Educational Method of Sr. Margareta Puhar
Sr. Margareta often counseled us not to be harsh with the children and she discouraged us from correcting them with long drawn-out sermons. She said that if at all possible a child who had done something wrong should be reprimanded in private and not with angry words or in such a way as to humiliate or offend the child’s pride. Children should never hear such words from the mouth of a sister. They should be admonished in such a way that they know they are loved and that they sense their teachers only wish what is best for them.
Above all, no sister was to strike a child, either with her hands or anything else. Sisters should not be rude to the children, nor use their hands to punish them, but rather to bless them. Sr. Margareta felt that negative methods of punishment could cause great damage to the delicate spirit of a child, forever destroying their trust and respect for religious.
Sr. Margareta emphasized that teachers need to build more upon the positive aspects and talents of children than those aspects that were lacking. Every child has some positive qualities that have not yet been discovered or recognized, whether within the family or outside of it.
We should never discount the value of kind words. If at times we don’t succeed, we need to steadfastly pray for patience and especially for these children. For this reason, Sr. Margareta introduced into our community prayers some prayers for the children.
Sr. Nepomucena related to Sr. Gertrude Neuwirth that one evening she glanced into the room where the children were during the day and she saw Sr. Margareta on her knees on the very spot where one of the children had greatly upset the sisters that day. Surprised at this curious sight, Sr. Nepomucena exclaimed, “Sr. Superior, why are you here at this late hour?” Sr. Margareta quietly called Sr. Nepomucena to herself and whispered, “Why don’t you join me, and we can pray the rosary together for our little rascal.”
Sr. Margareta prayed for the children on her knees. She seriously encouraged the sisters not to punish the children by imposing the recitation of prayers upon them, nor by not giving them enough to eat, nor by obliging them to ask pardon on their knees. She said that one remains on one’s knees only before God, and perhaps before the parents who have given them life. A child kneels before a sister only to receive her blessing. She concluded, “Jesus loved the children; let us love them also.”
On another occasion Sr. Nepomucena told us this incident:
One day our superior had a special idea. She went to see the children in their needlework classroom and stopped to talk with them. She discussed various things with the children and, among other things, she asked if they prayed for their parents. The children gave her some surprising replies:
“No one ever told me to pray for my parents.”
Another said, “I won’t pray for my parents; they don’t love me… they just beat me”’
Another replied, “I don’t have a mother, and my father is hardly ever at home. When he returns home late at night he curses us, and if we don’t hide he beats us and throws us out into the street. I have little love for him and I certainly don’t pray for him.”
A fourth child burst out crying and hid her face in her hands, saying, “My mother left us. I looked for her and found her with another man under a tree. I ran to her, calling to her and begging her to come back to the house, but she chased me away shouting at me to get out of her sight.”
Still another replied, “We pray with my mother for my father, because he comes home drunk, then he argues, beats us and throws us out of the house. When he is asleep we come back into the house, dry our tears and pray that things will become better, but nothing helps.”
Sr. Margareta continued to speak to the children, asking various questions. She asked, for example, if they knew when their parents celebrated their feastdays and birthdays, and she received various responses. The children indicated that only at Christmas and Easter did they celebrate. Some good ladies brought them dried fruit, nuts and cookies at Christmas, and for Easter they also brought colored eggs, sausages and good bread.
Some of the children said a special joy for them was the feast of the Holy Innocents. On this feast, according to an old custom, the children would go about the city with a basket and a stick lightly tapping the adults passing by and saying to them, ‘Prosperity and health, prosperity, health and a long life to you. Give us some treats.’ They then received various things to eat and also sometimes, money for candy.
Sr. Margareta called us together in order to relate what she had heard from the very mouths of the children regarding their parents. We now understood better why some of the children didn’t want to study, why they were depressed, and why some didn’t even know how to smile. Sr. Margareta continued,
God has called us here to Maribor in order to care for and educate these abandoned children. The Association of Catholic Women even pays us something for this work. We also have the responsibility of doing something for the parents through the children, but what? Is there something that could bring these parents and children together in order to revive family relationships? Is there something that could be done so that these children can experience the joys of real childhood? In other countries one doesn’t find such distressing family relationships.
I have told Countess Brandys just what I am now telling you. I asked her what could be done. She left everything up to us. Canon Kosar, the diocesan representative for the Association, was of the same opinion. Therefore, dear Sisters, I have only one desire: Let us entrust this work to God. First, let us kneel and ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Heart and the Holy Family.
