Stories of Joy - No. 12 - Founding of Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate — Sister Josaphata co-foundress

In Ukraine

Two little girls holding hands ran off into the large backyard of their home and disappeared among the clump of shrubs that encircled the yard. When they reappeared not too long after, there seemed to be bits of grass and soil on their lips and hands. Would you try to guess what went on there as they made their escape to this particular spot quite often during the week? They imitated hermits and ate roots. The two girls were Michaelina and her older sister Anna Hordashevska who lived on 67 Lychakiwska Street in Lviw. Their father had been employed by Count Sapieha in renewing antique furniture, and in time bought a piece of land from the Count and there built his own shop. Thus he was able to support his family of seven girls and two boys. The mother, besides caring for her children, kept a small farm. Michaelina was the fifth child of this humble, working class family. When she was only six years old she was enrolled in a school directed by the Felician Sisters. She was an excellent student but unfortunately, as with all her siblings, the family resources did not allow for schooling beyond the obligatory years. So Michaelina attained maturity in the working force, first in a glass factory, then in a handicraft school of embroidery to which she was guided by her spiritual adviser who felt she needed the quieter atmosphere as he saw her piety and yearning for quiet and recollection achieve full maturity.

She desired to live her life as a religious. She would do so, and in a new way, which came to light gradually through a series of events that marked the Church in Ukraine near the end of the 19th century. The population had undergone much moral oppression and needed a deep spiritual and social uplifting, a gentle caring to heal the wounds of the past. It needed the presence of religious women, and not only the prayers of the contemplative nuns in the distant monasteries, but more earnestly active Sisters who would intermingle with the people, with families, youth, children — Sisters who would serve them in their needs and bring back stability and joy to their everyday lives. Church leaders responded and Michaelina’s spiritual guide, a Basilian whose Order had just been reinvigorated and reformed for greater missionary work among the people, pointed to her to be the Foundress of these new Sisters, whose name was to be Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.

The Felician Sisters, a very active religious community among their Polish people, willingly allowed her to spend two months in their home, in order to learn how a new community she would lead, would need to be formed and organized. On August 24, 1892, in the Basilian Church of St. Onufrius in Lviw, Michaelina was clothed in the Marian blue habit they would wear, and which she had designed, chose for herself the religious name of Sister Josaphata, and then travelled to Zhuzhel where she met seven other young ladies eager to join her. Several days later, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, in the parish church and in the presence of parents and many parishioners, the new religious community was officially founded. All eight would be the founding members. Following the ceremony, they were led in procession to their new home, provided by the elderly devout pastor. Over the years, there would be hundreds of homes of these new active Sisters, who today are missioned in 17 countries.

Their first house had four rooms, a stove and cupboard, a table with two long benches, and enough soup bowls and spoons for the present. Eight beds folded for the day and were stacked along the walls. The pastor’s sister brought several pieces of baked chicken and a loaf of bread for their first supper. One of them who came from the parish, ran over to the rectory to fetch a candle to light up the table of the eight new brides of Christ, the first Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate. After prayer, Sister Josaphata reverently lifted the loaf of bread up to heaven, whispered a blessing, broke it, and distributed the pieces to her new companions. She divided the chicken among them and asked them to use their fingers because there were no knives and forks. And everyone said they had never felt such peace and joy as that evening.

The motto of the Sisters Servants became the following: Glory to God, honour to Mary, to us peace.


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