|Father Theophilus Riesinger outside St. Joseph’s Church.|
[Inset] A younger Father Theo at Our Lady of Sorrows.
July 17, 1931
It was early morning in Vatican City. Most people were asleep, including the pope himself, Pius XI. But his stone-faced Papal Secretary of State never slept, or so it seemed as he tackled the papers at his desk at 2 a.m. It was a fraught time to head up Vatican affairs, and the stress took its toll. Pamphlets had circulated the last few days accusing the pope of being an anti- Fascist agitator and calling for his arrest. “Down with the pope!” was the slogan of the day. The Vatican bureaucrat was pulling an all-nighter to deal with the fallout. That’s when a deafening roar sent him flying from his seat.
Though possession always claimed a place in Church doctrine, some dioceses wanted nothing to do with the concept, and the leaders of Theo’s drew a line in the sand. The split with the local Catholic authorities ran deep enough to ship Theo out of the Big Apple.
Exiled to Marathon, Wisconsin, he ministered to a modest church called St. Anthony’s. He fit right into the rural ethos. He was the rare priest who could go from giving communion at services to wielding an ax to clear land for a new building.
Classifying the case as a true possession, Father Theo urged Emma to allow him to place her at St. Joseph Parish in Earling, Iowa, where she would be cared for by the Franciscan sisters. He hoped Earling’s isolation would conceal her condition from others. “I should like to have her brought here,” Theo explained at Earling, “since it would create too much excitement in her home.” Emma feared what might happen but agreed. “I will come, no matter how hard it will be,” she wrote in a letter to Father Theo.