March 8, 2019

Accident, faith journey open door for Oldenburg coffee shop

Suzanne Konnersman, left, and her sister Hilary Konnersman stand in their kitchen where Suzanne has learned to cook traditional, healthy food. Suzanne started the Kessing Haus Café in Oldenburg as a place for the community to gather in a unique coffee shop. (Photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

Suzanne Konnersman, left, and her sister Hilary Konnersman stand in their kitchen where Suzanne has learned to cook traditional, healthy food. Suzanne started the Kessing Haus Café in Oldenburg as a place for the community to gather in a unique coffee shop. (Photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

OLDENBURG—Managing her coffee house from her wheelchair, Suzanne Konnersman calls it all a gift: the accident that paralyzed her, the faith journey she’s encountered, and the discovery of a way to give something back to the community.

The idea for the Kessing Haus Café in Oldenburg started with the basic love of family, healthy food and a strong respect for tradition. The café sits in a historic building just behind the post office on Main Street.

“I want to vivify history and tradition here,” Konnersman said.

Old-fashioned brick walls have icons of saints hanging on them that are interspersed with biblical quotes written in chalk. Solid wood tables invite guests to sit down with their cups of coffee. Light streams in large windows and an authentic brick oven is fired up for homemade bread. Konnersman’s café sits comfortably among a town full of tradition.

Dating back to 1837, Oldenburg became known as the Village of Spires for the local Catholic church on one corner and the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg’s church on the other. With its German charm, the town is nestled in sleeping Indiana hills that Konnersman has always called home.

Konnersman was paralyzed after a semitrailer rear-ended the back of a van she was traveling in. She was in the back seat and had just switched places with another passenger. Medics on the scene gave her little chance of survival: her spinal cord was severed, and her aorta ruptured.

“I felt I was dying,” Konnersman said. “I felt myself fading, but I understood it was my choice to live, and I said ‘yes,’ and breath came back to me.”

Konnersman said she felt the loving arms of God around her during the accident. She calls them robes of light. She was only 17. Her choice to live meant she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Twenty years later, Konnersman’s faith and her accident have opened more doors than they have closed.

“I was saying yes to something then [at the time of the accident],” Konnersman said. “God was giving me something. I can see that 20 years later, through a lot of healing, a lot of dark nights and struggles. It is clear God gave it to me, and it is a gift.”

Even with being sure of her choice to live, those dark nights included more than just learning how to adjust to life in a wheelchair. It also included her own journey back to the Catholic faith.

She came back 11 years ago and now attends the Oratory of SS. Philomena and Cecilia in Franklin County. During the interim, she filled her time by traveling with a renowned spinal cord injury therapist and learned a lot from her.

It was Konnersman’s new love of her faith that led her to open the Kessing Haus Café eight years ago and share the ability God has given her to make healthy traditional foods. The foods take a long time to prepare, such as soaking, fermenting and using various food cultures that need to be watched, stirred and shaken throughout the day. All this attention makes rich nutrients and conserves the foods’ natural vitamins and minerals.

Her sister, Hilary, serves up the fermented sauerkraut alongside the best‑selling frittata. Customers can opt for organic tea or coffee—with multiple choices taking up a large blackboard on the wall.

The counter boasts an array of healthy sweets, gluten-free muffins, scones and the special drink Konnersman has dubbed “honey-bucha.” It is like kombucha—a fermented vitamin-filled drink—but is fermented with raw honey instead of a mushroom culture. Many health food experts suggest it for energy instead of caffeine.

Konnersman’s café began with brewing kombucha.

“I had a knack for it,” she said. “God gave me a talent, and I made a lot of it, and I shared a lot of it with my church community.”

All that sharing led to a suggestion to start selling her fermented foods in Oldenburg.

“I was challenged to have a vision to try to help vivify tradition, a vision of healing a community through simpler times of gathering around a hearth with a real fire and with real traditional food,” Konnersman said. “Largely, in our culture we hear about how sad and depressed people are. Food makes you feel good if it is healthy and delicious and traditionally made.”

Hilary said the family idea has blessed her in many ways.

“I feel like I’ve made an impact on people’s lives,” she said. “I have a sense of fulfilment when the day is done that I have done the best of my ability and it’s what God wanted me to do for the day.”

“Oh, people even bring her flowers when she’s sick,” chimed in Suzanne, when they talk about how good the people who visit the café have been to them.

“My heart is so full,” Hilary said. “We have regular customers who love and support us.”

They also see complete strangers strike up conversations about the faith when they come in or simply relax.

“People are not on their cell phones here,” Hilary said.

It reminds her of the local cafés she has visited in Italy where everyone was talking to one another or reading books.

“We want to be a different coffee shop that is part of the community and part of its interaction,” Hilary said. “It’s a place to meet, have good conversations and read good books.”

Suzanne said her life has turned to one of constant prayer and business plans. While Hilary serves customers and makes the coffee, Suzanne works on e-mails, marketing plans and business plans.

But she is never far away from the day-to-day operations, and she still makes some of the items the café sells.

“My door is always open,” she said. “I am just in awe of how God works, so I just say, ‘yes.’ ”

(Jennifer Lindberg is a freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville.)

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