Thursday, November 29, 2007


The community has lots and lots of Advent customs. The #1 one is simply that we celebrate it! In a shopping-crazy, consumerism society, and with the great shrinking of the Catholic school system, I doubt that Advent is much celebrated by the majority of Christians. But, if you're aware of the liturgical year or somewhat attached to a group that is, voila, the new year is about to begin---this Saturday night with the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent.

By Saturday noon there will be a large Advent wreath and other simple but always striking additions to our chapel environment. Liturgically this is a beautiful time of year, too, rich with all those messianic foretellings and poetic readings from the Old Testament prophets. The songs and hymns of Advent are gorgeous, too, and even the feasts that fall in the middle of it only add to the fullness of the prayer days: Nicholas, Lucy, Mary, Guadalupe, usually Hanukkah, and finally, the seven days of the O Antiphons.

One of our customs is for the community to read the same book and meet in small groups to share reflections on the reading. This year's book is The Flowers in the Desert by Demetrius Dumm, OSB, a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. (Also the summer home of the Pittsburgh Steelers if you're of that persuasion!)

As much as we all love Advent, it's hard not to have at least some thoughts of Christmas---especially since our new chapel will bring a flock of new arrangements and customs. What's the burning liturgical question on everyone's mind? That's easy, where will we put the chapel Christmas tree this year?

For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Holy One from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on all the peoples.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of our God.

Isaiah 2: 3-5

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend

"It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon," Garrison Keillor would begin...and we can echo him today: "It's been a quiet weekend on Lake Erie, too." And everyone is glad about that!

Black Friday was a quiet day-after around the Mount. No one was part of the 4:00 a.m. line outside of Kohl's or the 6:00 a.m. mob waiting to get into Penney's at the Millcreek Mall! I suppose there may have been a little shopping, but mostly the day was spent just puttering around, taking advantage of a day when our ministries are closed, grabbing a post-Thanksgiving nap, or catching up on things that have been on hold for awhile.

Sunday was the culmination of our annual Community of Life program. This program offers our families, friends and benefactors an opportunity to pray with an individual sister for living or deceased family members and friends. Every day during November those special intentions are mentioned at both Morning and Evening Praise. Additionally, most of the sisters I know try to communicate with those whose lists they receive. All participants are invited to the end-of-November special Christ the King liturgy.

And, finally, Monday is a day off for most of us. Pennsylvania, Penn's Woods, is one of the top deer hunting states and the schools and even some businesses still maintain the first day of deer hunting (bucks not doe), the Monday after Thanksgiving, as a free day.

Some years the Thanksgiving weekend overlaps with the First Sunday of Advent, but this year we have this kind of liminal week, an in between time before the rich and beautiful Advent season begins next Saturday with the vigil of the First Sunday.

P.S. Oh, here's a quirky addition to these days: This week holds one of two unusual days for us. On November 27th, the other one is in July, four sisters celebrate their birthday...lots of ice cream and favorite desserts for all this week!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

We'll be feasting today...all 160 of us: community, family members and guests. Here's a lovely poem by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver--to add to your Thanksgiving reflections.

Coming Home

When we're driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we're weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place--the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea--
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything--the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness--
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Similarities and Differences

I have just spent three days in each of two very different Benedictine communities in southeast England, Worth Abbey and Tyburn Convent. Worth Abbey is about 30 miles south of London right in the middle of the English countryside-- picturesque, contemporary and energetic. The 22 monks there sponsor a large school(400 boys, 300 of whom are borders) and busy 20-room retreat center. They are still very much in the public eye even three years after the popular BBC TV documentary that featured their life.

In contrast, the Benedictine Sisters of Tyburn Convent live a quiet life in central London, right on a bordering street of Hyde Park. They have a small home for the 15 sisters there, little grounds, and live a life of total enclosure centered around 24/7 adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They have eight other similar convents in eight countries around the world.

In both places the Benedictine charism of hospitality and the primacy of the Opus Dei dominate. Both community groups were very gracious and welcoming to us.

All Benedictines know that there is great diversity in Benedictine houses even though they are all living the same Rule. And it is so...and seems to work...and that's what counts. I hope if you only know one or two Benedictine places, you'll take the opportunity to visit others when you can. Go to the Geographic Data section of and search for those nearby.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gregory's Angels

This is a kind of book review. The book is Gregory's Angels by Gordon Beattie, OSB, of Ampleforth Abbey in northeast England. The book is subtitled: "A history of the abbeys, priories, parishes and schools of the monks and nuns following the Rule of Saint Benedict in Great Britain, Ireland and their overseas foundations." It was published in 1997 to commemorate the 1400 year anniversary of the arrival of Saint Augustine in Kent in 597 AD.

It's over 300 pages long--with one or two pages devoted to each present monastery/abbey. Full color pictures accompany each place as do basic statistics and facts, including mailing address, telephone, directions on how to get there and a half page of their history and uniqueness. It is a coffee-table type book, but so beautifully laid out that the facts and figures don't dominate it....the photos, descriptions and essays do.

Since I am at Worth Abbey in West Sussex, England this week I thought a sharing of Gregory's Angels (Pope Gregory the Great, author of The Life and Miracles of Benedict, Book 2 of the Dialogues) would be appropriate.

