Left, Sister Adeline Mertz with her prayer cards and palm crosses; middle, Sisters Rosalie Kastner, left, and Ruth Ann Meyer visit with other volunteers at a Brunner Literacy Center volunteer gala; right, Sister Cleophas Schumacher.
Using a white board, thin text books and plenty of encouragement, Precious Blood Sister Carlotta Lammers works one-on-one with Kelly, her adult student, as he figures out basic math problems. The two meet every Thursday for an hour at the Brunner Literacy Center in Dayton. Another Precious Blood Sister, Rosalie Kastner, meets with Kelly each Wednesday at the center to work on his reading.
The two long-time teachers, now retired, say Kelly has become motivated and focused on his studies. He has developed self-confidence. That kind of student progress is what they enjoy about their ministry, even though they haven’t been in front of a classroom in years.
“I’ve seen them grow all the way around and improving in their attitudes toward things and toward themselves,” said Sister Carlotta, who entered the community in 1948. “It’s always been important to me to see how people progress and grow and mature.”
Beyond the benefits of learning, however, the sisters show Kelly that they care about him and his well-being. In turn, the tutoring enables them to continue the work they’ve done for decades. More importantly, it provides them the opportunity to continue ministering and living out the congregation’s spiritualty.
“I think our spirituality is to make the Precious Blood of Jesus visible some way in our lives and in other people’s lives, helping them grow spiritually as well as physically and mentally,” Sister Carlotta said. “It helps me spiritually because I want to do what I can to keep our mission alive.”
Sister Rosalie, who entered the congregation in 1937, agrees.
“That’s part of our life. We’ve been in service for all of our years and we just want to continue that,” she explained. “As long as I’m needed, I want to do my part. I just feel like I should give my service as long as I can.”
That idea doesn’t stop with Precious Blood Sisters who volunteer at the Brunner Literacy Center. In different locations, Sisters continue to work and minister long past typical retirement age. They work in congregational positions, volunteer, do odd jobs at Salem Heights and the Maria Joseph Center, visit the sick, and pray. Some sisters carry full workloads into their 70s and 80s before slowing down.
Regardless of their age and abilities, Sisters typically minister their entire lives. They are simply fulfilling the pledge they made to serve and be Christ to others, they say. It’s living out their mission of being a reconciling, life-giving presence.
Precious Blood Sister Pat Dieringer, who entered the community in 1959 after working in a corporate position for several years, spent much of her ministry in business. She worked at several locations, including the Maria Stein Retreat House, the Maria Stein Shrine, and then-Regina High School. She also worked at the Maria Joseph Center for nearly 24 years. Today she serves as the executive secretary for the Maria Anna Brunner Fund, is active at Precious Blood Parish in Dayton, and is the administrator assistant and treasurer at Brunner Literacy Center.
Sister Pat still works about 60 hours a week, including weekends and evenings. The work helps keep her sharp, but it also enables her to continue her ministry.
“To me this is the way you can witness Christ,” Sister Pat said. “That’s your whole life. You’ve entered and committed yourself to be of service to God and his people.”
For her, Mother Maria Anna Brunner, the congregation’s foundress, remains an inspiration. The elderly widow continued working late in life, and many Precious Blood sisters today want to follow that model, Sister Pat said.
“There was just no end to it for her,” she said. “I think a lot of us, too, feel the same thing. She did it so why should we give up? Even at retirement age you still want to be of service.”
Perhaps nowhere is lifelong ministry more evident than at Emma Hall in the Maria Joseph Center in Dayton. Emma is home to Sisters of the Precious Blood who need some assistance with daily living. Despite health challenges, the Sisters who live there minister through prayer and socialization.
Living in brightly colored rooms and comfortable gathering places, the Sisters at Emma often pray for each other and people the world over, write to Sisters still in active ministry and socialize with other residents at Maria Joseph. It’s a special ministry, and very much being Christ to others.
Precious Blood Sister Virgine Elking, a retired chaplain who entered the congregation in 1948, remains active at Maria Joseph. She is co-president of the center’s resident council, takes welcome packages to new residents, provides spiritual direction and volunteers at the center’s hospice unit.
She is also a member of two book clubs. An avid reader, she joined a book club based at the center, and was asked to join a second club made up of Mormon women. Even her involvement in the book clubs helps her live her mission. In the case of the Mormon group, for example, Sister Virgine ministers to them by teaching about Catholicism while learning about the Mormon religion.
“It may sound strange for me to say that they’re ministry, but it is,” Sister Virgine said. “For one thing it encourages other people to get involved. It gives those people an opportunity to socialize and get out of their rooms.”
Through all her activities, Sister Virgine uses her compassion and chaplaincy skills to connect with others in the building. At the same time, the activities keep her life full.
“Life doesn’t end when you come to Emma Hall. Ministry doesn’t end when you come to Emma Hall. It continues, perhaps in a different form. There are many, many things you can do,” she said. “There’s a lot of life if you choose it. I want to be active. I want to be involved, and I am.”
Precious Blood Sister Adeline Mertz, who entered the congregation in 1944, does what she can to minister to others. While prayer is a large part of her ministry today, she also puts together and hands out packets of cards with psalms and Scripture readings printed on them. It helps spread her faith to residents and visitors to Maria Joseph, she said.
“We come to serve God and his people,” Sister Adeline said. “We find little ways that we can help. It’s part of keeping yourself going. It helps to keep your mind more alert and keep your body moving.”
Precious Blood Sisters Cleophas Schumacher and Louella Huelskamp enjoy their ministry of prayer and helping other sisters at Emma.
Sister Louella, a former teacher who entered the congregation in 1944, visits with a sister whose mind is failing. The two once taught together and the sister brings up instances from the past. The connection is a grace for both of them.
“It always makes me happy,” Sister Louella said. “I know she knows me. She knows my face and then she’ll talk. I try to get her to remember different things.”
Sister Cleophas, who entered the congregation in 1947, maintains a strong prayer ministry, praying at least 90 minutes daily. “I pray for everybody in the whole world,” she said.
That ministry of prayer is particularly powerful when a sister at Emma is dying. A core group of Sisters spend time with the dying member praying for her, talking with her, and sometimes even singing to her. Each death is different, but they are all fulfilling. There’s a sense of peace when ministering to the dying, the Sisters said.
“There’s a special grace they receive when they are with a dying Sister,” said Precious Blood Sister Jean René Hoying, Sisters’ coordinator at Emma Hall. “There’s a presence in there. It just grips you and it’s overwhelming. It’s a life-changing experience.”
The Sisters at Emma maintain a strong desire to continue ministry, be it through prayer, compassion or simply taking action.
“It’s just such a part of them to be of service to others. If they see a need they’re going to fulfill it, or at least try,” Sister Jean René said. “Giving of self is what it all boils down to, just like Christ did.”
Sister Virgine sometimes gets emotional when speaking of Precious Blood spirituality and how Jesus died for us. It’s why she devoted her life in being Christ to others, particularly to those most in need. It’s why she continues ministering.
“It just means so much to me. That’s what my life as a Sister of the Precious Blood is all about, dealing with others because they were redeemed with the Precious Blood of Jesus. He didn’t make any exclusions on the cross,” she said. “He died for each of us and so I reach out in the way that I can.”
– Story by Dave Eck; photos by Michelle Bodine