Fr. Jim Betzen, C.PP.S.
On the west end of the Davenport Diocese, three Precious Blood priests are working in Albia, Centerville and Ottumwa. Soon, there will be a fourth Precious Blood priest caring for the Catholic communities of Lovilia, Melrose and Georgetown. We Precious Blood priests are from the Kansas City Province of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood founded by St. Gaspar del Bufalo in 1815. To understand our community and our work, it is necessary to know St. Gaspar and our history.
Gaspar was born in Rome in 1786. As a child, he showed signs that he was directed towards the priesthood, teaching catechism to the neighborhood children. Gaspar was ordained in 1808. When he was a young priest, Italy was being overrun by the Napoleonic forces that oppressed the church. All priests were required to t
ake an oath of allegiance to Napoleon. Gaspar refused, resulting in his exile and imprisonment for four years. In 1814, with Napoleon’s rule over, Gaspar returned to preaching missions. Gathering fellow priests around him, he founded the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in 1815. Gaspar was motivated by the devotion of the Precious Blood that symbolized redemption and renewal. He and his companions worked tirelessly to renew the church in Italy, preach the Gospel to the poor and marginalized and bring about reconciliation. I think of the charisms of St. Gaspar as the three “R’s”: renewal, reconciliation and reaching out. These three charisms of St. Gaspar form the spirituality of the Precious Blood community today.
The Missionaries grew in Italy and spread across the Alps into Austria. From Austria, they immigrated in 1844 to western Ohio in the United States forming the beginning of the American Province. In 1965, the American Province, priests and brothers, which had grown to ove
r 500 members, divided into three provinces: Cincinnati, Kansas City and Pacific. (In recent years, the Pacific Province ceased for lack of members.) The Kansas City Province had a high school seminary in Liberty, Mo., which closed in 1983. The provincial center is in Liberty today. Our seminarians attend Xavier College in Chicago and graduate-level seminarians attend Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. With the Cincinnati Province, we sponsor a reconciliation ministry in Chicago, working with youths who experience poverty and violence. In 1997, the K.C. province began a mission in Vietnam and there are several vocations from there.
Today, most Precious Blood priests are stationed in parishes. Even though we do not preach missions as did our founder, St. Gaspar, I believe that the parish m
inistry we perform is influenced by our Precious Blood spirituality. We are taught and nourish a spirituality that promotes renewal in the church and we promote reconciliation in a society that is often judgmental and divisive. Our spirituality calls us to work for reconciliation rather than violence and the death penalty. We have a statement against gun violence and the death penalty. Our spirituality also calls us to work with immigrants and persons who are undocumented. We recently passed a statement on immigration reform. In our multicultural parish of St. Mary of the Visitation in Ottumwa, Sister Irene Munoz, CHM, and I reach out to our immigrant parishioners from different parts of the world. As a Precious Blood priest, I also reach out to the other marginalized parishioners, the youths, divorced and widowed, etc. Every parish has marginalized people in their parishes and all priests and parishioners can be missionaries in their own parishes.
If you are doing ministry in your parishes that includes reconciliation, renewal and reaching out, you are already living the Precious Blood spirituality began by St. Gaspar. Twenty-five years ago, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood began a lay associate movement called the Precious Blood Companions. Many of these companions are living the Precious Blood spirituality in their parishes doing ministry of reconciliation, renewal and ministry to the marginalized.
The Companion movement has been a way to spread the spirituality of the Precious Blood and increase support among those who are living this spirituality. Companion groups exist in Centerville and Albia. Hopefully, we can begin a Companion group here in Ottumwa.
(Fr. Jim Betzen, CPPS, is pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa.)