The Story:

In December 1875 five Sisters ventured from the motherhouse in Salzkotten, Germany, to St. Louis 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 the ship moved along the coast of England through the English Channel, they were caught in a violent winter storm. The Deutschland went aground on a sandbar off the coast. The ship remained lodged with a broken propeller. Calls for help went unheeded due to the howling winds and low visibility. Huge waves crashed across the deck of the doomed ship. 

(Photo courtesy of the Illustrated London News)

Among the dead in the accident were the five Franciscan Sisters. It was reported the Sisters had given up their space in limited lifeboats for women and children. The bodies of four Sisters were found, but the body of 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 remains of the Sisters as they were transported by train to Stratford, England. The Sisters were remembered at St. Francis Church in Stratford (pictured below) with a Requiem Mass celebrated by Cardinal Henry Manning of London. His Eminence offered the 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.

The newspapers were filled with the grim details of the Deutschland’s loss of life. Many were moved to profound sadness, including Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. He had spent several years in Stratford as a child with his family 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, dedicated to the Sisters, celebrates Hopkin’s deep sense of God’s presence in the face of disaster and memorializes the Sisters. This sketch by artist Wilhelm Foeckersperger was commissioned by the Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival, Monasterevin, Ireland.

 

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

 

 

References:

 

 

Visiting the Cemetery:

In 2003, six of our Sisters were blessed to visit our Sisters’ grave and the Church from which they were buried. Srs. Diane Pryzborowski, Mary Ellen McAleese, Beatrice Hernandez, Alice Drewek, Margaret Grempka and Gabriele Uhlein made this pilgrimage after a Congregational General Chapter in Rome. Sr. Margaret gave a moving account of their visit in her reflection in 2012. 

Sr. Margaret's Reflection
Reflection Response

 

 

The Sisters’ bodies were taken by train from the Harwich Harbor to the closest Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi Order of Friars Minor in Stratford. There, they were welcomed by Father Francis.

The altar at St. Francis Church. 

Our Sisters (from left; Sr. Beatrice Hernandez, Sr. Gabriele Uhlein, Sr. Alice Drewek, Sr. Margaret Grempka, and Sr. Diane Przyborowski) met with a Franciscan Friar at the Church who gave them a tour. Here, they are pictured in the hall where our four Sisters were viewed prior to their burial. 

Srs. Margaret Grempka, Gabriele Uhlein, Alice Drewek, Mary Ellen McAleese, Diane Przyborowski, and Beatrice Hernandez arrive at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Leytonstone, where our Sisters are buried. 

Srs. Beatrice Hernandez, Margaret Grempka, Alice Drewek, Gabriele Uhlein, Mary Ellen McAleese, and Diane Przyborowski stand by the grave. 

Sr. Beatrice Hernandez, Sr. Mary Ellen McAleese, Sr. Margaret Grempka, Sr. Gabriele Uhlein, and Sr. Diane Przyborowski are pictured at waters edge at the harbor in Harwich where our Sisters were brought to land after being found on the Deutschland. 

Years before our deceased sisters’ remains arrived at this harbor in Harwich, England. In 2003, a rainbow breaks through the clouds over the harbor as Sr. Mary Ellen marvels at this sign of God’s everlasting love. 

Sr. Margaret’s hand beside the registry of St. Patrick’s Cemetery, where our Sisters are identified only as “Unknown.” Their remains were rescued from the Deutschland known only as Franciscan Sisters from their habits, and as from coming from Germany, where their home country no longer wanted them.