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.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October Tradition

This last full weekend of October finds us gathering together, as we do every year at this time, for some serious reflection and some celebration.

On Saturday about half of our 200+ oblates will be at the Mount to renew their annual commitment in our oblate program. The oblate director, who started a webpage just for our oblates last May, also has 18 new initiates joining the many longtime members who come "home" to celebrate Benedictine spirituality with us.

Also on Saturday, Sr. Irene Nowell, OSB, a scripture scholar from Atchison, Kansas, will share with us some of her knowledge on the psalms. The daily recitation/chanting of the psalms is, of course, a pivotal part of monastic life. Reflections on them are always welcome. In the morning her two 45-minute presentations are: "Why do we pray the psalms?" and "Telling our story." After lunch will be: "Crying out our pain," and "Singing our praise." Over the noon hour everyone is also scheduled to receive their annual flu shot! (Pause)

No, I did not make that up--that is the real, honest-to-gosh schedule.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend Visitors

This weekend two groups are holding meetings at the Mount, so our (few) guest rooms are filled and the Lighthouse Inn, 3 miles down East Lake Rd. is getting a little business from us.

The Federation of St. Scholastica's group, "55 and Under," are holding a planning meeting for their Memorial Day weekend gathering next May. Four or five of our sisters will be attending. Click here for a story on the 2007 Gathering in Atchison, Kansas (near Kansas City). It's claim-to-fame is that of being the home of Amelia Earhart and the home of both a Benedictine community of sisters and monks, who also have a liberal arts college there.

The second group is the Board of Trustees of AIM USA, the US Secretariat of the Alliance for International Monasticism. Ten monks and sisters from around the US compose the Board and gather once a year for an annual corporate meeting. The US Secretariat was set up in the late 1970s and has been in Erie since 1990.

Here's a look at the south side of our inner court- yard. This large spray of

tall grass is beautiful right now. Those are impatiens on either side of it and a large hydrangea bush on the right.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Trio of Topics

Over the past two weeks we've had what I would call three "information sessions" on current topics of local, national and personal interest.

1) The first was on the proposed tire recycling plant that is set to be built just 4 miles west of us, inside the city limits, and in the midst of residential neighborhoods. Representatives from both the recycling group and the local environmental coalition spoke of their concerns/plans and answered questions asked by community members.

2) The second presentation was on the US bishop's document "Faithful Citizenship." “They give advice on how to make the best decisions without totally disregarding what the church teaches and without totally disregarding the ambiguity that each election offers,” says Sister Dorothy Stoner, who will lead several presentations of this document preceding the national elections, November 4. These presentations are a joint venture between the Benedictine Sisters of Erie and the Erie Diocese’s Office of Parish Social Ministry/Respect Life.

3) The third talk was given by our own infirmarian and other health professionals. It was on colon-rectal screening and diet, nutrition and general good health concerns. Colon rectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women in this country.

All three of these presentations were held at the Mount and were attended by many community members.

Photo by Bernadette Sullivan, OSB

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hidden in Plain Sight

A mild and stormless October is allowing our trees to keep hold of their leaves as they change into those breathtaking colors. On our large west lawn there are many trees all scattered about. There is a huge willow and numerous evergreens that draw your attention immediately. But last Friday, as we turned into the driveway, we spotted this little Charlie Brown tree, normally hidden in the center of the lawn, dwarfed by its neighbors. But this week, "it showed 'em"! As the evergreens remain green, as the willow and larger trees slowly start their conversion, this little thing decided to turn all at once---bright red. It is stealing the show--and what a little beauty!

Another autumn experience came this weekend, too---the harvesting of the grape crop all along Rte. 5 and Rte. 20 from Harborcreek east to the New York state line. The aroma of those ripe-picked grapes really could be smelled right outside in our backyard. Here's a thick bunch of them right before the picker came through.

And finally, the latest on one of our favorite topics: our deer. First of all our deer are appearing every day now, right out in the open, between 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. before it gets too dark to see them. Their coats have turned dark gray and they blend in with the tree trunks, bushes and grasses that border the woods.
They are traveling in larger groups nowadays. It's not unusual to see 5, 6 or even 7 running across the backyard, heading to or from the apple orchard. There is also one "late" fawn that we saw with its mother just last week. He or she was nursing right out in the open. It is wonderful to see them, for we know that as the daylight hours get shorter and shorter we will lose sight of them until early spring, as their morning and evening travels will take place in the dark. However, we always know that they are still around--those hoofprints in the snow give them away!

