Unwavering faith: the unforgettable history tour
by Sister Pauline Siesegh
Sister Pauline Siesegh entered the novitiate last year. As part of her year of active novitiate formation and ministry, she recently undertook a tour of the Ten Foundations, the original settlements of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in the U.S.
Formation in this 21st century is different from former times as formators expose the formatees to the core values of the particular religious congregation or institute for serious discernment. One such exposure is the historical tour of the Ten Foundations of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Ohio and Indiana: New Riegel, Marywood, Maria Stein, Glandorf, Maria Camp, Gruenenwald, Minster, Himmelgarten, Mary’s Home and Egypt. We visited all of the Ten Foundations, as well as Peru, Ohio, where Sisters first arrived but did not establish a permanent home.
The journey to the Ten Foundations was challenging but very educational. I was pondering what it was going to be like, the joy of seeing the places where our early Sisters sowed the Master’s seeds of the Sisters of the Precious Blood and nurtured them to grow. How did they get here? By what transport? God wanted me to experience an iota of what happened many years ago to our Sisters when they traveled from Switzerland to Ohio. A cargo train stopped and blocked our way to St. Alphonsus Church in Peru. We changed our route and, much to our dismay, encountered another train. Wow, we went ’round and ’round and eventually ate our lunch in the car at a park near a river. Sister Ann Clark, my novice director, was the driver, and Sarah Aisenbrey, the Congregation’s archivist, was tour guide and assistant driver.
When we finally got to our first stop in Peru, we went to St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, where our first Sisters began their ministry of prayer and education. Nobody was around on the day of our visit. But there was a big bell that reminded me of missionary activities. We entered St. John Neumann Prayer Center and what caught my attention was, “When God Closes a Door, He Always Opens a Window.” Well, the door of the first generation was closed, l thought to myself — those first Sisters are no longer with us here in this life. But that is the reality.
We then stopped at St. Gaspar Catholic Church in Bellevue and went to St. Michael Cemetery, a quiet and peaceful place where the gravestones of some of the early Sisters are kept. Hundreds of the Sisters are resting here. From there we moved on to the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue and then went to the Cradle of the Community at New Riegel.
There are still signs to prove that Sisters lived and worked there before fire destroyed the convent in June 2001. Many of the Sisters’ graves are in the All Saints Cemetery. At the All Saints Catholic Church, we met a man who told us that the Sisters used to live there but that fire had burnt up the convent.
Next, at Glandorf, where the Sisters founded Mary at the Holy Sepulchre Convent, things were not different at St. John the Baptist Church and cemetery. A good number of Sisters’ gravemarkers showed how committed they worked during their time in proclaiming the redeeming love of Jesus.
Accordingly, Maria Camp, where the Sisters founded Our Lady of Good Counsel Convent, used to produce more food because of the fertile land and the river, but now it is only a cornfield. All the Sisters who were buried there have been relocated together with those at Glandorf. There is a monument in honor of all of them.
We then continued our tour and stopped at St. Henry, near the former site of Himmelgarten convent, and where Father Joseph Albrecht left with some of the Sisters. Some of the Sisters eventually formed the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and some eventually founded the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.
From there we made another stop at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Carthagena, and all Sisters’ marked graves proved the presence of the Sisters in that vicinity. Gruenenwald, where the Sisters founded the Mary, Mother of God Convent, was not left out.
We then went to Maria Stein. A number of Sisters are buried at the St. John the Baptist Parish cemetery. From there we headed to the first Motherhouse in Ohio, built in 1846. When we got to the Shrine of the Holy Relics, the chapel was opened with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. At the Maria Stein Shrine cemetery, over 530 Sisters are resting there, including Mother Kunigunda Wehrle and Mother Ludovica Scharf. What a glorious site to have Mothers General in the same eternal community with Sisters.
Oh death, why have you taken thousands of our Sisters away? But that is the plan of God. They sowed the seed, nurtured its growth and then passed it on. That door is closed and a window is opened. May their lovely souls find peace in God and may they continue to intercede for us.
Many of the early Sisters crossed the ocean to bring the redeeming love of Jesus to the German immigrant children in Ohio. In an act of great faith, many of these women left their homes and families, never to see them again but to raise a future generation of God’s children. Each of them, young and old, who made the journey had good stories.
Here are a few you may not have heard of: it took the Sisters approximately 30 days from Europe to New York over the ocean; two to three weeks from New York to Ohio by canal boat; and by wagon or on foot to their final destination. That was a very cumbersome journey, l suppose. They did not speak much English and understood even less. I am impressed with the devotion and heroism of our early Sisters. They were incredible. God placed within them divine qualities of virtue, love, willingness to sacrifice and the strength to do it. They had an unwavering faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ. The heroic accounts of what these early Sisters sacrificed and accomplished as they came to Ohio is a priceless legacy to the Church.
I am moved by the accounts of Mothers Kunigunda, Ludovica and Emma, and how they zealously kept the Congregation alive until women from the United States joined. I deeply and gratefully acknowledge the service, sacrifice, commitment and contributions of the early Sisters. Much of what we accomplish today is due to their selfless service. These Sisters played key roles in the Church, schools and family life, and as individuals. Most of their responsibilities did not provide much economic compensation but gave satisfaction and are eternally significant. Even when the Sisters serve, they are thinking, “If only l could have done more!” Though they are not perfect and all face individual struggles, their faith in a loving Father in heaven and the assurance of the aligning sacrifice of the Savior permeates their lives. They were loyal to God and to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
For 179 years, the Congregation has done amazing work in Ohio and beyond. Going through a lot of challenges since Vatican II did not deter or distract our faith in God. The Sisters kept focus. They tried to serve people and prayed for insight, wisdom and the seeds they planted in people’s lives to grow. I believe many of them have been smiling over the fruits of their labor.
They left a big legacy for us. I love to acknowledge the legacy of Sister Noreen Jutte, for all the wonderful work she has done as archivist. None of our early Sisters are lost. Sister Noreen worked to put all the grave markers, headstones or plaques on the graves, so that none would be forgotten. May this legacy motivate us to work hard in proclaiming the redeeming love of Jesus.
I discovered great moments in the history of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in the Ten Foundations. The cultural experience was that of the graves or tombs in the cemeteries. Hundreds of our Sisters are buried in the cemetery communities. I got closer to the Sisters on this journey and felt the peaceful atmosphere which indicates how they were devoted to prayer life.
Long live Mother Maria Anna Brunner! Garabenye (good job)!