Yet most people don’t even know that they’re there.
“A lot of times when we tell people where they’re at, they say ‘Oh so that’s what that is!’” said Leah Wand, public relations director for the Sisters.
The order of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood was founded in Steinerberg, Switzerland in 1845. They remained there briefly before fleeing to France from religious persecution and then settling in Germany, where they established their first convent in an old tavern. Threatened by further persecution, nine Sisters boarded a ship bound for the United States in 1870.
After a few years in a temporary home in Illinois, the order came to O’Fallon in 1875—that’s 137 years ago—to a plot of land gifted from Assumption Parish and on which they remain to this day. A chapel, Villa Theresa senior living community, a cemetery, and other operational facilities replace the simple log cabin that initially stood on the land. The buildings that are now O’Fallon City Hall served as St. Charles Community College in its first year, and before that, as St. Mary’s College and Academy.The city once relied on a well dug by the Sisters as their primary water supply.
Most of the nuns who live on the property today are retired, so their focus is prayer and presence in the community. Sisters who are still working are active in all parts of the world: while a majority of those in the States work in the St. Louis area, they are also established in Bolivia, Peru, Finland, Estonia, and Italy, says Wand.
“Their reach stretches far and wide, which is kind of neat, to think that there’s only 142 women but they’re all over,” said Wand.
No matter where they are, the Sisters of the order are united by a common goal.
“Their careism, or what companies would call their mission statement, is reconciliation,” said Wand. “And a lot of times when we say reconciliation, if you’re Catholic you'd think [confession], but reconciliation is really all about building relationships, healing, bringing all kinds of different people to the table, and helping people. That’s kind of their main mission that all of their work comes from.”
This work comes in a variety of forms. Sisters work largely in education, but also in parish ministries, in prison ministries, and with the poor. They sponsor adult day-care centers in St. Louis and are looking to start one in the St. Charles county area. All of these ministries are non-denominational; the religious beliefs of those who the Sisters help is not a concern, said Wand. They have also launched a Partners in Mission program, where over 55 local men and women have committed themselves to the mission of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, without taking the binding vows that the Sisters do.
One of the ministries for which they are the most renowned is ecclesiastical art, or religious hand-embroidered vestments and tapestries. The embroidered stole worn by Pope John Paul II during his 1999 visit to St. Louis was a gift from the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. They began this practice early in their existence as a primary source of income, but continue making religious art for every denomination to this day.
“That’s a true testament to commitment,” said Wand—commitment evident in their dedication to O’Fallon.
“It’s fun to go up and ask some of the older sisters [about the history]; they know when McGurk’s was a small store. The railroad tracks, a lot of them came here by them,” said Wand. “There’s always just been a great relationship between the people and the businesses of O’Fallon and the sisters. They would never want to lose that or leave that.”
The Sisters have been a part of the community for a long time, and have been members of the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce for 24 of those years. Though few would call their work a “business,” Wand says that they are members of the organization for a reason.
“They’ve always been smart businesswomen, and a lot of people don’t think about that. They have to raise money and cultivate funds,” said Wand. “The Chamber of Commerce is a wonderful way to educate more people on the work they do, and also to learn what other businesses are doing …They know the importance of networking and building relationships with the people who are doing good works, and a lot of that is done by the O’Fallon businesses.”
And that, Wand says, is what it all comes down to.
“They are wonderful, smart, intelligent women and they just are really about doing good works.”