MOTHER KOSTKA -- SPIRITUAL LEADER
“Always keep before your eyes the goal of your vocation; it comes from God. Be ready to live sacrificial lives”.
“We are not only to shun serious sin; rather, through the exact obedience to the Holy Rule we should be faithful in the smallest matters and strive for perfection.”
These words written on July 23, 1926, not long after her election as superior general, contain most concisely the unswerving attitude of Mother Kostka regarding her expectations and desires regarding the spiritual growth of every Daughter of Divine Charity. It is in this area that she was most demanding and stern and exerted much leadership in fostering a greater love of God and neighbor. Nowhere does the foundation for her spiritual leadership emerge more clearly than in her circular of October 15, 1927:
Fifty-nine years before, on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our blessed Frau Mutter founded our Congregation with great patience, suffering, courage, and self-denial, in greatest poverty. Let us ask our blessed foundress what special aim she had before her eyes at the time of the founding. Her answer will be: “Next to striving toward Christian perfection through personal holiness, work to grow in the love of neighbor.” Our first goal as Daughters of Divine Charity which will lead to personal holiness is loyal obedience to the Holy Rule and the Constitution which she gave us. The second aim is that we should work for the welfare of the girls seeking employment who come to us and for the training of the children, so that we can build in them a Christian life, teaching them to pray and giving them the knowledge of religion.
Paraphrasing the quotation from Mark 8:36 -- “What shall it profit a man, if
he shall gain the whole world, and lose his life” -- Mother Kostka reminded her
spiritual daughters: “What good is it to strive to be an outstanding teacher,
a clever tutor, an excellent musician, an exceptional administrator or housekeeper, if you do not labor to be an exemplary religious.”
For Mother Kostka, the gift and privilege of her religious vocation,
Along with its trials and sorrows, joys and triumphs, was an on—going blessing
she wished to see all her spiritual daughters imbued with this same love of
Heavenly Bridegroom and appreciation of this grace of vocation. On June
23, 1927 she wrote: “The Heart of Jesus loves us with an unconditional,
love. ... Who should return this love to the Sacred Heart if not the religious
who.. .has been selected to receive the grace of a vocation?.” -
Later that same year, Mother Kostka urged the sisters:
Think back to the day that you left the world, received the holy habit and made your profession. If God sends severe trials--and these come to us all--these should be seen as great blessings from God. In these hard times, kiss your ring and say from your heart, “My Redeemer, now, as your cross lays so heavy on my soul, I renew my promise of eternal loyalty.
No One should ever say “I have had enough” Rather live always as though you are a novice. (August 10, 1927)
Returning to this theme in her circular of October 15, 1927, she asked:
“How have we treasured the grace of this vocation? ... Often the monotony of daily life has dulled our great care and love of our vocation. We should not forget that religious life is a living martyrdom. It is impossible to imagine religious life without suffering and adversity. On the contrary, these are good signs. How can one hope to receive a heavenly crown if one did not struggle?”
Much the same idea was reiterated on March 5, 1931. Countless times, as she expressed her gratitude for Christmas, Easter, birthday, and feastday wishes she would write as she did on November 15, 1927: “If you also included in your good wishes deep interior prayerfulness and true obedience to the Holy Rule you would make me the happiest person in the world.” At a time when the habit was synonymous with religious life she would state, “It is not the habit, rather the exact and punctual obedience to the Holy Rules and vows that makes one a true religious.”
The after-effects of World War I and the time which many sisters had spent with their families had caused some of the sisters to become lax in the practice of poverty. Hence on September 7, 1928 Mother Kostka emphasized strongly that a sister may not have money by herself without permission from the superior. Gifts given to a sister could not be kept personally, even when the donor had stipulated it for a particular sister. “The people have no right to state how a gift is to be used; that is for the superior to decide.” She also warned the sisters not to seek in the Congregation that which they could not have in the world.
