WILHELM, ALOISIA, named Maria Pulcheria of the Good Shepherd, Sister of St Elizabeth; b. 17 Feb. 1853 in Ehrwald (Austria), daughter of Thomas Wilhelm, a railway official, and Creszens Westreicher; d. 5 Feb. 1916 in Humboldt, Sask.
Not much is known of Aloisia Wilhelm’s childhood and family. She worked as a waitress for some years before applying, at age 25, for admission to the convent of the Sisters of St Elizabeth in Klagenfurt (Austria). Invested with the habit on 29 Sept. 1879, she made her solemn vows on 15 Nov. 1880. She was to serve the community in various capacities, as laundress, sacristan, treasurer, and superior general (1906–12).
It was during her second term as superior general, in 1910, that the foundation at Klagenfurt observed its 200th anniversary. In appreciation of God’s provident care, Mother Maria Pulcheria proposed that the congregation establish a foreign mission. Several clergymen of the area were familiar with the community of German Benedictines at Muenster, in St Peter’s Colony, Sask., and of their wish to have a community of sisters establish a hospital in their pioneer territory. They urged Mother Pulcheria to write to the Benedictine prior, George Doerfler, named Dom Bruno, and some months of correspondence ensued.
Before the sisters could undertake the new venture they needed the approval of church authorities in Austria, Rome, and Saskatchewan. Mother Pulcheria quickly secured the necessary documents. With great foresight she obtained permission to establish canonically erected institutions with independent status and also to open a noviciate in the new foundation. Doubt was thrown on the sisters’ ability to proceed when the financial institution in which they had invested suffered a partial bankruptcy; however, with the encouragement of Doerfler they decided to trust in Providence and the good will of the people of the new mission.
Thus three sisters, Maria Augustina Platzer, Maria Philomena Jug (Yuch), and Maria Gabriela Lex, were chosen to leave for Muenster, where they arrived on 14 May 1911. The people of the colony had already agreed that the hospital would be constructed at Humboldt, and no time was lost in deciding on the location and purchasing the necessary land. On 3 Oct. 1912 the first St Elizabeth Hospital, with 18 beds, was officially opened and blessed. In that year Mother Pulcheria sent another group of sisters to Saskatchewan.
After the expiration of her second term as superior general, Mother Pulcheria, then directress of novices, was urged by the sisters in Humboldt to join them as the founder of the new mission. Accompanied by Doerfler and two Austrian sisters, she arrived in Muenster on 14 July 1913. On 30 August the congregation unanimously chose her as its first canonically elected superior general. The foundation was declared erected under canon law and independent of the Klagenfurt mother house. The first Canadian novice would be accepted later that year.
It was difficult for Mother Pulcheria at the age of 60 to leave the secure and beloved convent at Klagenfurt to come to a foreign land whose language and customs were very different. She experienced many surprises and disillusionments. The hospital was modern, but it lacked the comforts available in Austria-Hungary; moreover, it served as well as a residence for the sisters. Although Mother Pulcheria embraced the challenge, she was unable to adapt fully to her new circumstances. Sincere and pious, with a keen knowledge of human nature, she endeavoured to instil in her sisters a truly religious spirit. Prayer was always her mainstay in daily life.
In February 1916 Mother Pulcheria underwent an operation for cancer of the stomach which at first seemed successful. Her condition worsened, however, and she died on the 5th. Her body was laid to rest in the sisters’ private cemetery beside that of Augustina Platzer, who had died of tuberculosis the previous month. Mother Pulcheria is accepted as the Canadian founder of the Sisters of St Elizabeth of the Third Order Regular of St Francis of Assisi, whose mother house is in Humboldt and whose general administration is in Saskatoon.
Arch. of the Sisters of St Elizabeth (Humboldt, Sask.), Docs., nos.2134/11, 8 May 1911 (from the Holy See, Rome); 2110, 27 April 1911; 2552, 26 May 1911; 5786, 16 Nov. 1911; 3384, 1 July 1912; 3072, 24 May 1913 (from the diocese of Gurk, Klagenfurt, Austria); “Eine Seltsame Chronik, [1908–43],” comp. Sister Maria Elizabeth Premru (transcript); Letter from Sister Maria Michaela Zehrer, Convent der Elisabethinen, Klagenfurt, 22 Sept. 1993; Minutes of the election of Mother Maria Pulcheria as superior general, 30 Aug. 1913; Mother Maria Pulcheria, corr. with Father Bruno Doerfler, 1910–13; Sister Maria Pulcheria, profession of solemn vows, 15 Nov. 1880; Taufschein [baptismal record for Aloisia Wilhelm], 17 Feb. 1853 (transcript from birth and baptismal records of Ehrwald, Austria). Prince Albert Roman Catholic Diocesan Arch. (Prince Albert, Sask.), Albert Pascal, corn, 4 juill. 1910; 5 août 1912; 25 août, 2 sept. 1913 (transcripts in English or German at the Arch. of the Sisters of St Elizabeth). Sisters of St Elizabeth, Commemorating the golden anniversary of the foundation in Canada ([Humboldt], 1961); Memories of the golden jubilee year. 1961–1962 ([Humboldt, 1962]); Memories of yester-year, 1911 to 1971 (Humboldt, 1971; copy in Arch. of the Sisters of St Elizabeth).