Maria Alphonse Ratisbonne

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A converted Jew, born at Strasburg on 1 May, 1814; died at Ain Karim near Jerusalem, on 6 May, 1884. He belonged to a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in Alsace. After studying law at Paris he became a member of his uncle’s famous banking firm, and in 1841 was betrothed to the daughter of his oldest brother. As she was only sixteen years old, the marriage was postponed, and Ratisbonne entered upon a pleasure trip to the Orient. Though nominally a Jew, he was a radical infidel, a scoffer at religion, and, after the conversion of his brother Theodor, a rabid enemy of everything Catholic. On his intended tour to the Orient, he came to Rome, where on 20 January, 1842, he was miraculously converted to Catholicism in the Church of S. Andrea delle Fratte by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin. After his conversion he assisted his brother, Theodor, in founding the Sisterhood of Our Lady of Sion in 1843, was ordained priest in 1847, and entered the Society of Jesus. Desirous, however, to devote himself entirely to the conversion of the Jews, he left the society with the consent of Pius IX, transplanted the Sisters of Sion to Jerusalem in 1855, and built for them in 1856 the large Convent of Ecce Homo with a school and an orphanage for girls. In 1860 he erected the Convent of St. John on the mountain at Ain Karim, together with a church and another orphanage for girls. Here Alphonse laboured with a few companions (Pères de Sion) for the conversion of Jews and Mohammadens until his death. For boys he erected the orphanage of St. Peter, near the Gate of Jaffa outside of Jerusalem, with a school for mechanical arts in the city.

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