By Pat Morrison
OCEANSIDE, California — Not far from the Pacific Ocean’s blue waters and sun-kissed beaches near San Diego is the lovely and historic Mission San Luis Rey. Founded in 1798 and named in honor of the saintly king of France, Louis IX, it’s the 18th in the string of missions that dot the California coastline. The old mission and its adjacent faith community was the site of the Oct. 16-18 California festivities that marked the 175th anniversary of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
A highlight of the weekend was a Mass of Thanksgiving in the mission church on Saturday, Oct. 17. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino was the presider, with several area priest concelebrants, including Franciscan Father Chuck Talley, pastor of San Luis Rey Mission Parish.
In his homily, Bishop Barnes spoke of his connection with the Sisters of the Precious Blood through his family in St. Mary’s Parish in Phoenix (where CPPS Sisters first arrived in 1903), and with sisters working in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
He referred to Mother Maria Anna Brunner’s outreach to the poor, carrying bread for all in need. Today, he said, there are numerous hungers that need to be fed in our world, and he challenged the congregation to meet these needs as they discern the future.
A vibrant witness to the region’s ethnic richness, music for the Mass was led by the parish’s Samoan choir. Former member Eleanor Tibbals on the flute and Kristen Cameron, a colleague of the sister at St. Bernardine Medical Center, on harp and violin, also accompanied the choir.
More than 400 friends and well-wishers attended the Mass and luncheon which followed in the parish’s McKeon Center.
Twenty-four CPPS Sisters from across the country joined the eight currently living and working in California. Many of these were natives of the Southwest, or had spent years serving in the Golden States, where CPPS was first planted in 1913. Each visiting CPPS sister was welcomed at the Mass and introduced by Sister Mary Yarger, a native Californian who is also a member of the Pala Indian nation.
In addition to San Luis Rey Parishioners, other guests included members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in San Diego, friends and co-workers from parishes and St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, and former students of the San Luis Rey Academy which the sisters staffed.
During the luncheon, Sister Florence Seifert, CPPS president, presented legacy donations of $15,000 each to St. Charles Mission School, St. Michael Indian School, and to Catholic Charities of the San Bernardino and San Diego dioceses. The donation to Catholic Charities is to assist immigrants who are eligible to legalize or secure their status in the United States but do not have the funds.
Besides the Eucharistic celebration at the mission church, the weekend included several other significant gatherings.
Friday night brought a warm reunion of CPPS Sisters and former members and co-workers. For many, this was the first time in many years that they were gathering with old friends and class-mates, and no one looked at the clock as they shared memories, anecdotes and stories of CPPS history and their part in it.
Reflecting on the sharing at the reunion, Sister Florence noted how powerful the stories were “as former members and co-workers shared what the Sisters of the Precious Blood meant in their lives, and how the spirituality they developed in their time with the congregation has affected their lives even until today.” The sisters, too, spoke of how their lives, as individuals and as community, were enriched and changed by the former members and their time with CPPS.
On Sunday morning the CPPS in attendance visited the mission cemetery for a prayer service honoring the memory of the 136 deceased sisters who lived and ministered at San Luis Rey or Escondido. The sisters gathered around the grave of the only CPPS Sister buried in California, Sister Hildebertha Gutman, as the names of all the deceased sisters were read aloud and remembered in song and prayer.
Later Sunday morning, at the pastor’s invitation, the celebration continued at the 10 a.m. liturgy with the parish family. Before Mass began, members of the parish women’s group, Las Madrinas, pinned a red corsage on each sister in welcome. (After Mass, the same group) hosted a reception for the sisters in the dining room of the former academy where so many CPPS women have served.
During the parish Mass, all the Precious Blood Sisters present renewed their vows. Later, the time of blessing was a poignant moment, as the sisters extended their hands in blessing over the assembly, and then the parishioners returned the blessing to the sisters.
Historic displays of mementos and photos, as well as a PowerPoint presentation tracing CPPS history and ministry in California, were a fitting background for the color, song and conversation that characterized the lively and lovely San Luis Rey celebration.
Following the celebration, Father Talley sent a note of thanks to the congregation.
“The parish is just floating with energy from the weekend,” he wrote. “Everyone was so pleased that you were all able to be with us. It really helped us all to get a deeper understanding of the people who have given so much to our parish community. The contribution of the Precious Blood Sisters is a vital part of who we are today. Come back any time!