Story and photos by Pat Morrison
She’s not a saint, officially. And she’s not exactly a household word in the United States, nor in Dayton for that matter. But Maria Anna Probst Brunner offers many models, and many vocations, for people of the 21st century: This Swiss woman, whose life spanned the close of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, was a wife, a mother of six children, later a widow, and throughout it all, an active faith-inspired lay woman. (She began her “second career” ministry of caring for the poor and fostering devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus at age 68.) Finally, Mother Brunner became the inspiration for the religious community that would be formally founded after her death, the Sisters of the Precious Blood. (For more about Mother Brunner, click here.)
The Sisters of the Precious Blood cherish special relationships with two Dayton schools where numerous sisters served over the years, St. Rita and Precious Blood. Fifty years ago, the congregation had also donated the land on which the current Precious Blood Parish campus is built, including the church and school.
When the two parish schools consolidated earlier this year, the new school that emerged needed a name. School parents and students and parishioners at both churches were invited to submit suggestions for a name for the new school. There were lots of suggestions (including a creative one from a first-grader: “The Adam and Eve School”), but ultimately the choice was the Mother Maria Anna Brunner Catholic School, or Mother Brunner Catholic School.
The new school’s principal, Veronica Murphy, told The Catholic Telegraph archdiocesan newspaper that the school realized that “one thing that ties us together was that the Sisters of the Precious Blood taught at both schools for many years.”
“It was only fitting to name the school for Mother Brunner… We can use her as example as we guide our mission. She treated everyone like family, and that’s what we want to do, care for each other like a family.”
The 455 students gathered Sept. 22 in Precious Blood Church for the opening Mass of the academic year, their first as Mother Brunner Catholic School. Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr presided at the Mass, preached the homily and afterward posed for an-all school photo with the students and faculty. On hand for the historic occasion with the children were the new school’s faculty, parents, representatives of the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office, parishioners, and a large group of Sisters of the Precious Blood.
During the liturgy, Precious Blood Sister Nadine Kaschalk made an appearance dressed as Mother Brunner, complete with her signature basket of home-baked bread for the poor.
The bread basket was placed at the foot of the altar, together other Precious Blood symbols: statues of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, and Mother Brunner. The statues had been carved by the late Sister Eileen Tomlinson, longtime artist in residence at Salem Heights, the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, which is located directly across the street from the school and parish.
Sister Florence Seifert, president of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, addressed the assembly and offered prayers for the success of the new venture as well as thanksgiving for all that had come before. At the end of Mass, Precious Blood Parish’s pastor, Father William O’Donnell, thanked the students, parents and parishioners for their cooperation and energy in bringing the new school to reality and offered his hopes for its vibrant future in the spirit of Mother Brunner.
Active participation from the students and wonderful singing from their combined choir added a special touch to this history-making Mass of celebration. Older students partnered with younger students as “buddies” during the Mass, helping the younger children find their seats, follow the Mass program and join in the singing.
Immediately after the liturgy, students, faculty, “Mother Brunner” (AKA Sister Nadine) and some CPPS Sisters went outside in front of the school for an all-school photo with Archbishop Schnurr.
Judging from its faith-filled and vibrant beginnings, one guesses that Mother Brunner is smiling on this new school named in her honor and committed to her own vision and mission.