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Text authored by Sister Rachel Doerfler, CSA

Two churches in Rome are dedicated to this saint: St. Agnes on the Piazza Navona and the Basilica of St. Agnes on the Via Nomentana. Both churches have attracted many visitors. Among those who found their way to the Basilica of St. Agnes was a zealous Austrian missionary priest, Father Caspar Rehrl. Having read of the urgent pleas of the Church in America for priests to serve the immigrants in the newly-opened lands, he felt God was calling him. He must go to America!

From the beginning of his missionary work, he was aware of how important it was to find others who would help with faith instructions, especially for the children. His initial efforts to find a Sisterhood failed, but he did not give up. In 1852, he set out for Europe hoping to find a religious order interested in sending Sisters to America, but found none. Deciding to return to America, he first stopped to pray at the tomb of St. Agnes. “Show me the way,” he pleaded. And she did! In a vision, he saw the saint leading a long procession of maidens clothed in a black-and-white religious garb. Was this the answer – for him to found a society of his own, with St. Agnes as the patroness of the members?

He outlined his plan to Pope Pius IX, also a devotee of St. Agnes, and was given approval to start this new undertaking. On his return to America he bought land at Barton, Wisconsin, and by December 1857 a church was built there. About one year later on the feast of St. Clare 1858, the Congregation of St. Agnes was born in Barton.

The rest is history and can be read in Ordinary Sisters written by Sister Margaret Lorimer, C.S.A., 2007.  


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