‘It’s our baptism that calls us’

An interview with the Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ

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Sister Florentia Riebel, left, and Sister Rosina Mies appear during an interview at the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent in Wichita, Kan., June 4, 2019. (James Neal)

WICHITA, Kan. — In the not-too-distant past, a trip to the hospital in Enid, Okla., could be as much a spiritual journey as a physical one, with nurses equally ready to tend to matters of medicine and faith.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, originally founded in 1915 as Enid Spring Sanatorium and Baths, was purchased in 1937 by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ of Wichita, Kan., an order of Catholic nuns. The nuns, who also were trained and registered as nurses, remained at St. Mary’s through several changes of ownership, beginning in 1984, until 2009.

I recently sat down at the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent in Wichita with the last two nuns to serve at St. Mary’s: Sister (Sr.) Rosina Mies, now 88, and Sr. Florentia Riebel, now 102 years old, who was at St. Mary’s for the entire term of the Adorers’ presence there, from 1937 to 2009.

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The original Adorers convent in Wichita, Kan.

Influence of Sisters

Born in 1917, Sr. Florentia was one of 12 children — seven boys and five girls. Four of them, Sr. Florentia and three of her sisters, ended up taking religious vows in the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.

Sr. Florentia, who’s known to many in Enid as “Sister Flo,” joined the convent when she was 16 years old, after the influence of the order’s nuns called her to a religious life.

“When I looked around, I wasn’t interested in boys,” Sr. Florentia said with a laugh, “and some of the sisters came and taught us religion classes, and that’s what influenced me to enter the Precious Blood Sisters.”

She was followed a year later by her younger sister, Leona, and later by sisters Barbara and Winifred, known to her friends as Winnie.

Sr. Florentia credits her siblings’ visits to the convent with them deciding to follow her into the order. “Being around us, they figured that’s what they wanted to do, so they entered in,” she said.

Sr. Rosina said in those days it wasn’t uncommon for multiple children from one family to enter the order.

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A scale model of a statue at the Adorers convent in Ruma, Illinois, honoring five Sisters killed during the civil war in Liberia in 1992, while serving in the west African nation. (James Neal)

“We have had a number where several members of the same family would come in,” she said. Her family, like Sr. Florentia’s, gave more than one child.

Sr. Rosina entered at age 17, about four years after her older sister, Mary Joseph. Growing up, Sr. Rosina said the children in her family were taught to respect the Adorers.

“Nobody ever said anything bad about a sister around my dad,” Sr. Rosina said. “There was great respect for sisters in the house because of that.”

Like Sr. Florentia, Sr. Rosina said she was drawn to the religious life by the influence of nuns who taught her in school.

A lifetime of nursing

The nuns could serve in a variety of capacities: at the convent, teaching school or serving on the bishop’s staff. Sr. Rosina’s older sister, Sr. Mary Joseph, served the bishop’s staff in Oklahoma City, but both Sr. Rosina and Sr. Florentia wanted to serve as nurses.

Sr. Florentia studied nursing about 10 years before Sr. Rosina, and after passing her state boards was placed in charge of the second floor at St. Mary’s.

When the polio epidemic struck, Sr. Florentia said there were no physical therapy nurses in the area trained to work with polio patients. She was sent to Chicago for a year of training, after which she returned to St. Mary’s to work full time with polio patients, mostly children.

Working with the polio patients gave Sr. Florentia some of her most memorable experiences in Enid. She recalled a 12-year-old boy, whom she drove in physical therapy with the will of a taskmaster to regain the use of his legs.

“As time went on, this particular patient became a Catholic, and he became a lawyer,” Sr. Florentia said, “and then 20 years later he had his wife call me — he still remembered me — and said, ‘Call Sister Flo and ask her to pray for me,’ because he was having open-heart surgery.”

With 72 years of service in the same hospital, it wasn’t uncommon for children Sr. Florentia had nursed to come back and visit her as adults. One of those cases involved a young girl whose recovery was studied by the Vatican as a miracle.

The girl, about 2 years old, was bed-ridden, with her legs bound to keep her in a position where she couldn’t choke in her sleep. She was not expected to live.

