Thursday, May 28, 2009

Monastic Lexicon #11

"Out at Trinity"

The answer to the question, Where are your Sisters buried? is: "Out at Trinity."

Trinity Cemetery is one of four cemeteries owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of Erie. Trinity is the oldest and is located about 11 miles west of the Mount at a busy intersection: 8th and Peninsula Drive. But, as with all cemeteries, as soon as you turn in you enter immediately into its quiet, calm and otherworldliness.

Keep driving along its circuitous paths and when you get to the road at the very back, you'll find us--in three separate areas, but close enough to be "together."

The first prioress, Mother Scholastica, and three dozen early Sisters are buried in one area, under one of Trinity's tall, stately old trees. About 300 feet from there is our largest section holding four rows of 200 or so graves. In between these two areas, in a newly constructed plot which will be for "the rest of us," are five newly added graves--our most recently deceased.

A few statistics of interest: 245 community members are listed in our necrology. The average age of the first 21 Sisters who died was only 27, with two in their teens. Living conditions and health care in the mid-19th century were rough, I'd say. And then there was an influenza epidemic--from 1915-1919 sixteen sisters passed away; another rough time for the young community. Over the last 75 years (half our community life) we've averaged only 2 deaths a year, but it varies considerably: in 2007 we had only one, in 2008 five.

First prioress: Mother Scholastica

Our new section.

Our largest section at Trinity Cemetery. Some now are double plots as an increasing number of Sisters are choosing to be cremated.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Spirit is Coming

On Sunday we began one of our favorite weeks--the coming of Pentecost. Some of the best things about this week are the songs. All of our "spirit" songs come out, some for their only appearance in the year. They are many, upbeat, melodic and inspiring. We'll sing a couple dozen of them over the next 10 days and they really are great.

Our celebrant Sunday began his homily with, "I think I've got to get a room here"! Everyone enjoyed a good laugh, as he has been the presider at most of the 6 liturgies and 2 memory services we've had during the last nine days.

Here is some new life I found amidst the deaths we've been "celebrating." For even with these celebrations there is a lot of sadness. These scenes make it a little easier.

The west wall of the inner courtyard with its border of usually green bushes in full bloom this week. Beautiful!

And in a corner, hidden from sight even through most windows, really only seen by those who know they are here--or who go into the courtyard and come upon them by surprise--this gorgeous lineup of blue irises. WOW!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Resurrection Week

We continue to have a week of "resurrections." Following the funeral of Sister Karen and Christine's brother last Saturday, the brother of one of our longtime and terrific cooks, Annie, died suddenly. He was only in his late 50s. Sisters attended the service yesterday at a local funeral home.

Tuesday night we hosted a wonderful prayer and memory service for Conrad Kraus, attended by many of his extended family members, community members and numerous friends that he made throughout his assignments and involvements in the diocese. Wednesday many community members were participants in his funeral liturgy, also.

In the midst of this another former celebrant of our Eucharists, Fr. Jim Sperry, died. He was just short of his 94th birthday. And then, our Sr. Mary Ann Keating, too, went to heaven Tuesday afternoon, quietly and peacefully. Her memory service will be tonight, with a funeral liturgy Friday afternoon.

This link is to the obituaries of our local newspaper if you'd like to read about any of these great people who graced our lives so beautifully.

Here is a gong that we sometimes use in our prayer. This was taken when it was hung against tan bricks in the chapel. Now it would hang in front of tan ceramic tile, but the effect is the same and sometimes even the reflections of the nearby windows are, too.

Photo by Bernadette Sullivan, OSB

Monday, May 18, 2009

Death and New Life

This week we're surrounded by the new life of spring and also birth to new life after death. One of our sisters, Sr. Mary Ann, was anointed this weekend and we will certainly celebrate her passing to the new life in God during this Easter season, perhaps this coming week.

We have four sets of blood sisters in the community right now and Saturday we were honored to have the funeral liturgy for the brother of one of these pairs--Sisters Karen and Christine's brother Ron. Every time we host a funeral liturgy for a family, oblate or close friend of the community it is a special occasion--very moving and very holy.

And, third, I must mention the passing this past Wednesday of (Rev. Msgr.)Conrad Kraus, another good friend of the community, cousin of our Sr. Mary Margaret and sister of one of our longtime retreatants. Before entering the seminary, Conrad spent his early career as an architect and then most of his priestly years in the area of liturgy, where his creativity and unique ideas flourished. For awhile he has wanted to go out to St. John Abbey/University, the large Benedictine abbey near Minneapolis famous for its contributions to liturgy in the US, to spend a semester in their Ecumenical and Cultural Research Center. This January his dream came true and he spent this last semester there and, unknown to him in his planning, was to die there, too. His viewing is at the Mount this Tuesday with the funeral liturgy in town at Sacred Heart church.

We enter into the celebrations of all of these special people and celebrate their life--here on earth and in the life to come.

