Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Week

Don't miss: the red wagon, the glasses, the puppy and kitty, the blanket-cape, sneakers, etc. Click on it to make it larger--and enjoy!

One of Thomas's plates and a lovely Madonna and child--subtle and glorious--and hidden away in the gathering space alcove.

Here are a couple links for those you have the time to check them out. This one is from an article on local notable people for 2008. Our Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki is among the four highlighted.

And a little holiday week extra for readers who live in places where 3" of snow brings your town to a "screeching halt." Here's the front page article from our Erie paper on Christmas day, "Erie Leads Snowfall Derby." Geesh!

Please note: two days later, on the 27th, we set a record high of 67 degrees--and all the snow did indeed melt away!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day 2008

The poinsettias before arrangement and our primary nativity scene in the Gathering Space. Those are luminaria in the gold bags--they encircle the entire scene. The white background cloth hangs from the ceiling to make a natural background.

Here are two of many diverse nativity sets around the Mount and at ministry sites. These are African and Asian.

And, after a one-year hiatus, the large chapel Christmas tree is back. Stunning--in shape, size and beauty!

Christmastide Morning-Evening Prayer-side bar

Monday, December 22, 2008

And Christmas Week Begins

The "O Antiphons" come to an end Monday and Tuesday. They are sung online here.

Dec. 22
O Ruler of Nations, cornerstone of the people, desire of all; from the clay of the earth, by your own hand you have formed us and fashioned us. Come and open our hearts to one another.

Dec. 23
O Emmanuel, leader and desire of all the nations, you set captives free, comfort the lonely; you feed the poor and the hungry. Come be born in us, God of Life.

Our "O Antiphon" panels: the artist is one of our oblates, Lanora Queckborner, caligrapher: Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB.

Sunday night we held our "official" beginning of Christmas with the Mount's tree trimming party. In truth, a lot more than the large Christmas tree gets trimmed, as nativity sets begin to appear everywhere, residence halls and smaller rooms get decorated, the Dickens Village goes up, and the electric train begins its round and round trip under one of the dining room trees.

Here are some of the day's events in pictures:
1) The four candle bearers for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
2) Former prioress Sr. Mary Margaret Kraus lights the large Christmas tree. It was her first year for the honor, which is reserved for the most senior member of the community.
3) Part of the Dicken's village.
4) The community room's beautiful tree.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Antiphons and a Berry Bush

One of our sisters is a quilter. Here are four quilted hangings that she made for Advent. We are in the third week, thus the pink, for Gaudete, in the third one.

Inner-city Erie has a bit of a challenge creating beautiful natural environments, but here's a red-berried bush after a snowstorm last week--right outside 345 East 9th--our original motherhouse site. There are a number of these berry-ladened bushes around--they truly rise to their most beautiful with the snow.

The "O Antiphons" continue. They appear at Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours December 17-23 and are sung online here.

Thursday, December 18
O Adonai, leader of the ancient Israel, giving Moses, while in the burning bush, the law on Sinai. Come with outstretched arms and teach us.

Friday, December 19
O Root of Jesse, standing as protector of the people; silencing rulers, inspiring the people to make supplication. Come do not delay, deliver us.

Saturday, December 20
O Key of David, rod and staff of the house of Israel, one who opens and no one closes, the one who closes and no one opens. Come lead prisoners caught in darkness.

Sunday, December 21
O Dayspring, Sun of Justice, bright eternal light, one who shows the way, the one who sets us free even in darkness and death. Come disperse the gloomy clouds of night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent Week 3

Saturday was the Feast of St. Lucy, an early church martyr. During the Middle Ages people suffering from eye trouble began praying to Lucy because her name is derived from lux (light). Festivals of light that include a girl with a crown of candles and a young man representing Star Boy are still held in Scandinavian countries today.

Somewhat miraculously, here in Erie, our normal winter grey cloud cover lifted on Saturday and we had hours of bright, bright sunlight. I happened by chapel around 10:30 am and got this unusual photo of all eight south wall windows reflected on the ceramic walls and the floor. Thank you, Lucy!

The "O Antiphons" begin this week. They appear at Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours December 17-23 and are online here. They are sung by our sisters to words and music by our Sr. Mary David Callahan. Sister Mary David was a composer/musician who wrote all the accompaniments for the music that came out of Weston Priory in the 70s and 80s--along with much of the music we sing today.

