“All for the glory of God and the salvation of the world!”
Paraphrasing historians, Alphonse Marie (Elizabeth) belongs to the great spiritual persons of France in the 19th century, in which she lived. She was tireless in honoring God.
The precious blossom from Alsace, Elizabeth Eppinger, was born on September 9, 1814, in Niederbronn, in the north of Alsace (France).
The first-born of eleven children, she grew up in a simple peasant family where she shared an everyday life and participated in the parish life.
Elizabeth had fragile health; from her childhood, she knew what it means to be ill. From her early youth, even weak and uneducated (because she went to school late, she knew only to read and sign her name, but not write), she was attracted to contemplate our Lord’s Passion. She was granted extraordinary graces from which she drew the strength to make progress in perfection under the guidance of her parish priest John David Reichard, from 1823 until his death in 1867. (He took the notes and wrote down what Elizabeth said.) Elizabeth desired to always be in the presence of those, who spoke about God or the Mother of God. As a little girl, she grew in unification with God and devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament on the Altar. After her first communion, she asked permission of her parish priest to receive Holy Communion often, which was not in accordance with the custom of this time. After her great urging, Reverend Reichard allowed it. Elizabeth was ready to escape from sin in every circumstance. She was stubborn, but she did not give up and continued her spiritual formation. Thus, she became a model of obedience. During her whole life, she submitted to it all her activities; she allowed herself to be constantly led. She was greatly confidant in God’s Mercy. Because of her strong character and large-heart she overcame all kind of tests, both physical and mental, without discouragement. In 1846, during her second illness, which lasted for a long time and was more painful than the previous one, Elizabeth Eppinger received the gift of visions – the presence of Mystics Jesus Christ, Who appeared to her, talked with her, and consoled her – fell into deep ecstasy.
Within herself, she longed for religious life. In her pain and sickness, God multiplied His graces, which He granted to her earlier.
Then, she received the gift to predict the future which was completed in a short time. She knew the hidden things in the human heart and advised those who visited her. He fame spread through all of France, even in Rome. From every corner of the world people came to her, to meet the one who was called “Ecstatic of Niederbronn”.
It happened that on some days the number of visitors reached 80. She welcomed them in her parent’s house. Nevertheless, she was always internally centered, balanced, and of a happy mind she was attacked by a demon.
Her mystical phenomena was recorded by a well-informed witness, Reverend Claudius Ignatius Busson, from 1849 to 1853. He published a series of Elizabeth Eppinger documents with the title: “The Life and Mystical Phenomena of the Ecstatic Woman, Elizabeth Eppinger from Niederbronn”.
Reverend Reichard informed the Bishop of Strasbourg, Msgr. Andrew Raess, who was the Shepherd of the Diocese from 1842 to 1887, about these happenings. He came personally to Niederbronn in July, 1848 to verify the mystical phenomena. He submitted Elizabeth to many tests whereby the results were sent to the Holy See. He always felt that Elizabeth was a strong soul with extraordinary virtues, who flew from the clamor of the crowd. Elizabeth showed the desire to enter the Community of the Sisters of God’s Providence in Ribeauville, but the Bishop, in prudence, ordered her to wait.
At this time, Elizabeth suffered from the persecution of the Church. She showed a great respect to the Pope.
In September, 1848 she fully understood the turmoil that overcame her; in other words, she felt a certain release of human suffering. She understood the basic obstacles to understand God’s love which God offers all people, the difficulties which she experienced during the long period of her illness. She clearly heard the inner call to found an institute.
This feeling became the foundational work which served for taking care of the poor sick in their homes and all poor without distinction. On January 22, 1849 Reverend Reichard gave to Msgr. Andrew Raess, Bishop of Strasbourg, the Original Rule dictated by Elizabeth Eppinger, and to which the forthcoming work should be directed. Elizabeth, even very sick, suddenly recovered and began to accomplish the work to which she completely devoted herself. Simply, the fruits of the Holy Spirit radiated in her.
The Congregation of the Divine Savior was founded on August 28, 1849 after Bishop Raess approbation. It was built on the solid foundation of total poverty and great simplicity. The Foundress encouraged her Sisters to keep it and was a great example to them.
The Congregation received St. Alphonsus de Liguori as a patron saint and with great respect for him, Elizabeth received the religious name, Alphonse Marie. She made her profession on January 2, 1850 in Niederbronn. This was the first Motherhouse of the Congregation.
She was named the first Superior General by Bishop Raess. Mother Alphonse Marie led her Congregation for 18 years, during which she awoke in women of different nationalities a strong desire to help all people to know the love of Christ. In her apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls she was not saved from suffering, contempt, and objection of enemies; but Jesus encouraged her: “Pray, suffer, and be silent!”; and in another time He said to her: “This is my work!”
The communities grew and spread in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and enlarged the charitable works according to local needs.
Our Foundress had many enemies, but none of them attacked her directly. She was always full of joy despite of all adversity. She never allowed herself to be distracted from the unification with God despite her many duties. Our Lord made perfect the inner beauty of His humble handmaid, who unceasingly prayed for knowing God’s will still better. She always unified her prayer with work. She held a heroic strength and love which she showed toward God and people. She was zealous in the conversion of sinners.
She loved sinners, but she refused their sins. She was aware and confessed her smallness. She led her Congregation with wisdom and reality, by which she put a solid base to her work and the religious formation of her Sisters. She encouraged them to be zealous, and to serve the most abandoned with the extraordinary heroism especially during wars (1854, 1859, 1864, 1866, …) and in the time of cholera and typhus (1854 -1855). In these difficult moments, she encouraged them to run away from praise and to look for things which serves to the honor God. Her first letter, written by her secretary, Sister Adele, addressed one of the sick Sister, she concluded with the words: “God wants you to become a great saint. Let Him do it according to His will. You will lose nothing. Your spiritual mother, Alphonse Marie.”