate.
It is now a hundred and thirty-one years since that happened. To be blessed, guided, accompanied and made fruitful by God for 131 years, is an overwhelming experience. The tiny seed sprouted and grew, brought forth new shoots, spread its branches far and wide into all parts of the world.
Today let us thank God for the innumerable blessings we have received as a Congregation, for its growth and development. Our Constitutions accord this day as the principal patron feast and asks us to imitate Mary’s strong faith, firm hope and ardent love. Let us thank God for the foundational qualities of our Congregation and for the holy women who went before us serving the Lord joyfully and generously. Let us thank God for the good work and witness we were able to carry on until now, for using us as God’s instruments of evangelization through works of charity, mercy, peace, justice and empowerment for over a century. Today as the Congregation stands at the cross roads, with the rest of humanity, and thoughts of the general chapter looming large over it, we ask like Mary How can this be? And like Mary, in faith let us reply I am the hand maid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word. Let us turn to the Immaculate for guidance, help, direction and light. May the founder and co- foundresses of our congregation intercede for us. May the Holy Triune God live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people.
Sr. Mary John SSpS – Rome