70-year mystery continues in Little Chute

Thanks to anonymous donor, florist places flowers at foot of church’s Marian statue

LITTLE CHUTE — There’s a Mother’s Day mystery afoot at St. John Nepomucene Church. For the past 69 years, flowers have shown up at the statue of the Blessed Virgin courtesy of an anonymous donor. Though parishioners enjoy the sight of the lovely flowers, no one has figured out who the donor is.

Karen Mulry holds a purple orchid corsage, similar to the one that is placed on the statue of Mary, seen in the background, at St. John Nepomucene Church in Little Chute. An anonymous request to place flowers on the statue has been sent to Reynebeau Floral in Little Chute for 70 years. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Karen Mulry, a parishioner who is retired from her family’s florist business, said every year an envelope with a one-sentence letter and a check arrives at Reynebeau Floral in Little Chute on the Thursday or Friday before Mother’s Day. “It’s always written the same and says, ‘Dear Florist, would you please put the annual purple orchid by the Blessed Virgin again this year? Thank you very much.’ The first check was for $2 and each year, it increased a little,” Mulry said.

“I remember that first one because it was my first Communion that year,” she said. That was 1947.

Her parents, Jack and Viola Reynebeau, owned and operated the florist business that they had started in 1935. “My mother did the orchid as a wrist corsage because the arms of the statue were extended,” Mulry continued. “After the church was remodeled, the statue was hung on a wall. Now we do a pot of flowers to set at Mary’s feet.”

As the years went on, Mulry said the employees always anticipated the letter and made sure to save one or two purple orchids for the Blessed Virgin. “You know, we don’t always have purple orchids on hand,” she said. “Years ago, we always had orchids for corsages. But today people don’t use corsages as much. Now, we specially order them. I would ask our supplier for two purple orchids. The supplier asked why because no one wears corsages anymore. I told him it was for the Blessed Virgin and he would give us two of his best, biggest orchids.”

As the pastors changed, Mulry said, she always made sure to tell them about the mysterious flower request “so they would know why it just showed up” each Saturday before Mother’s Day.

“I have no idea who is behind this,” she said. “The handwriting has never changed; the format has never changed. I had a person in mind at one point. She was a neighbor and devoted to the Blessed Virgin. But she passed away and the letters kept coming. Then her son passed away, too, and the letters kept coming.”

There was one point about 30 years ago when the letter hadn’t arrived by Friday, she recalled. “My mother said, ‘It’s not going to come.’ But on Saturday, we got a special delivery letter with the request and a check.”

There will be flowers again this year. The letter arrived on May 1. “I went down to the greenhouse and they told me it came,” Mulry said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was completely different — on different paper. It looks like it as written by a younger person, so this could go on for years.”

But there is still no indication about who the anonymous donor is.

“This is kind of unreal,” said Gene Janssen, a long-time parishioner and parish historian who enjoys the mystery of Mary’s flowers. He also is curious about the identity of Mary’s devoted admirer, but he has no idea whom it might be.

In the meantime, he will enjoy the beautiful May flowers at Mary’s feet this year and hopefully for many years to come.

  • Michael Graber

    That’s a beautiful story beautifully written. I hope the flowers just keep coming at least until the second coming!

  • Michael Cycle

    Whose name is on the check?

  • Lisa Van Delvaux

    It’s a beautiful story and I pray the tradition continues!