Maria Bernarda's life

House of Saint Maria Bernarda's birth

Babtistary of Saint Maria Bernarda

Cathedral of Cartagena

Bernarda was born on May 28th, 1848 in Auw as Verena Bütler. Auw is village in Aargau in central Switzerland. Verena was the fourth child of Heinrich and Katharina Bütler. They were humble farmers and educated their children religiously.


Verena was a healthy and cheery child with an acuteness of mind. On April 16th, 1860 she celebrated her First Communion with a veneration which she remembered for the rest of her life. Even as a little child she wished to dedicate her life to God. On November 12th, 1867 she joined the abbey of Maria Hilf at Altstätten, Switzerland. There she gained her name Maria Bernarda and on October 4th, 1869 she took vows.


In Altstätten she was electet matron. She always had a missionary spirit and wanted to establish a monastery, so when Bishop Schumacher of Portovejo in Ecuador asked her for help, she saw that as a sign of God. On June 19th, 1888 she set out to Ecuador with six of her fellow nuns. In the light of belief, she found the power to get over the separation from her homeland.


Maria Bernarda founded a congregation of the Franziskaner Missionsschwestern (missionary of Saint Francis). First, they worked in Chone, a poor place with 13.000 inhabitants. Most important for Maria Bernarda’s work were prayer, modesty, dedication to the Church and charity. She learned Spanish and everything about local customs. She became very important for the people and she enhanced conditions of the Christian way of life.


It wasn’t always easy for Maria Bernarda: She had to overcome poverty, climate, health problems and many misunderstandings. She stood all these problems with faith and patience. In 1895 a violent prosecution started, and the nuns had to leave Ecuador. They travelled to Columbia by ship. Bishop Eugenio Biffi welcomed them in Cartagena. In an old hospital called «Obra Pia», Maria Bernarda began her work again.


Maria Bernarda and her congregation helped especially the poor and neglected. She said: “The help for the poor shall be preferable to all other activities.” For 32 years she led the congregation and proselytised. New congregations were founded in other countries. On May 19th, 1924 she died at age 76. In Cartagena’s Cathedral the priest said: “Today a Saint died in our city; solemn mother Maria Bernarda.”