From their foundation in Switzerland to the present-day motherhouse in O’Fallon, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood have had a longtime commitment to bringing Jesus’ reconciling presence to others.
The sisters recently kicked off a year of celebrations leading up to the 175th anniversary of the community’s foundation in Steinerberg, Switzerland, in 1845. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson joined the sisters, lay Partners in Mission and friends of the community for a Mass Sept. 8 at the sisters’ motherhouse chapel in O’Fallon.
President Sister Janice Bader said that the deepest longing of the founding German sisters was to live a life of contemplative prayer and sacrifice. But because of the political situation and the needs of the parish in Switzerland where they were originally based, the community quickly embraced a new posture — “continuing to lift an arm in prayer while extending the other in service to God’s people,” she said.
The charism of reconciliation has been a part of their ministries over the years, including education, art and music, care for the elderly, social services, health care and parish work and foreign missions, among many others. The sisters have said that they remain focused on contemplative living that leads to global awareness, as well as working and praying for peace and justice in a suffering world.
“We continue to reach up and out,” Sister Janice said. “May we be faithful to that until the end of our days.”
Sister Susan Borgel met the Precious Blood sisters as a student at St. John the Baptist High School in St. Louis. “They were women who really cared about students,” she said. “There was a family spirit at the school, to care for one another.”
Sister Susan entered the congregation in 1959. Even though she knew the sisters through their role in education, she initially didn’t have a desire to be a teacher. But as God works in His mysterious ways, she ended up serving in education for more than 50 years, including elementary schools, the former St. Mary’s Academy in O’Fallon, and St. Elizabeth’s Academy, where she was president until the school closed in 2013. Sister Susan also served in leadership for the community, among other roles.
Today, she tutors immigrant students at the International Institute of St. Louis, which is housed in the former St. Elizabeth’s Academy. She said the institute is carrying on her community’s charism of being a reconciling presence to others. She also sees within these students “a deep desire to be citizens of this country. They struggle with the language and the culture, but they’re committed to becoming good citizens. It’s been a grace to learn how other people live, our similarities and that we’re all God’s creation,” she said.
Sister Charlene Grieshaber joined the Precious Blood Sisters after graduating from St. Elizabeth’s Academy in 1957. After earning a degree from Fontbonne, she went on to teach business education, and served at various schools in the archdiocese, including St. Agnes in Bloomsdale and St. Mary’s Academy in O’Fallon as a teacher and principal.
Sister Charlene was later a secretary for the community for 18 years, of which she said, “I treasure many memories in that position.” She also worked in formation of postulants and novices. Her most recent assignment was at Regina Cleri home for retired priests, where she served as a secretary for 10 years. She retired in 2015.
Sister Fran Raia got to know the sisters as a student at Bishop DuBourg High School. After entering the community, she taught primary school for 13 years, and later became involved in ministries including parish work, Catholic Charities, campus ministry and congregational leadership. She’s been retired three years now.
“I learned a lot from each of my ministries,” she said. “It seemed that each thing was preparing me for the next.”
Today Sister Fran is involved in issues including immgration and racial justice. She was part of a group that has served as advocates for Alex Garcia, a Honduran immigrant who has sought sanctuary from deportation in a Maplewood church. Sister Fran also is part of a group of sisters who are active in discussing racism and related topics.
While the sisters have influenced others through their ministries, she said the sisters are equally influenced by those they encounter. “The Spirit is doing something we can’t see right now,” she said. “The charism will live, the mission will live to bring people together and point to the needs. That’s all in God’s hands.”
Partners in Mission
Citing a decline in vocations in recent years (see related), the Precious Blood Sisters are looking toward their lay Partners in Mission to carry on their charism into the future. The sisters established the program for lay Christian women and men to share in their mission, while also maintaining their individual living and working situations. After making an initial commitment and undergoing a period of formation, Partners remain involved through small faith-sharing communities, with the sisters also having a role in those groups.
“The charism is a gift that God gives to a group of people for the sake of the Church,” Sister Susan said. “I believe that God is giving that to others to carry on now. The partners are living that out in whatever they’re involved in.”
