Monday, March 30, 2009

A Lamb-like Month

Do you have a favorite first sign of spring in your area? Of course you do. And here is a close up of mine: bunches of little open-during-the-day and close-up-at-night purple flowers that, seemingly, grow out of the dirt... dirt, not soil, along the asphalt driveway that serves as a cut-through from E. 10th St. to E. 9th St. and also as the entryway to the parking lots of our buildings. They only last a week or 10 days and this week is their 2009 life.

Here is a view of their larger world. If this isn't a miracle, I don't know what is! They are such an impossible yet hopeful sign of life and beauty and all that is renewed each year (especially after 141" of snow). The season of Easter is in the air here.

Our final March-Women's History Month Art Show piece is by Therese Glass, OSB.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The March-April issue of our diocesan magazine, Faith, has just been published. Here's one of the three blog-type entries from my column. The other two can be seen through the link.

"East Coast Migrant Head Start"

Their parents work in the grape vineyards, fruit tree orchards, strawberry patches and potato fields surrounding Erie. They are the children of seasonal workers. Before they start school, they attend the East Coast Migrant Head Start program downtown at the site of our original motherhouse: on East 9th Street near Parade.

For the last 27 years, the program has welcomed 65-70 children each year into this federally funded component of St. Benedict’s Child Development Center. This Head Start program includes daily meals, annual health screenings, certification for teachers/aides and a lot of parent and family education.

A few years ago, the St. Benedict site petitioned East Coast to allow them to include infants. Administrator Diane Rabe, OSB, explained, “If the youngest in the families aren’t able to attend, they might spend their days with their mothers in the pesticide-treated fields or napping in a nearby car.” The request was granted and now the April to December program includes children as young as 3 weeks old.

Two special high points occurred this year: The current staff now includes five employees who attended the program as children in the 1980s. Second, children of some of the first attendees are now enrolled in the program, so a second generation is here. Recently some of the children from the Baby Room had to move out to make room for new infants. “Do they move on to the Toddlers’ Room?” I asked one of the six sisters who works at SBCDC. “No,” she answered, “we’re opening a new room for them specially set up for those just learning to walk.” The name is perfect: the Waddler Room!

Here is a beautiful wooden bowl turned by Audrey Steff, OSB. We are all quite in awe of her talent in woodworking.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lenten Visitors--cont'd

The weekend was filled with the celebration of the Feast of Benedict on Saturday, an oblate social gathering Friday night and Lenten retreat Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning's liturgy of the Fourth Week of Lent. All of these events were filled to capacity and exhibited great spirit, both social and liturgical.

At the oblate social Friday night I joined with three oblates who are also former students of mine from my high school teaching years as we serenaded the rest of the oblates with Villa's school song--yes, in celebration of our alma mater's first state basketball title. Congratulations Victors--2009 AA State Champions! Villa Maria-56, York Catholic-51

This Art Show entry is by Susan Freitag, OSB, and shows the hands of our sisters who play musical instruments for our liturgies.

New Morning and Evening Prayer for Lent--sidebar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness

"Back in the day" one of the best local high school rivalries was between the girls' basketball teams of St. Ben's and Villa. The former, the Academy of the Benedictine Sisters, the latter that of the Sisters of St. Joseph. All games were attended by quite a few sisters and there were years when sisters were also the coaches. The first games I followed were held at Cauley Memorial Auditorium on E. 4th St. in the early 1960s, when 400-500 would attend the local recreational league's championship between the two.

Many of today's community members were players on those teams and in the 1970s and 80s I was part of that rivalry myself when the games were played in front of many more than just 400 fans.

The year SBA closed (1988) their team won the District X title in their division and went far into the state playoffs, almost making it to the state championship game. Their best showing ever.

Flash forward to the present. Today many of us still support and attend girls' basketball games during March Madness. We all follow Villa's team. This year's is a great one as they have advanced to the state championship game in the AA playoffs. It will be played tomorrow on the campus of Penn State University. Today's players include daughters and nieces of both SBA and VMA alumnae--who cheer together in the stands for "their" team.

This will be the 5th appearance of the Villa Victors in the state championship game. Four runner-up trophies are on display at the school. Maybe this time they'll come home with the championship trophy.

Photo courtesy of the Erie Times News.

Not only does she organize the March Art Show, run our "Chapter 57" gift shop, but she still finds time to produce her own art. Here is a beautiful piece by Margaret Ann Pilewski, OSB.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Busy Weekend

The 8 collegians from Ohio Wesleyan College in Ohio left Saturday morning and an equal number arrived Sunday morning from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. Both groups are here for their Spring Break and we do indeed love having them.

On Saturday we welcomed 25 women for a one-day retreat: "Women in Transition." The weather cooperated nicely and although spring is still a couple weeks from breaking out in this lake plain of ours, the bright early spring sun did make it a clear day for such a gathering.

Look what I found in the corner of the inner courtyard garden this weekend: ah, ha---it is indeed coming!