Dec. 17
O Wisdom, flowing from the mouth of the Most High; reaching far and wide, disposing of all things sweetly and mightily. Come teach us the way of prudence.

I'm sure we all have our favorite stained glass window of the 20 or so throughout the Mount: mine's this one--the smallest one on chapel's south side.

(Morning-Evening Prayer-see sidebar)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December scenes

We haven't decorated inside the house yet, but this tree in the inner-courtyard is aglow every night. I've tried at daylight, in pitch dark, and at nightfall--to capture a good photo of it, but this one (at 5:00 pm) still isn't very realistic---in real life it looks beautiful.

Here's a nice Christmas poem I came upon (oops--an unintended pun):

"Christmas Eve, Almost Midnight"
David Denny

Driving through the mist after delivering
packages, I come upon a family of deer
walking down the middle of the street.
I cut my lights and engine and coast
behind them awhile. They are cruising
the neighborhood, nibbling the frosty lawns,
looking for nasturtiums. I glide behind them
around a corner and down another street,
the only sound the crunching of newly formed ice
beneath my tires, until they disappear onto the dark,
soggy soccer fields of the middle school.
I tell you I can count on one hand
the number of times I've been happier.

Here's one of our window bird feeders after some overnight snow last Sunday.

Photo by Charlotte Anne Zalot, OSB

(Morning-Evening Prayer-see sidebar)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent Week 2

For your Advent "reflections"--in a contemporary, but very fine way--watch this You Tube video. It's very clever and yet challenging. The title is: "Advent Conspiracy."

Here is the south chapel alcove in its Advent environment. If you click on the photo you'll be able to see a close up of the evergreens in the large vase in front.

Right as you enter chapel you'll find this huge piece hanging from the upper gallery all the way down to the floor. This central back area contains the chapel's water symbol, has doors that open to the front foyer, the cloister walk down to the dining room, and into the adoration chapel. You can see a glimpse of the gathering space right behind the hanging, too. It's a rather large, empty area most of the time, so this part of the Advent environment really stands out and is a lovely addition to the space.

Finally, if you'd like some special prayer for the season, click on a new link just added to the sidebar, "Morning-Evening Prayer" and you'll find some from our own daily praise.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

December beauty

In 1988 the community's Saint Benedict's Academy, a 119-year-old high school for girls, closed. Today, 20 years later, the SBA alumnae organization is going strong. The group sponsors numerous annual events and draws great participation from its 4,000+ proud members. This week they held their annual Christmas dinner. They had to move it to a downtown hotel ballroom a couple years ago, and this year the attendance set a record: 445 strong!

Here's a photo of the crowd listening to an 85-member alum choral group reprising five of the songs that they sang for a large and successful fundraising event two years ago.

Go Lassies!

Yesterday morning when many of us were headed out at 7:30 a.m., this is what we found. So I, and many others, grabbed their cameras and VOILA--a winter sunrise.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Advent

Placed right in between Black Friday--the traditional day when businesses hope to enter into the "black" of their financial year, and Cyber Monday--the biggest day for online shopping as people return to work and use those faster computers to place their holiday web orders, was the quiet beginning of the church's Advent season this weekend.

Saturday night we entered into this year's Advent season with two new sung mantras by a small choir, a lovely reflection (by two of our oblates) on the setting of "darkness" in so many of the scripture events, and the transformation of the chapel into Advent time.

For the next 25 days we will hear the haunting words and canticles of Isaiah and the other prophets foretelling the coming of the Messiah--God with us.

Sister Katherine lights the candle for the first week of Advent.

From the beautiful Isaiah reading of the First Week of Advent: Isaiah 11: 1-10

"A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of God shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude For All Things Roman

Glimpses of the other side of Rome: In St. Peter's, Pope John XXIII; outside, members of the Swiss Guard. Their 500th anniversary.

One of the hundreds of halls in the Vatican Museum; one of Rome's famous outdoor plazas. This one was a kind of artist's colony but I was struck by the balconies of the apartments that surrounded it. They were stunning and this was just November. In the summer they must be breathtaking.

And just one more thing: What was my favorite experience of all during my one-week trip to Rome? This.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back from Rome

This week, Monday and Thursday, I want to share some photos from Rome. Today I'll show some of the more "interesting" ones. Thursday, Thanksgiving, I'll save for the ones of the beauty you'd expect from such a city---and give thanks for it all--the uniqueness that is Rome.

