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Mother of the Lepers in Indonesia, a pioneering German missionary, passes away

Sister Virgula Maria Schmith, SSpS (photo supplied)
Sister Virgula Maria Schmith, SSpS (photo supplied)

Sister Virgula Maria Schmith SSpS, a humanitarian worker in Indonesia, passed away on June 27 at the age of 93 in Steyl the Netherlands.

Sister Yohana M. Momas SSpS, the Provincial of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS)  told RVA News that Sister Virgula was a strong missionary, a pioneer, and the first person to do humanitarian work, especially for people with disabilities and leprosy, as well as victims of sexual violence.

The pioneering nun started the St. Damian and St. Rafael Rehabilitation and Leprosy Rehabilitation Centers in Cancar and Binongko on Flores Island in Indonesia. Born in 1929, in Grunebach, Germany, Virgula joined the Congregation in 1963 and came to Indonesia in 1965 as a missionary to help the poor and sick.  She spent most of her time in the Manggarai area of Eastern Flores. Her motto was, "I am called to release those who are chained by different ailments because they are God's children."

In an interview on January 16, 2011, promoting a book published by news agency celebrating the 50th anniversary of St. Damian Center, Sister Virgula spoke from the heart about how the St. Damian Leprosy Rehabilitation Centers came into existence.

Initially, in 1966, she said, there was one leper whose family abandoned him in the wilderness. A Franciscan priest discovered him and brought him to the St. Rafael Polyclinic, where she worked. His body was riddled with wounds, and his hair was unruly and lengthy.

“I was shocked and was unsure of what to do. Nonetheless, I accepted the patient and provided him with the finest care,”  She explained.

Already in 1966, the leprosy care centre was separated from the St. Rafael Polyclinic, with help from friends in Germany and ever since it grew into a major rehabilitation centre.

She strongly believed that God himself was responsible for what transpired. "It is not all my work. I am not a wonderful or intellectual individual, worthy of being written about. I obey God's will. I pray each morning, ‘Lord, show me what you want me to do today and give me the ability to do it’."

"If God desires something, we cannot resist it. I do not experience anxiety or fear because I trust that God is with me”. The nun believed that the essential thing is that we place our faith in him. The nun said God must be the focal point of our lives and efforts, not an afterthought.

She, too, believed that her work was a divine miracle. “I have observed countless miracles in my lifetime.”

The first miracle was the survival of Yance, the first orphan she cared for. He was prematurely born and weighed 600 grams at birth. We assisted him with available resources. "Infusion fluids are generated from rainwater that has been filtered!"

Numerous other miracles demonstrated that God provides timely assistance. “Whenever we needed medicine, clothes, food, or other services, there was always help available, especially in the form of money

Sister Virgula was a true missionary, who loved the local Manggarai culture very much, and spoke the language fluently. Manggarai is one of the dialects in Indonesia.

Sister Momas, the Provincial of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters testifies that Virgula collaborated with everyone willingly and inspired other sisters to continue her path of taking care of the sick and the poor.  Sister Momas stated that she is an individual who embodies the spirituality of ‘passing over’ the missionary undertaking, always ready to pass on the mission to other nuns. 

The congregation to which Sister Virgula belongs, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, is a catholic religious organization with more than 3,000 members in 46 countries. It was founded by Saint Arnold Janssen in Steyl on December 8, 1889, with the aim to rekindle the original missionary spirit in a culture that is becoming more secular.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.