By Pat Morrison
Like the Midwest’s brilliant fall foliage, the weekend of Oct. 3-4 in Dayton was overflowing with the vibrant colors of programs, liturgies and reunions, all celebrated by Precious Blood Sisters and hundreds of friends, co-workers and former members.
Third Anniversary Year Lecture
On Saturday, Oct. 3, the third of the anniversary year’s four lectures on Precious Blood spirituality was presented at Salem Heights. More than 230 participants — sisters, Missionaries of the Precious Blood, former members and other guests —filled the chapel for Precious Blood Father Barry Fischer’s powerful lecture on “Precious Blood Spirituality: Wellspring of Our Call to Mission.”
Father Barry is well-known in the Precious Blood family. He is the former moderator general (major superior) of the priests and brothers who form the international Missionaries of the Precious Blood, serving in that post for two terms. He has long experience in Chile and Guatemala, both in formation work and leadership. In Chile he worked closely with the Sisters of the Precious Blood and other congregations in the Precious Blood family. Currently he serves as the founding director of the International Center of Precious Blood Spirituality in Salzburg, Austria.
In his daylong lecture program, with two main presentations interspersed with group sharing and time for questions and comments, Father Barry traced his own personal exploration of Precious Blood spirituality and then offered challenging reflections on how “the cry and the call of the blood” are heard in our world today and how ministry, the outgrowth of the spirituality, leads us to respond. (See below for excerpts from his presentation.)
Like Jesus, women and men inspired by Precious Blood spirituality, hear “the cry and the call of the blood” today and find in it a way to bring theological reflection down to earth, to connect with life’s experiences. “A missionary spirituality is by nature an incarnational one,” he said. “It is a way of discovering mission and our specific [CPPS] contribution to the universal church as peoples marked by the blood of Christ.”
Powerfully alluding to “the red threads” that are woven over the earth, Father Barry cited numerous examples in individual lives and in society that call for the blood of reconciliation, from murders and violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of persons, to personal and corporate greed and lack of concern for the environment.
Authentic Precious Blood spirituality, he said in his afternoon session, is rooted in mission; it necessarily leads persons and communities to be welcoming, inclusive, unwilling to promote the divisions created by “-isms.” Precious Blood people, he said, believe in redemptive suffering. Above all, they are committed to sharing the message with all people and all creation that they are loved by God and infinitely precious in God’s eyes.
Reunion with Former Members
Following the rich input and exchange from the day’s lecture, the celebration moved to an expression of… homecoming!
More than 40 former members of the Sisters of the Precious Blood returned to Salem Heights for an historic reunion. After a warm welcoming by CPPS president Sister Florence Seifert and an evening prayer service, the former and current CPPS women moved to the dining room for a relaxed evening of refreshments and socializing.
At the congregation’s invitation, the former members came from all parts of the United States and beyond, drawn to reconnect during this anniversary year with the people and places that had been a formative part of their life, for a few months as postulants or years as professed sisters.
Hugs and exclamations of welcome were in abundance throughout the weekend, as current and former CPPS women shared memories, told stories and caught up on news.
Even though their life’s path has taken a different direction over the years, it was evident the bonds with the congregation and its women are still strong. Former members expressed warm appreciation for the values and spirituality which their time in CPPS, long or short, brought to their lives — and still brings to their life today, wherever they are. And, as both former members and sisters agreed, the enrichment is reciprocal.
In a high point of the anniversary year, the Precious Blood Sisters’ community and the wider community gathered around the Lord’s table with Archbishop Daniel Pilarcyzk of Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Precious Blood Church.
The lives of the sisters and the parish have long, warm connections: CPPS sisters taught in and administered the school for many years; the congregation donated the land on which the current church is built.
The Mass in Dayton with the archbishop was a focal point of the anniversary year and its significance was not lost on those who came from near and far to attend: The church was filled almost to capacity with CPPS sisters, friends and co-workers, parishioners, and representatives of other religious communities.
Six priests, members of the archdiocesan clergy and Missionaries of the Precious Blood, concelebrated the liturgy with Archbishop Pilarczyk. They included: (Missionaries) Fathers Barry Fischer, Angelo Anthony, provincial, and William O’Donnell, pastor of Precious Blood Church; Fathers David Brinkmoeller, dean of the Dayton Deanery; Edward Pratt, associate, Precious Blood Church; and Robert Monnin. Deacon Richard Janowiecki of Precious Blood Church served as deacon for the liturgy.
Sister Florence offered a welcome before the Mass, and words of thanksgiving in conclusion. (See text of her comments below.)
It was truly a joint Precious Blood celebration, with sisters and parishioners forming the choir for the liturgy, and sharing in the distribution of Holy Communion. CPPS Sisters proclaimed the Scripture readings and presented the gifts of bread and wine.
In his homily, Archbishop Pilarczyk offered a brief theological reflection on what devotion to the Precious Blood means for Catholics: “…We are paying honor to the dedication of Jesus to his saving mission, …remembering that Jesus loved us to the very end, that he gave everything he had” to bring the human family into eternal union with the Blessed Trinity.
The archbishop then briefly traced the history of CPPS, beginning with Mother Maria Anna Brunner’s founding inspiration and spiritual focus, to the presence of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Ohio and expansion to other places to continue their mission, expressing their devotion in many contexts. Gesturing to the statue of Mother Brunner displayed in front of the ambo, he quipped, “For being 175 years old, she’s looking pretty good!”
Thanking the sisters for their dedication for almost 200 years, he noted that CPPS women have made a difference in countless lives: “The tonality of our Catholic life in the counties you have served would be much different if you had not been here to witness to the saving generosity of the Lord Jesus and to the persistence of his love for us… As we celebrate this anniversary today, I once again want to offer thanks: Thanks be to God for all [CPPS sisters] who have gone to their reward. Thanks be to God for all of you.” (See below for full text of Archbishop Pilarczyk’s homily.)
At the Mass’s conclusion, Precious Blood Father Bill O’Donnell, pastor of Precious Blood Church, offered his own congratulations and words of thanks to the sisters. He especially noted their courageous witness in undertaking ministries and outreach that few others would accept, their strong stance in the local community in defense of life and against the death penalty and violence, and the congregation’s long support of the parish. Women religious, he said, are too often unsung and unheralded, but are the true prophetic voices in our church and in our world.
After Mass, the celebration continued in the parish center with a reception where guests and sisters enjoyed refreshments and socialized.
The day’s celebration was capped with recognition and appreciation from members of the civic community. Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, Ohio State Rep. Roland Winburn (D-Dayton) and Trotwood councilman Rap Hankins all presented proclamations to the sisters in recognition of the anniversary year. (In a happy coincidence, all three of these community leaders were taught by Sisters of the Precious Blood in Dayton Catholic schools.) A proclamation honoring the sisters was also read on behalf of the City of Dayton.
Photos by E.L. Hubbard, www.elhubbard.com and Pat Morrison