I was first introduced to Blessed Anna Schäffer during my freshman year of college, and had an immediate interest in her (at the time, primarily because I shared her name). In the years that have followed, I've grown to appreciate her model of sanctity: she was an ordinary woman who grew in extraordinary virtue through a life spent largely in great suffering. Since today is the anniversary of her death, I thought it appropriate to provide an introduction to this woman who, though she has a very large local following in Bavaria, is relatively unknown among English-speaking Catholics.
Blessed Anna Schäffer
On February 18, 1882, Anna Schäffer was born into a large Catholic family in the village of Mindelstetten, Bavaria (southern Germany). Her family was devout, and of modest means. Anna was reportedly rather shy, but a good student and hard worker. As a child, Anna dedicated herself to God, hoping to join a religious congregation. However, her path to sanctity proved far different than perhaps what she would have planned.
When Anna was fourteen, her father died quite unexpectedly, and she began to work to help support her now-impoverished family, still hoping to earn enough money to enable her to eventually enter a convent. At the age of sixteen, she had a vision of a saint, who reportedly revealed that she would experience great suffering before the age of twenty, and counseled her to remain faithful to the Rosary.
In 1901, while doing laundry with a fellow worker, Anna attempted to fix a stove pipe above a boiler. As she climbed to reach the pipe, she slipped and fell into the laundry vat, hot lye coming up to her knees. After this accident, various doctors performed over thirty operations on her legs, attempting skin grafts to help the wounds heal. These operations failed, and for the rest of her life, Anna's legs were wrapped in bandages. She was now a dependent invalid, with no possibility of joining a religious order.
Anna, like many of us, initially struggled to accept her suffering as God's will for her life. However, over time, through frequent reception of the Eucharist, prayer, and spiritual direction, she embraced her "bed-Cross", as she called it. From her bed, she began her own little apostolate: she catechized the village children, devoted herself and her life to praying for others, offering her suffering in reparation for sins. Those who knew her were amazed by her patience, prayerfulness, and most of all, her compassion for others who suffered. A member of the Third Order of St. Francis, on the feast of St. Francis, October 4, 1910, she received the stigmata (though she asked it to remain hidden).
Anna's life was spent in near-constant pain, and towards the end of her life, her legs became paralyzed. Yet she possessed great joy and conviction of being most loved and blessed by her heavenly Father. She died on October 5, 1925, after receiving the Eucharist. Her grave quickly became a site of pilgrimage, with many reporting graces they had received through her prayers. Anna Schäffer was beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 8, 1999.
Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Anna Schäffer
Oh, holy Trinity, Crown of all Sanctity! We beseech Thee, grant that Anna Schäffer of Mindelstetten, Thy faithful servant, will soon be venerated as a saint by the whole Church. Forever contemplating the love of Thy sacred Heart, she offered up her life and suffering nurtured by the power of Holy Communion, to Thee in penance.
Through her intercession, give renewed hope and trust to the suffering and all in need. Make her an example of giving life in willing suffering, an example for all faithful that Thou, Almighty God may be all the more glorified through her, Thou, who liveth and reigneth for evermore. Amen.