Thursday, December 31, 2015

On the eve of 2016

To end the year, two of my favorite things: Google Doodles and Mary's poems.

"Don't Worry"

Things take the time they take.
Don't worry.

How many roads did St. Augustine follow
before he became St. Augustine?

Mary Oliver, from her new book Felicity.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The week between

The week between Christmas and New Year's Day brings a different pace to our lives. The most obvious difference is that Morning Prayer is at 8:30 am, a full two hours to sleep in! Secondly, a number of sisters have an abbreviated ministry schedule--some go in part time and some just take turns "holding the fort" as the ministry itself is not in full swing. And third, a number of sisters who have family out of town take this time for a 4-5 day visit--and with the weather allowing perfect travel in our part of the country this year--they are stress-free trips!

There are dozens of little holiday arrangements on every free table top. Some are religious, some secular.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas comes to the Mount

The electric train in the community room.

A huge wreath above the receptionist's desk.

A bowl of Christmas tree balls in the hall.

Our lovely community room tree, really the top of a dying tree
from Glinodo.

The children's nativity in a display case. Mary, Joseph and the angel await the baby Jesus. Don't miss the footwear.

The beautiful chapel tree, another Glinodo "top."

The annual Dicken's village.

Stella Steff's ever-growing magnolia tree all lit up
in the inner courtyard.

The community room's manger set.

In the midst of the holiday and holy days celebration--everyday life: Go Cavs!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Our First Snow

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
creek bed 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.

Our first snow: December 18.

Seven-Mile Creek is running well with the fast-melting snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Emmaus children's Christmas

Here's Sister Anne (prioress), Sister Rosanne (Sister Santa) and yours truly, delivering 100 Christmas gifts for 28 families that I and my "helper elves," especially Sister Mary Grace who wrapped dozens of pairs of sneakers, contributed to the annual Emmaus Ministries children's Christmas gift program. Each child could ask for one clothes item. Sneakers are by far #1, but they are followed closely by pants and "outfits" for the 5 and under crowd...which, by the way, are delightful to pick out!

Thank you Emmaus for all you do for the needy of Erie! And thanks to all the sisters at the Mount who helped and encouraged us in this annual project!

Making deliveries to the Emmaus Food Pantry. Each family gets
a large garbage bag filled with the gifts for their children---
One-thousand children in total.

The beautiful O Antiphons are here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent reflections

This weekend held a reflection/retreat experience for both the oblates and community members.

On Saturday, thirty oblates of Mount St. Benedict Monastery arrived for an afternoon of reflection, followed by dinner with the community and attendance at the Vigil of the Third Sunday of Advent.

Sunday afternoon community members gathered for an early brunch right after liturgy followed by faith sharing and prayer on our Advent-Lent book for this year: Joan Chittister's In God's Holy Light. This book contains 35 "wisdom stories" from the Egyptian desert mothers and fathers of the third, fourth and fifth centuries.

Here's one that we had for this weekend: Abba Sisoes says, "Seek God and not where God lives." Of which Joan wrote: "Abba Sisoes demands an answer from each of us. Who is our God? A cornucopia of good things for spiritual children or a co-creator of life who waits for us to see the world as God sees the world and then do our part to make all of it holy? It is Emmanuel, God-with-us, that we seek."

Our beautiful Christmas PEACE sign, usually sitting in a field
of white snow, but this year standing in the grass!
 Sunday we broke a 114-year record high for the date: 66 !

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Early December

Here are two of our "winter deer" enjoying some of the hundreds of apples local farmers dropped off here at the Mount over the past two months. They were way more than we could use so when we had done all we could I placed a couple dozen out at a time and was amazed at how fast (overnight) they would be gone. I caught this pair one day so I snapped a photo right through my bedroom window. Thank you local growers!

If you haven't had a chance to browse through the Fall/Winter issue of our Mount magazine, maybe now is your chance. It's a real beauty. Yours truly took the photos on page 27! The piece on the cover by Brother Thomas is just one in our collection of over 100 pieces. A few of the dark blue ones are on display throughout the monastery right now as appropriate environment for the Advent season. They are always so stunning.

Our ever-beautiful chapel windows. December 9, 6:00 pm

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wild about Advent

We are "wild" about Advent--and why not? Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, we had a superb liturgy, marvelous homily and beautiful music/singing.

Then, this is the sky that greeted us at sunset:

And every day there are scriptures like this one from the second week's Monday liturgy:

" The desert and the parched land will exult; 
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.  
They will bloom with abundant flowers, 
and rejoice with joyful song....
then will the eyes of the blind be opened, 
the ears of the deaf be cleared; 
Then will the lame leap like a stag, 
then the tongue of the mute will sing. 
Streams will burst forth in the desert, 
and rivers in the steppe."
Isaiah 35

Thursday, December 3, 2015


On December 2, 1980 three Catholic sisters, two Maryknollers and one Ursuline from nearby Cleveland, were murdered in El Salvador where they were ministering to the oppressed poor of that country which was in the beginnings of what was to be a 12-year civil war. They were all in their 40s. A young laywoman, Jean Donovan, age 27, was working with them and was also martyred.

