In 1834, a deeply faithful Catholic, widow, mother of six, and beloved godmother to 20 children began what would become a Congregation of over 800 Sisters at its peak with three young women in a castle in Switzerland. After a lifetime of service to her children and people experiencing poverty in her village, Mother Maria Anna Brunner discovered the Society of the Precious Blood in Rome (founded in 1815 by St. Gaspar del Bufalo). She became inspired to spread this devotion through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
During her twilight years, she lived with her son, the Precious Blood Father Francis de Sales Brunner, who ran a seminary in Castle Loewenberg in Switzerland. Her room faced a small chapel where she prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible. Inspired by her humility and prayerful life, three young women who worked at the castle joined her in adoration. Although Mother Brunner died in 1836, her Congregation had taken root and began to thrive.
This small group was the beginning of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, which moved to northern Ohio 10 years later in 1844 to minister to the German Catholic immigrants of the area. During their pioneer days at their 10 original convents, the Sisters taught, cared for orphans, farmed, gardened, kept bees and gave music lessons. They also made shoes, hats, altar linens and altar bread. They did all this while keeping night hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in the tradition of Mother Brunner.
Today, the Church is in the midst of a National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative launched last year by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a three-year experience of discernment, encounter and celebration culminating in the National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 and a year in which the faithful are called to go out on mission to share the gift of the Eucharist with the world.
Here, a few Sisters of the Precious Blood — who are also just some of the Sisters celebrating their Jubilee this year — reflect on the meaning of Eucharist for them.
Sister Joyce Langhals
A woman for her time (1764-1836); a woman for our time (2023). Maria Anna Brunner spent much of her lifetime as a caring and conscientious wife and mother. She continued her openness to the Spirit’s action in her later years by responding to a deeply felt call to grow ever closer to her God, especially through prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament. During her visits to Rome in 1833, she spent hours in prayer before the tabernacle and crucifix in the Church of St. Nicholas in Carcere (where Gaspar had previously preached). Upon her return to Loewenberg Castle, she likewise nurtured her devotion to Precious Blood spirituality during many long hours of prayer in the chapel. Maria Anna came to know ever more deeply God’s unconditional love for each person as manifested through the paschal mystery. Ultimately this led to an ever-increasing motivation and commitment to do outreach for her neighbors and especially the poor, namely, sharing bread and other food with those in need.
1834 marked the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. Eucharistic prayer was paramount for Maria Anna and her small community. In 1933, when her remains were exhumed in St. Mary’s Church in Sagens, Switzerland, for transfer to Dayton, Ohio, in commemoration of the centenary anniversary (1934) of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, her hands were found to be intact in a folded prayer position, thus the reference to Maria Anna as the “praying hands.”
She continues to walk with us CPPS as “mother” and “sister” as we confront the difficulties of these days. Presently we Sisters of the Precious Blood strive to embody “Mother Brunner’s own spirit — ‘gentle, patient, hard-working, humble, obedient, charitable, and above all, simple and joyous’ — the true portrait of a Sister of the Precious Blood” (Not With Silver or Gold, p. 72). Sometimes we miss the mark, but we try!
Maria Anna Brunner’s Eucharistic connection currently inspires each of us Jubilarians and all of our other Sisters as we are invited to believe in the Body and Blood of Christ and become the body and blood of Christ for our world today. I am happy to have been a Sister of the Precious Blood for these 60+ years and to have endeavored to follow in the footsteps of such a great woman, a woman of prayerful conviction whose enduring influence affects the lives of women religious with our Precious Blood charism today, nearly 200 years later.
Sister Rita Rogier
“… This is my body, which will be given for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). Jesus’ total gift of self for me and for all others, the gift remembered at each Eucharistic celebration, sustains and empowers me to be that gift of self to others. Even in my high school years, I felt the pull to attend daily Mass before my classes began. Today, while it is a little more challenging to attend daily Mass because of distance or commitments, I make the effort to attend a parish Mass or the one at Salem Heights. Sometimes I participate “online,” but something very important is missing.
My own faith has been enriched by the faith and belief of special people who exhibited their love of the Eucharist. During my ministry, I was privileged to take Holy Communion weekly to a young man who was totally paralyzed after an accident. I was humbled by his desire to receive Jesus and to be nourished by this special gift. I witnessed other homebound Catholics eagerly anticipate their divine encounter with the Eucharistic Lord.
Naturally, our foundress, Mother Brunner, is a daily inspiration to me as well. During my sabbatical year in 1997, I participated in the CPPS pilgrimage to Rome and Switzerland. We visited the areas where Mother Brunner lived and worshiped. This was a great inspiration to me because I saw firsthand the difficulty of her travels by foot over very challenging terrain and distances. Yet she made it a priority to attend daily Mass!
