During 2023 Catholic Sisters Week, we’re shining a light on the international members of our General Administration, or Generalate, in Rome. Over the week, we’ll share the answers of our seven Team Members to questions about their call to religious life and what it means to belong to the international Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior.
Prior to her current position as General Treasurer, Sister Brigitte Thalhammer, SDS served as Provincial of the SDS-W Austrian Province. Now, she serves her international congregation of more than 1,000 sisters ministering in 26 countries on five continents.
1) How did you come to know the Sisters of the Divine Savior and decide to enter?
I participated in a formation course for spiritual counseling. Out of 16 participants, 11 were religious – and one of them was a Salvatorian Sister. My encounter with the group changed my entire perspective on so called “nuns.” They were just normal people with their strengths and weaknesses. They laughed and cried and had strong personalities. They also had been searching for spiritual counseling just like me. Sister Hildegard, the Salvatorian Sister who invited me to the formation course, later invited me to a retreat at one of the houses of the Salvatorians. When I arrived and I immediately felt at home.
These experiences made me think, “Maybe this way of life could be mine.” It touched on my deep desire to trust completely in God and for my life to be a witness of His love, incarnated in Jesus Christ. But to enter religious life, which for me was already 25 years ago, seemed too strange. But this desire, or inner call, could not be silenced. It came up again and again. After two years I gave in, made a discernment retreat, and realized that my decision to join the Salvatorians filled me with great joy and peace.
2) What was your ministry prior to serving in international Leadership?
I had been working as a pastoral assistant in a parish before becoming Provincial of the Austrian Province of the Salvatorian Sisters. When this responsibility was about to end, I was asked to come to Rome as General Treasurer.
3) What is your most memorable experience as a Salvatorian Sister?
Oh my gosh – what a difficult question. They are hard to put in words. My memorable moments are from experiences that felt beyond this earth. When one feels that someone’s words, gestures, or decisions are inspired by the Spirit. When something new came up that no one had in mind. When a deep connection with others just “happens.”
But one concrete example: in 2016 we welcomed refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. Some of them were Muslim. We, our community of six sisters, invited them for Christmas. Communication was difficult because they did not speak German and we did not know their languages. But in our prayer, they were able to share in very simple stories about fleeing their home countries and how they experienced God amid it all. That Christmas was deeply fulfilling.
And of course, I will never forget the celebration of my perpetual vows.
4) Why is international collaboration important to the Sisters of the Divine Savior?
Our founder, Blessed Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan, gave us this heritage. He cherished what we call “universality”: in whatever place and whatever means the Love of God inspires we are called to proclaim God to all people. ALL should know God and ALL should experience the deepness of HIS unconditional love. When there are so many divisions in society and walls separate boarders between countries, this central aspect of our charism is even more important. We are called to live inclusively and we are called to build bridges.