The joy that comes from believing in Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection is revealed in merciful service.
That’s not just the charism of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George (FSGM), it’s the Christian way.
“It is the desire that the Lord has placed in every human heart,” said Mother M. Mediatrix Bexten FSGM. “He put it there for a reason so that we can hope for heaven.”
Mother Mediatrix, who grew up in Rich Fountain and graduated from Sacred Heart School, recently began a six-year term as provincial superior of the FSGMs’ United States province.
Named for St. Elizabeth, the province is headquartered in Alton, Illinois.
Mother Mediatrix and the rest of the provincial council were installed on March 25, the Solemnity of the Assumption.
That’s when her title officially changed from “Sister” to “Mother.”
“Our charism is to make Christ’s merciful love visible through our service,” she noted. “But the spirituality behind that is a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus — especially in the Paschal Mystery, the dying and the rising.
“I think the joy that is encountered with any religious and in a particular way in our community, is the fruit of the realization that ultimately, death and sin are not the final word that the Lord has redeemed us,” she said.
“And even in the midst of the cross, you can find joy, which is really the secret of holiness.”
“The Lord provides”
Founded by Mother M. Anselma in 1869 and headquartered in Thuine, Germany, the FSGMs have about 1,600 sisters throughout the world.
They are Third Order Franciscans who follow the Rule of St. Francis.
Especially known for their nursing and teaching, the sisters serve in hospitals, daycare centers and homes for the elderly; teach children and adults of all ages; care for retired priests; and serve in bishops’ households such as the Vatican Nunciature in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1923, the St. Elizabeth Province encompasses FSGM convents and apostolates mostly in the Midwestern United States — “as far west as Nebraska and as far east as Ohio,” said Mother Mediatrix.
There are about 100 sisters in the province, including several in the nation of Cuba and in northern Brazil.
The sisters of each province submit nominees for provincial superior. The General Council in Germany then selects the new leader from among the three sisters who receive the most nominations in that province.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” said Mother Mediatrix. “But I figured that since this is a double discernment on the part of the sisters here and the sisters on the council in Germany, it must be something God is calling me to.
“And so far, He has provided me the grace to do the task entrusted to me,” she said.
Mother Mediatrix heads up a provincial leadership council that also includes a vicaress and three other sisters, assisted by a sister secretary and a sister procurator, who is essentially a treasurer.
The council members are appointed at the time of the election of the provincial superior.
“Some of the sisters have already served on councils and in community leadership, so there is a wealth of experience to draw on,” said Mother Mediatrix.
These past few months of getting acclimated have been exciting and challenging.
“It’s really been a lesson in learning God’s providence,” she said. “And the thing is, in every situation where I find myself lacking, whether it’s a skillset or something else, the Lord always provides. People are always willing to help.”
“Depth of the faith”
As a budding leader in her congregation, Mother Mediatrix is drawing on the powerful experiences of her upbringing in a devout family and in a predominantly Catholic locale.
“I really appreciate the culture that I grew up in,” she said. “I have yet to find another place like it. Whenever I come back home, I know I’m with my people!”
They taught her about “being honest and being real.”
“I would say that among the very formative experiences in my life, first and foremost was the practice of the Catholic faith in my family,” she said. “And not just my immediate family but my extended family, as well.”
Generations of large, families and relative stability in most of Osage County have led to the building up of “a really great family network,” she stated.
“And there were some things that were just understood — and our faith was one of them.”
She talked about her grandparents and “so many older men and women who lived in Rich Fountain” who modeled holiness according to their state in life.
“To be surrounded by saints in this life is something I probably took for granted back then, but I certainly don’t take it for granted now,” she said.
She also grew under the influence of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who served in the parish, including Sister Edith Juergensmeyer SSND, who taught her at Sacred Heart School.
“I got to spend time with them every week,” Mother Mediatrix recalled. “They were a great witness of joy and Church life.”
She heard stories about the more than 50 religious sisters who had come from the parish, including Sister Agnes Reinkemeyer of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, who was murdered while serving on mission overseas.
