On a stormy Friday evening last June in a parish in Santiago, Chile, a new mom opened up and shared an innermost feeling: that while pregnant she began to sense she wasn’t loving the baby growing in her womb. Through open discussion in a small parish group, she realized what was happening, forgave herself for not wanting her baby and ended up embracing the child. Another man explained that he had never felt love or appreciation or dignity. He never felt supported by anyone – until he started attending the small group. One after another the stories came as people described the group’s effect on them.
Such is the power of the Precious Blood spirituality: living so intimately in Christ that the Precious Blood urges one to be a reconciling and life-giving presence to others. For nearly 60 years, that spirituality has been lived in Chile by Sisters of the Precious Blood.
They began their journey in Chile in 1957 responding to a request of Pope Pius XII to send missionaries to Latin America, and a petition by the Fathers of the Precious Blood to work with them in San Gaspar, an all-boys school they were starting. The Sisters’ first years in Chile were spent working in education with the Missionaries.
Then came Vatican Council II and the Latin American Bishop’s council in Mendellin. The documents of Mendellin were a grand awakening of a Church which had taken its theological basis from the European mentality. The Church of Latin America began a new birth searching for a pastoral program that would touch the reality of its people by deeply being in tune with the pain of the poor.
Here began a refocus of what being a missionary with the title Sister of the Precious Blood meant, from just a title or question to a flowing, moving, loving force in their daily lives. Sisters Maria Luisa Miller, Noemi Flores, Carmelita Monnin, and Dorothy Schmitmeyer participated on mission teams to form base communities. They entered the homes of the Chilean people as they weekly shared the gospel message.
Mission became a sharing of faith as they created, formed, and were part of Christian base communities. Through a weekly breaking open of the Word, they touched and were touched by the risen, healing, forgiving Christ.
When the military took over the government in 1973, mission became a lived experience in the broken Christ. From here the question came forth “what does living Precious Blood Spirituality call us to in Latin America?” Thus at the end of the 1970’s and during the 1980’s, the Precious Blood communities in Chile began to organize the first seminars for the communities with this title serving in Latin America. Sisters and priests from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Chile shared what it meant to be an open Chalice for others. These seminars continue to be offered about every four years. From the experiences of these seminars and sharing in base communities, Precious Blood Groups were born. Sister Carmelita invited members of the Base Communities to share monthly on themes of Precious Blood Spirituality.
The Precious Blood groups meet monthly and all unite to share in a day-long retreat each year. Members often share their personal experiences of how the flowing life-giving blood of Christ healed them, made them sense a God of love through the accepting love of others or opened up a reconciliation force within them.
During their monthly sharing with these Precious Blood groups, the Sisters share the life of their foundress, Mother Maria Anna Brunner, with whom the people could identify. She had no formal education and worked as a maid when she was young to help support her family. As a mother raising five children, she would give bread and milk to the poor, coupled with an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Many have a picture or a statue of her in their homes and count on her to intercede for them. This has been the life and experience of many of the women that the sisters encounter daily.
Five sisters continue the mission in Chile, primarily focusing on preparing reflections for and guiding Precious Blood groups. In addition, they organize retreats and prepare lay retreat teams in the parishes.
The sisters minister in two areas of Santiago, the capital of Chile. One home is Our Lady of the Precious Blood parish in Cerro Navia, a heavily populated area in the northwestern section of the city. The parish has over 500 senior citizens and much of the population live on low incomes.
Forming community in a house located on the property of the parish are:
- Sister Carmelita, who has been serving in Chile for 55 years and has been the moving force in beginning the Precious Blood groups, and until recently had been actively involved in different areas of pastoral work in the parish. During her many years she was involved in education, parish work and giving loving care to children living in a government-run home.
- Sister Noemi entered the community in 1964. Most of her service has been as formation director for the Vicariate. She was part of a team with formation directors of different congregations that organized an Institute of Studies for men and women entering religious life. During the 1990s, Sisters Noemi and Dorothy Schmitmeyer began giving the Enneagram personality workshop to formation directors, those in formation, and many congregations in Chile plus several Latin American countries. Until recently, she still gave this workshop in the parish and helped to guide the Precious Blood groups. She also participated in many other pastoral activities in the parish.
- Sister Edna Hess has been serving in Chile since 1977. She began serving in San Gaspar School in the pastoral department. She taught English and scripture to young men and women attending the Institute of Studies. In the parishes in which she lived, she created programs that help women discover their worth and dignity. In 1989 Sisters Edna and Maria Luisa formed the first lay retreat team to organize and give Ignatian weekend retreats for the laity. After serving 26 years in Chile she was elected to the community council where she served for eight years. She returned to Chile in 2011 and is involved with the Precious Blood Groups and organizes loving pastoral programs for the many senior citizen groups.
The second area where the sisters live is in La Florida, in the southeastern part of the city. During the years the Sisters have served in four parishes. In this area of the Archdiocese of Santiago, the Sisters began forming lay retreat teams to conduct weekend popular retreats for the laity. They are currently living in San Vincente de Paúl Parish. Their home is located one block from a small chapel called Padre Hurtado where they have served since 1980.
- Sister Maria Luisa joined the Sisters in Chile in 1966 and began her ministry teaching in San Gaspar School. Having come at the end of the Second Vatican Council and the refocus of creating a Latin American church, Sister Maria Luisa, with Sisters Carmelita and Noemi, became part of teams to give missions in the parishes to form base communities. This began the most precious way to be acculturated both in the church of Chile and with its people. In the parishes where Maria Luisa lived, she guided the formation of laity in the catechetical program, and formed lay retreat teams. For over 20 years she worked in the mutual health department of the Conference of Religious where she helped organize a joint health security for the religious serving in Chile. Sister Maria Luisa continues to accompany and form lay retreat teams in the parishes in the eastern zone of the Santiago diocese, organizing many weekend retreats and also one day retreats for women prisoners.
- Sister Rita Manriquez entered the congregation in 1993 and during her professed life has shared her giftedness in different pastoral activities for the youth in the parishes where she lived. She also served as secretary in the communication and vocational department of the Conference of Religious, and during the past seven years as executive secretary for nine pastoral departments in the Archdiocese of Santiago. She is currently engaged in a year-long study sabbatical.
- Sister Dorothy formed part of this community until last March, when she retired to Dayton for health reasons. She served 40 years.
“Wherever we’ve been, our footprints are there,” Sister Dorothy said. “You have to believe that the spark of God is within you and works through you, and that one is sacred. Then you awaken that in others.”
Story by Sisters Dorothy Schmitmeyer, Maria Luisa Miller, Edna Hess, Rita Manriquez and Noemi Flores