A unique celebration of life in these two dogwood trees, pink and white, whose trunks have joined into one and that bloom together now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Julian and visitors

Helen and Elizabeth, two college gals, are spending a week with us, seeing what Benedictine monastic life is like here with our community. Their days are spent in ministries: both internal and outside of the monastery. Evenings are, generally, scheduled with groups of sisters for information and discussions on topics of spirituality and monasticism and anything else they may wish to ask about.

Wednesday we had a special morning praise as it was the feast of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century hermit, who is quite popular today. Here is part of the Call to Worship our prayer leader recited, from a famous prayer by Julian: "I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see for yourself that every kind of thing will be well."

Our apple orchard is in bloom. Six deer passed through it yesterday---no doubt wondering when the fruit of these blossoms will be coming. Well, we can assure them that at least our annual salt lick will be arriving this weekend!

More delicately blossoming trees in the courtyard.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Easter in May

Since the Easter season is still going strong, liturgically, it encourages all of us to continue our awe at the new life that makes up spring. Since we took a walk along Seven-Mile Creek down to the lake last week, I thought a trip just around the backyard might be nice--to show you our world as it appears these days.

Here's my attempt at being artsy: a blossoming tree with our gazebo in the background and St. Scholastica through another blooming bush.

On the south side of the inner courtyard are a number of trees that show amazing colors in April and May. And, starting May 2nd, we began to see hummingbirds at our feeders. This one is in the cloister walk that connects the dining room to the chapel. So if you walk slowly and don't rush past this window...

And, finally, though this is 1/2 mile up Troupe Rd. not really in our backyard, I couldn't resist. Driving home this weekend past Port Erie Plastics I spied this year's goslings with their parents. The plastics plant has a large pond right beside the road and every year a pair of Canada Geese graces us with the first appearance of their new family. Here are four of the dozen I saw crossing the asphalt between the pond and the grassy area with one of their parents---joining the other parent and the rest of the gang. Isn't the background quite the sight?

"I rejoice heartily in the Holy One,
in God, the joy of my life.
I have been clothed with a robe of salvation,
enfolded in a garment of justice,
like a bridegoom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride arrayed with jewels.

As fresh life springs up from the earth,
like a garden's promise in spring,
so shall God make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations..."

Isaiah 61

Clicking on any photo will make it full screen size.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vision and Viewpoint

I'd like to plug the only e-newsletter I read regularly: Vision & Viewpoint produced by Benetvision Publications whose offices are right across the hall from mine. I help proof it every week and occasionally offer an item for it and I still read it every Monday when it comes through on my email. Why? Easy, it's short, informative and very well-written.

Vision & Viewpoint shares the latest from our community's small but powerful publishing ministry. It keeps readers up on Joan Chittister's latest publications and upcoming lectures, even carrying an excerpt from one of her books each week. It also shares a little, but not too much, on topics of interest to the staff and Benetvision supporters.

I've tried to duplicate this week's issue, but it's a poor attempt what with much better graphics and layout...but at least it will give you a flavor. Sign up here and give it a chance. I think you may like it, too.

Ideas in Passing
Joan Chittister

"Beyond Proofs and Beliefs"

The basic truth of the spiritual life, I am convinced, is that there are great mystics in every tradition. Mysticism is not a Western, Christian phenomenon. Mystics are people in whom the living God is a living reality, independent of denomination, irrespective of the brand of scriptures that underpin it. The Hindu Upanishads teach, “As rivers flow into the sea and in so doing lose name and form, even so the wise one freed from name and form, attains the Supreme Being, the Self-luminous, the Infinite.” Rabia, the Muslim mystic, writes to God, “I have set up house for you in my heart.” The Jewish Kabbalah teaches that we are all sparks of the divine. And the Tao te Ching, The Book of the Way, teaches, “The Tao is always present within you.” The God-life is not stranger to mystics anywhere; it is the very breath they breathe.

And, without doubt, it is in us, too. But the shape and cultivation of the God-life is a very personal thing. It touches each of us in the same way — and yet differently. The sense of the presence of God is almost natural to many and a real struggle to some. But whatever our natural inclination for God, there are, nevertheless, some givens: We must be open to the God within us. We must be free of the shackles of the mind. We must be willing to forgo everything we have been told about God to this point. Realize that all of it is inadequate, partial, well-meaning, but fallacious to a fault. We must not fear to go beyond proofs for the unprovable, or beyond belief to the unknown. Just because we do not know does not mean that we do not “know.” As the Tao says, “The Way that can be told is not the eternal Way.”