In 1931, Mother Kostka would again remind the sisters that there had been a long-standing rule which forbade the sisters to accept for themselves gifts from boarders, students or residents. It would seem that a laxity on this score had crept in, so she wrote, “...1 am reminding you of it strongly; many unpleasant circumstances can be avoided by keeping the rule.” (March 5, 1931)
Every circular and letter to the Congregation as a whole, and to individual provinces, was used to drive home the lessons she wished to print indelibly on the heart of each member. Her Christmas circulars utilized the poverty of Bethlehem to drive home the need to practice the virtue and the vow of poverty. In the circular written on December 30, 1935, she explained, “The Divine Child appeared in the world in great poverty and need... . Was He poor only at His birth? No.. .poverty followed him to the grave.” Mother Kostka then begged that her daughters take this mystery of poverty into their hearts in a practical way for “. . .poverty is the beginning of religious life.” Citing the provisions in the Constitution regarding poverty, she indicated that she had become aware of great violations of the vow.
Despite her frequent reminders, she found that too many sisters were
still considering things that had been given them for their use as their personal possessions. They gave gifts without permission and freely disposed of clothing, books, and other items. (May 16, 1931) The radical changes which have emerged in the lifestyle of modern religious may make her admonitions in this regard appear a bit extreme. It is necessary, therefore, to return to the original directives of Mother Franciska in order to understand why, in 1935, Mother Kostka found it necessary to warn the sisters that when transferred, they were to take nothing -- bed, blankets, sheets, wash basins, etc.; —- these belonged to the particular house. Referring to the cost of shipping all these goods, she condemned such action as a flagrant violation of poverty. “I think I have said enough,” she wrote, “every one should understand what I mean.”
As a reminder of the requirements for a “poor” religious, Mother Kostka wrote a special circular to the American province on April 14, 1935. Although it was ostensibly an Easter greeting, she took the occasion to reply to the number of requests she had received from the sisters to return to Hungary. Referring obliquely to the fact that the world depression was not yet over, she reminded them: “Worldly people are saving every penny; we cannot allow ourselves such unnecessary, expensive luxuries--we who have vowed poverty.” Pointing out that the Congregation, especially in Europe, was suffering monetary difficulties, she suggested that the money saved by foregoing the trip could be given either to the Hungarian province which was in dire need, or to the Congregation. Don’t be angry about this; I feel obliged to ask this sacrifice...”
Mother Kostka was equally demanding with regard to the practice of the
vow of obedience. “We have taken our vows voluntarily--we are bound to keep
them.” For her, a sister who was obedient would observe all the provisions of
the Constitutions, the decisions of the General Chapters, and the rules laid
down by her religious superiors. She urged the sisters to place their wills
under that of their superiors who are the representatives of God. It was not
sufficient for a sister to obey the superior general; she owed a like obedience
to the provincial and house superior as well. The sisters were warned not to make
the duties of the authorities more difficult through their selfishness,
Stubbornness, insubordination, or criticism of orders. “The superior is merely doing what the Holy Rule requires.” (January 21, 1929)
One of the provisions of the Constitution which Mother Kostka strongly urged the sisters to observe was the rule of silence. She had always been strict in the enforcement of mastery of the tongue and was determined to impress the need for this virtue on all her spiritual daughters. For the Lenten season of 1927, she encouraged the sisters to practice self-denial by the assiduous observance of the strict silence as well as the lesser silence. In her opinion such silence would result in a deeper spiritual recollection, the practice of humility, the denial of personal opinions as well as the elimination of self-love.
First and foremost, the sisters were reminded that silence was obligatory in and near the chapel at all times. Reverence for the Holy Eucharist demanded that the area in and around the chapel be as calm and peaceful as possible.
Writing about the necessity of curbing the tongue at all times, Mother Kostka
turned to the advice from the letter of James, “. - .the only man who could reach perfection would be someone who never said anything wrong...” (James 3:
2-3). She urged each sister to “tame” her tongue, thereby eliminating a main source of sins against the love of neighbor. Commenting on the fact that breaking the silence leads to many faults such as complaints, gossip, inaccurate statements and bitterness, Mother Kostka suggested: “Let us earnestly consider and examine ourselves--whether we have the option to let the tongue free? In the future let us cast no stone against our neighbor.” (November 30, 1931) In another letter she would again advise: “Keep the tongue in check; outside recreation time observe silence strictly; much can be avoided by this practice.” Again, on July 12, 1930, she would ask, “How can a soul rise to a higher level in prayer when she is not quiet or recollected?”
