Anna Schaeffer: Soldiering on in service

Feast day: October 5

St. Anna Schaeffer (Feb. 18, 1882–Oct. 5, 1925) at roughly age 40. Photo courtesy of Public Domain.

by Melanie Rigney

Nothing had ever come easy, but Anna Schaeffer was working hard to achieve what she believed was her God-given vocation: life as a missionary. She was the third of six children, born in the small Bavarian town of Mindelstetten, and her formal education was limited. Her father died when she was just 14, and there wasn’t money for the dowry she needed to enter religious life. So Anna went to work as a servant at a young age. She was exceedingly troubled by a dream she had when she was 16, in which Jesus said her life would include much suffering — so troubled, in fact, that she quickly moved to another job, hoping to escape what Jesus said would occur before she was 20.

Two weeks before her 19th birthday, Anna was working as a laundress at a gamekeeper’s cottage when she noticed that a stovepipe was loose. Of course, she tried to fix it; if it fell off, she couldn’t do her job. She scrambled to the tip of the boiling kettle to reach the pipe — and fell in, scalding herself all the way to her knees.

A three-month hospital stay failed to restore Anna’s health, as did time at a university hospital. Finally, she went home. She would never walk again. Her wounds would never completely heal. In an effort to make her feet more mobile, the joints were broken (think how painful that would be!). That, too, was unsuccessful. She and her mother moved into a small apartment, living on a pension. Anna’s dream of missionary life seemingly was dashed. It’s not surprising that despite her lifelong faith, including a devotion to the Blessed Mother, for a few years Anna questioned why the Lord had allowed this to happen.

Anna… needed things to do.

Despite her pain and the fact that she could not leave her bed, Anna was a woman who needed things to do. Calling her room a “workshop of suffering,” she came to see that she had three keys to heaven. The first was her pain. The second was her needle; she took on embroidery of church and chapel linens. The third was what would become her apostolate of letters. Eventually, people from far and wide heard about what had happened to Anna and wrote to her, asking her to pray for them. Faithfully she did so — and answered their letters as well and visited with those who found their way to her room.

Anna’s sufferings increased near the end. She was diagnosed with colon cancer. A fall from her bed left her paralyzed and, for the final few weeks of her life, left her without a voice. It is perhaps fitting that the final words anyone heard her say were, “Jesus, I live in you.”

You see, it turned out that Anna was a missionary after all. But eventually she learned that she didn’t need to go to another city or country. “Her sickbed became her cloister cell and her suffering a missionary service,” Pope Benedict XVI said at her canonization.

The same is true for us; maybe our time in a classroom or office, or as the parent of infants and toddlers, or as the head of a swim club or an adult ministry group has passed. Maybe we have a gift, such as singing, playing an instrument, or painting, that we believe we should have done more with in our life. None of that matters. The Lord will always light the way for us to use the gifts with which he’s endowed us, regardless of our situation. All we have to do, like Anna, is open up our hearts and souls to his plan, even if it’s a bit different from what we expected. When we do that, we live in him.



St. Anna Schaeffer, I’m disappointed in the way circumstances keep me from activities I once enjoyed. Please pray with me for the grace to use this disappointment to glorify God and to be obedient to what he desires for me.


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