St. Mary Bernard (Verena) Bütler (1848-1924)
The Lord, however, made her instead the foundress of a new Religious Congregation, that of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Sinners.
They were received paternally by the Bishop, who entrusted to Mary Bernard the community of Chone, which presented a distressing spectacle because of the total lack of priests, scant religious practice and rampant immorality. Mary Bernard became "everything to everyone", placing prayer, poverty, fidelity to the Church and the constant exercise of the works of mercy at the base of her missionary work. She, together with her daughters, began an intense apostolate among families, deepening their knowledge of the language and of the culture of the people. The first fruits did not delay in maturing. The Christian life of the people blossomed again as if by magic.
The new Franciscan Congregation also grew in number and two filial houses were founded in Sant Ana and Canoa. Very soon after however, the missionary work of Mother Mary Bernard was marked by the mystery of the Cross. Many indeed were the sufferings to which she and her daughters were submitted: absolute poverty, torrid heat, uncertainty and difficulties of every kind, risks to their health and security of their lives, misunderstanding on the part of ecclesiastical authorities and, besides, the separation of some Sisters from the community, establishing themselves later as an autonomous congregation (the Franciscans of the Immaculate: Blessed Charity Brader). Mary Bernard underwent all this with heroic fortitude and in silence without defending herself or nourishing resentment towards anyone, but forgiving them from her heart and praying for those who made her suffer.
As if all these trials were not enough, a violent persecution in 1895, begun by forces hostile to the Church, obliged Sr. Mary Bernard and her Sisters to flee from Ecuador. Without knowing where to go, she went, with 14 Sisters, towards Bahia, from where she continued towards Colombia.
The group was still wandering when it received an invitation from Msgr. Eugene Biffi to work in his Diocese of Cartagena. So, on the 2nd of August 1895, the feast of the Porziuncola of Assisi, the Foundress and her Sisters, exiled from Ecuador, reached Cartagena, and were received paternally by the Bishop. They found hospitality in a female hospital, commonly called a "Pious Work". The Lord had led her by the hand towards that asylum, where Mother Mary Bernard would remain to the end of her life. After the house in Cartagena, the Foundation was extended not only in Columbia but also in Austria and Brasil.
Struck by piercing hypo-gastric pains, while at the "Pious Work" in Cartagena, an establishment of her Daughters, and loved and venerated by all as an authentic saint, Mary Bernard quietly went to sleep in the Lord on the 19th of May 1924. She was 74 years of age, 56 in the consecrated life and 38 in missionary life. News of her death spread quickly. The Pastor of the Cathedral of Cartagena announced her passing away, saying to the faithful: "A saint has died in this city, this morning: the reverend Mother Bernard!". Her tomb immediately became a centre of pilgrimage and a place of prayer.
The apostolic zeal and ardour of charity of Mother Mary Bernard are being re-lived today in the Church, particularly through the Congregation founded by her, present at the moment in various countries on three continents. The Blessed can be pointed out as an authentic model of "inculturation", the urgency of which the Church has underlined for an efficient announcement of the Gospel (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 52). She incarnated perfectly her orienting motto: "My guide, my star, is the Gospel".
During her life, she found support and comfort in God alone.
From the time she abandoned her homeland, to which she never went back, when she left her dear Monastery in Altstätten and during her untiring apostolic activity, she was always sustained by a solid spirituality of unceasing prayer, heroic charity towards God and her neighbour, by a faith that was solid as rock, by an unlimited trust in the Providence of God, by evangelical strength and humility, and by a radical fidelity to the commitments of her consecrated life. From her contemplation of the mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity, the Eucharist and the Passion of the Lord, she also drew the gift of mercy towards all, which she practised and left as the particular charism of her Congregation. Very devoted to the Virgin Mother of the Lord, she wished her Congregation to have Our Lady Help of Sinners as mother, protector and life model in her discipleship of Christ and in her missionary activity. As a Franciscan, she cultivated the same veneration which St. Francis of Assisi nourished for "Holy Mother Church", Pastors and priests, whom she called "the anointed of the Lord".
The Blessed left an admirable example of the biblical woman: strong, prudent, mystical, spiritual teacher and notable missionary. She left the Church a wonderful testimony of dedication to the cause of the Gospel, teaching all, especially today, that it is possible to unite contemplation and action, life with God and service to humanity, bringing God to men and women, and men and women to God.
The Servant of God Pope John Paul II conferred the title and honour of Blessed her on the 29th of October 1995. The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, inscribed her in the register of Saints on the 12th of October 2008.