My first day, under the effects of jet lag, I stumbled into a local grocery/department store and was suddenly in a Christmas world--complete with Winnie the Pooh and the whole Disney gang everywhere. I'm in Rome?

One of the great advantages of touring with a resident is that you get to see how the "regular people" of the city live. This truck was on one of the side streets, servicing, I believe, one of the hundreds of small restaurants throughout Rome--yikes!

The Vatican museum was breathtaking. The facilities afterwards: the same everywhere. This teenager was on a bus and gladly obliged when I asked if I could take a picture of his T-shirt. This is all the Europeans wanted to talk about.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Days in Rome

This week I am in Rome for the annual meeting of the AIM International Council. We are staying at the "Casa," the generalate of the largest Benedictine community of women, the German-origin Tutzing congregation. They have over 1,400 sisters and have communities in 19 countries, including large groups in Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea, Tanzania and Germany itself.

Even though email makes communication a daily event, I'm not really up on the "daily" back home. I know the choir that is going to sing at the SBA Alumnae Christmas Dinner, December 2, had its last rehearsal this Wednesday. It is made up of about 100 women--SBA alum and Sisters. On Monday was our annual dinner for the Fairfield Fire Fighters and their families. They are the volunteer department that services our area.

When I was in Belgium in October, everyone I met wanted to talk about the U.S. presidential election and how I thought the chances for an incoming Democratic presidency looked. This time it is exactly the same except instead of the questionning and serious faces, I am met with wide grins and silent congratulations and thanks. So many of the monks and nuns here are well-versed in international politics and many have American connections, so they can discuss issues from the states with broad knowledge. It is a real pleasure to talk with them.

P.S. I also know from checking the weather sites that I missed the first big lake effect snow storm of the season: 4-6" at our place and 12"+ south of I-90. And here it's sunny and 60+ degrees.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monastic Lexicon #6


Common phrases you're apt to hear around the Mount.
"I'm on bells tomorrow."
"She has to leave for bells."
"Bells end at 9:00 now."
"Can you switch bells with me?"

Back when the motherhouse was downtown there was an elaborate coding system for calling each sister that involved a kind of Morse Code of ringing a bell. It was hung in a central hall where the sound echoed throughout the convent. Each sister had a code--ie: 23 meant two rings, pause, three rings. When a sister was needed that bell code was rung and she knew to come to the front hall.

Today the process of sitting at the front desk, handling the incoming phone calls at the switchboard, offering hospitality to all who come to the front door and even overseeing the portable phone throughout the night is still referred to as "bells"--even though there are no real bells involved at all.

We do, however, still hear the sound of bells as our electronic carillon and the bell tones it produces to call the community to prayer and other functions are a lovely ringing of bells.

When you are "on bells" these days this is one of the views you get in the front foyer: an antique sedilia from the original motherhouse.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Here!

We woke up Monday morning, November 10th---to this. Three inches of the heavy, wet quick-melting kind, but it's also the accumulates-on-every-branch kind. It's the very first of the season. I stuck my camera out the door as soon as I thought it was light enough, about 7:15. Those are not white spots on the lens--it was coming down like hail at that moment!

I always forget how beautiful these first snows are. Here's Mary Oliver's take on them.

by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain-not a single
answer has been found-
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Healing Ways

Ten years ago a local judge acted on a long-time awareness he had on the present incarceration system for women who have minor children. He wanted to find an alternative option for them that could include their children. After a year's study, House of Healing was formed.

Today, House of Healing offers an alternative program for women convicted of non-violent crimes, that enables them to be with their children. It is housed in a former large convent and can have as many as 5-6 women and their children. Most residents are serving short sentences and often stay only a number of months.

One of our sisters has been the administrator of House of Healing since its beginning. Along with numerous formal grants to cover expenses, House of Healing sponsors mega-garage sales (warehouse sales, really), courtesy of donated space for storage and presentation by a local business.

This weekend, with the help of many volunteers including a number of sisters, the autumn mega-warehouse sale took place. Luckily, the weather was great, the shoppers many, and the resources for House of Healing grew.

For those in the greater Erie area, watch for notice of the next House of Healing Extravaganza...coming in early spring.

And speaking of children, here's a display of the main characters in some popular children's books--courtesy of the Erie Book Store. How many can you name?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New Dawn

Here is the first long line I ever had to stand in to vote---it's outside the Fairfield Fire Department. Our entire process took 1/2 hour. One of our sisters was #1 at this polling place. She arrived at 6:20 a.m. the doors opened at 7:00 a.m.