Along with strict observance of the Rules and the vows, Mother Kostka attached great importance to fidelity in fulfilling all spiritual exercises, especially the annual retreat. In referring to the retreat, she spoke of its primary aim: to help the sisters. to recognize their faults and to determine to remake themselves according to the model of the Heavenly Bridegroom. During those grace-filled days, all were expected to work diligently for self-improvement; (September 7, 1928) with great earnestness, good will and a ready heart. (July 12, 1930) If she happened to be in a particular province at the time of the annual retreat, Mother Kostka seized the opportunity to give a few conferences to the assembled sisters, calling their attention to lapses that she had noticed during her visitations and urging them once more to return to a fervent life of prayer, self-denial and strict observance.
Mother Kostka stressed the importance of common prayer; “.. .where two or three are gathered in My name...;” and she was very unwilling to permit waiving this regulation for minor reasons. Early in 1927 she wrote emphatically:
“Prayers are common; it is unnecessary every Sunday to ask whether prayers are common; it is so written and will remain so, as long as no other order is given. Superiors have the sacred duty to obey this rule. I will not give in.”
In the 1930 previously cited circular she stressed her insistence on common prayer even during vacation time. Although she agreed to a little variation in the daily horarium--later rising, spiritual reading at another hour, an extended recreation--she insisted that the prayers in common had to be retained. There could be no “vacation” from common prayer. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to be prayed in common at all times, even on Sundays and holydays. In this regard she wrote in 1927: “Get used to obeying regulations. I will not mitigate my orders and if kindness will not bear the desired results, I will use sternness.”
In the matter of communal prayer, Mother Kostka was very insistent that the sisters practice the congregational devotions established by Mother Franciska, rather than introducing numerous new prayers. Every year, in one way or another, she reminded the sisters to pray to St. Joseph. As noted in the previous chapter, she begged the sisters to renew their devotion to the patroness of the Congregation: Mother Most Admirable.
Writing from Vienna on August 9, 1930, Mother Kostka reminded all the members of the Congregation that the l500th anniversary of the death of Saint Augustine was being celebrated that year. Alluding to the fact that, after the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph, the author of our Holy Rule should have the greatest honor from every Daughter of Divine Charity, she decreed that the aspiration “Holy Father, St. Augustine, pray for us!” be added at the end of all common prayers. She further ordered that the feast of this congregational patron saint be celebrated in a special way.
Mother Kostka introduced devotion to St. Therese, the Little Flower, and added it to the existing communal devotions. To Mother Kostka, this new saint was the perfect example of religious life and of fidelity in little things -- a lifestyle she hoped her spiritual children would imitate. Referring to the Little Flower’s example in her circular of May 16, 1931, she marveled, “How many holy souls have helped bring about the return of a sinner directly through fidelity in little things.” Already in her circular of July 23, 1926, she ordered that a novena to the Little Flower for the intentions of the Congregation be begun in each house upon receipt of the circular.
Following the disastrous fire of December 15, 1926, which damaged a large part of the Motherhouse and destroyed many of the documents of the Congregation as well as the trunks and clothing of the sisters, Mother Kostka had turned to the neighboring provinces for aid.. Mother Valeria Morvay arrived from Hungary on December 20, bringing clothing and other necessities as well as gifts to help provide a Christmas celebration for the community. Mother Kostka purchased a statue of the Little Flower, placed it on the piano in the Chapter Room, and surrounded it with the gifts that had come from the Hungarian province. After the celebration, the statue was blessed and placed on a pedestal in the sisters’ choir of the Motherhouse church.
In August, 1927, Mother Kostka used her visitation trip to the United States to make a side trip to Paris and thence to Lisieux, where she visited the house and garden where Therese Martin had lived and played as a child. She also visited the Little Flower’s grave and prayed for every Daughter of Divine Charity there, asking especially “...that she should send us many candidates...” and prayed for all to be filled with the true religious spirit exemplified by the young saint. In the name of the Congregation she made a contribution toward the construction of the basilica in honor of St. Therese.
She, herself, turned to the Little Flower for assistance whenever she was scedu1ed to make an extended ocean voyage to North or South America. To Mother Kostka, the greatest sacrifice in making these trips was the deprivation of the
graces of daily Holy Mass and Communion; therefore, she asked St. Therese to send
priests as passengers on the voyage. She gradually asked all the sisters to join in this petition whenever she prepared for a long voyage. The circulars reminded them to intercede with the new saint to send priests who would celebrate the liturgy on board the ship. Joyfully, she reported that their prayers were heard; often, there were even two priests who travelled on the same ship, giving her the opportunity to assist at two masses.
