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Wreck of the Deutschland

A Moment in Wheaton Franciscan History

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20.02.028 – Illustration of the S.S. Deutschland as it appeared around 1875. (Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum).

In December 1875, five Franciscan Sisters ventured from the motherhouse in Salzkotten, Germany to St. Louis, Missouri to lead the new American Province. They were the fifth group of Sisters to journey to the United States since 1872. Early in their voyage, as their ship – the S.S. Deutschland – moved along the coast of England through the English Channel, it was caught in a violent winter storm. The Deutschland ran aground on a sandbar off the coast and remained lodged with a broken propeller. Due to the howling winds and low visibility, calls for help went unheeded, and huge waves crashed across the deck of the doomed ship.

Sisters on-board:

Sister M. Barbara (Thekla) Hültenschmidt
Final vows:  December 2, 1875
Age:  32 years old

Sister M. Henrica (Catherine) Fasbender
Final vows: December 2, 1875
Age:  28 years old

Sister M. Brigitta (Elisabeth) Damhorst
Final vows:  December 2, 1875
Age:  27 years old

Sister M. Norberta (Johanna) Reinkober
Final vows:  December 2, 1875
Age:  30 years old

Sister M. Aurea (Josepha) Badziura
First vows: December 2, 1875
Age:  23 years old

Among the dead were the five Franciscan Sisters. It was reported the Sisters had given up their space in limited lifeboats for women and children. Although the bodies of four Sisters were found, Sr. Henrica Fassbender (the 28-year-old chosen by Mother Clara to lead the American Province) was never recovered.

Franciscan priests were sent to accompany the Sisters’ remains as they were transported by train to Stratford, England. The women were remembered at St. Francis Church in Stratford with a Requiem Mass celebrated by Cardinal Henry Manning of London. His Eminence offered a eulogy for the Sisters who had yet to be individually identified. Newspaper accounts stated large crowds of people lined both sides of the street as the funeral processed to St. Patrick Cemetery in nearby Leytonstone.

Newspapers of the day were filled with grim details of the Deutschland’s wreck. Many readers were moved to profound sadness, including Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. He had spent several years in Stratford as a child and his mother sent him the newspaper articles.

Deeply touched by the tragedy, Hopkins turned to poetry. His resulting masterpiece, The Wreck of the Deutschland, was dedicated to the fallen Sisters and celebrates Hopkins’s deep sense of God’s presence in the face of disaster.

20.02.001 – Funeral Mass at St. Francis Church in Stratford, England. The remains of the four recovered Sisters are present.
20.02.031 – Sketch of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet and Jesuit Priest. Between 1875 and 1876, Hopkins composed the poem The Wreck of Deutschland. (Courtesy of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival).
PC.0013 – Quilt honoring the five Franciscan Sisters who perished on the SS. Deutschland in December 1875. The quilt is the centerpiece of the Deutschland Chapel located at the Our Lady of Angels Motherhouse in Wheaton, Illinois

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