By Pat Morrison
MARIA STEIN – With a bright sun overhead (and 90-degree temperatures providing a sizzle factor), close to 500 people filled the grounds of the Maria Stein Center on Sunday, Aug. 16, for a Mass and picnic to help the Sisters of the Precious Blood celebrate their 175th anniversary at this historic and memory-filled site.
Families, friends, volunteers and Sisters and Missionaries of the Precious Blood sat on folding chairs, camping seats and the green grass for the 4 p.m. Mass, which was followed by a picnic supper in the center’s courtyard.
Helping to make the celebration more festive were several fraternal and patriotic groups, including men and women of the American Legion, Knights of St. John (both from Maria Stein) and Knights of Columbus (Minster). Dozens of volunteers helped with shuttling participants from the parking area to the Mass site in golf carts, baking, contributing and serving food items and soft drinks and grilling burgers and hotdogs.
More than two dozen priests and brothers of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood joined the more than 50 Precious Blood Sisters on hand for the celebration. Many of the sisters in attendance were either from the area or ministered there over the years.
Representatives of the two groups of religious communities offered remarks (see text links below). Sister Florence Seifert, president of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, welcomed the participants and thanked them for their years of support and friendship. At the close of the Mass Sister Barbara Ann Hoying, director of the Maria Stein Center/Relic Shrine, also thanked all who participated and continue to support the sisters’ ministry.
Both she and Sister Florence noted that a celebration at Maria Stein was fitting during the congregation’s 175th anniversary year, for many reasons. The sisters first came to Maria Stein in 1846 and the convent became the first motherhouse of the congregation in the United States, welcoming, training and sending out on mission hundreds of sisters until 1923 (when the motherhouse was relocated to Dayton). From the beginnings, the sisters were the beneficiaries of wonderful support and rapport with their neighbors, working closely with them in farm tasks, making clothing and shoes for the people of the community as well as themselves and the Missionaries, educating and caring for children, and sharing in prayer with their neighbors.
Precious Blood Father Kenneth Schroeder of St. Charles Center, Carthagena, presided at the Mass. In his homily the former pastor of St. John Parish in Maria Stein noted the importance of Maria Stein Center not only for the sisters, but also for the people of the area, both historically and as an ongoing source of prayer and inspiration. Fr. Schroeder was assisted by Deacons Omer Bertke (St. John Parish, Maria Stein) and John Schmeising (St. Augustine Parish, Minster).
Organist Paul Mizer led a choir of Precious Blood Sisters in music for the liturgy.
Before and after the Mass, participants toured the historic convent, chapel and relic shrine and grounds, as well as its museum and gift shop. They also had the opportunity to view a new historical display showcasing the history of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
A number of those attending the anniversary event came from a distance, like the Recker family of New Cleveland, Ohio, in the Toledo Diocese. Making a day of it were Dad, Joe; Mom, Connie, and their seven children: Ralph, Herman, Robert, Mildred, Eugene, Irene and Donald. Mr. Recker is the nephew of Precious Blood Sister Nancy Recker, who ministers with the infirm and elderly sisters at Emma Hall, the congregation’s health-care facility in Dayton.
“It was a nice day for a drive and a picnic, said Joe, as well as for connecting with his aunt.
More importantly, he said, “We wanted the children to visit this holy place… and learn about its connections to the [Precious Blood] sisters, and the importance of our faith. In today’s world, places like this – with the shrine, the saints [relics], and celebration of Mass – are more important than ever.”
Dennis and Diana Seifring and their three children came from Sharpsburg, Ohio, and Marcia Marheftka from Winona, Ohio, for another special reason: “We love the Angel Garden,” said Mrs. Seifring, her thought echoed by Ms. Marheftka. The Angel Garden, one of the newer additions to the Maria Stein Center complex, is a specially landscaped area where families can remember and celebrate children who have died. Many said how consoling and hopeful they find the quiet, prayerful space.
Other local Catholics came to support the sisters’ presence and witness to the importance of Maria Stein Center in their lives. Dr. Jim Schweitermann, born and raised in Maria Stein, said he and his family “wouldn’t miss” the anniversary Mass and celebration. “It’s powerful to think of 100 years of continuous [Eucharistic] adoration on this very site,” he said. “We can’t even begin to imagine what that means, in terms of blessings for the people here, and people everywhere…”
A big reason for his personal interest in the Sisters of the Precious Blood and the shrine especially, he said, is its importance for the local community. “This place is a treasure… And we want to ensure that it will be here forever.”
Other guests came to celebrate their own special ties with CPPS, ties forged not at Maria Stein but in Dayton. Chuck and Lois Kinter, and Greta Muth Harlett call Corpus Christi Parish in Dayton their home today. But in the 1940s Chuck and Greta were cared for by Precious Blood Sisters at St. Joseph Orphanage.
“I have good, beautiful memories of the sisters,” said Greta, who was at St. Joseph’s for nine years. She recalls a picnic at the Dayton motherhouse, visiting Fatima Hall and “seeing the nuns make the hosts for Mass…. I remember all that just like yesterday.”
Like many of the children who called the orphanage home, Chuck and his brother Eugene were not really orphans, but more like during-the-week boarders who returned to their families on Sunday. Their mother was widowed and worked at National Cash Register in Dayton, but didn’t earn enough to support the boys. St. Joseph’s provided an important home and formative experience during the week for the boys, and gave their mother the peace of mind that her children were well cared-for. “So we’d get to go home on Sundays, visit our family, play games. We just had to be back by 7 p.m.”
“They kicked me out,” Chuck says with a laugh, explaining that he would have liked to stay longer, but children could stay at the orphanage only until eighth grade. But his few years with the sisters changed his life for the better, he said.
Both Chuck and Greta remember going out to the movies on Saturday afternoon, with sisters accompanying them. The sisters’ kindness and warmth have stayed with them all these years. “They raised me,” said Chuck. “I am who I am today because of them,” and Greta nodded.
Said Chuck’s wife, Lois, “I’m grateful to the sisters, too, because they formed Chuck into the man he is today. I’m really blessed! I owe them the wonderful years of my marriage.”
Talking with many of those attending the celebration, it was clear that more than a picnic, or even a Mass, drew them to Maria Stein this warm summer day. It was also warm memories of their varied connections to the Sisters of the Precious Blood. And Maria Stein was a great place to celebrate those connections and memories – both for the guests and the sisters alike.
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