Amazon does seem to carry used copies, a little pricey but if you're into all-things-Benedictine-Cistercian and/or enjoy the countries of the United Kingdom or the history of western civilization, you'd like it.

PS. There are pages of great trivia, too: Benedictine saints of Great Britain, Benedictine popes, and pre and post-reformation monasteries in Great Britain.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Volunteer Fire Fighters

This week we host one of the most enjoyable and unique events for our year--our annual dinner for the local (all-volunteer) fire fighters: the Fairfield Fire Department. For many years one of our sisters was a member of this volunteer corps, serving as an EMT on many of their runs.

As we are located outside of the city limits, in Harborcreek Township, we are serviced for fires, emergencies, ambulances, etc. by one of the many volunteer fire departments that exist in the townships, boroughs and small towns that completely surround Erie. Ours is the Fairfield Fire Dept. located just 2 miles down Rte. 5 and the one that services the lake shore area from the city limits outward through Harborcreek. Their area includes our Benetwood Apartments, the large Brevillier Village complex, and Twinbrook Nursing Home, so their most common call is for assistance and/or transport for the elderly.

Each year we invite the dozen or so fire fighters and their families for dinner--often spaghetti. Inevitably they receive a call during the meal, but since they always bring one fire truck and one ambulance with them, the ones on call just excuse themselves, go to answer it and their family packs up their meal and takes it home.

A door prize is one of the highlights of the is always somehow connected to their duties. Last year a large framed cross stitch was featured an old-fashioned firetruck, complete with accompanying dalmatian in the front seat.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lake Effect Snow

If you were watching The Weather Channel Tuesday night you saw us--here in little Erie, front and center. Along with many other cities on the southern shores of the Great Lakes, we experienced our first snow of the season: Lake Effect Snow, as it's called. The Weather Channel said we had 3.5" and we did, sort of...depending on where you live. The official total is calculated at the airport.

Yes, we talk about snow a lot during the winter months of November through March. The conversations today went something like this: Wow, that was quite the first snow, Waterford got 14". Did you hear that I-90 had a dozen accidents by noon? The lake shore only got 2-3" and it was really just slush, not real solid snow. Did you see those downed tree limbs all over town? There were too many leaves on the trees and the limbs cracked right off. Power lines came down, too, from the heaviness. They say I-90 was closed from the Ohio line to Girard most of the day and I-79 was down to one lane south of McKean!

And so the morning conversations, coffee break discussions go for the next five months.

The Mount is right along the lake shore, but just 4 miles south is a glacial ridge on which interstate I-90 was built. The climates north of I-90 (along the lake) and south of I-90 (inland for 40 miles or so) are two different worlds. One gets snow and other nearly nothing, and then in the next storm, visa versa.

Today it's all gone! And so goes our first little snowstorm, on our way to our average of 90". I know that sounds wild to many, but remember, it doesn't come all at once and usually melts considerably before the next 2-3" arrive. We just keep on going along right through it. As my Dad, an Erie native used to say, "When I watch the natural disasters that many people have to live with: fires, droughts, hurricanes, I don't think our snow is so bad. All we have to do is shovel it a little and then it melts away." Way to go, Dad--a true Great Lakes acclimated veteran!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Diocesan Event

About 15 years ago the Bishop of the Erie diocese began an annual Mass for Deceased Religious. Over the years it has grown to become a Eucharist in remembrance of the religious women, priests, permanent deacons, and members of the diocesan Serra Club who have died in the past year. Tonight is this year's liturgy.

It is held at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in south Erie and our community's musicians form the core of the music makers, including our full 12-member handbell choir.

This year we have only one sister on the list for remembrance, Sr. Nora Curran, who died in July. The Sisters of St. Joseph (130 members), the Sisters of Mercy (55), the Sisters of the Divine Spirit (40), a community of eight enclosed Carmelites, and the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Marys, PA (25), are the other major religious communities of women in the diocese. There is a smattering of other sisters working in the diocese and maybe 200 priests, and numerous Serrans---an organization that promotes vocations to priesthood and religious life. There are no longer many religious communities of men here, though there are a few Benedictines from Latrobe at parishes in Saint Marys. At one time there were Redemptorists, Brothers of Mary, Society of the Divine Word, and probably others that are unknown to me.

Early November here can bring 50 degrees or 3" of new snow. Unless there's a freak snowstorm---that first wet, heavy, perfect for snowballs and snowmen kind---it will have a nice attendance.

Click here for more about the Diocese of Erie.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Sound of Cathedral Choirs

Last Friday night the choir from the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul here in Erie came to the Mount and sang Evensong for us. If you don't know what a cathedral choir sounds like here's one: at Westminster Cathedral in London no less. Our little town's choir sounded similar...really it did...just smaller! When you get there click on Listen to Music in the upper right and then pick a track and you'll hear the cathedral choir sound.

Some of our musicians who studied at St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Indiana, were part of a cathedral choir during their summers of study. They reminisced that it was a lot of work, but a marvelous experience that they do miss, especially after last Friday night.

By the way, the acoustics in our new chapel did themselves proud. It was a great sound.