The Ledóchowski Family herb2 Ród Ledóchowskich










Blessed Maria Teresa Ledóchowska 1863 - 1922


Blessed Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, “Mother of Africa”, beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975, founded the Claverian Sisters, or Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, who strive to serve in the most needy parts of the world. 


1863: Loosdorf

Maria Teresa ClaverianMaria Teresa (presumably named after the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, who joined the first partition of Poland in 1773) was the first of seven children of Antoni Ledóchowski 1823–1885 and his second wife Józefina ("Sefina”) née Salis-Zizers, and was born on 29th April 1863, in Loosdorf, Austria, about 80 kilometres West of Vienna.  This was “the most beautiful day of her mother’s life” (4, p43).   The story of her family, and in particular her remarkable Swiss-Austrian mother Sefina “Mother of Saints”, is told in a separate article on her parents, who put a lot of effort into educating and instilling in their children a strong sense of duty to God, the Catholic Church and their father’s country, Poland.

Loosdorf homeWhen she was just five years old, Maria Teresa could already read and write.  Her mother saw her one day writing something furiously in her exercise book and on further investigation discovered this was a play, with family members in key roles.  She was soon writing poetry.  By eight, she could play the piano quite well and was writing notes on visits to art galleries and the World Fair in Vienna.

1873: St. Pölten

With IgnacyIn 1873, when Maria Teresa was 10, her father lost a major investment in an Austrian bank which failed (3, p10).  He sold Loosdorf and the family moved a little closer to Vienna, to St. Pölten, where the eldest girls could go to a “school run by English Ladies” (1, p92) or the Marienfried convent (4, p55).   These were the Loreto Sisters or the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dedicated to education, founded by an Englishwoman, Mary Ward, in 1609.  Their education was very good.  At the age of 12 Maria Teresa was editing the school magazine.  She was a thoughtful, serious girl, and she flourished, to the great pride of her parents.   (Saint Maria Teresa of Calcutta was educated by the same order.)

The children grew up under a portrait of their one-legged grandfather General Ignacy in the living room, listening to their father tell stories about the General's heroic defence of Modlin, and about their great aunt Maria Rozalia’s Cardinaldefence of the Catholic Church in the Russian partition, for which she was interned and eventually expelled from Russia. 


Cardinal Mieczysław

In early 1876 Maria Teresa accompanied her family to Vienna to meet her uncle (son of Maria Rozalia, and her father’s first cousin) Cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski. The Cardinal was being greeted everywhere as a great hero for his defence of both the Catholic Church and Polish culture against Bismarck’s Kulturkampf.  For this he had been imprisoned for two years, expelled from the German partition, and promoted to Cardinal.  He was now on his way back to Rome.  The Cardinal made such an impression on the 12 year old girl that she got permission from her father to learn Polish, wrote to the Cardinal in Polish two years later and continued corresponding with him thereafter (1, p93). 


1883: Lipnica Murowana, Poland

DiaryIn 1879 the 16 year old Maria Teresa accompanied her father on a trip to Poland, which she recorded in a diary entitled Mein Polen (My Poland) and published under the pen name Alexander Halka (5).  The warmth of their relatives convinced Antoni that they should consider moving to Poland.  In Wilno however Maria Teresa caught typhus and barely recovered.  The disease was killing quite a few children in Europe at the time.  The same year her 12 year old sister Maria also caught it, and died from it.

Maria Teresa and her siblings strongly supported the family’s move, partly financed by the Cardinal as described in the article on her parents, to Lipnica Murowana, in the Austrian partition of Poland, in 1883, when she was 20.  She made use of this to improve her Polish, but did not stay there long.

In early 1885, when Maria Teresa was not quite 22, she caught smallpox. 

Lipnica homeShortly afterwards her father Antoni caught it too, and he died during an asthma attack on 24th February 1885.

The severity of the smallpox and the tragic death of her beloved father, on top of the typhus she had endured and which had killed her younger sister a few years earlier, were quite a shock for Maria Teresa and left her underweight and disfigured.  Fr Laurita says she looked at herself in the mirror and bravely accepted her fate with even some humour – and so began her decision to do something big for God (3, p12).   

As part of her convalescence she went to the Gmunden health resort in Austria.


1885: Lady-in-Waiting in Salzburg

The eldest three children were now leaving home: the third eldest, the highly intelligent Wladimir, went to Kraków University to study law, changed to theology, and entered the Tarnów seminary in October 1885; and the second eldest, Julia (the future Urszula), had decided to become a nun and entered the Ursuline Convent at Starowiślna in Kraków in 1886.  At the Gmunden health resort the eldest, Maria Teresa, had met Princess Alice, Archduchess of Tuscany, and she now moved to Salzburg where on 1st December 1885 she became Lady-in-Waiting to the Princess.  At the Princess’ Court, Maria Teresa planned to develop her skills and love for music, painting and literature. 