From the March Art Show here's a delicate work by Rita Pruchniewski, OSB. I believe Rita is 83.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The poet Kilian

The Benedictine poet Kilian McDonnell, of St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, has a new book out: God Drops and Loses Things. His poetry is often a reflection, lectio divina you might say, on scripture passages and stories or on his life events: in the abbey or just on everyday experiences. I have a copy and am enjoying this 3rd book of his poems just as much as the first two.

Here's one that is a fitting reflection, I think, for a pause in the mid-Lenten journey---on the way, as always, to Holy Week and Easter.

"The Leap of Faith"
(Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread.)

After bitter herbs, I place
upon the table my strange bread
and wine, a really hard

saying. Wise men are wary
of this leap over a fisherman’s
tally of the catch, a tax

collector’s pinch of each
extracted coin. The apostles are
accustomed to the logic of ripping

sails and strong boxes
for Caesar’s drachmas, but I lure them
into Because I say it.

When they look down,
no solid ground beneath them,
except my hand upon the table.

Kilian McDonnell, OSB

This is a photo of a unique sculpture of five dancing women. It is located on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, a summer arts village located about 60 miles east of Erie in New York state. Photo by Bernadette Sullivan, OSB. (Click on it to enlarge and see details).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Break Times Two

We're experiencing a "spring break" in two ways this week. Saturday afternoon six girls from Ohio Wesleyan arrived to spend their spring break week with us. This is the third year for the program and everyone enjoys their visit very much. The coordinator is one of our oblates. One of the highlights of Sunday night's get-to-know-you social was their teaching Rock-Paper-Scissors to some of our sisters who had never played it! Much fun--good laughs.

The second "spring break" is in the form of weather. It was 64 on Friday and nearly hit 60 again Saturday. After the winter we've had, it was heaven! Also, the deer sightings are back. We've seen up to 5 on our property and last Thursday one sister witnessed the highly unusual sight of 10 deer trying to cross East Lake Rd about 4 miles into town near a residential area. She said that luckily it happened slow enough for all the traffic to come to a stop for this rare viewing.

Here's an entry in the March Art Show by Stephanie Schmidt, OSB. Very creative cross section-type strips of her photograph.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March "Fourth"

Yesterday, March 4th was the seventh death anniversary of one of the great characters of our community, Lenore Shaw. I, and many, many others, still miss her very much. She was--literally and figuratively--larger than life. "I've got everything everybody else has," she'd announce periodically, "only more of it!"

Lenore entered the community three times--in 1945, left within a couple years--again in 1948, left in 1950--and entered for the third and final time in 1978! Most people think the community had to catch up with Lenore, not the other way around. Lenore was a character of the first degree. During the 28 years between her second and third entrances, she taught for many years in a city public high school--driver's education was her specialty. She would cajole us with story after story of the zany adventures of her friends on the faculty there, as they banded together to cope with the challenges of inner-city teaching in the 60s and 70s. At her large and crowded Irish wake every one of those colleagues (and even some of her former students) came out to pay her tribute and remember their favorite adventure with "Miss Shaw."

Her last outside ministry was at the Second Harvest Food Bank, which was then administered by one of our sisters who was as much fun as Lenore. They say that working with the two of them was like being part of a comedy routine every day. Her final "job" was as community driver, about which she'd exclaim, "If I ever doubted I was going to heaven, I don't now. This is my purgatory!" as she'd roll her eyes every day at the peculiarities of doctor's appts. and changing schedules that would send anyone else over the edge. We told her that she was perfect for the job.

Her annual February contribution to community fun was to organize the annual Super Bowl pool--$1.00 a box, with $25 to the winner of each quarter. If you stopped by our place last month you would have seen this year's chart: The 7th Annual Lenore Shaw Memorial Super Bowl Pool.

And in between Super Bowls we still tell "Lenore stories." We haven't run out of them yet.

From our March Art Show, here is a huge needlepoint by Theresa Zoky, OSB. It contains over 60,000 squares and took her seven years. It is a beauty.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 1st Events

Four sisters who will be traveling to Benedictine communities in Tanzania this summer as part of the AIM USA African Women's Commission, were at the Mount this weekend for an orientation to their upcoming (ad)venture. They will be sharing topics on monastic spirituality and helping with English, as well as simply sharing daily life with their Benedictine sisters. Here they pose in their new kangas: left to right, Dianne Maresh, OSB, Crookston, MN; Bonita Gacnik, OSB, Yankton, SD; Kathryn Huber, OSB, Ferdinand, IN; Norma Reiplinger, OSB, Rock Island, IL.

The annual March Art Show opened at the Mount Sunday. I hope to share one piece from it with every entry this month. Here are three intricate paper folding pieces from Laura Beichner, OSB. It's hard to tell from this photo, but they are all three-dimensional, coming outward about 1/8" from the vertical surface. (If you click on the photo you can see them up close).

New: Morning-Evening Prayer for Lent (see sidebar).