A Special Tribute to Mother Mary Michael

Author: Ortrud Stegmaier SSpS
Subject: Mother Mary Michael
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: Arnoldus Nota, January/February
Year: 2012
Mother Mary Michael Tonnies

Mother Mary Michael: Missionary Activity was, in the first place, prayer. On 7 January 2012 the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP) celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of their co-foundress Mother Mary Michael (Adolfine Tönnies). The whole Arnoldus Family rejoices with them, for Mother Mary Michael was able to realize the wish which Arnold Janssen entertained even prior to establishing his first foundation. For him, missionary activity was, in the first place, prayer. He looked for Sisters whose main task would be to pray for those who had never heard of Christ as well to pray in their place (behalf). Over the years, it became evident that he himself had to found such a convent (monastery).

When Adolfine Tönnies joined the mission foundation in Steyl (Steyl missionary enterprise) on 1 May 1891, he welcomed her as a person who, with great personal commitment, placed herself behind (at the service of ) his plans, first as a missionary Sister, then as an adoration Sister. [Her family was not unknown in Steyl. She was a niece of the general councilor and prefect Fr. Hermann Wegener SVD who, after the founder, was the most important person in the Mission House in Steyl. Two months earlier another niece of Fr. Wegener, Maria Huthmacher, later Sister Magdalena, had joined the group.]

Adolfine was the third or fourth of the eleven children of the small manufacturer and store-owner Anton Tönnies and his wife Matilda (nee Wegener) in HorstEmscher, Westphalia, Germany. From 1879 to 1881 she received her training as an elementary school teacher at the oldest Catholic teacher training college in Münster in Westphalia, Prussia. While still taking the course she was offered a job in Rendsburg in the so-called “Northern Mission” in Germany. From 1881 to 1891 she helped establish the small parochial school which developed well under her leadership. After careful consideration about her future, she decided to join the missionary women in Steyl. The talented, quiet person was very welcome there. She was immediately asked to assist in training the Sisters in church singing. From 1892 she was one of councilors of Bl. Maria Helena Stollenwerk, the superior of the community. For two years the postulants, and for some months even the younger novices, were entrusted to her.

When Arnold Janssen initiated the study of languages and, in 1895, the internal mission teachers training course, Adolfine, a teacher in religion, found herself in what she knew well and devoted herself with zeal and competence to the training of future women missionaries.

She again drew the attention of Arnold Janssen when he proceeded to establish the department of adoration Sisters. After the illness of the first superior, he placed its direction/leadership in the hands of the proven teacher who as adoration Sister had been given the name Sr. Mary Michael. With full commitment she took a leading role in developing the young department, forming it into the independent congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP). Though being an adoration Sister, Mother Mary Michael, however, also remained a missionary Sister. In some way she anticipated the wish of the Second Vatican Council that contemplative monasteries should also open houses/branches in mission areas. For what was originally planned as a department in Steyl, under her leadership developed into a congregation which followed in the footsteps of the Divine Word Missionaries and Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters in many parts of the world. The adoration convents are located by the roadside and invite passers-by to silent participation in the mission of the Church. On the 150th birthday of Mother Maria Michael, the Adoration Sisters count 22 convents that keep prayer vigil in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Slovakia (in Europe), in the United States of America, Argentina, Brazil and Chile (in the Americas), in the Philippines, Indonesia and India (in Asia) and in Togo (in Africa).

Painting of Mary Michael Tonnies
Painting of Mary Michael Tonnies

Maxim of Mother Mary Michael, co-foundress of the SSpSAP:

Live quietly with God
Work gladly for God
View things from God’s viewpoint
Talk things over with God
Glow with zeal for the glory of God
Find your joy in God
Rest deep in the heart of God

Mother Mary Michael (Adolfine Tönnies) co-Foundress SSpSAP
(7 January 1862 – 25 February 1934)
150th anniversary of her birth on 7 January 2012
Main phases of her life
I. 1862-1881 Childhood, youth, studies
II. 1881-1891 Teacher in a parochial school in the diaspora in Northern Germany
III. 1891-1896 Entry into Steyl and Missionary Sister SSpS 12 March 1894 first profession (with the first batch of SSpS)
IV. 1896 – 1934 SSpSAP Cloistered Sister (with the first batch)

1896 Cloistered Sister (with the first batch), appointed novice directress
1897 Appointed superior of the group of cloistered Sisters
1907 August 15, perpetual profession as cloistered Sister
1910 Cloistered Sisters financially separated from Mission house Steyl SVD and SSpS
1914 Cloistered Sisters move into their own new convent
1910 Elected superior general at the general chapter of the cloistered Sisters
1917 Distinct constitutions for cloistered Sisters, SSpSAP as independent congregation
Foundation of other SSpSAP convents
1934 February 25: death in Steyl at the age of 72 (superior general SSpSAP from 1897 to 1934, for almost 38 years)

Published in Arnoldus Nota January/February 2012

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