Demonstrating her courage to venture, 24 year-old S. Theresa (Genevieve) Hackelmeier made the “arduous journey” by sea, canal, river, and overland to a log cabin in the small Indiana village of Oldenburg, arriving alone on January 6, 1851, the Feast of the Epiphany. Another Sister from her Vienna, Austria, convent had agreed to be her companion in the mission S. Theresa was undertaking—to establish a new congregation of Sisters who would assist in the education of German immigrant children residing in Southeastern Indiana. That Sister, apparently overwhelmed by the journey and the task, had turned back, so S. Theresa undertook the mission alone. By the time of her arrival, three women from the Oldenburg area had volunteered to join her in establishing the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, IN. Fr. Francis Joseph Rudolf, missionary pastor of Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, had long sought to establish such a congregation, one which would eventually teach both in German and English. After two failed attempts, he enlisted the help of a friend, Franciscan Fr. Ambrose Buchmeier, of New York, and Fr. Alphonsus Strebitzky, Franciscan Provincial in Vienna, and they invited the Sister(s) from Vienna to undertake such a task. Assuring the American identity of the Oldenburg foundation, Mother Theresa severed all ties with her Vienna convent. Because of this fact, and possibly due to Mother Theresa’s reluctance to talk or write about herself, and losses of documentation in a convent fire in 1857, little is known regarding her history, other than her date of birth and the fact that she had been a Sister for nine years in a Vienna convent. Evidence gathered recently strongly suggests that she was a member of a community of vowed religious Sisters who were nurses. Though well known for their good works in Vienna, this young congregation did not receive full ecclesiastical approval until 1857, and so their names are not listed in any known records.
22143 Main Street, Oldenburg, IN 47036