Shortly after assuming office, Mother Kostka suggested that the auxiliary motto which she had developed for the American province: “Prayer--self-denial--for souls” be adopted by all the members of the Congregation. She explained these three actions would benefit their spiritual growth and speed them along the road to perfection. (November 13, 1926) She always endeavored to encourage, teach and admonish the sisters on the importance of fidelity in these matters.
She acknowledged that perhaps one or other circular may have sounded too harsh. She hastened to explain, “. . .it comes from a motherly concern which desires only the best for the Congregation and each sister for whom I am responsible.” September 7, 1928)
Later, in her circular of December 28, 1930, she suggested still another
motto for the coming year: “Always more, always better, always with love.” She desired each sister to be willing always to make more sacrifices, to strive for greater recollection and more love of her neighbor--always more. Through the second portion, she hoped that the members would strive to pray better, with more devotion and recollection. “It is not enough to say that I have performed all my spiritual exercises, my duties; ... we must strive to do these always better ...“ To explain the third provision, Mother Kostka turned to St. Augustine’s famous advice: “Love and then do what you will.” She explained how love could sweeten all sufferings and told the sisters, “Our daily resolution should be to love God more and our neighbor for love of Him.”
In 1937, the Prayer for the Congregation, which was most probably composed by the vicaress general, Sister Donata Reichenwallner, was sent to all the convents via the circular of February 13. Mother Kostka asked that this prayer be recited every Friday in common and further decreed that the masses, communions, prayers and good works of all the sisters should be offered each Friday for the good of the Congregation.
The many trips and visitations that she was forced to make as superior general brought Mother Kostka into close contact with numerous bishops, prelates and priests. In 1936, she mentioned the need for prayer for these spiritual leaders and suggested that the lenten penances that year be offered for all priests; “... the Holy Father, missionaries, religious and diocesan priests, especially pastors. They are faced with so many hardships and temptations.... Let us offer our prayers and good works for them.. . we can thus be apostles for the priesthood.” She asked that those priests who had been untrue to their vocations be remembered in a special way, so that these “shepherds in the mist” might return to the church.
The following Lent, Mother Kostka renewed this petition and made it obligatory for all Daughters of Divine Charity to offer their masses, communions, prayers and good works on Saturday for priests. She provided a special prayer that was to be recited; however, if any province already had a prayer for priests which it was using, it could be retained.
Practically every circular written by Mother Kostka mentioned the need for penance and self-abnegation in the life of every Daughter of Divine Charity. Instead of harsh corporal penances “. . .such as fasting, self-flaggelation, wearing of a penitential belt, etc. which some saints have done in an heroic manner...” she reminded the sisters that these were only a means to an end. “The denial of self-will is often more painful than flogging.” She urged, instead, that the sisters accept the small inconveniences that daily life brings in the spirit of penance. Development of this spirit of penance at work, at table, at recreation, would also help each member to recognize her failings against the Holy Rule. (February 29, 1928).
At another time she wrote: “Self-denial, abnegation means nothing more than to struggle and be victorious over the demands of our lower nature. Whoever wishes to be an artist must work daily to perfect his art with unflagging will and restless energy. If we wish to progress in our spiritual life we must deny ourselves daily”.
By nature our wills tend toward evil, not good. We need determination to withstand these natural inclinations. “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (January 21, 1929)
As a simple example of the act of self-denial, Mother Kostka suggested the
practice of renunciation and toleration. Through renunciation, she counseled custody of the eyes and ears and control of the tongue through silence. toleration of the faults, complaints and weaknesses of our sisters, the cold or heat, transfers, change of duties, the common life--all these were crosses to be tolerated because they could not be escaped. Therefore, she encouraged: “…let us carry the cross willingly so that we can gain an eternal crown.”
