Monday, January 31, 2011


A not entirely new, yet always surprising experience this weekend, once again. One of our 250+ oblates passed away last week and we were asked if we could have her funeral liturgy here at the Mount. Of course. Always. She was not from Erie, except for the last 20 years. On Saturday morning about a dozen of her friends, including some nephews and nieces from out of town, arrived for the liturgy. Everything went along "normally"---or so I thought. After Communion, right before the closing prayers, the priest asked if any friends or family members would like to remember Marie by saying a few words. It was the words of the first person, her nephew that really bowled us over. Here's how he started: "WOW! WOW! You sisters really know how to celebrate a funeral Mass! I've never experienced anything like it!"

Later that afternoon, one of our sisters who had sat with the family for lunch told us that indeed her family and friends--some Catholic, some not--never expected what they met here and couldn't stop talking about the celebration, the music, the hospitality that they experienced with us.

What a gift we can give to our families and friends with the gifts we have been given and have fostered within our monastic life. We all know that the memories of deaths and accompanying rituals are long-standing and strong. I surely hope we contribute to the best of them.

And, this all took place during a snowy, winter- wonderland type weekend. Here's what our place looks like right now!

I couldn't resist "measuring" right in front of Mary in our inner courtyard. Good thing I chose a yardstick instead of just a ruler----12" exactly!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

OMS #1

Though we have been spared all those "heading up the East Coast" storms you've been seeing on the nightly news all winter, we've had our own share of snow (46"+) and cold (last weekend it went below zero...brrrrr!)and we're all into the hunkering down and finding things to do around the house days that come in the depths of winter.

To that end I've decided to start a new little weekly or occasional series. Here's #1: Pax Intrantibus, "Peace to those who enter here." It was placed above many of the doors and entranceways in early monastic houses throughout Europe. Even today it is common to have phrases or symbols built into the front doorways of our abbeys and monasteries. You have to have a sharp eye to see some of them for often they are a ways above eye level...but usually there is something there. If not, you'll probably find the equivalent inside somewhere close to the front door. There are variations and longer phrases but the most popular is surely just the word Pax. All this gives Benedictines a 1,500 year old claim on works for and about peace--both in our world, our country, our city, families and in our own hearts.

Here are some flowering plants I found just roaming around the house--not exactly spring-like, but close--especially in mid-January. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

An unusual weekend

On January 7th our Sr. Miriam Vos, an active and lively 80 year old, suffered a massive and irreversible stroke. We kept vigil at her bedside for eleven days, when she slipped away, quietly and peacefully. What was so unusual about this was that we seldom experience the death of a sister who is active and engaged fully in community life. It made all of the rituals and events of the weekend almost surreal.

Sr. Miriam was a character with a capital C! Unique, amazing and memorable. Her Memory Service was long and funny and loving. Everyone has a story and encounter with or about her that will not be soon forgotten.

Her obit and prayer card are here. I think they capture her very well. Capturing our feelings is less easy.

Two of her beloved bonsai plants were part of the chapel environment throughout.

All of these events are happening amidst snowy, snowy days. The local newspaper reported that although we've had 43" of snow (through last Thursday), we are only 5th in the area---behind Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, but ahead of Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (whose 22" probably feels like 43" to them!)

And, more newspaper coverage. The latest program at our SBEC, run by some of Erie's latest immigrants, was mentioned in a column by one of the Erie Times editors yesterday. Here's SBEC's latest

Thursday, January 20, 2011


From Mary Oliver's new book, Swan:

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smiles and talkers and therefore

I don't really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

When we dissembled the chapel environment after Christmas we didn't have the heart to just throw away all the poinsettias, so you'll find them in corners and offices all over the house. Here's a beautiful group right at the end of our hall.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Being 21 again

Saturday morning seven Canisius College students squeezed into their oversized van and headed out in a light January snow--back to their urban Buffalo campus and a return to the life of a student---after a week "as a monastic."

This is the first time we've hosted students at a semester break although there will be two groups here again in March for their "alternative spring break" weeks. It was perfect to have a group from the Great Lakes region, as they found the daily beautiful snowfall "normal" and maneuvered around and within it easily and with great spirits! I was so impressed by their willingness to enter into all aspects of the life-- they all attended every single morning prayer--that's 6:30 am. They mentioned our prayer, both its constancy and its depth, in many of their reflections on the week. It was quite an experience for many of them.

