Marie Louise was born in Wissembourg on
27th August, 1837. Wissembourg is in
Alsace, then a French Province near the
border of Germany. Her father was Antoine
Mestmann, a Dutch medical doctor from
Amsterdam. Her mother was Elizabeth
Derendinger, from Alsace. Her mother’s
family were prosperous brewers and
property owners in Wissembourg and
Hageuenau. The family were in
comfortable circumstances, and she
received a liberal education at a private
school for girls. She had two younger
Marie Louise’s father had led an adventurous life in his youth as a
staff doctor in the Dutch Navy, cruising the China Seas. On marrying,
he settled down to a comfortable life as a general practioner in
Wissembourg. However when Marie Louise was 17, her father died
suddenly and she took charge of the household. Her mother had
At 20 years old, Marie Louise married Victor Hartzer, (aged 30) in the old
abbey church of St. Peter and Paul at Wissembourg, in February, 1858.
Victor was an inspector of prisons.
Her husband rose quickly in his profession, and four successive promotions
in eight years, meant as many family uprootings. Their last residence was
in Vesoul, in France, where Victor was appointed chief inspector of prisons.
Here, at Vesoul, although her husband
was in the prime of his life, his health and
strength began to ebb with an agonizing
form of paralysis.
Marie Louise spoke later about watching
her husband with anxiety as he dragged
himself around on his tours of inspection
until the inevitable day when he became
In the end, Victor could do no more than
follow Marie Louise with his eyes as she
served his needs with a forced cheerfulness
and a breaking heart.
He died in her arms after a long agony. It was
now September, 1869. They had been
married just eleven years.
She was 32 years of age and a widow with
two young boys (8 and 10) to support and
comfort. She says that at this time, the future
filled her with fear.
Earlier (March) of the same year, her beloved
younger sister, Marie had died, (at 21), and
her mother’s health suffered another reverse.
Marie Louise reluctantly left Vesoul where she had so many
friends and much support, and set off with her sons to find a home
in Strasbourg where she could live together with her mother and
other sister, Antoinette.
Marie Louise purchased
a house near a parish
church at the beginning
never dreaming of the
catastrophe that was
the outbreak of the
Franco-Prussian War in
July of the same year.
She speaks: On the night of the 15th August,
bombardment began in earnest. Rousing
everyone I hurried them downstairs to the
shelter amid the scream of shells and the din of
answering gunfire. We dragged mattresses and
furniture against the windows and doors as
some protection against flying shrapnel, while
the ground shuddered again and again with the
shock of explosions. That first night of terror
seemed to be endless, but it was only the
beginning of a succession of such nights and
days that went on for the six weeks of the siege.
Eventually the suffering of the
inhabitants of Strasbourg evoked a
wave of sympathy in nearby
Requests were made by the Swiss for
the women, children and old men to be
given permission to withdraw from the
city into the safety of their country.
The permission was granted on
condition that the names of the
evacuees be submitted to the German
Command and that they have
Marie Louise applied for the necessary papers since Strasbourg was
rapidly becoming an inferno. Amongst the four thousand names
submitted, she, her mother, sister and sons were selected to leave in
the first convoy of five hundred. However, when the passports
actually arrived, the names of her children were missing. The
convoy was to leave the next day.Marie Louise had no choice but to
set out alone across the city to get the matter rectified. She described
this journey as a gruelling ordeal in the midst of shot and shell.
The evacuation took place the next morning and her
family formed a little group in the sad procession of
They were not only forced to leave home and country,
but were forbidden to carry any luggage whatsoever.
Armed soldiers accompanied them as they travelled
through Germany to Switzerland.
Shortly after their arrival Marie Louise took
the family to Einsiedeln, a peaceful little
town in the Alps where they could recover
from the nerve shattering experiences of war.
It was also partly a pilgrimage to the famous
Marian shrine there, called Our Lady of the
Hermits, or the Black Madonna.
On September 27 Strasbourg surrendered and by
the end of October, Marie Louise and her family
were able to return to their home, since it was still
intact, though they were obliged to lodge a certain
number of Prussian soldiers.