Acting on her faith, Sr. Florentia brought to the girl a relic of Maria Matilda De Mattias, the nun who founded the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in 1834 in the small town of Acuto, Italy.

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A painting of Acuto, Italy, where the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) was founded in 1834.

Sr. Florentia prayed to God, asked for intercession from Mother Maria Matilda, and touched the relic to the girl’s tongue.

The next day, Sr. Florentia asked another nun how the little girl was doing, and while she was waiting she “heard the pitter-patter of little feet.”

“She got out of that bed, she untied her legs … and came to me,” Sr. Florentia said.

That little girl grew up to be a healthy woman, had a family of her own and came back to Enid years later to visit Sr. Florentia.

When the Vatican took up the case of Mother Maria Matilda, Sr. Florentia’s testimony of the relic and the improbable curing of the young girl was used as evidence. Maria Matilda De Mattias was canonized by Pope John Paul II in May 2003, based on the evidence of another miraculous healing.

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Sister Florentia “Flo” Riebel and Sister Rosina Mies (from left), of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, pose June 4, 2019, next to a statue of their order’s founder, St. Maria Matilda De Mattias, in the convent in Wichita, Kan. (James Neal)

Faith of God

Sometimes, the experiences at St. Mary’s could only be explained by faith, Sr. Florentia said.

That was the case when a young woman, in her early-20s, came into the polio ward, ready to die.

“She said, ‘I can’t get well, and I want to die,'” Sr. Florentia said. The young woman had never known church or faith but wanted to be baptized before she died. Sensing there wasn’t time to call a priest, Sr. Florentia baptized the woman in the hospital room.

“I baptized her, and I prayed with her,” Sr. Florentia said. And then, the woman sat up and told Sr. Florentia Jesus was in the room.

“We just prayed together, and she saw him there,” Sr. Florentia said. “She saw him, and she closed her eyes and just died right there. God just took her.”

Faith in God was a constant aspect in all the nuns’ work, she said.

“When you took care of the patients, you always prayed with them asked God to take care of them,” she said, “and I think the way we put our faith and confidence in God, he really helped.”

Sr. Rosina said that blend of faith and medicine was common, and necessary, in the hospital’s ward for cancer patients.

“After the doctors would talk to the patients about the chemotherapy, they were very, very frightened,” Sr. Rosina said.

She said, oftentimes, the best medicine was simply a willing ear.

“I think a lot of times, what all of us should do is listen to what people have to say,” she said. “To have nurses who are supportive of the patients is the most important thing, especially with cancer patients. A lot of times you just had to be with them and pray with them.”

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A painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which hangs in the lobby of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent in Wichita, Kan. (James Neal)

During her years at St. Mary’s, Sr. Rosina said she saw many people come to faith as they neared death.

“There are some people for whom prayer just isn’t of value to them, until they get into the hospital,” she said. “Then, they need help, and they end up saying ‘God is here, and he is going to help me.'”

For those people, Sr. Rosina said there often was an inner struggle between their resistance to faith and their need to reach out to God.

“It is very difficult, if you don’t believe in God or prayer, and then you end up with cancer,” Sr. Rosina said. “It ends up being a real fight within them.”

For those patients, and for all who struggle with or reject faith today, Sr. Florentia and Sr. Rosina had a unified message: “God loves them anyway.”

“God loves each and every person on the face of this earth, whether they know it or not,” Sr. Rosina said.

“It’s up to us to let them know God loves them,” she said. “We love God very deeply with our whole hearts, and unless we can show that, we’re not really following our call.”

Today, 10 years after they left St. Mary’s, and well beyond when most people would retire, the last of Enid’s Adorers still feel that call.

“It’s our baptism that calls us,” Sr. Rosina said. “It’s our baptism into the life of Christ that calls us to love, and to serve.”

Sr. Florentia, who still leads an active religious life at the Adorers’ convent, said that call to serve is reflected in what it means to be an Adorer of the Blood of Christ.

“The Blood of Christ is a precious thing,” she said, “to remember and be comforted, and feel close to Christ, in that he shed his blood for your salvation.”

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The baptismal font holds a large and unmistakable presence at the entrance to the Adorers chapel at their convent in Wichita, Kan. (James Neal)

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