Founding a Family
BY Elizabeth Yank
January 3-16, 2010 Issue | Posted 12/27/09 at 7:53 PM
SHE LOVED THE CHURCH
Mother Julia Verhaeghe and
the Beginnings of the Spiritual Family ‘The Work’
Edited by Mother Katharina Strolz, FSO, and Fr. Peter Willi, FSO
Family Publications, 2009
219 pages, £14.95
I was so engrossed in reading about the life of Mother Julia Verhaeghe in She Loved the Church that my tea grew tepid. This remarkable woman is the founder of The Spiritual Family “The Work,” which Pope John Paul II designated as a family of consecrated life in 2001.
She Loved the Church, edited by two members of The Spiritual Family “The Work,” Mother Katharina Strolz and Father Peter Willi, is an account of Verhaeghe’s life until 1950. Born in Belgium, in 1910, Mother Julia lived until 1997. The biography covers her childhood and her founding of “The Work,” and its growth and development. The book ends in 1950, when the community was given the great joy of having the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle of their chapel.
Mother Julia came from a large and loving Catholic family, which provided a firm foundation in contrast to the world around her, so full of the devastation, sorrow and hardship of two world wars.
As she grew older, she was keenly aware of the loss of faith among young people. Rather than follow the crowd, her faith grew deeper, and her desire to bring others to Christ increased. Seeking to overcome the difficulties in the Church and the world, Mother Julia founded a new apostolate.
In her humility, she downplayed her role. “I have founded nothing. Since Christ founded the Church everything has been founded,” Mother Julia said. “It is only necessary that people live this foundation profoundly, that is, on and from the foundation which Jesus himself laid.”
She felt that St. Paul was her big brother and teacher. “During the readings at Mass, she was suddenly gripped in the depths of her soul by the words of St. Paul,” write Mother Katharina and Father Willi. Mother Julia said, “The Apostle Paul became for me an instrument of God, a spiritual leader and a beloved brother, whose presence I could come to know and experience. In those days, it was as if I went through a second conversion, towards the heart of Jesus and towards his body, the Church.”
With openness to the work of the Holy Spirit and through her motherly love, prayer, sacrifice and guidance, “The Work” came to fruition and continues to grow. Today, “The Work” encompasses both a priests’ community and a sisters’ community. An associate membership is also open to bishops, diocesan priests and deacons, married couples and families, single persons, widows and widowers who do not live in community with the consecrated members.
For the casual reader of She Loved the Church, this arrangement could have been better explained.
Nevertheless, the reader has to marvel at how this woman was able to found a community. “On account of her attachment to God, Julia had a powerful attraction for, and a lasting influence on, those who met her,” Mother Katharina and Father Willi write. “Again and again, people seeking help turned to her, although it was not the normal practice at that time to seek spiritual guidance from a young woman.”
In reading about her holy life, it is easy to see why people would turn to her.
Elizabeth Yank writes from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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