Women of History: Catherine Anwandter

August 1, 2020

Portrait of Catherine Anwandter, circa 1970, Church Archives Box 534067 Folder 335862.

Catherine Hobbins Anwandter (1909–1991) was the first person to teach Christian Science in Spanish. A native of Chile, she pioneered the establishment of the religion in South America.

Christian Science gained a following in Latin America around the turn of the twentieth century. According to the Santiago South Pacific Mail, “Christian Science first became known in Chile through the healing of a teacher in [a local] American School in 1895. This healing aroused the interest of others in Chile, who wrote to the United States for Christian Science help, and were healed.”1

Although Christian Science had an early presence in Latin America, its textbook—Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy—was not translated and published in Spanish until 1947, and not in Portuguese until 1963. Publication aided the development of the Christian Science movement throughout the region, encouraging the practice of spiritual healing, the establishment of churches, and individual study.

Primary class instruction is another important element of the religion that Eddy established in the United States in the nineteenth century. A 12-day course conducted by an authorized teacher, it focuses on the practice of Christian Science healing. Textbooks used for instruction are the Holy Bible and Science and Health. But without translations of the latter, it was not possible for Primary class instruction to be offered in Spanish or Portuguese. For decades, only those who spoke English, French, or German could take this gateway course, and in order to do so they had to travel to the United States or Europe. Anwandter broke that barrier when she became a teacher; since then other Christian Scientists have been authorized to teach in Spanish or Portuguese, in Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Spain, the US, and Uruguay.

Anwandter was the daughter of Tomas Hobbins and Juana Norton.2 Born in Antofagasta, a port city in Chile’s Atacama Desert region, she was educated at home and at Chilean schools in Valparaiso and Santiago. According to a church profile, she “became interested in Christian Science through an outstanding healing she experienced when a young woman.”3 She learned of Christian Science when her aunt, who was interested in Christian Science, shared her newfound spiritual convictions. Anwandter, who later reported that she had been unable to walk because of water on the knee, was quickly healed through Christian Science.4

Passport photo of Catalina Hobbins Norton

Passport photo of Catalina Hobbins Norton, circa 1951, cropped from original in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965 [database on-line], Ancestry.com

That event reoriented her life, and Anwandter joined The Mother Church in 1932.5 Seven years later she traveled abroad to receive Primary class instruction. At first, finding the means to attend that class seemed impossible, because of the journey and expense. But Anwandter later described the class as a key step in her progress. She also wrote about her family’s earlier financial struggles and attributed their resolution to the prayer she was taught in Christian Science.6

Anwandter’s background and outlook were cosmopolitan; she spoke four languages fluently and traveled extensively outside Chile. Possessing a strong visual arts background, she first taught English and then founded her own school.7 Her interest in children and in spiritual pursuits are both expressed in this excerpt from a 1962 article in The Christian Science Journal:

Children are specially sensitive to a spiritual atmosphere. They feel the gentle and positive presence of peace and good will, of happiness and confident reliance on God, on the part of their parents or guardians, and, like plants in their proper surroundings, they grow and prosper accordingly. Sometimes the nervous and despotic disposition of grownups creates an atmosphere the opposite of Spirit and may be the unexplained cause of many a child’s character and behavior. Thoughts are more acutely felt than words, and a child’s sensibility is seldom deceived.8

Anwandter served her local branch church—First Church of Christ, Scientist, Santiago, Chile—as a Reader and in other positions. She was first listed as a practitioner in the Journal in 1949, and subsequently in the French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish editions of The Herald of Christian Science. A history of the Santiago church noted that Anwandter “brought about many remarkable healings.”9 For 20 years she was the only practitioner listed in Chile.

Anwandter became a teacher of Christian Science after attending The Mother Church’s Normal class of 1961. Pupils she instructed in Spanish included those from the first generation to read Science and Health in that language. The Santiago church history states that, by 1980, “ … pupils have come and continue to come from all parts of the world to take class instruction and we, in turn, have been enriched with their inspiration and enthusiasm.”10

Anwandter was appointed to the Christian Science Board of Lectureship in 1970. She brought several decades of spiritual commitment to this work of public speaking, which she carried out for the next eight years, travelling outside Latin America, as well as within it. She gave lectures in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Like all Christian Science lecturers, she wrote her own material.

Catherine Anwandter’s career in nurturing the development of Christian Science in Latin America was notable. Perhaps it could be summed up in this statement from “How to Find Lasting Satisfaction,” the first lecture she gave: “In the degree that you and I find our God-made selfhood, the divine plan enters our everyday experience—and gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

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  1. “Science Church Dedicated,” The South Pacific Mail, 13 June 1952, 18.
  2. Republica Dos Estados Unidos Do Brasil, Ficha Consular De Qualificacao, Passaporte n. 1864, 28/V/1951.
  3. “New members of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship,” Christian Science Sentinel, 8 July 1970, 1257.
  4. Eva Leonora Norton, Catherine H. Anwandter, and Marjory Hobbins de Balmaeeda, “Out of great gratitude for all that Christian Science…,”; El Heraldo de la Ciencia Cristiana, julio de 1955, https://www.google.com/url?q=https://es.herald.christianscience.com/shared/view/f34bf79fdi?s%3Dt&sa=D&ust=1576601588718000&usg=AFQjCNFEhCIBUmVk2KpJEw5ftZmjF7kTAA; The Christian Science Journal, July 1952, 385–387; Anwandter, “How to Find Lasting Satisfaction,” The Christian Science Monitor, 21 September 1971, 5.
  5. Christian Scientists often hold dual membership in the worldwide Mother Church and in a local branch Church of Christ, Scientist.
  6. Norton, Anwandter, de Balmaseda, “Out of great gratitude…,” 385-387.
  7. “New Members of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship,” 1257.
  8. Anwandter, “The Atmosphere of Spirit,” The Christian Science Journal, January 1962, 23.
  9. Isa. L. de Scholz, “The History of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Santiago, Chile from 1928-1980,” 28 May 1980, Church Archives, Box 530475, Folder 220396.
  10. de Scholz, “The History of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Santiago, Chile.”