Thursday, June 28, 2007

Around the World in 730 Days

This week Michael Pierre arrived at the front door early one evening. His story? He's cycling around the world and has been doing so since July 2005. The USA is his 44th country, Canada will be the 45th, and then home----to France. He asked permission to set up his tent in our backyard. Yes, we gave it to him, and took him to a cool, flat area near one of our hermitages in the adjoining woods. He came in for breakfast the next day and then was on his way. His six continent travelogue can be read at Even if you can't read French, the pictures beautifully tell his story.

Also this week our new fawn and the doe made their debut---at 7:00 a.m. in the apple orchard right at breakfast time. He/she bounced and ran and leapt around its mother and then, after 3-4 minutes, scooted after her into the woods.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bavaria to Pennsylvania

Saturday we celebrated "Founders' Day" and honored two Benedictine women from our own history. The founder of Benedictine life in the U.S. was Benedicta Riepp, who arrived in central Pennsylvania in 1852 at the age of 27. She died just 10 years later in Minnesota, a member of what was to become, and still is, the largest Benedictine community in the country. The other is the first prioress of this community, Scholastica Burkhard, prioress for 22 years, beginning with her arrival in Erie on June 23, 1856---age 24.

Iconographer Mary Charles McGough of the Benedictine Sisters of Duluth, MN recently wrote contemporary icons of these two young, pioneer leaders. They appear together in our administrative hall outside the office of the present prioress.

Today's U.S. Benedictine women number over 2,500---the vast majority of whom trace their roots back to Benedicta Riepp.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice

Today is the summer solstice and in our Great Lake plains region a welcome feast, as our winters are long, grey, snowy and cold. Additionally, Erie, named for the Erie tribe that lived along the southern shore of Lake Erie until the late 1600s, has claim to the Native American tradition of respect for and awareness of the earth, its rhythms and cycles.

Benedict, too, makes note of the changing seasons. In his Rule, he adjusts the arrangement of prayer times, clothing, and even the amount of food and drink, aware of the manual work in the fields under the summer heat.

Each solstice and equinox we have special psalms and prayers as part of our prayer. Here's one by John Muir:
"This grand show is eternal.
it is always sunrise somewhere;
the dew is never all dried at once;
a shower is forever falling, vapor is ever rising.
Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming,
on sea and continent and islands, each in its turn,
as the round earth rolls."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Chapter 53 of the RB states "...guests, and monasteries are never without them..." Our house was filled with guests this past week. They included an abbot from England and a sister from the Philippines and many others from around the US. All summer we'll have a "full house" as family members visit from out of town, many ministers, sisters and other people on their faith journey take private retreat time, and oblates come for summer community events. And, of course, new people hear of the hermitages and just come to see what they're all about.

The sister in charge of hospitality posts a list of all guests for the community. One day I saw the name "Eunice Shriver"...and then another time there was "Henri Nouwen." Visitors from Europe, Africa and South America aren't all that rare, but ones from Asia and especially Australia, are not an every day occurrence. A few years ago we had a rarity: one weekend we had a guest from each of six continents. I wonder what this summer will bring!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Time Out

Our community is on its annual retreat this week. A monk of St. John's Abbey is the director, giving two conferences each day. Many sisters contribute to extra special prayer and liturgies, which are creative, prayerful and add much to the week. The theme is the gospel message through the evangelist Mark and, to that end, here are two recent books on Mark's message that have excellent reviews: Fully Human, Fully Alive by the Australian Trappist, Michael Casey, a much admired and excellent spirituality writer, and The Lost Spiritual World by Ruth Rimm. The latter is a very contemporary, interfaith, beautifully illustrated experience. has 10 sample page illustrations which give a good flavor of the book. The book isn't even rectangular--the right side is a sort of wave! It's quite the creative endeavor. Michael Casey's latest book is An Unexciting Life: reflections on Benedictine spirituality. When I first read that I just laughed....I can't imagine his is such and mine certainly isn't, but I think I know what he means!

P.S. Anyone who read the May 3 posting remembers I promised an announcement of any new fawn.....and here it is: this Tuesday one of our sisters came upon a brand new fawn in our surrounding woods, right across from Hermitage #1 about half way to the gas well, for those who know our place. It was in the long grass, just peeking up its head. WOW! I think the fawn from last year are still around as we keep seeing two young ones---with the velvet beginnings of antlers between their ears. They must be our last year's twin boys.

Monday, June 11, 2007

3,500 + 65,000

Today the Erie Peace Initiative is organizing a public gathering marking the 3,500 deaths of American military men/women in the Iraq war. The silent vigil will be held between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of I-79 and Frontier Park, a busy corner in west Erie. Thousands of peace cranes, made for the 2,500th commemoration, will be on display and 171 gold star flags will be held, in honor of the 171 Pennsylvanians who have died. Benedictines for Peace is a member of this local coalition and many community members plan to participate.
The website estimates that between 65,000 and 71,000 Iraqi civilians have died in this war also. I wonder who is standing vigil for them today.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

X Out Those Days

Both the Catholic and the public elementary and high schools in Erie end their 2006-2007 year this week. For decades a majority of the community was in elementary or secondary education. Today there are only five sisters who are directly in the schools...although I counted more than 25 in education generally--that's including things like childcare and preschool, adult education, and religious ed.

I remember as a teen making a calendar of the final month on the cardboard in the back of each subject's notebook and crossing out that day as each class period ended...a 30-day countdown to "freedom"! Later, when I became a teacher, I was surprised to find out that teachers counted down those last days, too...with just as much anticipation and yearning as we had as kids...maybe even more. They just kept their crossed out calendar days hidden!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Rites of Passage

This weekend we experienced a day of "Rites of Passage" for three people with special connections to the community. Saturday afternoon brought a high school graduation party for the daughter of an El Salvadoran refugee who was befriended (along with her six children) by our Sanctuary Committee 14 years ago. When the rest of the family moved south she returned to Erie and has lived with us for three years to become the first in her family to earn a high school diploma. In August she will begin her college studies at Penn State University-Behrend College in Erie.

Saturday's Evening Praise (Vespers) incorporated a funeral service for a 94-year-old resident of our Benetwood Apartments--the father of one of our sisters. For over a decade this man had joined us for Sunday liturgy, weekday prayer, and an occasional evening meal. Saturday ended with another celebration for a Benetwood resident as the mother of two of our sisters reached her own 90th. A daylong get-together topped by cake and ice cream was enjoyed by both her immediate family and by her many friends and extended family members from Benetwood and the Mount community.

Our prayers go with all three of these special friends as they embark on the next stage of their journey.