The history for the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood has its truest origin in the moment when their founder Abbot Francis Pfanner stood up during an assembly of Trappist Abbots and responded to a request of the South African Bishop Richards of the Eastern Cape for Trappist with his famous words, “If nobody goes, I will go.”
Who was this courageous man, steeped in God’s will and ready to go wherever he was sent? Abbot Francis Pfanner was born on 20.09.1825 on a farm in Langen in Austria. Already as a seminarian he felt called to become a missionary but because of ill health resigned himself to serve God a secular priest and then in 1863 as a member of the Trappist priory of Mariawald in the Eifel/Germany . After turbulent years of contemplative living that went hand in hand with hard physical work, he had built up Maria Stern in Bosnia, only to find himself challenged by God to venture out into His kingdom anew. With 31 fellow Trappist volunteers he left Europe and arrived at Port Elizabeth on 28 July 1880. There they started to build the Monastery Dunbrody yet adverse conditions made it a failure. Yet he did not tire and moved on up the coast where he decided to stop near Durban in 1882. This was a momentous decision since of it sprang a flourishing Trappist mission that soon reached across the whole of the Eastern coast of the then Natal.
However, without female helpers the work of evangelisation was too limited. To attract female helpers, to assist him in his various missionary endeavours, Abbot Francis published enthusiastic articles in German catholic magazines while also preaching in Europe about his missionary endeavours. He asked helpers to work side by side with the Zulu woman and girls, in a hot climate. Abbot Francis, a man of prayer and action, believed more in the effect of lived examples than of spoken words. Eventually, five young women responded and joined him leaving their home country forever. On 8 September 1885, which was to become the founding date of this young congregation of women called “the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood”, they appeared in a common uniform, a red skirt, black bodice, apron and cape, and a white bonnet. The founder explained that the colour red was to remind them always of the blood of Christ and the mandate of the fledgling congregation: ” to honour the Precious Blood in a special way and to make it fruitful through their apostolate” (cf. Const.1).
The life of these early women and those that were soon to follow them was simple and characterised by deprivation and great poverty. Yet, as cheerful and happy women these pioneers entered the houses of the people and brought them the good news of Christ with its gifts of redemption, hope and joy through their tireless work and committed availability.
Initially, these women did not join a regular novitiate but received direct instructions from their founder himself and were after two years admitted to private vows. One of them was Sister Paula, who was to become the first novice mistress, but also the faithful follower of the founder, who handed on his spirit that he wanted to have seen imparted on his sisters in the form of The Inner Spirit of a Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood, and thus the co-foundress.
The new missionary congregation quickly grew in numbers with more and more women following the call to be a missionary at Mariannhill. By 1888 there were 117 members. However, some found it very hard to adapt to totally different conditions of life and climate. Therefore the realization grew that a house of formation in Europe was necessary. And that is how it started that the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood, a Congregation founded on African soil by an Austrian Trappist monk, found its way back to Europe and eventually to different places all over the whole.
Indeed on 26 March 1889 the sisters began at Kirchherten in Germany, yet because of the difficulties connected to the “Kulturkampf” in Germany the sisters eventually on the advice of their founder moved to Helden-Panningen in the Netherlands. However, soon its convent became too small for the increasing number of postulants and novices, so that the new Superior of Mariannhill, Abbot Wolpert bought a rural property at Aarle-Rixtel near Helmond, Netherlands and by 15 July 1903 the last sisters made it their home.
A day of great rejoicing was 2 October 1906, when the Constitutions for the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood were approved by Pope Pius X. The first general chapter of the Congregation took place soon after, at Sr Paula Emunds was unanimously elected first canonical superior general, to the great delight of the founder and the sisters.
All along the missionary spirit of the founder and his early followers had led to the foundation of new mission stations in and around Mariannhill. Yet soon the Sisters also ventured to other countries all over the African continent but also the whole world. Indeed, the small congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood had soon established itself as an international congregation with houses in many different countries.