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  • A brief history from our

A more extensive history:

  • History of the Sisters of the Precious Blood
  • How the Sisters acquired the relics of the saints
  • Why do we venerate saints’ relics?
  • Some facts about the Maria Stein relics
  • About the chapels
  • A Brief History From Our BROCHURE

The Remembrances of the Saints

The National Marian Shrine of the Holy Relics was founded in 1875 when Father J.M. Gartner entrusted his collection of relics to the Sisters at Maria Stein.

Housed in a beautiful chapel built in 1892, the collection, with over 1000 relics on display, represents the second largest collection of its type in the United States (after St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburg). The Shrine was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The primary display of relics is in an altar that was hand-carved especially for this purpose. Four beautiful stained-glass windows imported from Munich, Germany and hand- carved woodwork also adorn the Relic Chapel.

A Ministry of Service

The Maria Stein Heritage Museum and the National Marian Shrine of the Holy Relics serve as the focal point for the history of the Roman Catholic Church and the early settlers to America’s original frontier.

Owned and operated by The Sisters of the Precious Blood, the Museum and the Shrine exist as a part of the Sisters’ overall ministry of service to the community.

Preserving a Culture for Future Generations

The Maria Stein Heritage Museum opened in 1982 and is designed to interpret the early settlement of southern Auglaize and Mercer counties in Ohio.

Settlers to this area were largely of German descent and of the Roman Catholic faith. The displays in the museum reflect their way of life in the mid to late nineteenth century.

Special attention is given to the history of the Sisters of the Precious Blood and their contribution to the cultural development of these early pioneers.

A Research Tool for Scholars

The museum is located on the second floor of the former convent building at Maria Stein Center. This structure was placed on the National register of Historic Places in 1979 as part of The Land of Cross-Tipped Churches of Ohio.

The Maria Stein Heritage Museum serves as a research tool for scholars and educators. Students from Wright State University, The University of Dayton, and Capitol University have conducted research in various fields of study.

The museum’s genealogical, cultural, and architectural history is of interest to visitors from throughout the world.

Special Displays

In addition to the permanent displays, the Maria Stein Heritage Museum features exhibits which change annually.

A few examples of these expositions include: early homes of the region, lace making, presentations by local artists and craftspeople, and a quilt collection.

Such exhibitions make each visit to the Maria Stein Heritage Museum a new and exciting experience.


History of the Sisters of the Precious Blood

The Sisters of the Precious Blood came to the United States from northern Switzerland in 1844 and settled in Peru, Ohio.  In 1846 the Sisters, Brothers and Fathers of the Precious Blood came to Maria Stein.  This is the site of the first permanent Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.  Sisters have prayed and ministered here at Maria Stein without interruption since 1846.  In the early years their life was quite simple-a life of prayer and manual labor.  The Sisters and Brothers did all the practical things to keep a large community flourishing.  This freed the priests to devote themselves to the spiritual care of the German speaking people of the area.

The Motherhouse was moved from Maria Stein to Dayton, Ohio in 1923.  One of the motives for moving was the desire of the Sisters to have perpetual exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati was reluctant to give such permission unless the location of the adoration chapel was in a more densely populated area which would allow laity to join the Sisters in prayer.  A second motive was that by now the Congregation had taken on a number of schools and it was necessary for the Sisters to receive higher education-which they received from the University of Dayton.  Dayton seemed to meet both needs.

To this day Maria Stein remains a symbol for the Sisters of the Precious Blood.  Their roots lie in perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in living a simple life.  A museum on the second floor of this building traces the history of the Congregation’s settling in Ohio and its subsequent growth.  While it is true that the number of sisters has diminished in recent years, the over 230 members of the Congregation still maintain today that they were founded for a spirituality-devotion to the Eucharist and to the Precious Blood of Jesus.  Eucharistic spirituality continues to be the foundation of their vowed lives.  Now ministering in varied locales and countries, their Mission Statement reads:  “We commit ourselves to be passionate disciples of Jesus, the Christ, as we dare to be a reconciling, life-giving presence in our fractured world.”

