Romantics think that a woman who “takes the veil” can find in convent life a blissful escape from worldly trials. This is an over-simplification at best. In the case of Blessed Crescentia of Kaufbeuren it was largely untrue. Anna Hoess (that was her own name) was the daughter of a poor woolweaver of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. Raised devoutly, young Anna was once kneeling in the chapel of the local Franciscan nuns when she heard a voice from the crucifix: “This shall be your dwelling place.”
Herr Hoess went along with his daughter’s desire to become a nun, and requested the convent to receive her. But he encountered an unexpected snag. The superior said they could not accept Anna without a “dowry”, that is, a sizable entry gift. This the father could not afford to pay. Dowries were customary then in most convents, and the Kaufbeuren convent, being a poor one, could not afford to totally abolish the custom. Yet it does seem that this particular group of Franciscans were a little too much interested in the cash that their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, so thoroughly despised.
Anna was not disturbed. She simply waited in patience, working in her father’s weaving business until she was 21. Then that patience was rewarded in a singular way.
Next door to the convent was a noisy tavern. The sisters had tried at one point to buy it so as to be rid of the nuisance, but the antagonistic landowner had tagged the tavern with a sale price far above what the nuns could afford. One day, however, the mayor of Kaufbeuren, a Protestant, but sympathetic towards the convent, got possession of the tavern and deeded the site to the sisters. He asked for no recompense other than that the nuns receive Anna, whom he esteemed, without a dowry. The Franciscans could scarcely refuse, so Anna Hoess was given the veil and the name Sister Crescentia.
Once clothed as a nun, however, Sister Crescentia was subjected to a prolonged persecution by the unfriendly superior and some of the older sisters. The basic reason seems to have been her lack of a dowry. They called her a beggar and a hypocrite, and made her a slave, giving her the most menial tasks to perform. Although Crescentia was at first given a cell of her own, it was later taken from her and given to a new novice who had brought with her the customary donation. Thereafter she had to beg the other nuns for a corner of their cells to sleep in. When she was finally given a place of her own again, it was a dark and damp cubbyhole.
Did Sister Crescentia resent being treated like a convent Cinderella? No. She was already too advanced in the spiritual life to consider these trials as anything but gifts of God. When some more sympathetic nuns expressed their regrets at her treatment, she rejected their consolation. She would not allow herself the luxury of self-pity.
Patience was at length rewarded. A more friendly nun was elected superior. Gradually all the other sisters began to recognize, that Crescentia was a solid, indeed, a very holy religious. She was eventually chosen as mistress of novices and finally as mother superior. Meanwhile her spiritual life had been developing intensely. Frightful temptations beset her, but these were counterbalanced by visions, ecstasies, and the mystical sharing in Christ’s passion. That she still remained down-to-earth, however, was proved by the fact that many from outside the convent, including leaders of the Church, came to seek her advice.
Blessed Crescentia’s presence in her convent proved, in the long run, far more valuable to her sisters than any dowry could have been. She taught them two lessons in particular. First: They should never criticize others unkindly, particularly in their absence. Second: God is most pleased by our acceptance of the trials that befall us, bearing “meekly and patiently the adversities that He sends or that our neighbors inflict.” This is advice we can all profit by.
Jesus himself, then, was the prince who rescued this real-life Cinderella from drudgery and disdain.
–Father Robert F. McNamara
St. Crescentia was canonized November 11, 2001 by Pope John Paul II.