One sister who voted on her way home from work at 5:00 p.m. was #1,008--that's a huge number for our little place.

Another one of our sisters was a poll worker all day in an older neighborhood of downtown Erie. By noon they had had 150 voters--that number equals what they were used to having in a whole day.

"Give us, O God, leaders whose hearts are large enough to match the breadth of our own souls and give us souls strong enough to follow leaders of vision and wisdom....Give us insight enough ourselves to choose as leaders those who can tell strength from power, growth from greed, leadership from dominance, and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity..." Joan Chittister, OSB

Will you look at this! My 30-year old cactus decided that this was the week to "go wild"

with its first bloom of the season! Maybe it knew something we didn't know....until Tuesday.

If you enjoy browsing here are some newspaper covers from November 5.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Faith and Halloween visitors

The November-December issue of our diocesan magazine, Faith, has been delivered to homes of all registered parishioners and Catholic places throughout the diocese. I tweaked three entries from this page for my column. Here's one:

If you are a Weather Channel watcher, and you probably are since it is one of the three top cable channels in the country, you’ll surely see us, the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, at least once every winter as the main weather story–right there in all our snowy glory. Along with other cities on the southern or eastern shore of a large body of water such as Lake Erie, we experience lake effect snow, especially in the early weeks of winter before the lake freezes. The Weather Channel personalities will gleefully give the official snow totals, shaking their Atlanta-based heads in wonderment as they fall just shy of musing, on-air, “My gosh, who would live there?”

Yes, we talk about snow a lot during the winter months of November through March. The conversations go something like this: “Wow, that was quite the first snow–Waterford got 14 inches.” Or, “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!” These morning coffee break discussions will go for the next five months! The Mount is situated right along the lakeshore, but just four miles south is a glacial ridge on which I-90 was built. The climates north of I-90 (along the lake) and south of I-90 (inland for 25 miles or so) are two different worlds. One gets snow and the other nearly nothing, and then in the next storm, vice versa. And so it begins again this month, on our way to an average of 90'' of snow a year. According to a Web site on such, Sharon only averages 17'', Oil City 53'' and Clearfield 42''–but Bradford is right up there with Erie at 88'' (at least wherever they calculate it near Bradford, it used to be on a mountain top).

I know this all sounds wild to many people, but remember, it doesn’t come all at once and usually melts considerably before the next few inches 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, earthquakes – I don’t think our snow is so bad. All we have to do is shovel it a little and then it always melts away.” Way to go, Dad–a true Great Lakes native and acclimated veteran!

On Friday our offices handed out candy to these Trick or Treaters from St. Benedict Child Development Center. Cute as can be!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mothers and Daughters

Our annual invitation to the residents of Benetwood Apartments, the 75-unit HUD apartment complex right behind the Mount, was this week and a large majority of the residents came to join the community for prayer and supper.

A couple years ago, in celebrating its 25th year, the Sister administrators added a beauty shop and a computer room to the complex. Both are always full, especially the computer lab. These independent-living seniors have really caught onto emailing their out-of-town grandchildren and relatives. "They love it," from all reports.

Four mothers of community members live at Benetwood right now. And here are the mother-daughter combinations from the event.

Helen Heher and her mother.

Cindy Hoover and her mother.

Annette Marshall and her mother.

Karen (center) and Christine Kosin and their mother.

Photos by Susan Freitag, OSB

Monday, October 27, 2008

Everybody loves October

The first lady of California, Maria Shriver, held her annual Women's Conference last Wednesday. Our Sr. Joan Chittister was among the invited speakers. If you'd like to hear her remarks, go to this site and click on Replay of Webcast. She was part of the Luncheon Session and her remarks begin at about the 1 hr.43 min. mark.

After her presentation she met the Irish singer-activist, Bono, who thought her remarks were terrific.

To hear Joan read from one of her latest books, go here and click on the Audio tab on top.

One of my friends urges me to take my camera with me wherever I go. So I do. And this week I got a few nice shots of Erie in October. Enjoy!

Right outside our back door at about 5:30 p.m.

Horseshoe Pond at Presque Isle and the houseboat community.

Atop the Tom Ridge Environmental Center's tower: Waldemeer's new roller coaster, Ravine Flyer II, with Lake Erie in the background.

On the way to work this week--the eastern sky at sunrise--7:30 a.m.