In our present day, we also have the great witness to the Eucharist given by Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006). This Italian teenager died at the age of 15 but leaves a legacy reminding others of the great treasure that we have in the Eucharist. At an early age, he began researching and cataloguing Eucharistic miracles and posting them to his website. He told the people, “the more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.” What a great inspiration we have in this modern-day saint.
Sister Joanne Belloli
When I think of my history of celebrating Eucharist, I am called to remember various instances of Eucharistic celebrations as a child, to include the Mass of Christian Burial for my mother. Over the years what I learned from her example has grown and nurtured my faith. The Thanksgiving meal of Eucharist, listening to stories from Scripture, partaking in the meal has sustained and nurtured my faith in so many ways.
It was seeing literature of CPPS Sisters in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that encouraged me to enter the Congregation. As a junior high school educator, I worked with students by assisting them in planning liturgies and in encouraging their involvement as lectors, song leaders and members of the assembly. After my years in elementary education, I gained a position as a coordinator of liturgy and adult enrichment. My years in that position of ministry allowed me to assist others as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, musicians, leaders and members of the assembly to grow in faith and focus on the Sacrament of the Eucharist as the central point in their lives. I, too, continued to be nourished by Word and Sacrament as well as by those who participated in Eucharist. Those were deeply enriching years for me.
Today, the celebration of Eucharist sustains and nourishes my spiritual life in so many ways. My ministry is that of a clinical social worker specifically in the field of mental health and substance abuse. My life is challenged as people break open their lives and begin to heal and/or come to healing. I think of those on the road to Emmaus who told stories of their lives and recognized Jesus in the Breaking of Bread. I am enriched by the Sacrament of Eucharist as well as people who choose to heal their lives.
I am grateful for those with whom I celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist today and for those who trust themselves to receive God’s blessings. I am grateful to my mother, family members, Sisters and Fathers of the Precious Blood, friends all who witness to me the nurturing of the Eucharist and the breaking of bread.
Sister Nancy Wolf
A long time ago when I made vows, I heard the Lord say to me, “May I have this dance with you for the rest of your life?” Saying YES to this invitation and the unknown was what I needed to do to follow in the footsteps of Jesus each day. Sometimes I need to run to catch up and other times we just talk, walk and dance side by side. We could be planning a new day, sharing the good news, teaching or “walking compassionately with those in need.”
The Eucharist sustains me because it is my “food” that nourishes me for the day. Remembering that a little child gave away his lunch to Jesus and Jesus accepted the simple gift of loaves and fish. Jesus accepted it, blessed it, broke it and gave it to others to share with those gathered. I try to remember the words TAKE, BLESS, BREAK AND SHARE what God has given me for each day. Sometimes it takes faith to look in the basket for the day!
During my 46 years of ministry of teaching, it was always important to start my day with Mass. Sometimes that meant getting up very early and driving to 6:30 a.m. Mass. There were times when I would take a young child with me because he arrived at that time even though school started at 7:45 a.m. Eucharist was a reminder to share Jesus with those around me. In later years, I had the honor and privilege of bringing Holy Communion to the homebound who would often share their stories of faith and love of God! What an awesome honor! Their faith and love touched my soul, and I am so grateful!
Mother Brunner was in love with her God and followed in the footsteps of Jesus by caring for all those who came to her door or touched her life in some way. She prayed for these, as well as those who just needed someone to bring them to God in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. That is what has inspired me. It is important for me to receive Eucharist at Mass and then to try to “Go in peace, glorifying God by my life.” Now it has been my turn to listen, teach, invite, share, care and be a compassionate disciple of the Lord — and maybe, just maybe, to invite someone to “dance with the Lord, too!”
— Introduction by Sarah Aisenbrey
Maria Anna Brunner’s Eucharistic connection currently inspires each of us Jubilarians and all of our other Sisters as we are invited to believe in the Body and Blood of Christ and become the body and blood of Christ for our world today. — Sister Joyce Langhals
The Thanksgiving meal of Eucharist, listening to stories from Scripture, partaking in the meal has sustained and nurtured my faith in so many ways. — Sister Joanne Belloli
Top, cover artwork by Sister Eileen Tomlinson; second, banner of Mother Maria Anna Brunner by Sister Eileen Tomlinson; third, Sister Joyce Langhals; fourth, Sister Rita Rogier; fifth, Sister Joanne Belloli; bottom, Sister Nancy Wolf; contributed photos.