A Place of Peace, Prayer and Hospitality
Looking at the quiet farm land of Mercer County gives no evidence of the harsh forest and swamp that the early German settlers contended with on their arrival in the mid-1830s. Many were Catholic and understood the need for help from God to survive. Their deep faith urged them to build churches where they met despite the fact that they had no clerical minister to serve them. These churches, which now dot the landscape some three miles apart and make up the Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches State Scenic Byway, were built in such close proximity because of the difficult travel.
Bishop Purcell of Cincinnati became aware of the needs of these humble German-speaking people, and while in Europe, searched for a German-speaking missionary who would be willing to come to America to serve these noble folk. Fr. Francis de Sales Brunner, a Swiss priest and Precious Blood Missionary, encountered Bishop Purcell and came to Ohio in 1843.
Fr. Brunner and his Mother, Maria Anna Brunner, established the Sisters of the Precious Blood in 1834 in Switzerland. In 1844, six Sisters of the Precious Blood arrived in New Riegle, Ohio and began their nightly vigils of prayer. In September 1846 eight sisters from the New Riegle Convent began perpetual adoration at Maria Stein in the original motherhouse convent. Sisters have prayed and ministered at Maria Stein without interruption since their arrival. Maria Stein is the last of 10 foundations established by Fr. Brunner.
Today the main attraction is the relic chapel which was dedicated in 1892. The chapel has more than 1,000 relics including those from all four Gospel writers and all but one of the apostles. Honoring the Saints with their relics was a common way of expressing devotion to the Saints. Fr. Brunner was an ardent collector of relics. He brought a few with him on his first voyage to America. In 1845 he was presented with a gift of 600 relics. In 1875 a collection of 175 relics was brought to Maria Stein and placed in the care of the Sisters. Relics of more recent Saints have been added including Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John XXIII. The shrine is home to the second-largest collection of holy relics in the United States.
In the old convent building there is a gift shop located on the first floor. It carries many articles of devotion, statues, and décor. On the second floor pilgrims are treated to a museum with a history of the Sisters and early rural life in Mercer County. The outside patio is adorned with pictures of the area churches that dot the country side hanging on the walls. A statue garden of various saints provides a quiet place for reflection and prayer.
Looking towards the future the Sisters of the Precious Blood are now turning to the laity to secure the future of the landmark Maria Stein Shrine. The sisters are deeding the building and 24 acres of land to the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics, an established 501c3 nonprofit corporation which will assume operations of the shrine on Jan. 1, 2017.
“Although education was once the primary ministry, the sisters never forgot the importance of the holy relics housed at the convent at Maria Stein, now the Shrine,” said Sister Joyce Lehman, C.PP.S., president of the congregation, “After more than 180 years of caring for the relics, we realize now that we would need the help of the laity in new ways to ensure the shrine’s future.”
The Legacy Fund has been established to help support and continue the ministries at the shrine for future generations. It was determined that a $6,000,000 fund will generate the earnings needed to replace the annual gift the Sisters of the Precious Blood made toward the ministries of the shrine and provide adequate income for maintenance and operations.
The first $2,000,000 has been donated by the Sisters of the Precious Blood. An anonymous donor has committed up to $2,000,000 in matching gifts. Nearly $1 million has already been pledged and gifted from area businesses and individuals. The $2,000,000 match extends to pledges and donations committed by Dec. 31, 2017. Gifts or pledges of $2,500 or more will be recognized on a donor wall at the shrine.
For generations, many families have been part of the Land of the Cross Tipped Churches and the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics. This is an opportunity maintain the relics at Maria Stein and preserve this beautiful sacred space for centuries to come.
“The German Catholic community, whose ancestors learned much of their spirituality from the Sisters of the Precious Blood, has demonstrated a real commitment to the Shrine,” said Don Rosenbeck, president of Maria Stein of the Holy Relics. “Just as local parishes are involving the laity more and more, so too will the shrine.”
“Maria Stein and Mercer County, God’s country, is a very meaningful and important place to the Sisters of the Precious Blood,” said Sister Joyce, “We believe the laity are more than capable of doing and holding sacred what we have held sacred all these years. Although we’re comfortable knowing that, this is still a difficult decision and it’s a sad decision for us to have to make because we spent 170 years . . .being the guardians of this land and of the rich treasure of both faith and of the relics that we have here. We do trust, however, that it’s going to be in good hands and that the ministry will continue for the greater honor and glory of God.”
The Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics provides faith nourishment and spiritual renewal through prayer, pilgrimage and inspiration from the lives of the saints. People from around the world visit the Shrine to explore and enjoy this environment rich in holiness and history. For the many that come and enter the quiet of the chapels, peace returns and energies are renewed. It is where the cares, problems and worries of daily life can be placed in God’s hands. For many, healing of mind and spirit are sought and obtained. This tranquil country setting allows the heart and soul to find relief from the turbulence of fast living.
The Shrine is open Monday – Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Friday & Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. And on Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Closed on Major Holidays. For more information, or to contact the Shrine visit www.mariasteinshrine.org, or call 419-925-4532.