In 1930, she suggested that the sisters offer their self-denial and penance for the poor persecuted Catholics in Russia, that God would give them perseverance in the face of the merciless persecutions they were experiencing. In an undated Lenten circular entitled “The Love of the Cross,” she expressed her earnest desire that every member of the Congregation should practice some public penance during the penitential season. “We can offer it for the intentions of the church: in Spain, Russia, Mexico and Germany Catholics are being treated very badly -- many have shed their blood for the faith.” Thus, emulating the Little Flower who had recently been declared patroness of missionaries, Mother Kostka encouraged the sisters to become missionaries without ever leaving
A deeper examination of each of these penitential practices and counsels merely strengthens the conviction that every advice proposed by Mother Kostka always led back to one central theme: strict observance of all facets of religious life and the practice of poverty. In fact, in her circular of December 12, 1934, written to the members of the American province, referring to the distance that divided that group from the Motherhouse she wrote: “. . .only that sister is distant who does not strive for perfection by following the Holy Rule. The stubborn, proud and uncharitable sister does not belong to the Daughters of me Charity, whose symbols should be obedience, humility and charity.
For Mother Kostka, strict observance consisted not only in faithfully performing the prescribed spiritual exercises, but also in obedience to the provisions laid down in the Constitution regarding the habit, home visits, and trips. Perhaps it is in this regard that one might accuse Mother Kostka of adhering too rigidly to the letter of the law, rather than to its spirit. An examination of the times might shed some light on the reasons prompting her demand for strict adherence.
Numerous societal changes had occurred in the 20th century, precipitated both by World War I and its aftermath. These changes were bound to affect religious life as well because the young women entering the convent would bring with them the spirit of the times. Consequently, the superior general felt it was essential for her to be extremely firm and strict in forbidding deviations from the rules.
On August 10, 1927, she would remind the sisters that the habits must
•- total agreement with the constitutional provisions: they were not to have “trains”
but neither could the skirts be worn short. If a sister’s skirt was too long,
she was ordered to shorten it; if too short, it had to be lengthened.
Shoes were to be simple; they could not have high heels or be of modern design.
Postulant and novice mistresses were warned to take special care in this regard.
If parents or relatives brought material or shoes that were unacceptable, they had to be told to take them back.
At another time, noting that in some provinces lighter material was
being used when preparing a new habit, Mother Kostka sternly forbade the wearing of a habit made of anything but woolen cloth. Even the work clothes had to be of the same material. Furthermore, she forbade the sisters to remove any part of the habit at any time, or to wear it “incorrectly”. Sleeves could not be rolled up, except when washing; the collar could not be thrown back for any reason, not even while cleaning. (July 12, 1930) A special circular on February 5, 1932, dedicated almost entirely to regulations regarding the habit and how it was to be worn, reiterated her stern orders for strict obedience to all regulations regarding the habit. Demanding that the sisters keep the collars buttoned all the way to the throat at all times, she tersely advised practicing self-denial: “Bear the heat. Our habit is one of the most practical and speaks of our times and proper hygiene.” She was not, however, merciless. Having visited Brazil a number of times and experiencing the intense heat in that land she made an exception: the sisters in North Brazil were permitted to remove their bows--in the house.
As she conducted her official visitations, she noticed that in some of the provinces the flutes on the bonnets were exceptionally wide; in fact, some sisters looked “...as though they belonged to another congregation.” The Constitutions provided exact measurements for the cape, the cuffs, and the belt; however, it simply stated that “. . . the head and hair are covered with a small white bonnet to which is sewn a double frill of the same material...” Therefore, on August 10, 1927, Mother Kostka corrected this ambiguous provision; she decreed that the “frill” could not be wider than five centimeters. She also warned the sisters not to wear the bonnets drawn too closely around the face. Here, too, moderation was demanded, and novice mistresses were instructed to train their charges properly in this regard.
Equal attention was paid to watches, chains and medals that were worn by the sisters. Here, Mother Kostka expected poverty and simplicity to be applied. Chains and medals could be made of sterling silver, watches, too, were to be made of silver and could only be worn on the so-called St. Peter’s Chain. In her estimation, it would be violating the spirit of poverty to wear these items made of gold.
At the time of the founding of the Congregation, Mother Franciska had decided that once a young woman was admitted to the Congregation, she would never be permitted to make home visits. This was the common practice of all active religious congregations in the 19th century. During the political turmoil which followed World War I in many of the countries of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, some of the sisters had been forced to return to their families temporarily because of the Communist threat. Upon their return to the Congregation, some of the sisters began to request permission to make occasional visits to their homes and families. The question was discussed at the General Chapter of 1924, at which time the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna strictly forbade all such visits, making exceptions only to those sisters who were being sent to North or South America. These were permitted to make a brief farewell visit, primarily because it was expected that they would never return to Europe or see their families again. These regulations regarding home visitations were renewed by the 1926 General Chapter.