Tuscan CourtBut several events then changed Maria Teresa's life:-

● Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, an order founded in British India in 1877, visited the Court with stories of how they strive to alleviate hunger, poverty and disease.

● She heard about the visit of Cardinal Lavigerie to London, who urged the “Christian ladies of Europe” to use their talents to support the fight against slavery in Africa.

● She wrote a play, Zaida, about an African slave girl.

● Her uncle Cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski strongly encouraged her.

● She established contact with many missionaries in the poor world.

● She started writing articles entitled “Echo from Africa” in a German newspaper St. Angela-Blatt, calling for support for the missionaries.

● In November 1889 she started publishing a separate monthly paper Echo from Africa dedicated to supporting the work of missionaries and especially the fight against slavery.


St Peter Claver
1894: The Sodality of St. Peter Claver

In 1891 Maria Teresa left the Court.  A violent physical attack increased her determination to pursue her mission.  At the age of 31, in 1894, with her uncle’s support, she secured the approval of People Leo XIII for the establishment of the St. Petrus Claver-Sodalität, or Sodality of St. Peter Claver for African Missions.  Tellingly, she named it after the Jesuit who tried to alleviate the suffering of African slaves transported to South America in the early seventeenth century, is estimated to have personally baptised around 300,000 people, and became the patron saint of slaves and seafarers. 

Shortly after founding the Sodality, Maria Teresa was joined by her first recruit, Melania von Ernst, a subscriber to Echo from Africa.  

PrintworksIn 1895 the two were joined by Maria Jandl.  More young women were inspired to join. 

In 1896 they were established in a country house they called Maria Sorg in Austria, which included a chapel commemorating the defeat of the Turks at Vienna in 1683.  Their publications included Echo from Africa, The Small African Library later called African Youth, Propaganda for the Missions later called Africa for Christ, the St. Peter Claver Calendar and the Children's Calendar, all raising funds and support for the missions.

The Sodality then grew to what it is today: the Claverian Sisters, or the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, dedicated to missionary work, serving the Church, the needy and disadvantaged.  They have communities in 23 countries (6), including Austria, Poland, the UK, Africa and the Americas, and are active in 78 countries.  Their website has a map of their global presence.

Maria Teresa and her sister Urszula together recorded their memories of their mother Józefina née Salis-Zizers and this was published by the Sodality in 1935 (10), an extremely rare, if not unique, example of daughters publishing a book in honour of their mother.

Grave in Rome
1922: Died in Rome

The Claverian website and several brochures and books including those listed below, in Polish, Italian, French and English (1,2,3,4,7,8,9), describe Maria Teresa’s life in greater detail.

She died of tuberculosis at the relatively young age of 59 on 6th July 1922.  The passport photograph below, taken a year earlier, shows how worn out and emaciated she was.  She was buried in a cemetery near St Peter’s and was moved to the General Motherhouse of the Congregation of Claverian Sisters on Via dell'Olmata 16, Rome, in 1935.

Two Miracles

Two events in Italy in the 1930s were recognised as miracles.

Guiditta De Rivo, from Velletri, was knocked over by a fast motorcycle and her three month old child died on the spot.  She could not move afterwards due to several wounds and a broken pelvis.  She dedicated herself to the care of Mother Maria Teresa Ledóchowska and shortly afterwards got up from her bed, asked for her clothes and left the hospital.

Vincenza Mazzeotti, from Flavetto di Rovito, suffered from severe inflammation of the left knee.  On 4th July 1936 the doctor decided an operation was necessary.  On 5th July she received a copy of Echo from Africa and started praying for the intervention of Maria Teresa.  On 6th July, Maria Teresa’s day, when Vincenza was due to be operated on in hospital, she got up.  Her leg was already cured.


1975: Beatification

Maria Teresa was beatified by Pope Paul VI at an impressive ceremony in Rome on 19th October 1975 and I was fortunate to be present.  I was only 22, but gathered that there was quite a controversy going on among my older relatives there, none of whom are alive any more, over Maria Teresa’s nationality.  According to Mieczysław (1, pp95-6) the Polish clergy who came and believed she was Polish were upset that the proceedings were mostly in German and none in Polish, and as a result they boycotted (or were not invited to?) a reception at the Embassy of Austria, which considered her Austrian.  My father wrote a mischievous article entitled Spór o Błogosławioną Ciotkę (Dispute over my Blessed Aunt) published in the émigré London paper Wiadomości (News), in which he quoted Cardinal Ślipyj, head of the Greek Catholic Church, telling us: "Why are you arguing over your aunt.  You Ledóchowskis are neither Austrian nor Polish, but simply Ukrainian."


Wiadomosci EN● It is quite true that we Ledóchowskis, first called Halka, started in the Ruthenian Principality of Kiev over a thousand years ago, and, along with its Prince Wladimir, first converted to Greek Orthodoxy.  Read our family history.