Here's one I caught staring back at me!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Eastern Belgium

I'm just back from a week in eastern Belgium at a meeting for AIM. Here is a sampling from the three monasteries where I stayed and where the meetings were held.

Monastery of St. Andre de Clerlande-Benedictine monks. Twenty-two monks live, almost literally, in the woods. Their setting is very similar to our hermitages, except it's for the whole monastery grounds and buildings:

The Benedictine Sisters of Rixensart are a group of 20-24 who live in a rather overly large and not-too-pretty building, but they have lovely art work throughout. The photo on the left is of Jesus and Benedict, with scenes from Benedict's life all around the perimeter. I think this is Benedict in the statue on the right, too. In addition to their art they also have fresh flowers everywhere.

A small group of 10 Trappist nuns live just south of Liege on the far eastern border of Belgium at Brialmont Abbey. They grow and sell mushrooms for their livelihood and, though the youngest is 60, they were very hospitable and enjoyed having us visit. Our meetings were held at their place, as they have a large and modern guesthouse.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Erie Book Store Event

For those of you who live within 30-40 miles of Erie you will want to know about a special evening at the Erie Book Store on East 13th Street--Wednesday, October 29: 5:00-7:00 pm. That night the Erie Book Store and Benetvision will sponsor a reading and book signing by Sisters Mary Lou Kownacki and Joan Chittister. Each of them will share favorite excerpts from their latest books. Sister Mary Lou--A Monk in the Inner City and Sister Joan--The Gift of Years.

Here is a recent review of Mary Lou's book from the Erie Times News.

"I've discovered there are many bullies on the block, many who take advantage of the weak and powerless," writes Sister Mary Lou Kownacki in her new book of personal essays, A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a Spiritual Journey (Orbis Books, $16).

"With knees shaking, I've tried to stand up to the bullies in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Haiti and the United States. But instead of using fists, I've confronted with prayer, silent vigils, demonstrations, advocacy and civil disobedience."

Kownacki, a Benedictine sister in Erie, is well known for her charity work at the Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Neighborhood Art House. Her brand of monasticism, though contemplative, is hardly a cloistered retreat from the world.

"To bring passion back to our lives we must live on the edge, the margin, among the poor, in vulnerable and volatile places, steeping our days in prayer and forgiving love. A passionate Christian life is about giving our lives for something greater than ourselves."

Kownacki is Catholic, but her role models come from every school of religious thought. One of her primary spiritual heroes is the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whom she interviewed at a Vietnamese refugee camp in the 1970s.

"Here was a man who had every right to be agitated, preoccupied ... his life was a horror-movie serial. Daily he received anguished letters from friends telling of imprisonment, hunger, illness and death. Yet never had I met a more peaceful person."

Kownacki's biggest influence is the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who was forced to write about peace and civil rights in the 1960s under a pseudonym because his superiors told him "it was not a monastic thing to do."

Thanks to Merton and his followers, the definition of what constitutes monastic activity has changed greatly over the years. No longer content to hide away in abbeys baking bread and brewing ales, many of today's monastic communities have taken an active role in peace and protest movements.

In A Monk in the Inner City, Kownacki writes of an embarrassing moment during her incarceration in a Washington, D.C., jail for demonstrating against nuclear proliferation.

"None of us wants to admit that we mind going to the toilet in front of strangers. It seems such a trivial thing, so incongruent with a 'heroic' stand against the arms race. I mean, it is so bourgeois, so 'nunish' -- but, oh, so real."

A Monk in the Inner City isn't a self-righteous creed by an egocentric crusader. It's an honest book by a woman struggling with self-doubt to live a useful and committed life.

By Dan Morey
Erie Times News

Thursday, October 2, 2008


This is the icon and its setting that greeted us as we came into chapel for Morning Praise yesterday, October 1st, on the feast of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. The icon is sitting on a white cloth that drapes onto the floor and has red rose pedals strewn on it.

I was talking just the day before with a Benedictine visitor about how blessed our community is because we have so many "formally" trained liturgists and "informally" trained liturgists, who were trained by the formally trained ones! It's not only at major events that we see their talents and skills. It's in little moments like this one: a simple addition to the environment, an interweaving of a song with the reading that brings out a new look at both, a unique translation of a prayer that is appropriate to some special event or commemoration. These little things make the "daily" so much more than--daily.

Here's a quick look at the two alcoves in chapel as their autumn colors set in.