Sister Mary Philip Barfussler, the daughter of Simon and Agatha, was born on August 17, 1886 in Wurttemberg, Germany. She learned an appreciation of nature from her grandfather. 

In recounting her early days, she shared that at the age of three, she helped fluff the horsehair. In front of the window were beehives with bees swarming over them, and they were forbidden to hit or chase the bees. No one got stung.

Family Shake-up

Her grandfather died, and the home was sold. When Mary Philip was six years old, her mother became ill and died. It was heartbreaking to see her father cry. After the death of her mother, Mary Philip moved into various homes, with relatives and with strangers. Eventually her stepmother took the children to a new place.  

An epidemic struck the country, and two of her sisters died in 1893. She eventually was educated and worked caring for younger children. In 1899, she wished to enter a convent in Bavaria, but didn’t have the money needed to enter. 

Circumstances took Sister Mary Philip Barfussler to Nazareth convent and she entered the congregation in Banjaluka, Jugoslavia and the novitiate in 1905.   Hard life and circumstances formed Philip into a resilient woman to be able to do what needed to be done in difficult situations.   

She came to America in September 1908 to join the sisters in Alton, Illinois, where she spent 10 years teaching. She was forced to take a six-month rest at a sanatorium in Cresson, Pennsylvania. She continued to teach after the rest. In 1922, she was appointed the “economa,” or finance person, a position she held through the Great Depression and until 1947. 

Arrive in America

In 1925, the provincial house was transferred from Alton, Illinois to Columbia, Pennsylvania. Sister Mary Philip Barfussler was appointed to supervise 125 acres of rich farmland at the new provincial property. She spent long hours in the fields, especially at harvest time. It was a familiar sight to see her driving the tractor through the fields and directing the butchering at the farm. She knew and loved every inch of the motherhouse property. She loved the animals and had a name for each of the 36 cows and pigs. She had name plaques above each of their stalls in the barn. If a cow were good stock, Sister Philip would name its offspring, using the same initial as the mother’s name.

“This way I can tell to which cow the offspring belongs,” she said.  

It was the farm animals, the garden vegetables, and the culinary skills of the women in the kitchen that kept food on the table for the workers on the farm, the guests at St. Anne’s, and the Sisters at the motherhouse during the Depression years. A notation on Mary Philip’s 1935 report states: “Several of the parishes are indebted to our Community for a considerable sum; they promised to pay up as soon as the dear Lord gives a better time.”

Create a Grotto

In 1929, she and Martin Gruber worked in an area that was once a limekiln on the property. Together they created a grotto replicating Our Lady of Lourdes grotto.  

Along the pathway around the grotto and up the hill, the Stations of the Cross were placed and imbedded in stone columns that came from the property. 

Sister Mary Philip Barfussler’s love of creation in part inspired the Adorers’ 2005 Land Ethic, which guides our decisions such as resisting a planned pipeline in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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