Thursday, September 27, 2007

The First is Paper

Jewelers have a list of gem stones for every anniversary. There are the traditional remembrances and modern ones. There are jewels and flowers and house gifts that we use to commemorate years of commitment. Some of the more unusual ones are: 1st-paper or clocks; 6th-candy or wood; 9th-bronze or linens; 15th-crystal or watches; 20th-china or platinum; 35th-coral or jade.

This weekend we'll celebrate our 50 and 60 jubilarians...golden and diamond. It's a very moving ritual, especially for those of us who haven't reached that point. All those weeks and months and years on the journey: ups and downs, joyous highpoints and difficult low times...all wrapped into what has become, when suddenly you just seem to turn around, 50 or 60 years.

Congratulations to our 2007 jubilarians and to all who reach a milestone on their path through life this year....a cause to celebrate no doubt.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Let All Around Us Be Peace

This Tuesday and Wednesday two back-to-back events remind us that a world of peace is a dream so many of us share, yet at times seems so far off.

On Tuesday a "Reclaim the Site for Nonviolence" prayer service will take place at the site of the recent murder of a local woman. These prayer services take place whenever a homicide occurs in Erie and are scheduled for 5:15 p.m. so that many individuals, groups, neighbors and friends can attend. This one is most poignant as the woman lived at Villa Maria Apartments, the converted Motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The complex also served as the original buildings of Villa Maria College, Villa Maria Academy (boarders and day students), and Villa Elementary School. The community moved to a new location in 1993, after over 100 years at 8th and Liberty Streets.

On Wednesday, Joan Chittister will give a presentation to local peace and justice proponents. Her presentation, "Women, Power and Peace," is part of our community's Heritage of Hope capital campaign events. The Benedictine Sisters of Erie have a 40-year history of active commitment to peace efforts--locally, nationally and internationally. Sr. Joan, herself, through the UN-sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women, the International Committee for the Peace Council, and the Niwano Peace Award Committee, has traveled the world taking a strong leadership role in peace efforts among all peoples, religions, and cultures.

Pax, shalom, pacem, mir, patz, lape, nyiEe, pau, heiwa, pyonghwa, achukma, pace, friede, rauha, siochain, paix, sipala, amani, paz, heping, isithangami, amaithi, solh, pokoj. However we say it, it is one wish: Peace.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Modular Magic

The big news this week is across the street, down near the lake, yet on the Mount grounds: the arrival of the new modular house that will replace 4th Cabin. During summers, 4th Cabin served as housing for Glinodo camp counselors. The rest of the year it gave community members a place for "time away" and also a place where out of town families could stay when visiting community members.

The new place, Benedicta Riepp House, named for the first Benedictine sister in the US, is a little bigger and also a little closer to the lake. It has 2-3 bedrooms, an upper deck with a beautiful lake view, and an outside porch.

Additionally, the former Big House, the central meeting place, kitchen, dining room, and offices for summer camp, will now be available for sisters' families. It has seven bedrooms and maintains the summer camp feel it has had for over 70 years. It, too, has very large north windows overlooking the lake, picnic shelter and pool.

Here's a view of the sunset from either place. Lake Erie from Glinodo.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cloister Walk

Cloister walks are common, especially in the monasteries of Europe. I've seen some where a part of the monastery is built as a quadrangle with an open middle area of green space or garden. All around the perimeter of this garden is a cloister walk, covered but open-aired and often highlighted by archways. Perhaps in the middle ages the monks and nuns walked this path for meditation or a moment of solitude. Here's a sample.

With our chapel renovation this past year we gained a type of cloister walk. It used to be just a windowless hallway from the chapel to the dining room. But, it was renovated as an extension of the chapel, same walls, ceiling, and flooring. It also now has five tall, narrow windows enabling the passersby to look out into our inner courtyard garden. It has a lot of the cloister walk characteristics.

One of our own special additions is a hummingbird feeder on the second window. We have only ruby-throated hummingbirds in our part of the country, but we have a lot of them and when they are migrating north or back south to Mexico, the feeder can be drained every 2-3 days. A local birding expert reminded us to keep our feeders filled throughout September. Although most of the hummers have passed through, there are always stragglers she noted!

