Congregation of the Lay Carmelite Sisters

The ZithaSisters look back on a history of almost 150 years spent helping others and offering compassion and humanity. Learn how it all began.

How it all began:

1872 - It all started with the association ZithaVerein

Anna Bové and Luzia Margareta Niederprum lived in late 19th-century Luxembourg at a time marked by industrialisation and profound social change. The two were greatly concerned about the situation of many young women who had left their families to work as maids in the city, where they were at the mercy of their employers and without support in the event of unemployment, sickness or old age. To combat this situation, Anna Bové and Luzia Margareta Niederprum, with the support of Professor Nicolas Wies, a socially committed priest and teacher, founded the Saint Zitha Association for Christian Maids on 28 March 1872. The association offered a place for maids to get together and a place where they were cared for when they were ill. At the same time, it represented the interests of the maids vis-à-vis their employers, offered housekeeping courses and arranged jobs for them.

1875 to 1886 - The Order of the ZithaSisters

After a difficult start, the ZithaVerein proved to be a great success, with the number of people seeking help quickly exceeding the space available. But the founders faced not only these practical problems, but also the question of the association’s future. To secure its own future, the ZithaVerein sought links to an established organisation. But it was turned down by all organisations approached. This led to the foundation of a separate religious order called the Congrégation des Soeurs du Tiers Ordre Régulier de Notre-Dame du Mont Carmel à Luxembourg – Sisters of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Luxembourg and to the conferment of their habits on 2 February 1875 by Professor Nicolas Wies. 

Viewing itself in the tradition of the Carmelites, the Order became affiliated to the latter in 1886, shortly before the death of Mother Anna Bové. Though belonging to the St Teresa Carmelites, the Luxembourg Lay Carmelite Sisters are known in Luxembourg as the ZithaSisters. This name is derived from Saint Zitha who was born in Lucca (Italy) in 1218 and worked as a maid for the noble Fatinelli family from the age of 12 until her death, caring for the poor and needy despite this burden.

“Work, lend a hand! Lend a hand wherever you can!”

(Nicolas Wies)

As the world changed, so did the needs and wants of the people and so did the work of the ZithaSisters. Their concern for young women was the reason for offering them refuge, care and a place in old age as well as education. Then came the First World War. The convent became a place to go for people with medical problems in its neighbourhood. This led to the ZithaSisters setting up a clinic – the foundation stone for the later ZithaKlinik.
Work adapted to needs
What moved the founders – their concern for young women – continues to move the Order today. But the focus has always been on contemporary needs. For example, the housekeeping training courses for maids developed into home economics schools throughout the country. Since many young mothers had to work, they needed safe places for their children. This led to the ZithaSisters offering kindergarten places. Demand for nurses in the ZithaKlinik led to the establishment of a nursing school, while the concern for workers from foreign countries resulted in the establishment of homes for them. Similarly, the needs of young single mothers led to the foundation of the Foyer Paula Bové. Last but not least, concern for elderly sisters and ladies led to the founding of residential and care homes.

1958 – Missionary work in Malawi

On 3 October 1958, Bishop Fady from Malawi visited the ZithaSisters in Luxembourg and requested support for a hospital in Namitete. With the help of the English government and at the suggestion of Pope Pius XII, Bishop Fady had already erected a building and found a doctor, but he could not begin work because there were no sisters to run the hospital and care for the patients.

On 21 April 1959, four missionaries left the convent, their home country and their families and began replicating the success story of the ZithaSisters in Malawi. They took over St. Gabriel’s Hospital and, with a lot of dedication, perseverance and help from Luxembourg, turned it into one of the best hospitals in Malawi. Many sisters were to follow in the years to come. Many young African women also felt called to join the Order – the Malawian branch of the ZithaSisters is now called the Carmelite Sisters. Living in five communities in Malawi, they run two kindergartens, a health centre, a house of prayer and a visitors’ and holiday home.

Our history in pictures

The Congregation - What does the future hold in store?

The present Congregation has 61 sisters (22 African and 39 European). Sister Dr. Myriam Ney has been the Order’s mother superior since 2017. Her advisory council is made up of three sisters from the Luxembourg section of the Congregation and two from Africa. While the Congregation is growing in Malawi, half of the ZithaSisters in Luxembourg live in nursing homes. Looking to the future, only the works of Zitha will tell of the sisters. But until then, the sisters will do their utmost to ensure that the ZithaWerke continues to exist in the spirit of its founders.

Contact

Mornings only: Eva Holz +352 40 144-31 05

Help us to help others.

In accordance with its statutes, the Fondation Ste Zithe supports Zitha operations in Luxembourg and Malawi. You can help too.