Interview with Mother Antonietta Böhm
We report the last interview given by Mother Antonietta Böhm who died on April 27. It was reported from the Mexican Province, Our Lady of Guadalupe (MME) http://salesianasmexico.com
BS: Can you briefly share with us your vocational experience as a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians?
Mother Antonietta: At a literary event I saw two Salesian Sisters who were happily laughing and I said to my brother: "I would be interested in knowing who those two Sisters are, where they live and what they do". My brother answered: "They are foreigners." In that same week he gave me all the information I needed. The following Sunday I went to the oratory and saw many young people, about 600, and I counted seven Sisters who ran and played with them. All were very, very happy! I became aware that a Sister was looking at me and she understood that I was new to the group. Another Sister said: "Whoever wants to be a missionary, raise your hand." Seven of us responded. She wrote down our names and addresses. After that I spoke with the Superior who showed me a crucifix and who pointed out to me thet arms that carried the cross, telling me that I had to follow on that path.
On January 31, 1926, with nine other girls I began this marvelous adventure. At Nizza Monferrato, in Italy at the international novitiate, we were 24 Germans. I made profession on August 5, 1928 and remained in Italy until my perpetual profession. On August 6, 1934, I received the news: "You will go to Patagonia as a missionary". We were 30 missionaries and we went to Rome to receive the blessing of Pope Pius XI.
BS: How was your missionary passion born?
Mother Antonietta: I believe that God had always called me to the Salesian life. I tell you that I was born with the Salesian missionary vocation. It was sown in a very Christian family, devoted to Our Lady, especially during the experience of caring for wounded soldiers in the war. I was five years old and I helped to care for persons who were seriously ill. These were events that already showed my missionary vocation.
BS: In which countries did you serve as missionary?
Madre Antonietta: I arrived in Argentina on September 16th, 1934. I went to Patagonia and Bahia Blanca as bursar. Then I went to General Roca, at Junin de los Andes, to Viedma where I was superior, to Bolivia and La Paz and then to Lima, Peru. Finally, I arrived in Mexico on August 8th, 1969 as Provincial.
BS: Can you tell us some experience that marked your missionary life?
Mother Antonietta: In Junín de los Andes I became very much aware of the protection of Mary Help of Christians and of Saint Mary Domenica Mazzarello. The protection of Mary Most Holy
was especially felt during a journey from Junin de los Andes to Zapala. Midway along the road, we had an incident. Our car turned over. Another Sister and myself remained under the vehicle on a block of ice. We recommended ourselves to Our Lady because we were starting to get very sleepy and this was a sign that our circulation was slowing down, but Our Lady listened to our supplication. A vehicle from Mar de Plata that was carrying a Captain and seven young men to the Cordigliera was obliged to pass us by and it had to stop because we were blocking the road.
The other Sister and I were more dead than alive, and we could not even move because of the danger of falling down a precipice. The boys lifted the car and pulled us out. The Captain gave us some strong liquor and gradually we began to come back to life. The Sister who was with me overcame pneumonia, but died shortly after. On another occasion, instead, we were lacking cornmeal, the only type of food that we ate three times a day. What were we to do?
Days passed, but the corn did not arrive. The community recommended itself to Mother Mazzarello. Manuelito, one of the workers, prepared seven horse carts and with other men went to seek the merchandise. Upon their return to Catanlill, they loosened the horses so they could graze and the men lay under the carts to drink some wine. Suddenly, there appeared a Sister with a little girl who scolded them and all set to in haste to prepare the carts and to arrive at Junin. They entered the courtyard and Manuelito saw the image of Mother Mazzarello and asked the Sister cook: "Who is that Sister. She is very brave. She called us to order in Catanlill and made us load the horses...it was really she and there was a little girl with her." Sr. Mary said: "She is our foundress, but she has already died." Because he was so shocked, Manuelito's hair turned white. This is how I had seen him during the seven years that I was at Junin.
BS: What gave you strength and support in your missionary vocation?
Mother Antonietta: Having had contact with FMA and SDB saints. Fr. Gino Ponte, SDB was at Junin de los Andes when I arrived. This saintly missionary set up the village, built bridges, He was the "factotum", and knew everything. He knew the people house by house, visiting as far as the "Cantonata", where Zeferino Namuncurá lived. One could say that he was the founder of the place. He was a father for the indigenous people who loved him very much. What an example of a missionary! How much I learned from him! We were one heart and one soul with the Salesians. We were very protected and very well attended spiritually. We helped on another reciprocally.
