Sisters celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week with open house

by Dave Eck

The Sisters of the Precious Blood kicked off National Catholic Sisters Week on March 8 by welcoming more than 120 friends, neighbors, first-time visitors, local city officials and clergy to their convent in Dayton for an open house.

A bright sunny day added to the festive atmosphere as guests chose to spend time with the Sisters and tour Salem Heights, the congregation’s central home. The 2-4:30 p.m. open house was one of several events the Sisters are hosting in celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life.

Sister Joyce Lehman, the congregation’s president, greeted guests in the lobby before they were escorted to Grace Hall on the building’s fourth floor to view numerous displays about the community. Panels depicting the order’s history – from its founding by an elderly Swiss widow of six children in 1834 through expansion in the United States, Chile and Guatemala – lined several tables. Information on the Sisters’ numerous ministries and congregation’s vocations efforts was also available.

Sisters then led small groups of visitors on tours of the building. Highlights included the adoration and main chapels, the Stations of the Cross, rotundas, the library, and gathering areas. Artifacts from Maria Anna Brunner, foundress of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, and her son, Father Francis de Sales Brunner, who led the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in the United States, were on display. Tours concluded in the dining room with refreshments and fellowship. Among the guests were Trotwood Mayor Joyce Sutton Cameron and Trotwood city officials.

Several visitors brought stories and memories of their unique connections with the Sisters of the Precious Blood.

Jane Guthrie of Dayton had three great-aunts in the community, Sisters Emelita, Clotilda and Luciana Timmerman. She was too young to remember them, but she was always proud that there were Sisters in her family. She also shared a family story passed down by her dad, Melvin Schmiesing. In the 1930s, Schmiesing was about 10 years old when he witnessed a shootout between gangster John Dillinger and law enforcement officials near the public school in Egypt, Ohio. An unknown Sister of the Precious Blood from the school was shot in the crossfire, but the bullet struck the crucifix she was wearing, saving her life. She then began helping those injured in the incident.

Mary Hartkemeyer and her husband, Jim, drove about an hour to Dayton for the open house. Mary, whose family descends from Mother Brunner, recalled the Sisters of the Precious Blood who taught her at St. Peter School in Hamilton. Jim explained that as a young boy, he and his mom would drive to Salem Heights from Hamilton each fall to pick up several Sisters and bring them back to Queen of Peace School to begin the school year.

“I always had a little spot in my heart for them because they taught me,” said Jim, who was a student at Queen of Peace.

The Hartkemeyers came to see Salem Heights and visit with the Sisters who live there.

The open house was the first at Salem Heights since 2009 and the first opportunity many visitors had been in the building since a repurposing project completed in 2013. The repurposing created 51 apartments from about 90 small bedrooms and updated other areas of the house. The building, which dates to 1930, features five wings off a main rotunda. It was built by the Sisters of the Precious Blood and operated as the Maria-Joseph Home for the Aged until the late 1970s.

Salem Heights has been the Sisters’ central house since 1979. The congregation has been based in Dayton since 1923.