Franciscan Sisters from Schönbrunn: A family without children

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She once resisted life in a convent, today she is Superior General: Sister Benigna tells how she grew up and with her faith – and how Schönbrunn grew and changed through her. © Meyer-Tien

She never wanted to enter a monastery, and then even became a superior. Sister Benigna of the Franciscan Sisters of Schönbrunn, at the call that she did not let her, pulled down the walls, helping the disabled and religious in times of church crisis.

Schönbrunn – The 71-year-old nun in a friendly and decisive way answers the question, probably not for the first time: “You just call me Sister Benigna.” The religious name was given to her over 50 years ago when she entered the convent, as a symbol of her new life, it means: good, kind. “It’s my life agenda,” she says, and then starts to tell. Since she was still resisting religious life. How she grew up through her faith and through her work in the small village of Schönbrunn, and on the other hand how this place grew and changed through her.

When Sister Benigna felt called

The Franciscan Sisters, Sister Benigna and Schönbrunn belong together. But the number of nuns in Schönbrunn is falling. When Sister Benigna first came to Schönbrunn, the wall still marked the border between the then “institute” and the county road. “It was a very closed place,” says Sister Benigna. In 1960, around 400 nuns looked after children, adults and seniors with all forms of disability. A young girl who grew up in a village in the Hallertau region had two aunts whom she attended at the Schönbrunn Monastery. For herself, she thought, it’s nothing. Never. She wanted to dance, get married, have children. At first, people with disabilities even scared her a little.

But at one point this feeling came. “There is no talk of a vocation for nothing,” he says, and as an outsider, it probably cannot be fully understood. Anyway: she struggled with it for a while, the more she went to dance, and then – in 1968 – she entered a convent anyway. Monastic life instead of dancing, helping the disabled instead of family life. Although, she says, life in Schönbrunn has always been seen as very informal. Organized daily routine, common prayer, community in the order. Living with the residents, who were looked after only by sisters at that time, was like living in a family, even if there were no small housing groups, but large dormitories. And working with people with disabilities was still called nursing, isolated from society. But it was quite natural, says Sister Benigna, in the spirit of the founder of the institution, Countess Victoria von Butler Haimhausen, to create a home for the marginalized, protect them, provide for their livelihood, enable them to get an education and work.

Everyone doubts this is legitimate and important.

Sister Benigna saw Schönbrunn above all as a very lively, almost self-sufficient place that in the mid-1970s offered young women like herself a wide range of possibilities. In addition to nurses, there were also female and male tailors, a shoemaker’s master, a brewer, and a mill master: what was purely male elsewhere also qualified for nurses in Schönbrunn.

Sister Benigna started working in administration, but quickly realized that she wanted to learn more. Trained as a medical education nurse, it became more and more clear that the girl who wanted to dance had found her place. Not without constantly questioning the decision: “Everyone has doubts,” says Sister Benigna seriously, “and that is legitimate and important.” Crises, the question of whether the road is right, it’s all part of every life. And especially to the life you have dedicated to serving a greater purpose. Some sisters left the convent again. Good friends whose loss was painful and whose departure also called into question their own life plan: “Am I really in the right place?”

She stayed. He completed management courses for social education, took up more and more management-related tasks, and became a supervisor for the first time in 1990. “A lot has become possible for me,” he says, “and I have experienced myself in such a way that I can analyze things well and develop them further.” This helped her, because the world around Schönbrunn changed, and so did life in a small village and the life of the sisters. Only a few novices came, and it was easier for women to find fulfillment outside the walls of the convent. In order to be able to provide the best care for the residents, the sisters were increasingly dependent on external specialists.

At the same time, the need for care has also changed: there has been a growing perception that people with disabilities need more than just care. Society and politics discussed participation and integration, and in Schönbrunn people looked for ways to fill fashionable words with life. The wall in the village fell, the offers became more varied and varied. And it was under the leadership of Sr. Benigny that the Order finally took the decisive step to open up the village and give it a perspective for the future: in 1994, the Schönbrunn institution, led for a century by nuns and spiritual directors, became the secular work of Francis.

The youngest sister is 55 years old

The Franciscan Sisters of Schönbrunn and their work remained at the heart of the institution. But the community is constantly changing: now the order has 42 sisters, the youngest has already celebrated its 55th birthday. They are still very active, provide support to those in need, see themselves as a spiritual center in the region.

“Sometimes I compare us to a marriage without offspring,” says Sr. Benigna, “we are aware that in our time of crisis of the Church and of faith, entering religious orders is rather rare.” Looking back on the history of the church and order, it is quite possible that the life of the Order in Schönbrunn will continue in a new form and direction. One thing is certain for the Franciscan Sisters of Schönbrunn: even if their Order ceases to exist, their message will live on.

Series: Schönbrunn in transition

In the Dachauer series, Nachrichten looks at the path from the “Schönbrunn Institution” to the care, support and support center that is today the Franziskuswerk. In addition to today’s part on the last Schönbrunn sisters, the series includes the following themes: “Unique school: the new Johannes Neuhäusler school building”, “From the dishwasher to the millionaire – not really, but some employees have made extraordinary careers at the Franziskuswerk.” , “From Schönbrunn into the wider world: what does it mean for a resident to move to an external housing group”, “Work that is more than work: everyday life in a workshop for people with disabilities” and “Franziskuswerk and reconciliation with the Nazi era”. Katia Meyer-Tien

More current news from the Dachau district can be found at

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