by Fr. David Matz, C.PP.S., Interim Director of Companions
It was warm and muggy when Fr. Ron Will and I left for the Dakotas to visit the Precious Blood Companions there. It didn’t matter the weather changed back to cold and rainy on the journey as we reached South Dakota; as soon as Claire Ann Wheeler and Doris Weber opened the door, Ron and I were warmly welcomed as long-lost brothers reunited with our family. This was a foretaste of many doors opened to us as we wandered the edges of our old missionary territory.
Eleven years had passed since I was on the edge of the Dakota plains. Jeanette Kolberg pulled out a copy of The New Wine Press from May 2003, with a picture and an article of the North Dakota Companions who made covenant. She said, “This was the last time we gathered as a community and with community members in North Dakota.” I took a gulp and gasped ashamedly, “It has been that long?” In the photo, Fr. Al Ebach and I were with the companions from Linton and Bismarck. Jeanette wasn’t chastising us for our long absence; there was excitement to see us, and a fondness for the times when we told stories and ate together at a common table. Our souls and our relationships were nurtured.
One afternoon, Ron and I were walking the main street of Linton, stopping in stores to look for people Ron recognized from his tenure as pastor. When we entered the bakery, out walked Mary, who recognized Ron immediately. For next few minutes she shared with us about her family and bakery over the past twenty years since Ron left. The sweet aroma of freshly baked bread gave way to harsh reality as Mary recounted the struggles with her daughter-in-law’s sudden death while giving birth to a child that died fifteen days later, and her son’s resulting dark depression. She shared that a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the Cross became her saving grace; now she understood the pain and surrender Mary experienced at there. Ron and I looked at each other and immediately thought the same thing, “This woman knows and lives Precious Blood Spirituality.”
After a tour of the bakery, Mary offered us some pastries and we thanked her for sharing her story and her bakery with us. Outside, Ron and I paused for a moment to give thanks for a woman who broke bread with us and left us with the aroma of hope in the precious blood of Christ.
We shared this moment with the Linton companions at our gathering with them. They hadn’t met as a group in eleven years, yet they chose to renew their covenants. We challenged them to invite people like Mary who showed us such a profound faith in God. We challenged our Bismarck and Aberdeen companions as well to look for people who would welcome an invitation to reflect on Precious Blood Spirituality. A gift is given and meant to be shared; Ron and I felt Mary had given us the gift of faith, not only with sweet rolls but also with the brokenness of her life.
Over the last year, I have been asked how our companions in Wisconsin and North and South Dakota are doing. I answer they are all living their busy lives like the rest of us. Yes, they miss the presence of the Precious Blood Missionaries, brothers and priests; it inspired hope and a love of community in them. One companion said she thought about not renewing her covenant because her group hadn’t gathered in 11 years. But within the few short days of our visit, spirits were renewed and inspired with a hope that nourished our relationships with each other. Will this companion group begin to gather regularly again? Will the sharing of our chance encounter with Mary bring about new growth? Only time will tell.
People of Precious Blood Spirituality are everywhere, especially in a bakery on Main Street in Linton, North Dakota where even sweet bread broken gives life. A visit to the northern edge of our province challenges all of us to be more intentional about gathering together, even for a short while. As Joe Nassal wrote in the Psalm of the Edge, “St. Gaspar take us to the edge…. Give us courage to find our home on the edge where heaven meets earth and hope is born.”