The first women who came to attempt the founding of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood didn’t waste any time when they arrived in the mountain canyons of New Mexico in 1947. With their official start being chosen at Pentecost that year, falling on May 25th, they were ready to be clothed in their wine red dresses by the Feast of the Precious Blood on July 1st, 1947. Father Gerald’s guidance was simple in that he favored a red color to honor the Precious Blood. Originally the first veils for this association of pious women were to be blue to honor Our Lady but quickly turned to a choice of white. It should be noted that no community in the Church is formed in one day, but that many years must pass, and much examination and discernment be made by Mother Church in approving new ways of living religious life. The first step is an association of pious women. So, not yet vowed or professed, they nevertheless were permitted to dress in a fashion that indicated their unity and mission. Wrote Father Gerald to his aspiring Handmaids, “I favor the dark red (for the Habit) but leave the material details to you.” Our very first Handmaid, Sister Elizabeth, was able to have an artist friend sketch a simple dress design even before they left for New Mexico from the East. They couldn’t yet be called true habits but it marked a special milestone in their journey in this adventurous new life.
As the first Handmaids moved forward from being a Pious Association to a Diocesan community and eventually to a Pontifical Institute some changes were made to what became the habit but the wine-red of the Precious Blood was never abandoned. A full length habit, scapular, veil, and rosary have long been the sisters attire. During the somewhat tumultuous days following the Second Vatican Council when many religious communities stopped wearing an identifiable habit, the Handmaids maintained our habits and especially our love for the significance of the attire that reminds us constantly that we are Brides of Christ.
A Clothing Day Prayer composed by Father Gerald for his spiritual daughters in receiving their new garb and in use by late 1947:
“Receive the robe which you will wear in Christ’s service. Its color will remind you of His Most Precious Blood in which your soul has been cleansed and to which, in God, you owe all that you are or ever will be.“Let your uniform be to you a daily reminder of the greatness of God’s generosity to you, which you are striving to both imitate and repay by the dedication of your life for the glorification of Christ’s Blood both in the Sacrament of His Love and the souls of men, more especially souls made, as it were, chalices of His Blood by reason of their sacerdotal character.”“Receive the Rosary of the Holy Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus. With it bind your mind and heart, imagination and will into the Heart of your Mother, and then – from this safe dwelling place, draw after you God’s priests and all mankind.”
We share a few photos from over the last 75 years. And a cartoon in memory of Sister Mercedes, who didn’t like to wear black, and her pastor, who jokingly asked if she thought as a nun she should expect to wear red.