To mark this 35th anniversary we held a beautiful, yet very sobering and sad holy hour in their honor.

The life of Jean Donovan was recounted in the book and movie Roses in December. This rose, with numerous buds surrounding it, is blooming in one of our gardens today.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Grey Friday

Our local paper carried a story proclaiming that Black Friday retail sales were so much lower than the past, they were dubbing it Grey Friday.

Well, if you love nature, spirituality and inspirational poetry you should give Mary Oliver's new book, Felicity, consideration as a gift for those special friends. She is her usual extraordinary self. Here's an excerpt for you:

I Wake Close to Morning

Why do people keep asking to see
God's identity papers
when the darkness opening into morning
is more than enough?

Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.
Think of Sheba approaching
the kingdom of Solomon.
Do you think she had to ask,
"Is this the place?"

Here's the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

One of the "gifts" that our warm and snowless November has brought us: beautiful clouds in the skies.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Something for everyone

The next four days have something for everyone.

If you get high on Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and pie, this is your day! Have a great time.

Or, if you love to cheer at the TV with football games, you're in for a treat as there are loads of both college and professional games coming up.

Or, if shopping is your "all-American thing" the deals both in stores and online will be calling to you this weekend.

Here are the identical twins that spend their days at our Child Development Center in downtown Erie. Yes, they always are dressed identically and this day--voila, I guess you'd say they came as football fields. Darling, darling!!! For Halloween they were pumpkins...rather fitting as they are just walking and still have all that baby fat!

Finally, in the midst of all this secular hoopla, doesn't the liturgical season of Advent begin its four weeks Saturday night at the vigil and Sunday as the First Sunday of the Church Year. Every one's favorite here...with new beautiful hymns and lots of old favorites. If it could only be a little longer so we'd have a chance to get all the special prayers and songs in! At least this year it's nearly four full weeks and next year---WOW, four complete weeks.

Monday, November 23, 2015

End of the church year

The church year ends this week with the beginning of another Advent season Saturday night.

For the last Sunday of the liturgical year (Christ the King) we had a very nice liturgy, fine reflection from our presider, Jim P. and these views of the for all to see and the other two only for those who happened to be looking down at the exactly right time.

Come join us for the Advent vigils if you're nearby.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A space to create

This week we attended an event at a brand new place: The Studio at St. Mary's: a place for artists to create, teach and engage in their art form. This new "artist's colony" you might say, is located in the former St. Mary's School in the 300 block of E. 10th St. in Erie. My Dad attended St. Mary's in the 1920s and 30s and told us many a story of his days in this still very, very beautiful building. With its early 20th century architecture, I would think artists of any medium would find it a more than fitting setting for their own "studio" and creativity therein.

I'm sure you'll hear and see much more about it as it catches hold and expands in its artists and events.

The first event held there was a book signing and reading by Sister Joan of her new book, Two Dogs and a Parrot with the parrot itself in attendance.

I was struck by the other words, what artists and interior decorators (even amateurs who have the eye) can do with open space.

Isn't this little arrangement placed around a window, lovely?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Methodist manners

This past weekend another group of a dozen or so Methodists, some clergy and some parish leaders, came for their mandatory annual retreat/workshop. We've hosted about 6-7 of these over the last couple of years. They have been very nice events for us and, seemingly, for them, also. They have their activities and gatherings in our Garden Room on the ground floor and join us for meals. Every group has been as friendly as the first and very grateful for our hospitality.

Though not all are male, we do notice a special fondness by the men in the group for our food service offerings. This weekend one of the guys gave us what he probably thought was the highest compliment. At one meal he said to those of us around him in the cafeteria line, "Your salad bar is the best, it's even better than Hoss's!" I guess in his experience, the local steak house had the best (until now).

One of the first groups had a peanut butter aficionado who kindly told us that our peanut butter wasn't very good and promised to send us a case of a better kind. He was right. At the time we had this no-name, not too tasty stuff that didn't come close to my memories of Jiff, Peter Pan or Skippy from my childhood sandwiches. I don't know if we ever got the promised gift but when our new food service director arrived soon after, I talked with her about the peanut butter "situation." She agreed but said that our vendor didn't carry anything else. However, a few months later I noticed jars of Peter Pan started to appear and the generic ones disappear. Somehow she worked it out and I see many sisters using it on their toast in the mornings...protein, I guess.

I wonder if our peanut butter man was in this latest group and, if so, I hope he enjoyed our improved fare.

Come to think of it, maybe J. M. Barrie was Methodist!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

This is the week

This is the week. What week? you ask. The only week in the year when all four of my cactus plants are in bloom at the same time!

Normally they spend their "lives" on the wide east window ledge in our library, up against a huge bank of windows. Obviously they love it there as the flowering tells.

Here is the oldest (about 25 years old now), the fullest and the
first to bloom. I moved it to the dining room to let it 
"show off " for a few days. Both it and the light pink
 one will bloom at least once more  and probably 
twice before next spring.

