On the 1st of May Sisters Brothers and Friends of ND de Sion celebrated the 200th anniversary of Fr Mary’s birth. Three events took place : a conference in Ratisbonne Institute in French, Mass in Ecce Homo Convent and a panel in English at the Studium Theologicum Salesianum in Jerusalem (St. Peter Ratisbonne).
The opening word for the Eucharist in Ecce Homo prepared by Rita, NDS
We are indeed happy that you could join us in this joyous celebration commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Alphonse Ratisbonne. A warm welcome to our invited guests and friends of Sion, we are grateful for your friendship and for your presence here this evening. Welcome to our Sisters and Brothers of Sion living here in Jerusalem and for the many who are here from other countries. It is a joy to have you here. Our celebrant is Fr. Donizetti, a Father of Sion. It is so good to have you here.
It was on May 1st, 1814 in Strasbourg that the 11th of 13 children was born to Adelaide & Auguste Ratisbonne. Alphonse Charles Tobias was a playful and sensitive child who won the hearts of all by his spontaneity. He grew up in a wealthy and happy family yet one that knew sorrow for at the age of 4, Alphonse’s mother died. The older siblings took on the care of the smaller children. Later Alphonse attended the Royal College in Strasbourg, graduated in law in Paris and spent a year in his Uncle Louis’ bank. Later he became the President of the bank.
In 1841, Alphonse was engaged to his niece, Flore Ratisbonne. He had decided to travel to Naples, spend the winter in Malta and to return by way of the Near East and Jerusalem to which he was already attracted. Instead of obtaining a stage-coach ticket to Palermo, he mistakenly obtained one for Rome and arrived there on Jan. 6th, 1842.
Life sometimes holds key pivotal moments, turning points that dramatically influence one’s future direction. Such an event occurred in Alphonse’s life on Jan. 20th, 1842. He had entered the church of St. Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, as a Jew and only moments later, he left, a believing Christian. What happened there? Alphonse later testified that he had had an apparition of Mary. She did not speak, yet in her silence, he understood all. Ten days later, he was baptized a Catholic and after a through investigation, the event was acclaimed a ‘true miracle.’ What was the impact of this dramatic change? Alphonse wrote later, “The 20th of January is a light. And in this light there is another light: Mary-Sion-Jerusalem.” Alphonse entered the Society of Jesus and was ordained in 1848 choosing to be called Fr. Mary. For 10 years Alphonse was happy and at peace in the society, but prior to pronouncing his perpetual vows, he experienced a crisis of conscience. He was haunted by the question, should he remain within the society or should he respond to his deepest desire – to work with his brother, Theodore with the newly founded community of the Sisters of Sion? Trusting in God he chose to leave the society and to work with Theodore. His one overriding passion was to work in Jerusalem and to assist in bringing the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion there. Arriving there in 1855, Alphonse with deep faith and unquenchable hope, forged ahead to build the Ecce Homo Convent on the Via Dolorosa, another Convent in the village of Ein Kerem and a Boys’ Trade School at St. Peter’s (Ratisbonne Monastery), in Jerusalem. Four Sisters of Sion arrived in 1856 and worked with Alphonse to develop the ministry which we have inherited throughout all these years. It was the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition who had welcomed our sisters and gave them accommodation until they found a home. The focus for Alphonse was always on the youth. He stated,” We have not come to the East to erect buildings but to fill them with life. We can only regenerate the country by education of the children.”
Worn out by constant travel, poor health, a heavy workload and constant financial anxieties, Alphonse died on May 6th,1884. He is buried in the Sion cemetery at Ein Kerem. The words of Alphonse, written to his brother, Theodore over 150 years ago, are still as true as they were then: “Jerusalem is the heart of the Congregation!” We rejoice in prayer and thanksgiving for Alphonse’s life and for all that his life contained. Through his vision and commitment, our lives have been forever changed. We pray that that power of grace so active in his life is active too in our lives.