Bl. Frances Nisch


Willa Cather, the noted American novelist, speaks tenderly in one of her novels of a devout Irishwoman, Mrs. Mahailey, who brought great piety to her daily duties as a housewife. For her, Cather says, God was always directly overhead, not so very far above the kitchen stove.

Blessed Frances Nisch spent her life in kitchens and found, as did St. Martha of Bethany, that “being busy about many things” can nevertheless bring one very close to our Lord.

Ulricke Nisch was born in southeastern Germany, in the village of Oberdor-Mittelbiberach, Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. Her family was of the servant class in the class conscious German Empire. Her father was a groom (stablekeeper); her mother was a domestic servant in the village inn. The couple had ten children, but being as poor as churchmice, they had to let her maternal aunt raise Ulricke. It worked out well, however, as far as the little foster child was concerned. She grew up an exemplary girl, who made a devout first Holy Communion at 13. At sixteen, having completed her elementary education, she went to work as a maid, contributing to the upkeep of her family. She was employed in various places, even for a time in Switzerland.

In 1903 she was stricken with erysipelas. Swiss Sisters of the Holy Cross of Ingenbohl nursed her back to health. Recovery brought with it a sense of being called to the religious life. Therefore, in 1904, Ulricke Nisch entered the Holy Cross Sisters at their provincial house in BadenWurttemberg. She made her profession three years later, taking the religious name Frances.

For the rest of her religious life she was engaged in the kitchen work of this predominantly nursing order, first at Buhl, then at Baden-Baden. But for her the two kitchens became simply subsidiary chapels, for in them she lived in a state of constant union with God, noted for her humble joy and her patience with all. A heroine among the pots and pans!

Like many another saint, Frances’ life on earth was by God’s design brief. Taken ill with tuberculosis as early as May 1912, she died on May 18, 1913, at the age of only 30. But the fame of her holiness had already spread, and now the faithful flocked to her tomb, attracted by the stories of favors attributed to the intercession of the “little saint”. By 1963 as many as 100,000 people were making pilgrimages to her grave. Impressed by this popular devotion, the Archbishop of Freiburg initiated an investigation of her life and virtues.

Rome authorized the introduction of her cause for beatification and canonization in 1987. So impressive was the documentation submitted that Pope John Paul II was able to declare Frances “blessed” that very same year. What message does Blessed Frances Nisch have for the cooks of the world? If you asked her, she would probably quote Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink… Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”. (Mt. 25:34-5,40).

--Father Robert F. McNamara