● Like other leading families of the region, we probably converted to Roman Catholicism in the fifteenth century.  Our region was then in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

● Later we were citizens of the Republic of Two Nations (Poland, and the Ruski- or Ruthenian-speaking “Lithuania”), but then became Polonised and forgot the Ruski language.

● By the time Poland-Lithuania was partitioned between three Empires, Prussian, Austrian and Russian, we considered ourselves primarily Polish. 

● But several branches of our family were in the Austrian partition, where conditions were relatively benign, and many of them ended up in Austria itself and eventually considered  themselves primarily Austrian. 

● Maria Teresa was brought up amid stories of her grandfather General Ignacy and her great aunt Maria Rozalia, who had defended Poland and the Church against Russian oppression. 

● Maria Teresa knew her uncle Cardinal Mieczysław quite well, and he had defended the Church and Poland against German oppression.

● This was typical of a national effort to defend Poland’s religion, existence and future.

Polish passport● Because of her patriotic family tradition, the few years she lived in Lipnica Murowana, and her knowledge of the language, Poles consider her - like much of the rest of the Polish diaspora or Polonia – to have been Polish.  Maria Teresa did take out a Polish passport in 1921, which suggests what she thought. 

● But as Maria Teresa was born in Austria and was educated and worked in excellent native German, one can understand why Austrians consider her one of them.  They made a documentary film about her in 2022.

● Poland’s government then being communist and fairly hostile to the Catholic Church, it would not in any event have given Maria Teresa the same official support that she got from the Austrian government.

● The truth of course is that by now, spread around Europe, we are really “European” and we should support civilisation and tolerance wherever we are.

● It is amazing and quite admirable that in the midst of these intra-European nationalist struggles Maria Teresa supported missionaries devoted to alleviating the plight of slaves, the sick, the poor and hungry in the third world, where she had never even been.

● What a contrast to the dreadful populist selfish nationalist leaders of 2019 in such countries as the US, UK and Poland, who rail against “Latinos”, “Europeans”, “Poles”, “citizens of nowhere” and “people with parasites and diseases”, using them as weapons to win power and money, and to conduct decidedly unchristian policies against the poor and needy, often with tacit acceptance by “Christian” church leaders.

● The Claverian Sisters are on a global, Christian mission and deserve all possible support.


Maria Teresa's day

The Catholic Church today celebrates 6th July as Blessed Maria Teresa Ledóchowska’s feast day.


Jan Ledóchowski, 2019
updated 2022





(1) „… aby pozostał nasz ślad”  („ we may leave a trace”).  Mieczysław Ledóchowski.  Published by Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum,  Wrocław 2002.  ISBN 83-7095-051-5, pp 92 - 96.

(2) Catalogue of the Warsaw Historical Museum Exhibition on the Ledóchowski Family in November 2008.  Ed. Barbara Hensel-Moszczyńska.  Wydawnictwo Duszpasterstwa Rolników, Włocławek.  ISBN 978-83-88477-83-6.

(3) Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, Dama Dworu – Matką Afryki.  Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, Lady-in-Waiting – Mother of Two booksAfrica.   Fr. Roberto Laurita, translated into Polish by Joanna Zienko.  Editions du Signe, Strasbourg, France, 2012.  ISBN: 978-2-7468-2693-9.

(4) Matka Świętych.  Mother of Saints. Maria Marzani.  Polish edition by Zgromadzenie Sióstr Urszulanek SJK.  The Congregation of the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus.  Rome 1983

(5) Mein Polen is a 166 page diary written by the 16 year old Maria Teresa of her trip to Poland with her father from 3rd July to 13th September 1879.  It had a gilded canvas cover and was printed and published in Vienna in 1892 under the pen name Alexander Halka (2, p161).

(6) Wikipedia.

(7) Une Ame d'Apôtre, La Comtesse Ledóchowska.  The Soul of an Apostle, Countess Ledóchowska.  Sodalité de Saint Pierre Claver.  Sodality of St Peter Claver.  Rome 1931.

(8) La Mère des Missions d'Afrique.  The Mother of African Missions.  La Comtesse Marie-Thérèse Ledóchowska.  Ugo Mioni.  Translated and adapted from the Italian.  Casa Editrice Marietti, Turin - Rome, 1932.

(9) The Servant of God.  Mary Theresa Countess Ledóchowska.  Valeria Bielak.  The Sodality of St. Peter Claver, Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Second Edition, 1944.

(10) Lebendiges Christentum.  Living Christianity.  Marie Marzani.   Druk und Berlag der St. Petrus Claver=Sodalität, Salzburg 1935.  Printed and Published by the The Sodality of St Peter Claver, Salzburg 1935.


Detailed information on living family members will be included in this website only if submitted or approved by them. Sczegółowa informacja o żyjących członkach rodziny może zostać umieszczona na tych stronach jedynie w wypadku gdy dana osoba wyrazi zgodę. Jan Ledóchowski