Finally, if you've never read Kathleen Norris's best seller, Cloister Walk, you should. She's a first-rate poet and her reflections on her two years with the Benedictine monks and sisters in Minnesota, are beautiful---along with being a pretty realistic look into contemporary Benedictine communities in the US.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Grape Juice and Grape Jelly

As the result of a perfect growing season, the summer harvest of fruits and vegetables is upon us with a vengeance. One sister reminded us that the residents in a nearby small town used to joke that everyone locks their doors and keeps the lights low at this time of year so that their gardening neighbors don't think they're home and come ladened with squash and tomatoes to share.

The Welch Company, the world's leading producer of juices, jams and jellies made from Concord and Niagara grapes, has two of its four plants just east of Erie--in North East, PA and Westfield, NY. An article in the Erie paper this week features local grape vineyard owners proclaiming this year's crop as excellent.

We have a small 30-40 foot grape arbor on our property and its Concord grapes are already delicious. The only slight tension we have is competition with the deer. You'd think that with the apple orchard, salt lick, bushes and everything else they seem to nibble they could leave us the grapes!

Monday, September 10, 2007


Last week Sr. Mary Charles McGough, OSB, from Duluth, MN, a great artist of the US monastic world, died of cancer. Her contemporary and beautiful icons grace every monastery I've ever visited. Her Benedict & Scholastica, the second one you'll see if you click on this link, is one of the most popular images of the founders of Benedictine monastic life.

For the last 6-7 years, AIM USA used this icon as the front of its prayer card. Requests to have it reproduced with the prayer in English, Portuguese or Spanish came regularly. One monastery in Asia liked it so much that they set up a display to duplicate the icon, using similar statues and the same background. If you live near enough to visit Duluth, go to St. Scholastica Monastery on Kenwood Avenue and see some of the originals that hang there and pay silent homage to Sr. Mary Charles and all the women and men who gift us with such beauty for our spiritual journey.

At Mount St. Benedict the icons of Benedicta Riepp, the first Benedictine woman to come to the United States (1852) and Scholastica Burkhard, our first prioress (1856), hang in the hall outside our prioress's office. They were both done by Sr. Mary Charles.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Before You're a Toddler

This week the schools opened in Erie and the five-year-olds at St. Benedict Child Development Center went off to kindergarten. The Center's largest program is an East Coast Migrant Head Start program for the children of Hispanic migrant workers that come north to work in the grape vineyards, the fruit tree orchards, potato fields, etc. From April through early December, 80-90 newborns to five years old come for 8-12 hours every day. The program is terrific, as it includes meals, health screenings, highly certified teachers and aides, and lots of parent and family education.

Last week the sister in the infant room told me that when the kindergartners left for school, they were getting four new babies, but had to move their four oldest onto the next level. "Oh, to the toddlers room?" I said. "No," she answered, "we're opening a new room: the waddlers room.....for our just-learning-to-walk waddlers!"

Webster: "an awkward clumsy swaying gait." Yep, that's it exactly!

PS. The Erie Seawolves did win the game Monday and now enter the league playoffs.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ora et Labora

I heard a funny story on the radio yesterday. A union worker was bemoaning the fact that the real meaning of Labor Day has been lost and that it has become just another day off from school and work. He had also read that a third grader, when asked what Labor Day was about, had answered, "It's a day when we think about all the women who have had children."

Work has an important place in the Rule of Benedict and one of the popular Benedictine mottoes is "Ora et Labora." Terrence Kardong, OSB, an excellent commentator on the Rule, has a good, short essay on Ora et Labora. Here's an excerpt:

"It cannot be denied, of course, that the Benedictines themselves have cheerfully plastered this motto on everything from their napkins to the carving above the front gate. So our friends (or enemies) can hardly be blamed for assuming that the slogan expresses something important about our monks and our monasteries. If the monks themselves have clasped this euphonious moniker to their bosoms, it must have a basis in reality. What is it? St. Benedict does indeed make some comments about work in his Chapter 48. The text begins with another pithy saying: 'Idleness is the devil's workshop.' In this chapter he sets up a rather precise daily schedule that includes time every day for manual labor. Some commentators have claimed that this is in fact the first time in history that a precise work schedule was set up, and they add that this is the real beginning of the history of the modernization of work. Without regular hours, not much gets accomplished."

Today we have a day off of ministry/work, of course, and this year, before our annual Labor Day picnic, a dozen of us are going downtown to the last baseball game of the season for our Erie Seawolves. They are a Double A farm team of the Detroit Tigers and can clinch first place in their division with a win today! Go Seawolves!