Mother Josepha is blessed with various gifts that witness to sound knowledge good ability and long practice. She had a great talent for organization; she was a competent weaver of silk. She had a natural gift for training young people.
Above all she had a richly gifted disposition: she was refreshingly natural, well balanced, reflective, motherly, intuitive prudent and showed patience with the maturing process of young people and many others. When a successor for Mother Maria had to be found the unanimous choice of the sisters fell on her because she had a good command of all the task the sisters had to do. Her letters show that she quickly grasped the special circumstances of the overseas ministries and was able to sense and accompany from afar the changes taking place in individual sisters and in the young foundations.
One of the things people in Issum remember about Hendrina is the fact that she was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. A few people who were close to her recalled that she was nineteen when the parish priest John P. Frankeser accepted her into the fraternity, that she followed the rules conscientiously and fatihfully attended meetings.
In addition, it was well known that she visited the sick and helped the poor from her own means. She had an attentive eye for the needs of others and always found a way to the sick and needy villagers. Although she was still young, people came to her for advice, orientation and help, also in their inner problems.
She could feel the inner suffering and secret pain of others. The villagers placed their trust in her.
She wished and longed wholeheartedly to follow the Lord, to serve Him in the poor, the sick and the needy.
… simplicity, modesty, kindness, friendliness, cheerfulness, her love for the poor and the needy, and especially her wish to remain unknown and hidden was part of her natu re. Over the years she matured on the human as well as on the spiritual level. She learned the lessons of life through her service for the poor and needy.
On 12 February 1884 she joined the Mission House as a maid.
March 12, 1894 she made her first profession as a Missionary Sister, Servant of the Holy Spirit and was given important responsibilities in the young congregation.
As assistant to Mother Maria and later on as superior, she was concerned for the well being of each sister and their work. And as formator she combined decisiveness and firmness with great mildness.
She trained the sisters so that they were capable of managing all kinds of situations in the missions.
1902, Brazil 1901, USA She was deeply concerned for good relationships among the sisters. This concern was shown through her letters to the sisters.
More than once she underlined the fact that where there is peace and love, God is present with his blessing. Unity boosts quality and as such is a proclamation; it guarantees that the message is convincing, supports individuals and raises the effectiveness of the activity.
An outstanding trait of M. Josepha was her simplicity. “The sisters are to be simple in their manner, simple in their speech, and simple in their dealings with others!” “Simplicity is a distinctive characteristic of our Congregation…”
What does it mean to be simple? Today more and more we stress the value of presence in our missionary response. This presence may mean a timely and a wise word which at times may just be a moment of silence; it is to be, to listen, to accompany with respect; it means to communicate in our feminine being and attitudes the love and message of God, Father and Mother.
An outstanding characteristic of Mother Josepha’s spirituality is the simplicity of her vision of her faith, which allowed her to see every event in God’s light. Through the eyes of faith, she recognized the will of God in all things. Where the “natural person” sees only the movement and constant confusion of external facts, she saw the mysterious action of God.
The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” flowing from the depth of her heart became her second nature, as natural as her breathing. Her personal motto: “God Holy Spirit, I consecrate my whole life to your honor and love.” One of her last recommendations given to the sisters in the missions was: “ Your task there are certainly not easy, but offer each drop of sweat praying joyfully: God Holy Spirit, all for love of you.” Asked for her last words to the sisters she said: ”Venerate the Holy Spirit sincerely and practice sisterly love.”
Mother Josepha regarded JOY as one of the main characteristics lived according to God’s will. She encouraged the sisters to fulfill God’s will by joyfully bearing all the sacrifices of life in a foreign country, by joyful availability in the service of God and in mutual love. This inner joy in the acceptance of all that God permits in missionary life was expressed in the words: Cheerfulness is Holiness.”
Mother Josepha’s image of God was above all the God of love. God was like the golden background against which she passed her teachings to the sisters: “pray that the Spirit of Love make his dwelling you… Let us strive to achieve everything in love and through love…”( Letter of1 November 1899.)
Prayer had transformed Mother Josepha’s life. Once when asked if she prayed always, her reply was “ I don’t know it myself; but I feel that I am always praying.” Her prayer came from the center of her being. As her spiritual testament she left us the words that surely marked her own life: “Each breath of a Servant of the Holy Spirit must be a constant ‘Come Holy Spirit,” thus summing up her life as a permanent attitude of prayer and surrender.
Mother Josepha experienced God’s love in her heart and through this intimate union she radiated God’s kindness intensely and naturally. Those who talked to her became aware of the expression of deep joy in her eyes. A young sister who was sick said, “Each visit of Mother Josepha was like a ray of sunshine that warmed the room and went down deep into our hearts.”
The experience that God loved her from all eternity, and had chosen her, is the source of the awareness of her vocation and mandate, the source of energy for all her being and action. Her only desire was to be the “least” and to offer herself as a sacrifice for the spreading of the Good news. Mother Josepha was extremely active, but her surrender to God every moment transformed her into a contemplative person fully in action.
Mother Josepha wished everyone to come to the knowledge of the divine life as expressed in the motto “May the Holy Triune God live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people.” The missionary ideal of Mother Josepha was to open the hearts of all to love.
Her Personal Experience of God: We see her missionary ideal, the unconditional surrender to God’s will and the desire and readiness to be led and guided completely by the Holy Spirit so that God’s holy will might be done in her. Her life is an expression of joyful and prayerful service summed up in her constant prayer, “Come Holy Spirit.” She gained the confidence of the sisters through her practical leadership for community building.
We find in Hendrina Stenmanns great love for the poor, the sick and the needy, and a great simplicity, a characteristic of her lived spirituality that already marked her life in her home village of Issum.
Her motto beautifully expresses this sentiment: “I desire nothing more than, with the grace of God, to be the least and to offer myself as a sacrifice for the work of spreading the faith.”
Like Jesus walking with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Mother Josepha constantly journeyed with the sisters. She enlightened them and opened their eyes to a new reality of life in fullness. Here lies the challenge of our mission: to be with the poor, the sick, the afflicted and the discouraged of our historical and social reality.
Mother Josepha, a simple and spontaneous woman, chosen by God to be a co-Foundress of our Congregation – along with Fr Arnold and Mother Maria Helena– who was able to say: “It is the work of God. He has done it all; I am nothing” through her life, words and example shows us the path to follow.
If she were alive today, she certainly would talk about great concern for the preservation of life on the planet and would join her efforts to the struggle for human life that is under much threat and suffering. Her concrete example as a missionary woman, integrated in all aspects and acting in a feminine manner, in firmness and motherly tenderness, as SSpS Missionary, Formator, and Leader, continues to show us today how to live the ORIGINAL FIRE IN OUR COMMUNITY AND MISSION.