Once we empty ourselves of our certainties, we open ourselves to the mystery. We expose ourselves to the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” We bare ourselves to the possibility that God is seeking us in places and people and things we thought were outside the pale of the God of our spiritual childhood. Then life changes color, changes tone, changes purpose. We begin to live more fully, not just in touch with earth, but with the eternal sound of the universe as well. From Called To Question: A Spiritual Memoir (Sheed & Ward)

May 4, 2009

MOTHER’S DAY: A reminder that we have four items on sale as a Mother’s Day special. The sale ends Monday, May 11. Click here. Of Mother’s Day, Sister Joan writes: “The Irish call it ‘Mothering Day.’ The title manifests the growth of an idea. The fact is that — man and woman alike, parent and guardian alike, friend and stranger alike — we must all learn to mother. Mothering is the art of releasing what is gentle and loving and patient and receiving in all of us. Who are the people who mothered, who nourished, who comforted you in life? Thank God for them.”
RADIO INTERVIEW: If you missed the interview with Joan Chittister on Oprah radio on Monday, April 27, click here to listen to a short segment.
LET’S DO JUSTICE: As a Mother’s Day gift you might want to make a donation in your mother’s name (or in the name of another mothering person in your life) to FINCA (Foundation for International Community Assistance.) FINCA supplies poor women with small loans that enable them to start or expand small businesses. Worldwide, their clients post repayment rates of over 97%.

After 15 years in exile, Fatima Mohammad Mussah returned to Afghanistan becoming one of the first women to join the initial group of Jebrayil women to receive a microloan from FINCA. She and five friends formed a Savings and Credit Group called “Fuladi” (or “Steely,” after the strength the members see in their new group), and each received a loan of 6,000 Afghanis ($125) to invest in their small businesses: tailoring, sewing, and food processing. As their businesses grow, so will their FINCA loans allowing them greater security and the ability to improve the quality of life for their families.
SOUL POINT: This video has inspiring quotes and photos. Enjoy.
PRISON CHAPLAINS WRITE: You make it possible for us to send materials free of charge to chaplains and volunteers in 70 prisons across the country. Here are two notes from chaplains who benefit from your generosity. To donate, click here.

Dear Friends at the Fund for Prisoners, Many, many thanks for the beautiful handouts I will be sharing with the women who are in the Wyandotte Detention Center. It’s a county jail and has very few programs or offerings for the inmates. Currently I see about 16 women a week. They are in individual lockdown most of the time so these brief reading materials will be most helpful. Blessing on your good work.
B.M. Kansas City, KS

Our Catholic community has been receiving The Monastic Way for quite some time now, because of your generous donations. I can’t begin to tell you how much these are appreciated by the population. They have begun to ask for them. This is a huge help to my ministry. I am very often unable to provide the ladies with any spiritual materials because of financial inability. You should be proud of all that you do for the incarcerated. It is vital that they not become the forgotten in our society. Thank you for all that you do to make a difference. M.A.D. Central California Women’s Facility
Dear Sr. Joan, Right now a dear friend is dying of brain cancer, my sister is dying of ALS, my mother-in-law is deep in Alzheimer's and my father-in-law is grieving his wife of 60 years. I am trying to take care of all of them. And I read your book Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope and it gets me through one day at a time. Thank you from an Episcopalian woman in her late 50's. L.G.

Dear Benetvision: I have discovered a way of reminding and refreshing myself of the many valuable statements and insights present in each monthly issue of The Monastic Way, which your viewers may like to consider. It is simply this: Don’t throw away or store past issues of The Monastic Way. Use them as bookmarks to mark your place in books you are currently reading. They are colorful and sturdy and make very good place markers. G.M.S.

Monday, May 4, 2009

SBEC, NAH in spring

Even big blocky buildings look beautiful in spring!

All you SBA Lassies, your alma mater is looking pretty good these days. Within the last couple of years all the 1950s windows were replaced, the backyard is a colorful, modern playground area for the GECAC children at SBEC and the children who attend St. Benedict's Child Development Center on E. 9th Street. And here, during the first couple weeks of spring, even the 10th Street front of the building is a gorgeous site, as all its trees are in full bloom.

The building itself is home to St. Benedict Education Center, of course, with its programs of job development and job placement for parents on welfare. The Erie site is the anchor for a six county program that SBEC coordinates here in northwest Pennsylvania. 2,300 welfare parents came through their programs in 2008, with more expected this year.

St. Benedict Education Center,
aka St. Benedict Academy.

A block and a half west, toward downtown Erie, is the Neighborhood Art House. Forty years ago on the corner of 10th and Holland you'd find, Doubet Jewelers (now home to Hospice of Erie), a huge Sears store and parking lot (now home to the Seawolves baseball stadium and office building), Kerr's Tire Center (which is still there), and on the southeast corner, the Goodyear Tire Building (now home to the Art House). This after school and summer program brings a wide variety of fine arts experiences to over 600 children each year. Their spring term is just about over, with the 5-week summer program set to begin June 29. This week their trees, which border both Holland Street and East 10th Street, were also full of beautiful white blossoms.

The Neighborhood Art House,
aka the Goodyear Tire Building.