When she was younger, Sr Renée Buchmann dreamed of becoming a missionary in Africa. Instead the Schoenstatt sister was sent as a missionary to Australia. She arrived on 22 May 1968, three days after the Mt Schoenstatt shrine at Mulgoa was opened and blessed.
“It was a big change for me because I grew up on a farm in Germany. The trees and everything were beautiful but the colours different,” the 78 year-old sister told The Catholic Weekly.
“The first years were the hardest because of the language.”
Today there are 20 Schoenstatt sisters living at the shrine in Mulgoa and this year they are celebrating 50 years since the shrine there was opened. Their Golden Jubilee Celebration is set to take place on 20 May at the shrine.
Sr Renée says she can’t believe she has been in Australia 50 years. “I never thought I would manage that,” she laughed.
And she almost didn’t. When Sr Renée was first told at age 27 by the Schoenstatt community in Germany that she was going to be sent to Australia she declined because she knew there was no shrine there.
She prayed to Our Lady, “Mother, you can’t send me to Australia if they don’t have a shrine. If you really want me in Australia, please make sure there’s a shrine.”
For members of the Schoenstatt community, the shrine is central to their spirituality. “It is our mission because our community is Marian. The shrine is our home, it is also where Our Lady works for us. When you go to shrine you find it full of symbols: the cross, the tabernacle, Our Lady holding the Son, and on top, the Father symbol.”
Soon after making her plea to Our Lady, Sr Renée was told that the foundation stone had been laid for the shrine at Mulgoa.
As the time for departure drew near however she again got the jitters. “I looked at the distance and the language and found it very difficult.”
It was the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, Fr Joseph Kentenich, who convinced Sr Renée that it was God’s will she accept the mission to Australia.
“He said everything is waiting for you at the seashore in Sydney, Australia. He made three points: ‘Number one, God sends you. Number two, the community sends you. And number three, I am sending you’.”
She remembers Fr Kentenich—who founded the Schoenstatt Family Institute while imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp during World War II—as someone generous, open and always smiling.
“He took the shyness away from me with his smile and openness. You just felt relaxed with him. He was very generous. If you gave him something he’d give it away.”
Eighty-six year-old Sr Angrit Bergmann made the journey to Australia with Sr Renée in 1968 at the age of 25. When she first saw Mulgoa she thought it was “very beautiful”.
She says Mt Schoenstatt is a place where you can “find peace” and “the way that God wants you to go.”
“People experience the closeness of Our Lady and Our Lord here. It’s just special.”
“Some people ask, ‘What is it here? You feel different, as if your problems will be solved.’”
She says the Schoenstatt spirituality allows “a natural approach to God, an ordinary way of having a relationship with Him.”
Sr Louisa Brosch who came to Australia by ship in 1960 says people of all backgrounds come to worship at the shrine where they find “harmony, friendship and beauty.”
“They feel at home at once,” said the 87 year-old sister, “There is a religious atmosphere that gives them strength.”
Seventy-seven year-old Sr Margrid Huschle worked as a cook when she first arrived in 1967, even though she “didn’t have a clue” about cooking, except for what her mother had taught her.
“It was muggy and exciting. I couldn’t get over the distances in Australia. Such vastness compared to Europe. I couldn’t imagine it nicer.”
Sr Margrid says she has enjoyed her life and work in Australia over the past five decades because “it is not theory, it is life.”
For Sr Renée, 50 years at Mt Schoenstatt has reinforced for her how much God loves each person.
“Always remember, God loves you as the apple of his eye. God the Father, and Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. And Mother Mary loves you as you are. So through all the ups and downs of life you will manage.”
For information about Mt Schoenstatt’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations: info@ schoenstatt.org.au or 02 4773 8338.