Despite the publication of these decisions, it is evident that the sisters paid little attention to the restrictions. They were requesting permissions for, and making frequent home visits--presumably with the knowledge and permission of the provincial and/or local superiors. Upon her return from Brazil soon after her election, Mother Kostka alluded to this practice in her circular of November 13, 1926 and reminded the sisters that such visits were strictly forbidden. “This bad habit crept into the Congregation during the war and has produced bitter fruit.”
Evidently her admonitions fell on deaf ears for on January 21, 1929 she warned: “Don’t ask for permission for home visits; they are not permitted under any conditions.” She reminded them of the Chapter Decisions of 1924 and 1926 and stated: “I do not have the right to change chapter decisions.” Over and over again, Mother Kostka would reiterate the official regulations regarding this question and sadly commented on the apparent indifference and disobedience of the sisters to these and other rules and regulations of the Congregation--a fact that caused her much sorrow and heartache. She begged that all regulations be kept as they were written, not as a sister would like to interpret them to her benefit. On December 28, 1930 she commented, “I am well aware that you judge
severely my regulations and those of the other authorities. Rest assured, every one of my decisions is made after much prayer, and the advice of my councilors.”
Two important decisions made by Mother Kostka which she considered essential to the spiritual welfare and development of the Congregation dealt with the first profession of vows and the perpetual commitment. Since its establishment in 1868 by Mother Franciska, the Congregation provided a single-year Novitiate before profession of vows. In the early days, few of the members even experienced a real canonical novitiate; the need for sisters to go to the convents which were being founded so rapidly precluded that year of formal spiritual training. Gradually, as the membership increased, the novices remained in the novitiate and were given training in the rudiments of the vows and religious observance. After temporary profession of vows, these were missioned to the
various convents and became part of the local communities. It was then that the
problems began to surface. The young religious, sometimes still in their teens,
exhibited signs of stubbornness, laziness, disobedience and pride, and more and more often the question was raised, “Why were these sisters permitted to pronounce their vows?”
Mother Kostka had experienced this problem in Hungary after the novices,
who had conducted themselves in an exemplary manner in the novitiate under her
direction, became professed religious. The same issue surfaced during her time
as superior and then provincial superior in the United States. As superior general she heard the same complaint when she made her official visitations. Finally, she decided that the condition could not be permitted to continue without causing irreparable harm to the Congregation as a whole and to the individual religious. Accordingly, with the full consent of her councilors, Mother Kostka applied to the Sacred Congregation for Religious on February 12, 1930, requesting
“…..that the Novitiate of one year in our Congregation be extended to
two years but so that for the validity of profession, the first year, duly gone through, should suffice. However in the second year the novices will be assigned to the performance of designated services. From their way of acting, and of conducting themselves in these occupations, the character of each is more clearly known and therefore it will be avoided more easily lest by chance an unworthy novice, or less suitable one, be admitted to the profession of vows.”
The requested permission was received on April 29, 1930 and Mother Kostka moved to implement the decision as quickly as possible. (GC VII, pp.. 167—168) A circular was dispatched on July 7, informing all provincials and house superiors that the two-year novitiate was to be established immediately in all provinces, and explained in detail the necessity for this move and the system to be followed hereafter.
She stated that in a proper1y conducted novitiate the novices are constantly under the eyes of the mistress; hence, there is not much chance for them to do anything drastic. Furthermore, one year was too short to be assured of the person’s fitness for community life. Under the new system, once the canonical year was completed, a novice could be sent to a convent near to the mother or provincial house and assigned to a particular duty. Superiors having second-year novices assigned to their houses would have to pay special attention to these sisters and observe them carefully in order to be able to give a valid opinion as to whether or not the subject was deserving of pronouncing her vows. With these new safeguards, Mother Kostka hoped that the authorities would be more successful in retaining only good and trustworthy members in the Congregation.
Similarly, a more stringent system was developed to ensure that only worthy members would be admitted to perpetual vows so as not to have to face the undesirable task of applying to the Sacred Congregation for Religious for a dispensation from perpetual vows. In 1926, many sisters pronounced their final vows after three years in temporary profession. Every member was required to apply personally to the superior general for permission to make this ultimate commitment. It would appear that some sisters delayed requesting this privilege because after perusing the list of members with temporary vows, Mother Kostka wrote on April 4, 1926, reminding these sisters that many of them had made their first vows more than three years ago. These were told to apply for permission to make their perpetual commitment as soon as possible.