Mary Reynolds became a Partner in Mission seven years ago. Introduced to the Precious Blood Sisters through a lifelong friend, Reynolds said she was seeking to foster a deeper relationship with God. “I saw a lot of things that needed fixing in the world,” she said, citing examples such as poverty and other injustices, or simply those who don’t have anyone to pray for them. She saw the Partners as an opportunity for “being present in situations that need reconciling, and to be the reconciling presence of God.”
Her involvement as a Partner also had an influence in her decision to take a job as director of finance at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, a nonprofit organization that provides help to people in need in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties. (The organization also receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal.)
“The Care Service is the true reconciliation of poverty,” Reynolds said. The organization’s clients “only need to have a need,” she said, with no other conditions. What she learned from the sisters “opened my eyes and heart to this job.”
Susan Buerkle’s first encounter with the Precious Blood Sisters happened as a student at St. Elizabeth’s Academy, from where she graduated in 1976. She made her first commitment as a Partner in Mission in 2013, after learning about the program through a spirituality workshop.
At the sisters’ 2016 chapter meeting, they formed a committee to focus on the issue of immigration. That same year, Buerkle, who works in health care, had an opportunity to travel to El Paso, Texas, to work firsthand with immigrants. “It’s a strong issue that brings me to prayer,” she said.
Caring for the immigrant is a reflection of the sisters’ core value of reconciliation, she said. “It’s responding to human needs and seeing human dignity. It’s a lens through which I view my work and encounters with others. It’s challenged me to do things I wouldn’t have done before.”
>> Foundation in Switzerland
of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon was founded in
Steinerberg, Switzerland, on Sept. 8, 1845, as a contemplative
community. Young women from Baden, Germany, joined together for the
perpetual adoration of the Most Precious Blood in the Blessed Sacrament.
Magdalene Weber, known in religious life as Mother Theresa, was the
first superior of the community.
The congregation was formed under
the guidance of Father Karl Rolfus, a priest from Baden. Searching for a
spirituality to counteract the growing secularization of southern
Germany, Father Rolfus found contemporary devotion to the Precious Blood
and shared this with his many directees. German convents could not
accept new candidates at that time, however, so women journeyed to
Switzerland where the pastor of St. Anne’s Church supported their
The Swiss government prohibited all strictly contemplative
orders, and the pastor saw these young women as an opportunity to
improve his parish school. From thereon, the early congregation had both
a contemplative and an apostolic dimension.
>> Expanding into the New World
1870, nine sisters arrived in Belle Prairie, Ill.; the remainder of the
congregation arrived over the next three years. At that time, another
separation occurred. Some sisters chose to remain in Belle Prairie and
maintain affiliation with the Precious Blood Congregation in Rome. Other
sisters, under the leadership of Mother Augusta Volk, did not accept
the conditions of the bishop to remain in the Diocese of Alton. They
temporarily moved to St. Agatha’s Parish in St. Louis, and in 1875,
established the community in its current motherhouse in O’Fallon. The
Sisters became an independent congregation and gained pontifical status
Source: Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon
Looking toward the future
Like other religious communities, the
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood have declined in vocations. Several
years ago, the sisters decided to stop pursuing new vocations. The
community currently has 103 sisters, and the last time a sister made
final vows was in 2007. The sisters transformed the O’Fallon motherhouse
and infirmary into senior apartments and a skilled nursing home. (The
senior apartments remain a joint venture for the community, while the
skilled nursing home was sold to an outside company.) Some of the
sisters live in those communities.
In June, the Sisters of the
Most Precious Blood and the Franciscan Sisters of Mary announced the
establishment of a new organizational structure called collaborative
governance. The model functions as a separate civil corporation,
providing for the continued oversight of civil and canonical management
of the two religious communities when there are no longer sisters able
to fulfill the duties.
The Precious Blood Sisters also established
Partners in Mission, a program for lay Christian women and men who
desire to share in the mission and charism of the sisters. The program
includes a period of formation and ongoing connection through small
faith-sharing communities, which include the sisters. There currently
are about 100 Partners.