Browsing Sisters of St.Rita

New article about the Rita Sisters on the website of the Diocese of Würzburg-In the spirit of Christmas all year round

12/21/2022 | 12:18 p.m

© Kerstin Schmeiser-Weiss (POW)
Rita's sister Agnesia Greß makes the straw stars for the Christmas trees in St. Kilian's Cathedral and in the Marienkapelle - again 100 stars for the cathedral parish presented - "I like doing it because the people are happy about it"

Würzburg (POW) Every year at Christmas they are the eye-catcher in St. Kilian's Cathedral: Countless large, handmade straw stars decorate the Christmas tree, which the Dommesner set up in the chancel this week. Some resemble small suns, others are reminiscent of snowflakes with their many jagged tips. The Christmas trees in Neumünster and in the Marienkapelle are also decorated with straw stars. All were lovingly handcrafted by Rita's sister Agnesia Greß (91). "I like doing it because people are happy about it."

Greß always has a bit of a Christmas spirit. "She makes straw stars all year round," reveals Superior General Rita-Maria Käß. Greß has set up a small "straw star workshop" on a large table by the window. There are straws in one box, a dozen ready-made straw stars and glittering gold thread in the other, and three different-sized red plastic spreaders. Greß prepared the straws himself: “I soak them in cold water for half an hour. Then I put them in a small tub so that the water runs out.” After one to two hours, the stalks are dry and supple. With a large pair of scissors, which her mother gave her, Greß straightens the stalks until they are completely flat. You can also iron the straws. "But I don't need electricity like this.

The nun makes the straw stars in three diameters – 22, 13, and eleven centimeters. “The big stars go the easiest. The small ones are more sensitive.” She only made large stars for the cathedral, after all, they should still be clearly visible from a distance. Each star consists of 24 individual straws, which she places in the laying form with nimble movements. "You can't hold so many individual stalks in your hand." She was given the forms by her superior general in Geldersheim, she says. “She did a lot of handicrafts and was given the templates and description. But she didn't handle it that well. I then sat down with it one evening and made several straw stars at once.”

After she has placed all the stalks in the form, she counts them again and carefully examines the star from all sides to see if everything fits. Then she cuts a long piece of the gold thread and wraps it around the individual stalks until the thread winds like a glittering circle around the center of the star. She nimbly winds the thread forwards and backward again - so fast that you can hardly keep up with your eyes. Finally, she works the tips a little with scissors "so that the star gets nice spikes" and attaches another piece of gold thread as a hanger. "The string to hang it has to be as long as the star," she explains. Normally she needs about three-quarters of an hour for a star, she has calculated.

"I prefer to make straw stars when I'm alone and in peace," says Greß. You shouldn't think too much about it, then the work will be best. She handed over the first stars for St. Kilian's Cathedral in 2003. The Dommesner at the time, Klaus Rind, had complained about the "shabbiest Christmas stars in all of Würzburg". Somehow, word got around that Greß makes straw stars, and so she made 300 large stars at the request of the cathedral parish - artistic structures with a wreath of large and small spikes. When mice gnawed at the straw stars in the Marienkapelle in 2010, she made another 180 stars. She later gave another 100 stars to the cathedral parish. And only in autumn did she hand over another 100 stars to cathedral priest Stefan Gessner – “as a reserve”.

Straw stars of the Rita sister hang, among other places, in the Himmelpforten retreat house, in a church in Munich and in Aachen Cathedral, in the branches of the order in America and Switzerland "and in many places that I don't even know". The delegation from the Brazilian partner diocese of Óbidos, which visited the diocese of Würzburg in October, also received straw stars as a farewell. Word got around, "and then the orders came," says Generaloberin Käß. Someone came again during Advent and fetched small straw stars to enclose with Christmas letters.

An end to straw star production is not in sight. A large box full of straws is waiting to be processed on a shelf in Gress's room. When the Christmas services were broadcast on television last year, she also saw the Christmas tree in St. Kilian's Cathedral, decorated with her stars, says Greß. “They were hung very nicely. I thought to myself: keep doing this as long as you can.”