“I was moved by the story of her martyrdom,” said Mother Mediatrix. “That definitely did affect me.”
She believes the abundance of religious vocations from that area points to “the depth of the faith that’s been present there for so long.”
She was also influenced by the example of Monsignor Donald W. Lammers PA, who used to be pastor in Rich Fountain.
“You talk about joy! He’s a great example of it,” she said.
After graduating from Fatima High School in Westphalia, Mother Mediatrix went to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, to study music education.
“Benedictine was a great place of formation for me,” she said. “In a lot of ways, I learned the content of our faith. I was in a better position to encounter Jesus willfully and to desire that undivided relationship with Him.”
Her roommate began discerning a call to religious life during college and entered the FSGMs in 1997.
“That kind of made me start thinking about possibly entering religious life, as well,” Mother Mediatrix said. “I remember being all excited about it and asking all sorts of questions.”
Meanwhile, she began praying the Rosary.
“That is where I felt like I had first met Jesus in a real way, in a relational way,” she said.
Then she went to visit her former roommate at the motherhouse.
“I found a sense of being at peace and being at home — a sense that this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
She entered the following year.
After the novitiate, she was missioned to St. Alban Roe parish in Wildwood, in the St. Louis archdiocese, from 2000 to 2010.
She then served for two years in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as director for the diocesan Office of Consecrated Life and director of a house of formation for young women discerning religious life.
She was then transferred to the congregation’s provincial house, named for St. Francis of Assisi, and taught at St. Mary School in Alton until 2015.
She returned to St. Alban Roe parish in Wildwood and remained there until becoming provincial superior.
“My leadership prep has been very organic,” she stated. “I don’t have an MBA or anything like that. But I think being a teacher is great formation for how to be a leader.”
Love, joy and faithfulness
“Our foundress, Mother Anselma, identified three aspects that should be present in Thuine Franciscans: love of poverty, joy in work, and faithfulness in prayer,” said Mother Mediatrix.
Joy is a foundational element of the order.
“That’s very much a Franciscan trait,” she noted. “St. Francis was very joyful.”
It’s also one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
“It is my lived experience that when we cooperate with God, He helps us work through all the struggles we have,” said Mother Mediatrix. “When we unite our suffering with His suffering, He makes that offering to Him redemptive.”
The sisters dress distinctively. The formal habit color is black, which is worn on feastdays and holy days.
Work habits are either grey or white, depending on the sisters’ type of service.
Mother Mediatrix entered leadership just as a pandemic took hold.
“We’ve been dealing a lot with COVID-19,” she said. “But the necessary prayer and discernment are also taking place.”
She noted that the congregation recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.
“Knowing that I actually am drawing from a foundation that stretches so far back — that so many people have done this before me, and that I am doing this for a time and then handing it on — that’s very important to me,” she said.
She pointed out that the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life called for religious communities to return to their sources.
“Central to that for us is our charism,” she said. “That is foremost in our mind, that the charism needs to be preserved and needs to continue to be understood, and also discerning how and where that charism needs to be shared in our world.”
“Very good fruit”
While promising to continue praying for the people of her home diocese, Mother Mediatrix asked for prayers “for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on me and my council and also on the congregation.”
God continues to bless the FSGMs with young women who are seeking the Lord and a relationship of complete dedication to Him.
“I think they come to us because they see it as a way to happiness and fulfillment,” said Mother Mediatrix. “Of course, it won’t be fully realized until we’re in heaven.”
To anyone discerning a possible calling to religious life, she suggested to “just continue to seek Jesus Christ and get to know Who He is in the Gospels and through the Liturgy.”
“Continue to seek ways of encountering Christ in the sacraments,” she added.
To the parents of young women considering religious life, she suggested remembering that all things — including sons and daughters and even one’s own life — are a gift from God.
“And the nature of a gift is that it’s meant to be given away,” she said.
She acknowledged that a vocation to Priesthood and religious life is a vocation for the whole family.
“It really does affects everyone, and sometimes it can be difficult,” she said. “But we can trust the Lord and know beyond doubt that it can lead to very good fruit.”