After praying together she said,
I think in these families where there is such discord between parents and children, that even the most beautiful and sublime words will not resolve the conflict without the assistance of the children. Let them be the first to show some attentiveness to their parents by giving their parents some small gifts for their feast days, birthdays and for other feasts. Perhaps these acts of kindness will soften their parents’ hearts and cause a spark of love to be rekindled for their children.
Obviously, it will be necessary to procure gifts for the children to give. We could do this by begging in the city from the good people in the stores, from the craftsmen in the villages, and from the farmers. The children also could make something in their needlework class, guided by the sisters and supplied with our materials. First of all it will be necessary to find out where the greatest needs are, so that the gifts will come into the right hands. The children who are more affluent will need to be encouraged to buy something themselves for their parents.
The sisters were in agreement with this proposal and put the plan into action. At first there were difficulties since it was easier to gather the gifts and prepare them than to determine the needs of the poorer families. The obvious collapse of family relationships due to the absence of love became so much more apparent to the sisters, whereas previously they hadn’t noticed it. At the same time, the wisdom of Sr. Margareta’s approach to educating became more apparent and accepted by the sisters.
As was previously said, in the beginning not everything went smoothly. Some parents misunderstood their children’s attentions and refused their greetings and gifts. They were not accustomed to such things in their lives.
Other parents rejected everything because they thought the children were making fun of them. If a child thought something similar would happen to her, she was afraid to go alone to her parents, and so a sister would accompany her, adding some other little gift for the poor misunderstood child.
The majority of the children’s gifts and greetings, however, were accepted by their parents. Many parents did so with tears in their eyes, thanking their children and demonstrating their joy with hugs and kisses.
The sisters and children did not abandon this activity when difficulties arose, but continued it with greater commitment. The sisters directed a similar attention to the children who boarded with them. On the vigil of their feast days, the sisters prepared the table with tablecloth, flowers, and gifts, in order to make the following day more memorable.
In addition, the sisters related how conscientiously Sr. Margareta saw to it that the children celebrated Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation according to the prescriptions of the Church.
Slovenians also have the custom of celebrating the feasts of patron saints whom they venerate as protectors and intercessors in the various circumstances of life. Prayers and songs were also prepared on these occasions that the children could use in front of the picture or statue found in their homes. Sr. Margareta would say, ‘Children ought to get used to preserving these good customs for the future.’ Because of this, many beautiful feasts, prayers, and popular customs have been preserved even into the present.
The liturgical year was also very important to Sr. Margareta. We revered it just as all good Christian families did.
Sr. Margareta taught the children that they should respect and pray for their people. She encouraged the sisters to minister attentively among the people of whatever nationality they found themselves, speaking respectfully about them, and preserving a faithful love of their native country.
When Miss Betka Zupanec, who later became Sr. Terezika, was at Repnje, she used to daily pray a simple prayer composed by Sr. Margareta for the children of Maribor:
“O Mary, be our Patroness, our protector and mother, our teacher and educator, our intercessor before the throne of God and the guardian of our dear country. St. Joseph, be our director, our father, the protector of our family, the guardian of our chastity, our spiritual guide, the protector of our dear land, and our intercessor during our last hour. Dear Jesus, be the King and Master of our hearts and our minds, and also the Ruler and Sovereign of our country. Amen.”
Most of the children came from families with many serious problems. The children were more accustomed to wandering about than to studying. The sisters tried to keep them as busy as possible.
It took much patience to instill within the children a sense of personal order and cleanliness such as: how to wash their faces, comb their hair, dress properly and put on their shoes (especially winter ones), take care of their clothes and change their underclothes; how to clean their rooms, to dust, to make their beds, to wash the dishes and silverware.
It was also necessary to teach them to speak more courteously, to behave better without fighting or hitting each other, and to curb many other bad habits which the children had picked up on the streets. They had to be taught to distinguish between mine and yours, what things were placed in the drawer and what was placed on the shelf. They had to also learn that the corners of the room were not places for depositing trash.
Sr. Nepomucena Ziggal related these and other things about the initial work of Sr. Margareta and the sisters in Maribor. Since these children had been extremely neglected, they showed little if any good habits in work, study, or prayer.
According to Sr. Nepomucena, great faith in the providence of God was necessary in this most difficult ministry. Only through faith could God’s image be seen in these neglected and undisciplined children. The sisters needed to love them and offer them all their physical and mental energies.