From Convent to Motherhouse
Founded in 1846, the Maria Stein Shrine location was the third Convent of ten built by Fr. Brunner in the new world. Governed by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; Sisters, Priests, and Brothers lived on the property. Sisters lived in the brick Convent and men lived what was the Gate house which stood in front of the Shrine south of the drive until the late 1990s.
The first log Convent was replaced with a permanent brick structure in 1860. This Convent’s first floor brick wall is still visible today as it has been turned into the courtyard located west of the Shrine.
This Convent served the Sisters well. However, when the collection of relics arrived in 1875 the building needed to be change a bit. With the influx of pilgrims, a stairway had to be added so that these guests would not violate the rules of the cloister. These stairs allowed access the chapel without having to pass through the Sisters’ living space. The short tower is still visible on the north side of the courtyard.
Twelve years passed and another change occurred at Maria Stein. In 1887 the Vatican ordered communities of men and women be independent. Mother Mary Kunegunda was the first Mother General and was now in charge of the Sisters of Precious Blood. The simple Maria Stein Convent became the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Precious Blood. This site housed the administration as well as the formation center for new members of the community. The usual ministries of Convents, like host-making, farming, and statue-making remained.
From Motherhouse to Convent
The Motherhouse was the center of the Community. It is where the Community came together to make big decisions. The Sisters gathered in its chapel for daily prayer, Eucharistic Adoration and vow professions. A large chapel for the Sisters’ use and a smaller one for pilgrims were constructed in 1892 to replace the cramped 1860 Convent chapel.
In 1901 a new Motherhouse, much larger and modern, was completed. It is the building that houses the museum, gift shop, and offices of the Shrine today. This was a nice change for Sisters, as some had private rooms and it provided a large kitchen and dining room for the Sisters.
However, it would only keep its status of ‘Motherhouse’ for twenty-two years. Mother Mary Emma Nunlist realized that a Community active in teaching and other ministries was outgrowing the strict Benedictine model. Many of the ten large Convents were closed so Sisters could live in smaller Convents next to the schools they worked in. Many Sisters needed to be state certified teachers (because the Community worked in Public and Parochial Schools) Mother Emma knew education was important. The Motherhouse was moved to Dayton in 1923. Sisters had a more spacious building, near the University of Dayton, and in a more urban area so perpetual Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament could be possible in the Motherhouse chapel with laity people joining the Sisters.
This caused things to change again; Maria Stein was now simply a Convent. It was where the older Sisters spent their retirement in peace, many might have reflected on their youth which was spent under the same roof. Pilgrims came to visit the Relic Chapel, welcomed by the Sisters generous hospitality, for prayer and a peaceful moment in God’s presence.
From Convent to Center
Life changed again for those in the Maria Stein Convent in the 1950s. A new wing was built at the Motherhouse in Dayton where Sisters could live out their retirement. There was no longer a need to them to stay so far away from the Motherhouse.
This new development could have brought about an end to the Eucharistic Adoration which had been happening on site for over a century. But, the local people, knowing how important those prayers had been to their success, began coming to the Adoration Chapel at Maria Stein. In 2017 this group, formally called the Adoration Guild, celebrated their sixtieth anniversary.
Now that many of the rooms were vacant, some of the Sisters who remained got creative with the extra space. They decided that one part of the Convent could be used by lay women wishing to make retreat. In 1953 the first lay women’s retreat was held on the property. These became very popular for women’s sodalities, high schools girls, and other groups so much so that they were out growing the space.
In 1962, less than a decade after the first retreat, a new retreat house building was dedicated. This had been a special project of Mother Mary Nathalia Smith, who was the visionary behind the retreat movement at Maria Stein.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s the former Motherhouse and its chapels along with the retreat house became known as the Maria Stein Center. This mainly was to show that the retreat house and the former Convent worked together in ministering to guests. It was also around this time that Sisters moved into the retreat house, leaving no Sisters housed in the historic third Brunner Convent.
From Center to Shrine
The Maria Stein Center hosted many retreats and pilgrims. The Sisters opened a Swiss Coffee Shop in the old west wing to offer hospitality and a gathering space for guests. They also opened a gift shop, not only for visitors to buy a memento of their time at the Center, but also for local people to buy gifts for loved ones celebrating a sacrament.
The Center was approached by the local community in the early 1990s asking if space might be made available for a pre-school. This would be quite a change from the usual life in the former Convent, but the Sisters have always responded generously to the needs of the community in which they minister. For about a decade young people came to Center for learning, faith, and fun, thus continuing the Sisters ministry in the field of education. It was housed in the former Sisters’ dining room. The preschool left and became part of the Marion Local School District just before work began on the 2002 renovations.
The Sisters realized they could not continue the outreach of the Maria Stein Center in the late 1990s; it was simply too large for them to manage. All the older out buildings, in disrepair and no longer needed for farming, would be raised. It was also decided that the Sisters would need to let go of their beloved retreat house, and consolidate resources to run the Relic Shrine.
The new millennium saw the Maria Stein Center become two separate institutions, as it is today. The retreat house was sold and is now the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein and governed by lay board. The former Motherhouse is now the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics and, until recently, it was under the leadership of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. In 2016 they announced their desire that the people of the area take over this ministry. In December 2017 that dream became a reality.
Some of the Sisters have shared their fondest memories of the Shrine. To read them, click here.