In my six years as Superior I also had contact with Artemide Zatti. They called him the Father Doctor, and he was always dressed in his hospital coat as he rode his bicycle. His characteristic was cheerfulness and a smile. He cared for the poorest invalids. I had the good fortune to assist him when they anointed him and with regard to Extreme Unction he said: "I often gave it to others, now it is my turn." His love for the Blessed Virgin and his cheerfulness were very strong. He never complained and I never saw him sad.
Fr. Genghini, brother of Mother Clelia Genghni, was a holy Salesian missionary, edifying for his generosity and apostolic zeal.
Finally, Mother Maria, and Italian missionary who worked for 20 years as a cook for the SDB and FMA. With her the community was always happy. She organized processions, games for the girls, and theatrical presentations to surprise the Sisters. She was a very able artist. When she died, many white flowers arrived and we never knew who sent them
BS: Mother Ersilia Crugnola gave you the little statue of the Blessed Virgin with which she blessed people. Can you tell us how she gave you this statue so that it could continue "to work"?
Mother Antonietta: Mother was in the hospital and she had the Blessed Mother with which she gave the blessing with her. The nurse who was changing the sheets said "This blessed Mother will get lost" She took the statue in her hands and asked: " To whom am I to leave the Blessed Mother? I will leave it to you", she said. I answered "I will take care of it". "No", she said, "She will take care of you. Make her work." "But I do not have your gift." "No, I will give you the Virgin and you must make her work. Ask for blessing from her for those who ask your help."
BS: How did this new Marian mission begin?
Mother Antonietta: As an obligation: to do what Mother Ersilia told me: "Make her work". I was ashamed when Mother Ersilia gave the blessing. Whenever I saw her put her hand into the pocket of her habit I would go to the telephone. When she found me and asked why, I would say: "I came here to the telephone because I could never do that". And she said to me: 'This has to be done with simplicity.' It has been 22 years that I have been giving the blessing with simplicity.
BS: Who is Mary Help of Christians for you ?
Mother Antonietta: For me she is a mother and a guide. I consult her. She is everything. And while I perceive her, I feel her. When I go up or down stairs, I say a little t prayer to her. We are like two friends that cannot stay apart. I like to go into the chapel early to pray the rosary in German and to contemplate the mysteries and not think of anything else. I think of the mystery that I am saying in German, and the same mystery that I pronounce enfolds me.
BS: Why did you decide to stay in Mexico?
Mother Antonietta: I was there for six years as provincial and they extended my mandate for another three. Then I received a call from Rome. Mother General told me: "This time you know that you finih." "Yes, I know, but I have not received any indication of where I will be sent." "We have decided in Council that you may go where you want." I immediately answered "If I can choose, it is here where I want to stay, with Our Lady of Guadalupe."
BS: What is the best gift you have received from God?
Mother Antonietta: The best gifts have been those of conserving purity, appreciating nature and pious persons, having a steady confessor who could read my soul.
BS: Mother... share with us come miracles obtained by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
Mother Antonietta: A lawyer suffering from cancer came to visit me and said: "Mexico does not want me; no hospital will admit me. They cannot operate because five parts of my body are invaded by the cancer. It is better for me to go to the United States." And he went. He was sure that they would have operated. The color of his skin was yellow and he shuffled along. In the United States they did not want to operate on him so he returned to Mexico and came to visit me. With a closed fist he said to the Virgin: "You are my only doctor and I do not want any other." After three weeks he called me and said: "Tomorrow morning I will come to visit my doctor and the Queen of Mexico." When he arrived I did not recognize him. He came with two friends. He walked steadily. His thorax as no longer shrunken, his face was white and luminous. He took his X rays out of his briefcase. He no longer had any sign of the disease; his X rays showed no sign of cancer. Another miracle was of a young boy who was blind but now sees.
BS: What do you have to say to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians today?
Mother Antonietta: I advise them to have faith, confidence in Mary Most Holy like Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello and to cultivate the virtues of humility and simplicity. They should cultivate a life of prayer. They should have a heart filled with goodness for children and young people. And they should prepare themselves to guide today's young people, a difficult generation, because there are few families who educate in a Christian manner.