Mother Immaculata
(1887-1938)

Mother Immaculata was co-founder of a Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (The Poor Clares). A group of the sisters resided on the St. Bonaventure campus in Hickey Dining Hall from 1922 to the 1960's.  In 1941 however the sisters left and moved to Christ the King Seminary which is present day Francis Hall.  

Mother Immaculata was born Elizabeth Tombrock in Ahlen, Germany on November 14, 1887.  She became afflicted with tuberculosis at the age of 20 which affected her bones and her hands.  By the age of 21 she was told her illness was incurable.  In 1909 Elizabeth visited Lourdes, France and on August 15 (The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin) during a religious ceremony, she appeared to faint and slipped into coma for twenty minutes.  Mother Immaculata would later state in her memoirs that she did not faint, but was "filled with the fullness of happiness...my heart was too weak to endure", a deep religious experience.   When she awoke, she was miraculously cured of her illness.

Young Elizabeth Tombrock
 in Germany

Due to this experience, she devoted her life to God a year later.  She was received at the Poor Clares convent in Munster for a short initial formation period, and to prepare for her trip to Brazil with Bishop Amandus Bahlmann in Düsseldorf, Germany.  At her provisional investiture on August 15, 1910 she received the name Sister Maria Immaculata of Jesus.

Sister Maria Immaculata in 1910 before her departure to Brazil

Later that year, Sister Immaculata, who was trained as a teacher, accompanied Bishop Dom Amando, as he was known locally, to Santarém, Brazil where they met with four Conceptionist Sisters.  Their coming together on December 5, 1910 is considered the foundation of the new order.  With these four Sisters, she set to her missionary work as her novitiate began.  The Sisters established their convent, an orphanage and school, in an old mansion.  The house was in poor condition like the town it was part of.  The sisters lived in solidarity among the poor from the very beginning.  Though their community, and Sister Immaculata in particular, suffered from the climate, diet and disease, their work in Santarém was successful.  After returning from a German fundraising trip, Sister Immaculata took her final vows on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1916.  The following day Dom Amando appointed her abbess of the Congregation.
Bishop Amandus Bahlmann 
(Dom Amando)

In 1922 Mother Immaculata again joined Dom Amando on a fundraising tour, this time to the United States.  In America, she found a long term solution for her congregation's financial difficulties in an offer from the Holy Name Province.  The Province would provide a steady source of income in return for the Sisters taking over food services at St. Bonaventure's College and Seminary.  She was reluctant at first, but accepted and soon summoned a group of her Sisters from Germany and Brazil.  Though most of the Sisters were German, they only had experience working in Brazilian missions.  It now became their responsibility to provide food for the friars, seminarians, faculty, and students.  During this time Mother Immaculata continued her fundraising and planned to return to Brazil.  

On what was intended to be her final trip to St. Bonaventure's College before her journey back to Brazil, she found the Sisters struggling to provide the satisfactory meals they were responsible for.  Always willing to help she lent a hand wherever she could, but pushed too far.  One morning she suffered a heart attack while carrying a basket of knives.  As a result, she took a devastating fall which badly injured her right shoulder and displaced two vertebrae.  She was sent to a hospital in Brooklyn, New York where doctors told her she would suffer from paralysis, and she was not permitted to return to Brazil. 

While in New York City, Mother Immaculata was able to purchase a large farmhouse just outside of Paterson, New Jersey and opened it as a novitiate house for The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1923.  Early in 1924 she became bedridden and could barely move because of the intense pain she suffered.  

June 10, 1922 in front of St. Joseph's Peace House
Paterson, New Jersey

 Mother Immaculata returned to St. Bonaventure's on July 14, 1924 and would remain there for the rest of her life.  When she returned to St. Bonaventure she was carried on a stretcher to her room in the convent where she would remain for the next 14 years.  While bedridden, she continued to conduct business through  letters and meetings.  Her title was changed from Abbess to Superior General and four General Councilors were appointed to assist her.  During this time she was able to add new houses to her order in Brazil and the United States, and established the China Mission.  She resigned as Superior General in 1936 though she continued to assist and advise in the governing of the Congregation.

Mother Immaculata is credited  with conceiving the idea to build St. Joseph's Oratory on the St. Bonaventure campus.  She was inspired by a Roman structure, the Tempietto of Bramante at St. Pietro in Montorio, where Pamphilus da Magliano the founding president of St. Bonaventure died.  The shrine was built in 1927 and still exists just outside Hickey Dining Hall, a lasting legacy of Mother Immaculata's time at St. Bonaventure.  

When a fire broke out in the Chapel/Monastery in 1930, Mother Immaculata lay in bed in the adjoining convent.  She was informed of the fire, but not of its severity and remained in bed until an ambulance arrived from the Olean hospital.  The valiant efforts of students and firemen helped to keep the flames from reaching the convent while Mother Immaculata was still inside, even as the fire completely destroyed the building to which the convent was attached.  The rear extension of Hickey Dining Hall is where the convent was located and is all that survived the blaze.

Mother Immaculata died in her bed at St. Bonaventure on April 23, 1938 surrounded by her fellow Sisters and friends.  The entire student body of St. Bonaventure's College and Seminary was present at her funeral.  The Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception remained on the St. Bonaventure campus until the 1960's, when they made their official move to their Novitiate house in Paterson, New Jersey.

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Laughlin, Frances Lea, SMIC.  As a Seal on Your Heart: A Brief Biography of Mother Maria Immaculata of Jesus.  West Paterson, NJ: Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, 1992.
Martiny, Joanne.  "Sister Bedridden 14 Years Directs Conceptionists Order" The Bona Venture 1 April 1955: 5.
"Mother Superior Dies After Many Years of Illness" The St. Bona Venture 29 April 1938: 1+.
"Sister Bedridden While Fire Rages"  The St. Bona Venture 9 May 1930: 1.
Tombrock, Maria Immaculata, SMIC.
"My Cure at Lourdes..." Immaculata (May 1952): 8+.

Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception web site  Many of the photos on this page were provided by the Sisters and we thank them for their generosity and assistance.

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This site was created by Timothy Rothang, intern in the St. Bonaventure University Archives located in Friedsam Memorial Library during the fall semester 2005. 

Photos in texts added by D. Frank 12 Dec. 2005. Additional photos added 2/2006 by T.  Rothang.
Last updated: 27 February 2007

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