Before we start to talk about Elizabeth Eppinger (Alphonse Marie), we should better know the places of her childhood, youth, and the foundation of her work.
Niederbronn, an impressive town in Alsace, is situated under the eastern slope of the Vogues, and where is the road from Strasbourg to Bitsche. It connects Alsace with Lorraine. The surroundings of Niederbronn are rich in diversity.
The foundation of Niederbronn goes deep into the past. The little town became famous a long time ago before Christ, where the springs of thermal waters were discovered. Their healing power and charming ambiance of surroundings attracted many spa guests and tourists. In its wider area, there are traces of the Ligurian and Celtic inhabitants. Later, about 100 years before Christ, Alsace invaded the Germanic tribes, of which Tribocs settled in the northern part of the country. Under the rule of Julius Cesar, there was peace in the country. Its inhabitants enjoyed Roman culture. The North Alsace still bears traces of the Roman epoch. West of Niederbronn, on the top of Wasenburg there are ruins of a Roman fortress called “specula”.
Christianity was embedded in strong faith and developed a Latin-Germanic culture.
But what, besides this famous past, means the life of a simple peasant’s girl, who was born on September 9, 1814 in Niederbronn? The first meeting with Elizabeth Eppinger hardly deserves to be mentioned, but soon she attracts the attention of her contemporaries. The people judge her differently: some of them blame or mistrust her, others give her honor and admire her as one who has received extraordinary graces, and who is famous. Many come to her, listen to her advice, and ask her for prayers.
At the time when Elizabeth was born, France experienced the end of heavy shocks of the great revolution and the imperial empire. The country was exhausted by the uprisings and the war. Political passions had temporarily faded, yet, with even more ardor, they ignited and lasted throughout the 19th century and with a short interruption, they have lasted until today.
God granted the grace to this humiliated nation a new life – a great religious renewal.
He woke up, in the nation all classes of apostolic souls filled with great zeal, who at time were pioneer. We think about such heroes of fire words, as Fathers Lacordaire and Montalembert, heroes of love, as Father Chevrier, Sister Rosie, Pauline Jaricot, holy missionaries and priests, as the Parish Priest of Ars and Father Libermann. We think about great founders of active or contemplative orders: Johana Jugan sent her Sisters to the abandoned elderly, Mary from Jesus focused only on the sick at poor peripheries, Father Chaminade trained Christian teachers to instruct the ignorant nation. At the same time, God granted the extraordinary graces and visions to many mystics: Therese Durnerin, Catharine Laboure, and Bernadette Soubirous.
Elizabeth was sick during her whole life, yet, God granted her the grace of visions, including those about political events. Just these should touch her and all sinners to wake up from sin.
Elizabeth knew very well that she should not stay in the circle of her vision, but live from faith. Of course, she was touched by outer circumstances: the suffering of the Pope, temptations of the world, and especially, the fate of France.
However, a person must be perceived as a whole. We do not want to hide anything about Elizabeth, yet we know that a strong spirit dwelt in her weak body. Great theologians have the same opinion. Principally, it is a heroic degree of virtue and her finished work for the great honor and glory of God. In the time of the Reformation, the lineage of Eppinger family belonging to those, who were faithful to the Catholic Faith, compared to others.
Her parents were religious and God-fearing peasants, who lived honestly and tried to raise their eleven children with a good Christian education. Heavy and strenuous work was not an obstacle to pray a common rosary daily. Elizabeth was tender with the serious thinking. Very early was seen in her the signs of God’s grace.
At the age of three, she wanted to pray by herself the basic Catholic prayers – Our Father, and Hail Mary. As she grew in the knowledge of God she also grew in awareness of the essence of sin, as it is disobedience, ingratitude, injustice, insults, wrong, and iniquity towards God. She decided to fight against every sort of sin.
In this fight, she was strengthened by meditating about the suffering and death of our Redeemer which encouraged her to volunteer to do the deeds of repentance and reconciliation.
With great joy and attention, she attended the religion classes taught by the parish Priest, John David Reichard, who was a holy priest and had a good knowledge of people. He was the one, who was soon convinced that Elizabeth as a child extremely collaborates with God’s grace.
At fourteen, Elizabeth received her first Holy Communion. At this time, her Confessor allowed her to receive Holy Communion every eighth day. It was the Eucharist by which she strengthened her union with God.
At fifteen, she was completely attracted to God. In the person of her spiritual director she had a wise, certain, and purposeful guidance. She was still more aware that God tested her to become free from every earthly thing and in proper time she could completely submit herself to God’s intents.
During some years she enjoyed good health. Later, she experienced various difficulties.
With some interruptions, she was bedridden for seven and half years.
However, the way she accepted this new suffering, how she prayed and deepened it in the “Mysterium Cruci”, the Mystery of the Cross, touched very positively all who looked up to her.
At the time of sickness, she received the gift of mystics, especially an extraordinary gift of recognition. Through this gift, she could examine human hearts, uncovered hidden things, and predicted future events.
However, even during her heavy sickness, Elizabeth did not give up her desire, which she held in her heart for a long time, to live a consecrated life for God.
After trying to enter an existing order, God’s Providence managed that with the consent of the Diocesan Bishop of Strasbourg, she founded a new Congregation of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer, on August 28, 1849. This order corresponded to her time.
Inspired by the spirituality of St. Alphonsus she received the religious name, Sister Alphonse Marie. First of all, she considered to form a community with the Spirit of Jesus Christ radiated in the prayers, sacrifices, services, and in the love for the poor, children, and the sick. She died on July 31, 1867, in Niederbronn, totally spent in love for God and for the people, at a time of great development and enlargement of the Congregation.