Trusting God into the unknown

To trace the history of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, you must travel back in time hundreds of years and journey around the world from Beaverton, Oregon, to a castle in Switzerland.

From the foothills of the Swiss Alps to America’s Midwest

On Oct. 1, 1764, in a small farming village nestled in the foothills of the Swiss Alps, a linen weaver and his wife welcomed a baby girl.

When Maria Anna Brunner grew up, she was a loving wife and mother. But after her children were grown and her husband died, she wanted solitude. She found it at Löwenberg Castle, where her son, Father Francis de Sales Brunner, had opened a boarding school for boys.

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“Ansicht von Schloss Löwenberg” (View from Castle Löwenberg) by Matthias Gabriel Lory (Fils) Circa 1830. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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This painting of Maria Anna Brunner appears courtesy of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Dayton, Ohio.

In December 1832, mother and son made a pilgrimage to Rome, where both became devoted to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. In 1834, Mother Brunner founded the Sisters of the Precious Blood. She died two years later.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States was welcoming immigrants from around the world. Many German settlers found their new home in Ohio. In 1843, those settlers included Father Brunner. Under his leadership, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood became the first religious congregation of German heritage in the United States. Six months later, they were joined by Sisters of the Precious Blood.

In 1866, a dispute within the Precious Blood community led to one of its leaders – Father Joseph Albrecht – leaving Ohio with a group of parishioners, Sisters and Brothers. They eventually settled in Rush Lake, Minnesota.

But Father Albrecht’s disputes with the church followed him from Ohio to Minnesota and, in 1871, he was excommunicated by the bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota. Becoming more withdrawn and secretive, he groomed three lay trustees to serve as his successor after his death. Each had at least one daughter among the parishioners.

When Father Albrecht died on March 4, 1884, there was no priest to say Mass. There were two hostile camps in the parish. The trustees sent two men to Oregon to scout the possibility of moving there.

On July 24, 1884, Father Albrecht’s body was secretly concealed inside a large packing case and loaded onto a train bound for Oregon. Also on the train: 79 members of the community including a young woman who was an aspirant to the Sisters of the Precious Blood.

Her name was Emma Bleily.