This weekend, over at Half Price Books, I saw that they still had that Volume II of the history of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; and this time I realized that I’d be an idiot not to buy a rare-ish book like that. Volume I presumably covered the history of Mother Brunner, her large brood of kids who mostly became priests and nuns, her own founding of a lay adoration group which became a sisterhood of teachers and housekeepers, and her son Francis’ involvement with the Precious Blood movement and founding of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Volume II begins with said son already in America with a bunch of cohorts, setting up shop in the Ohio wilderness that would eventually become known as “God’s Country” for its many churches, and serving the German-speaking immigrants there. They would soon be joined by a large chunk of the Precious Blood sisters, who proceeded to grow like nobody’s business.
But first, they had to survive… St. Alphonsus Parish! (Dun dun dunnnnn.)
St. Alphonsus Parish was founded by the same pious group of German settlers who founded Peru, Ohio, and in the same place. (Btw, the parish was originally named “St. Michael”. Later on, it was changed to St. Alphonsus, probably referring to St. Alfonso Turibio Mongrovejo, bishop of Lima in Peru. But I’ll call it St. Alphonsus here.) The catalyst for the parish was the “Waldschwester”, Sr. Francisca Bauer, once a Sister of Holy Providence but who left and went to America with her brother and his family. She continued to live like a sister, in a log cabin hermitage, and was certainly hard-working, charitable, and devout. Like the Ohio sisters who would follow her, she was skilled with axe, hoe, and gun as well as rosary and asceticism. She helped many people and donated the land for the church, and many felt that she died in sanctity.
But man, do you get the impression that she was a pain in the butt to live with. She helpfully designated herself cook and housekeeper to the Redemptorist priests; but apparently felt she had the right to be parish administrator, too, since after all she’d got the thing going. She apparently also felt that when Sister was fasting or performing austerities, so should the priests….
She and her fussing and feuding community did not drive off young Father John Neumann, who was made of sterner stuff (and would eventually become Bishop of Philadelphia, die far too young, and in 1977 be declared a saint). But after Neumann’s term of duty was done, the next priest apparently got sick of the whole thing and pleaded to be sent somewhere else.
Just at that point, the Bishop of Cincinnati was presented with fresh missionary meat. Since the new Precious Blood priests were yet fully trained, Brunner wanted them to stick together in community for a while. So the entire American wing of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood ended up in St. Alphonsus, the Parish from Hell.
And since the Precious Blood Sisters weren’t in America yet, guess who acted as cook and housekeeper? Why, the Waldschwester, of course!
There was tons of other stuff going on, too — feuds with English-speaking Catholic priests, feuds with priests or schoolteachers wandering around from parish to parish making trouble, internal tensions in the orders, cholera epidemics…. Ohio went from being all Cincinnati to adding the Cleveland diocese (at the poor Cincinnati bishop’s request), and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood incorporated in Ohio!
All in all, it was very enlightening reading. We never learned about any of this stuff either in Ohio history or in parochial school. If people realized that the Church always had a lot of challenges (and infighting), and that it’s not just us who are specially unholy, I think they’d feel encouraged.