Permission to renew one’s vows or to make perpetual profession was not to be expected to be automatic. Responding to criticism that some of the sisters had been denied the right to renew their vows, Mother Kostka wrote:
“...it is not against Canon Law if the superior general, with the concurrence of her assistants, denies a sister who has committed a serious fault the right to renew her vows. This is always a warning of possible dismissal.” She further remonstrated:
I will permit only those sisters to make final profession in three years who have striven to be virtuous. The superior general has the right to extend the time by three more years. You will find all this in the Holy Rule. I advise you that, instead of criticizing, you study the Holy Rules better. (January 21, 1929).
To provide further spiritual training in preparation for the various stages of religious life, in May 1930 Mother Kostka decreed that all candidates before receiving the habit, novices before first profession and sisters before pronouncing their perpetual vows were required to have a four-week preparation, culminating in a ten-day retreat preceding the event. During this time, these members were to be freed from all secular studies so that they could concentrate on their preparation for these important steps in their religious life.
The perpetually professed members of the Congregation were an integral
part of the process of admitting sisters with temporary vows to the final step. At the time that a sister asked for permission to make her final commitment to God and the Congregation, questionnaires were sent out to a number of members with whom she had lived in community. Mother Kostka, in her circular of May 16, 1931, stressed the importance of completing these forms with great conscientiousness and honesty, preceded by fervent prayers to the Holy Spirit. She warned:
It is false charity to say “I will not harm this sister.” When one helps an unworthy member to make perpetual profession she is hurting the Congregation. Therefore, be sincere and honest in filling in the information. A short paragraph about the character of the sister at the end of the questionnaire would be very helpful.
Gradually, the practice of admitting sisters to perpetual profession of vows in three years was abandoned in most instances, and final profession of vows after six years became the rule rather than the exception.
Mother Kostka was very strict in demanding from all the sisters obedience to, and respect for their authorities. She found criticism and murmuring to be “. . .an epidemic in the Congregation,” and stated that a loyal religious must always side with her superior and follow her orders. She queried: “Are you waiting for the superior to ask you whether her orders are pleasing to you? It is not the duty of the superior to tell you the reasons for an order or decision. Leave the responsibility to answer for this to the authorities to whom God gives the necessary graces for the leadership in the Congregation.” December 28, 1930)
This respect, however, was not to be totally one-sided. The superiors are also reminded of their obligation to deal with the sisters with respect and motherly affection and to be patient with them. They were urged to be real “mothers” to all in their charge so that the sisters would love, rather than fear them.
To nourish and assist the superiors in their arduous task, Mother Kostka established a program of conferences for superiors. Aimed at training superiors in performing the duties of their office more wisely by explaining to them points on which they might be in doubt, these conferences were conducted from March 23, 1927 to November 11, 1937. At first they were held every month; gradually, this decreased to approximately four times a year. The provincial superiors from the neighboring countries, all the Austrian superiors
as well as those for whom traveling would not be too difficult were expected to attend. The topics of discussion at these conferences were to be kept as secrets of their office.
After the first conference of March 23, 1927, which dealt with the treatment of the sisters, the themes were developed very much in keeping with conduct and expectations Mother Kostka demanded from the sisters. The need for strict observance of the Holy Rule and vows, and fidelity in all things, great and small -- supported by the good example, wisdom and love of the superior--was repeated in conference after conference. If her duties made it impossible for her to present the talk, Mother Kostka assigned either Sister Donata, one of the provincial superiors or a more mature superior to present the topic.
In the first conference of 1927, the manifold and multi-faceted responsibilities which rested on the shoulders of each superior were addressed.
She has to care for the internal and external well-being of the house, to maintain good discipline, to work for the continued growth of the institute, and to perform the many greater and lesser duties of her office.
However, the superior has no more important task than to treat the sisters well and to be a loving mother and understanding leader. If she has the love and trust of her sisters, she can expect not only great sacrifices from them; rather, it will be easier to lead them to greater good and strengthen the wellbeing of the Congregation.