Their presence last week, along with students from a local college who came for a day-long retreat, too, has had our place "hopping," as they say. As luck would have it one of the students shared a birthday with one of our sisters. The birthday party held Friday night--with lots of laughter, charades, an electronic edition of Password and ice cream and cake--was a perfect send off for them.

Luckily, Monday is a holiday and most of us will have the day to "recuperate." Hospitality is a marvelous ministry but a bit of double duty working all day and hosting all evening! The students, I'm sure, will be in a similar state as they go into re-entry before their new classes begin Tuesday.

Here's the gift they left for us. There will be a slide show of their visit and the birthday party on our community site today, if it's not there already.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Onto Eternal Life

For the past 10 years or so many of our sisters have chosen cremation instead of the traditional casket burial. If you've never been to a burial service with cremains, I think you would find it---obviously quite different---but much more personal and participative.

Even though I have been to quite a few now, I still find them extremely moving and, as I said above, a fitting and very personal finale to the death and burial rituals celebrating the life of one of our sisters.

Yesterday, we had another one and the experience was the same, albeit in 4-5" of freshly fallen snow. One of our sisters reminded me of a beautiful book in our library with photos and meditations by the Trappist Thomas Merton, many of which were taken in their cemetery in the winter, too. Our scenario was very similar.

These photos really don't do any justice to the experience, but you may get a little idea of the intimacy of the occasion, as 15-20 of us huddled together, and offered prayers and song to accompany our sister into eternal life. All of us were also able to both bless the urn and add a shovel-full of soil to her resting place. It is a very special and memorable experience.

See our community's website here for a statement from the LCWR/CMSM on the Tucson, AZ tragedy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ordinary Monday

Last Monday's "Words of 2010." Or as my high school students use to call these, a Multiple Guess quiz!

Cyberchondriac: a)a Dr. Who monster b)someone who diagnoses their own imagined ailments on the internet c)a faulty robot.

Shamnesia: a)pretending to have forgotten something, usually to avoid embarrassment b)a group of islands in the south Pacific c)a skin disease.

An internot: a)someone who made a success of computer dating b)someone who refuses to do unpaid work experience c)someone who chooses not to use the internet.

A thinterval: a)the break during a play or musical performance in Yorkshire b)the gap between stopping one diet and starting another c)a narrow valley.

Dietribe: a)a lecture on healthy eating from a zealot b)a bitter and violent tirade c)an endangered group of indigenous people.

Manscara: a) a vicious South American crab b)a cosmetic designed to enhance a man's eyelashes c)a tropical disease.

Nostralgia: a)the science of pain relief b)a flowering scrub c)nostalgia brought on by a familiar smell.

Godcasting: a)podcasting with a religious theme b)street preaching c)creating religious statuary in molten metal.

Swipeout: a)a nasty comment by a TV talent show judge b)the embarrassing experienced when your credit card is rejected c)a surfing accident.

Courtesy of The Tablet magazine.

Our Sr. Marie Celine passed into everlasting life this Saturday. Please remember her and all of us in your prayers.

Goodbye Christmas season. Blessed Ordinary Time begins today!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Any unusual vow

The January-February issue of our diocese's Faith magazine is now online. The cover story is on marriage encounters. The editor often asks the columnists to consider the theme in writing their column. I never have, but this time I had an idea and tried. With credit given to our Joan Chittister whose chapter on stability in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily I read before writing. I hope readers like it.

It's online here. Go to p. 23.

Also, new things on our community website if you haven't been there for a couple days.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010's New Words

"Epiphany" was one of five religious terms to challenge the readers in a magazine's Language Game page for the end of the year. This weekend we had a beautiful celebration of the Christian Epiphany which always includes songs we only sing on this full voice. After all, they have to last 12 months!

The "words of the year" in this article included: cyberchondriac, shamnesia, an internot, a thinterval, dietribe, manscara, nostralgia, Godcasting and swipeout.

We had our first big melt this weekend, two days in the 50s! Here's what it did to our lakefront...lots of dunes and open water, and gorgeous ice-sculpted waves. Click on them to enlarge.