The Treaty of Frankfurt of May 10, 1871 ceded
Alsace to Germany, and its citizens had to opt for
French or German nationality.
Marie Louise signed the option for French
citizenship on behalf of herself and her sons on
July 31, 1872. All those choosing French
citizenship had to transfer to French territory
before October 1, 1872.
In the next two
months, Marie Louise
had bought a house
and settled her mother,
sister and sons at
Ornans, a quiet town
near the Jura
after 3 years, her sister
became homesick for
Louise was aware that
both her sister and her
mother needed her
She decided to seek the necessary
authorization to return also and live with
them, leaving the two boys at boarding school
If they had gone with her, they would have
had to continue their studies in German.
Some months previously, her sons had come
to know of the existence of the Society of the
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and wanted
to join it.
Marie Louise refused to consent to this,
saying they were too young.
In July, 1875, Marie Louise set off down
to Ornans again to spend the long
school holidays with her sons. She then
also gave her consent to their entering
the MSC’s at the end of the school year.
Later she wrote that parting with them
was almost more than she could bear.
While visiting her sons at Issoudun,
Marie Louise met Fr. Chevalier, and
discovered he had also founded a
congregation of sisters, called
Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred
Marie Louise writes that
this title and all that it
meant attracted her
She came away from
Issoudun, excited and
Marie Louise was now 40 years old. She
had a deepening devotion to OLSH and a
desire to follow a religious vocation.
However, it was another 5 years before
During this time her mother died, her
sister improved in health, and her sons
Marie Louise returned to
Issoudun, in 1881 to find a
The person in charge was incompetent, the 3 sisters who
had been there from the beginning remained loyal to the
spirit of Fr. Chevalier and refused to renew their vows to
their superior. Two others were very young.
Fr. Chevalier himself described the person in charge as
pious, incapable, acting without counsel and knowing
nothing of business.
After some time, spent in
the house as a retreatant /
boarder and with the firm
understanding made to Fr.
Chevalier that she was not
willing to take charge of
the community, Marie
Louise says she threw
human prudence to the
winds for once and took
the decisive step of joining
Marie Louise writes ‘at the age
of 45, a new era began for me. I
felt so happy and free that my
natural high spirits often
brimmed over. I became like a
young girl once more, skimming
up and down the stairs, throwing
myself enthusiastically into the
manual work of which there was
plenty, and delighting in the
hours of prayer’.
Her ‘honeymoon’ lasted less than a year. On
December 8, Fr. Chevalier announced that
she was the new superior of the community
and in charge of novices. She protested in
vain. She said ‘All I know how to do is
make a home’.
For 26 years, until the death of Fr. Chevalier in 1907
and her own four months later,
she was the most direct channel
and a faithful interpreter
whereby the original inspiration of the Founder
was passed on to successive generations of Daughters of OLSH.
Some of the events of Marie Louise’s life:
1884 - 5 Sisters including Marie Louise, professed in September,
In 1885, 5 sisters were sent to Australia
1895 - Arrival of first 9 sisters in Kiribati
24 Sisters died in the missions, during Marie Louise’s time in charge.
Their average length of stay was 6 years.
1902 Marie Louise established a house in Belgium (Thuin) because of
the anti-clerical laws in France
By 1906, M. Louis had moved the sisters, administration and novices to
1907 Jan - Fr. Chevalier expelled from his Presbytery. His property was
sold on April 30. Fr. Chevalier died in October, aged 83
1908 - Feb 22, Marie Louise dies at Thuin, (Belgium) aged 71
How was she able, without ever being able to
visit them, to direct and bond so many sisters
of varied nationalities, in such a diversity of
apostolic situations, in different countries,
often in the midst of hardship, insecurity,
sickness and even death?
Perhaps the answer lies in what she said about
making a home - she created on the human,
interpersonal level, a warm and spontaneous
joy in living/working together. This mandate
does not grow old, or out of date, it has been
our heritage and is our mandate still into the