They fought with God’s cold―
And they could not and fell to the deck
(Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled
With the sea-romp over the wreck.
Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check―
Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,
A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins




In this stanza Father Hopkins continues the narrative part of the poem by looking at another, even fuller, way to face disaster, to respond God. The first narrative lines prepares a background based on reports from the papers: The agonizing shrieks and sobbing of the women and children Hopkins collected from the Times and Captain Brickenstein description of how passengers and crew where chilled by the cold wind, falling upon the deck, where they where washed off by the waves and some where washed down the hatchways Hopkins could read about in the Illustrated London News.

– But then: on a background of Chaos, a lioness appears, the voice of a divine, prophetess breaks through the roars of the night! This voice, spoken with a virginal tongue, belongs to a sister: One of the five Franciscan nuns that was mentioned in the dedication at the beginning of the poem.

The five nuns belonged to the order “Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary” which Mother Clara Pfaender had founded 1860 in Olpe, Germany. The aims of the order where directed both towards spiritual and worldly needs. Besides continual prayer and contemplations the Sisters raised and educated orphans and cared for the sick. They where trained in nursing and fifteen sisters, including Mother Clara, went to the front in Bohemia in the Austro-Preussian wars of 1866 – And about 60 nursing sisters where sent for the Franco-Preussian wars of 1870-71.

In the founding constitutional document Mother Clara stated: Following the example of our divine Saviour and his holy Mother Mary, the congregation of the Sisters of St Francis, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, endeavors to integrate the contemplative and active life so that the latter is nourished and strengthened and supported through the former, and thus becomes itself rich in blessings.

Shortly after the foundation of the order the mother house moved from Paderborn to Salzkotten. In 1872 a daughter house was founded in the U.S. and shortly thereafter it become evident that it was impractical to govern the American mission from Germany and it was decided to make the American province independent.

In Salzkotten Mother Clara appointed Sister Henrica Fassbaender as provincial Superior and she, along with four other sisters (Sisters Barbara Hueltenschmidt, Norberta Reinkober, Auria Badziura and Brigitta Damhorst) where sent to their new homeland. This is how Mother Clara’s biographer, Sister Brunilde Probst, described the appointment of Sister Henrica in her book The Burning Seal: Intelligence, prudence, motherliness and piety were the excellent qualifications which Sister Henrica possessed. Indeed, the commission was hard for both Mother and daughter. They were truly devoted to each other. Mother Clara lost in Sister Henrica a promising source of strength for work in the fatherland, but the welfare of the community surpassed all personal considerations and desires on the part of the Superior General.


In late 19th century and early 20th century the headquarters for the U.S. Province of St. Clara where located in St Louis but today they are located in Wheaton, Illinois and the Sisters are known as the Wheaton Franciscans. In 1994, the Wheaton Franciscans dedicated a chapel to the five Sisters. You can read more about the Sisters at their homepage



During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.