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How the Sisters acquired these relics

Father Francis de Sales Brunner (the Missionary of the Precious Blood who brought the Sisters to America) was an ardent collector of relics.  On his very first voyage to America he brought along the reliquary containing the body of St. Concordia-the largest reliquary in the bottom of the altar case housing the Fr. Brunner Collection.  He was also instrumental in bringing to the U.S. the remains of Sts. Innocent, Cruser, Rogatus and the body of St. Victoria.  In 1845 Sisters Lucy Joos and Johanna Gruenfelder brought from Europe a large collection of 600 relics and presented them to Fr. Brunner as a gift.  At that time these relics were of saints honored on each day of the liturgical calendar.  This collection is displayed in the upper part of the Fr. Brunner case.  This particular collection has always been at the Motherhouse, first in Maria Stein, then in Dayton, and when the Sisters moved into a smaller building in Dayton, it was returned to Maria Stein and placed in the sacristy where it remained for almost a quarter of a century.  With the 2002 restoration of the chapels the case of 600 relics was given a place in the Relic Chapel so that those saints could be venerated by the many pilgrims who journey to Maria Stein Center.

In December, 1872 Rev. J.M. Gartner was in Rome on business for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during which time he acquired a wonderful collection of about 175 relics.  He intended to distribute them among several churches when he returned to the United States, but Cardinal McCloskey of New York encouraged him to keep them together as a collection.  He carried the relics to several cities for public veneration.  Finally, in 1875 he chose Maria Stein as the permanent home for his collection.  At first the relics were kept in a small room adjacent to the Sisters’ chapel (in the original building here at Maria Stein, marked by the quadrangle walls of the courtyard).  Soon news of the relics spread and pilgrims began to arrive to venerate them.  Plans were made for the building of a larger convent with a Sisters’ chapel and a chapel for displaying the relics.  On June 11, 1890 Archbishop Henry Elder laid the cornerstone.  On November 22, 1892 the two chapels were dedicated:  the adoration chapel of the Sisters under the patronage of Mary, Help of Christians, and the relic chapel under the patronage of the Sacred Heart.  The majority of the Gartner collection was displayed on the three main altars in the relic chapel.  They remain there to this day.

For over a century Maria Stein Shrine has been the destination of devout pilgrims who have come by the countless thousands from all over the world.  In this veritable “holy land” people can find rest and peace, solace and prayer.

All of this rich history has only one purpose, expressed so aptly in the German inscription on the front of the Communion rail in the Sacred Heart Relic Chapel:  Gepriesen sei Gott in seinen Engel und Heiligen-Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints.
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Why do we venerate saints’ relics?

From the very beginning of the Church the martyrs have been held in especially high esteem because they so perfectly conformed their lives to Christ, even to death.  At first, because of the persecution of Christians, it became customary to gather at a martyr’s tomb for the celebration of Eucharist.  Since the Eucharist memorializes Jesus’ self-sacrifice, it is fitting also to remember the martyr’s self-sacrifice by the celebration of this sublime sacrament.  Eventually, when possible, churches were built over their tombs-St. Peter’s in Rome is a well-known example.  Finally, when building over a tomb was not possible, relics of the saints would be imbedded in an altar stone.  This custom continues in many local churches, though since Vatican II, it is no longer required.

The saints are those who have lived exemplary Christian lives and can serve as models of Christian virtue.  The relics-especially first class relics which are of the body of the saint-are reminders that we are a sacramental Church.  These relics are visible, tangible signs to us that we are called to lives of holiness and self-sacrifice, that we are all members of the communion of saints, and that those who have gone to heaven before us always intercede for us before God Almighty.  Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints!
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Some facts about the Maria Stein Relics

1.  The display case on the wall near the entrance to the Sacred Heart Relic Chapel includes some brief information about relics and under what circumstances a relic may be displayed for public veneration.

2.  This collection includes 855 reliquaries and 1075 relics.  The single reliquary containing the most relics in the collection is #865, the large oval to the right of the St. Gaspar statue in the St. Gaspar Shrine.  It contains 70 relics.  This was Fr. Francis de Sales Brunner’s personal reliquary.

3.  95% of the relics in the Maria Stein collection are first class relics.  First class relics are from the body of the saint, usually a fragment of bone.  Second class relics are things taken from the life of the saint, like clothing, a prayerbook, etc.  Third class relics are objects touched to the material remains of a saint.

4. The collection of relics at Maria Stein Center is the second largest in the United States.

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About the chapels

Romanesque in style with its great round arches and barrel vaults, these two small chapels are real jewels.  Several unique features distinguish each of them.

Mary, Help of Christians Adoration Chapel.  Built as the Sisters’ chapel, this sacred space is marked by simplicity, compared to the ornate stained glass windows and wood carvings in the relic chapel.

The most striking features include the double vaulted ceiling over the sanctuary, and the oil painting titled Mary, Help of Christians on the ceiling of the chapel.  This painting is signed and dated:  P. Trost, 1924.  Father Paulinus Trost was a Missionary of the Precious Blood.  He included in his signature the Latin inscription: Ut in omnibus honorificatur Deus! translated: “So that God may be glorified in all things” (1 Peter 4:11).