Mother Kostka remarked that a good superior needed to develop three special spiritual traits: vigilance, wisdom, and love, carefully integrated.
Working from these three requisites, Mother Kostka proceeded in subsequent conferences to apply these to the various segments of religious life. She pointed out that the daily program of each sister in all houses of the Congregation should be comprised of prayer, work, and recreation, and that it was the duty of the superior to see that all the sisters performed and participated in all three. (June 7, 1927)
The nurturing of religious decorum, the development of character, constancy in prayer, encouragement of all sisters to take their fair share of all work, and the necessity for recreation for all were discussed in subsequent conferences in 1927. With regard to recreation, the superiors were reminded that both spirit and body need to be refreshed.
Work must be divided in such a way that all sisters can participate in recreation, at least every other week if the work does not allow total participation. ... The superior must see to it that charity is practiced —— between superior and sisters, and sisters with sisters. When there is good camaraderie, there will also be order and discipline; when the community drags itself to recreation because they have to it may be easy to discover that things are not right in the house. (January 1, 1928)
Just as the sisters were expected to practice poverty so, too, the superiors were exhorted to remember that the money they administered did not belong to them. Poverty was to regulate all expenditures and the superiors were reminded that they were not free to disburse money as they pleased. (February 29, 1928)
A point stressed in a number of her circulars was repeated by Mother Kostka in the above-cited conference, namely: if a convent was fortunate to have a surplus of funds, the remaining money was to be sent either to the Motherhouse or the provincial house. The authorities would then be able to utilize the sum for needed expenses, especially to support the infirmaries, which had no independent income.
It was also at this February, 1928 conference that Mother Kostka provided the superiors with the list of prayers to be recited in every convent of the Congregation: novenas before great feasts, daily intentions, etc. At the same time they were reminded not to overburden the sisters with prayers of their own choosing; “...then prayer will lose its efficacy, it will be a chore, not a joy.” Also, at this conference, the superiors were instructed that henceforth the letters F.D.C. were to be used with the name of each sister.
The superiors were reminded that they were to set the prime example in fidelity to the vows and religious obligations. “It would be sad if a superior were to live as though her office dispensed her from her vows. The sisters know full well that their superior has certain orders to follow; if they see she neglects them they will do likewise.” (April 3, 1929)
At another time, she would chide:
Sometimes to gain human respect a superior will not really enforce all regulations. She wants to gain love through her geniality and indulgence… …The sisters should know that she will never allow whatever is forbidden by the Holy Rule, even if she is regarded as being too strict. (February 6, 1930)
Five years later she found it necessary to repeat the same exhortation:
If she (the superior) wants to safeguard her authority, she must be an example of giving full attention to the Holy Rule -- if she does not, the sisters can begin to be lax.. . . If a superior sees God in her higher superiors and accepts their orders as coming from God, then her authority stands on firm ground. She simply says:
“Reverend Mother wishes it!” (April 23, 1935)
Although she always worried about the spirit of the world creeping into the Congregation and lessening religious observance and fervor, Mother Kostka was aware that as an active, apostolic Congregation, it was impossible to shut out the world as the contemplative orders could do. Her solution:
“God and my vocation before everything else” should be the motto of each sister. She felt certain that if they held fast to this statement, the world would not harm their spiritual life. The superior, on her part, was obliged to see that the sisters progressed in the skills needed for their particular duties without being tainted by the spirit of the time. (October 24, 1928)
Clearly, whether exhorting or admonishing the members of the Congre— or the superiors she appointed as leaders of a province or a convent, -her Kostka’s message throughout her terms as superior general was the same: All were expected to be religious who were faithful to the Holy Rule and their vows.
The Congregation is a whole, comprised of many members--the sisters. ...As long as the branch is on the vine it will be fruitful; when it breaks off, it will be barren -- fit to be cast into the fire. .. .We wear the same habit and call each other Sister. .. . Love one another. (January 30, 1936)
Only with such a strong spiritual foundation, firmly imbedded in the heart of each Daughter of Divine Charity, did Mother Kostka feel that the Congregation could grow, flourish and survive in its apostolic mission to the people of God. So it had been planned by Mother Franciska, and so she would continue. It was this deep spirituality that Mother Kostka worked tirelessly to inculcate and strengthen not only by words, but especially by her own example of total dedication and fidelity in all things.