The English, German and Latin inscription painted on the arch above the sanctuary is translated:  “St. Anthony, pray for us.  Blood of Jesus Christ, cleanse us”(1 John 1:7).

One notices how the main altar in this chapel looks cut off.  The story handed down is that the altar arrived before the workers were ready to place it in chapel.  It was stored outdoors where weather ruined the top part of it!  The altars in both chapels were crafted by Schroeder Brothers of Cincinnati and are made of native quarter-cut white oak.

The color of the rose window comes from an outside window constructed behind it.  The shades of yellow-gold are highlighted by the light that streams through it on a bright sunny day and reminds one of the Son of Justice to whom the adorers give honor.

The fleur-de-lis motif in the windows was chosen for the stenciling which was added below the ceiling molding during the 2002 restoration.  Literally translated as “flower of the lily,” it is a traditional symbol for Mary.  All chapels of the sisters of the Precious Blood have been dedicated to Mary under one of her many titles.

Some of the original double-seat pews have been maintained for their historical value.  They are now in the relic chapel.  Comfortable chairs with kneelers and arm rests provide increased seating capacity in the main chapel.

The original balcony-choir loft has been walled in and is now a conference room named “Sr. M. Cordelia Gast Gallery.”  Sister Cordelia, 1916 – 2002, was a long-time resident at Maria Stein Center.  She spent her life as a teacher, artist and historian.  Visitors are invited to the second floor to see the gallery which features some of her artwork.

The Sacred Heart Relic Chapel.  Many outstanding features contribute to the awesome beauty of this chapel, one of which is the central dome with the Holy Spirit stained glass window.  Ornate wood carvings, stained glass windows from Munich, Germany and the beauty of the reliquaries bring all who come to a hushed reverence.

The oil painting of Maria-im-Stein (Mary of the Rock), which hangs on the wall near the entrance to the chapel, is from Mariastein, Switzerland.  It was given to Fr. Brunner before his first trip to America as a gift from the abbot of the Benedictine Klostermariastein.

In the 2002 renovations, the Fr. Brunner Collection of relics was fittingly moved from the sacristy to the left wall of the chapel.  It represents the oldest and first collection of relics placed in the Sisters’ care.  The three altars on the front wall in this chapel were constructed specifically to house the Fr. Gartner collection entrusted to the Sisters in 1875.  An impressive reliquary is the glass enclosure beneath the Sacred Heart altar which contains the body of the martyr, St. Victoria.  The Sisters fashioned the wax body and the bejeweled clothes before the case was sealed in 1892.  The rings on her fingers were placed there as acts of piety.  The position of the right hand is typical of ancient burial customs denoting a person of nobility.  Martyrs join the ranks of Christ’s noble company of saints.

The red and gold stenciling in the St. Gaspar Shrine on the east wall of the chapel was discovered during the 2002 restoration process.  Photographs verify that it is original stenciling.  Conservators replicated the pattern and colors and added stenciling around the lower part of the chapel.  Conservators also carefully stripped away layer upon layer of paint to discover the grapevine pattern around the windows.  The grapevine stenciling once again surrounds the four windows.

All the relics were removed and catalogued, and each metal reliquary cleaned and repaired during the renovation.  This was an opportune time to make some choices about the placement of relics.  Matching reliquaries were placed in the altar niches and are believed to be from the original collection.  Central in this collection is the beautiful reliquary above the tabernacle which contains a relic of Our Lord’s true cross.  The tabernacle contains two relics:  one of the true cross and one of St. Peregrine who is the patron of cancer patients.  These relics are occasionally used for special prayer events.  

Moving to the case on the east wall, the relics on either side of the St. Gaspar statue are of Precious Blood patrons.  The panel to the immediate right of the statue contains relics of beloved saints, among them:  St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and another relic of the true cross which is displayed in the large, ornate, cross-shaped reliquary.  The far right panel includes reliquaries with multiple relics.  The panel immediately to the left of the center includes saints of the Americas.

On the rear wall of this chapel is a case with a brief explanation of relics of the saints.  A reliquary has been opened to show how a relic is sealed into its case.  The document for this relic (St. Thomas Aquinas), with the official seal of authentication which matches the seal in red wax on the back of the relic case, is also displayed.  Below this case is a binder listing all the saints whose relics are honored in this chapel.  The binder also includes a guide for locating each of the relics in the Maria Stein collection.

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