This is the yellow one, a direct descendant of  Sr. Benedict
Grotzinger's from which I took a leaf and started this. I had never
seen a yellow holiday cactus before and it never fails to 
amaze me with its beauty. It is a much stronger 
yellow than appears in this photo.

Here are the three that are still in the library. The light pink one
is in the middle and the white one is at the far left. It is 
the one that usually blooms only once, though its solid 
whiteness (no colored edges or centers like some other 
white flowers have), makes it quite stunning. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meeting a prophet

Yesterday's first reading was that beautiful story from First Kings of the prophet Elijah meeting the poor widow and asking her for some water and then some bread. She responds that she has very little of either and is, in fact, preparing the little that is left before she and her son will die. The prophet assures her that her jar of flour will not be empty nor her jug of oil go dry from that day forth.

Our presider gave a lovely reflection on hospitality, as the woman was ready to give her last food to the stranger. Personally I thought it was a deep story of how, when we are living in the world as God would see the world, our "jars and jugs" are never really empty, as they are constantly being filled up by the word of God, the graces we receive each day, the example of those around us on the journey and the presence of the spirit in us and with us always.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Do you like Olives?

I want to plug an HBO series from 2014 that my friends and I just finished watching on DVDs from our local library: Olive Kitteridge. A very, very good story of a woman and her family in a small coastal town in Massachusetts. Four hour-long episodes that cover about 25 years in their lives. Fine acting and a fascinating story. Strong women and men. I believe it was made from a novel, so if you prefer that medium, you might try the book.

You can read more about it here and even watch a trailer.

This week has been filled with what I call "days stolen from winter." The temps have been in the 60s and even 70s as autumn gives us its last warm breath! For those of you who aren't fanatic weather people, we live on the Great Lakes Plain with an average of about 100" of snow a season. Last year it was 110" but it wasn't the snow that did us in--it was the cold. We had a week in February that not only closed our schools but affected our early spring bushes and, for some, their whole summer growth.

The wisdom, I guess, is to wait a second year and see which ones come back on their own and which ones don't. So we hope against hope to see forsythia next spring!

Scenes from one of our gardens. The hummingbirds are long gone, but just in case.

Are those a couple of November?

Nature is not picky where it grows.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Journey

This weekend two women, who have lived with us for a year as postulants, officially entered the novitiate--which is a "really big deal" in one's spiritual journey, so to speak.

I think it's an appropriate moment to reflect on one of the many wonderful poems Mary Oliver has written about life and the journey we all make through it.

"The Journey"

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,

determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two busy months

After a very, very busy September and October--event after event, guests upon guests (all quite wonderful), I admit that I am looking forward to what APPEARS to be a quieter November--starting this weekend with two "at home" gatherings, primarily just for "the natives"!

The first is a Halloween party Saturday night. Halloween party here means fun things for dinner, some attendees dressing up in costumes, candy and a movie on the big screen in the community room. I think I'm going as a Pittsburgh Steeler fan. I have a great long sleeved Steeler T-shirt and a brand new cap that one of our sports loving nonagenarians lent me. I'm on the front desk switchboard in late afternoon and I think I'll dress for that and then just continue the theme for the "party." There are prizes, but I doubt that I'll win--we have some crazy costume lovers and they are sure to upstage most of us.

Secondly, on Sunday our two postulants are received into the novitiate as canonical novices for a year. It is a very moving ceremony and marks quite a point in their journey as seekers. The upcoming year will enable them to really get a handle on whether to continue on this path or to realize that God is leading them to another one. We, as supporters and sisters, pray especially for them this year and do what we can to offer them a very special year of discernment, study and a deepening of their life here in this monastic community.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A year for reflection

A couple of years ago two graduates from Canisius College in Buffalo joined our Benedicta Riepp program and came to live, work and pray with us for a year. They were delightful gals and, as part of their experience, they started blogs, sharing with their families and friends this unique year in their life. If you have been reading this blog for that long you may remember the link to their blogs and the encouragement I gave you to experience a different angle/view/experience of the daily here, than you were getting from me.

Well, here is a chance again! Our postulant, Valerie, has been blogging for a month or so and last week her blog, "Walking in the Holy Presence," went public! You will find a permanent link to it on the right side of this page, but a first encouragement to read it right here today. She is doing a fine job, very good writing, filled with honesty, openness and interest. I learn quite a bit from reading it myself! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"October gave a party"

Autumn is moving along very nicely, as this week without harsh rain and winds has brought our golds and reds and yellows out in full bloom. When the sun shines on the woods and roadsides it is really breathtaking. That can all disappear in a whisper if a heavy rain and/or strong winds blow through...crossing our fingers that we get a lot more beautiful days.

To see the results of my apple "test" you can compare this photo with the one on Monday. Twenty apples set out, eleven there today. Between the deer, squirrels and numerous other "critters" I'm not sure which got to them but 7-8 are totally gone, a couple chewed on site and the rest seem poised to disappear this weekend.

Finally, a tribute to one of my most faithful "fans" and supporters. Our eldest (and wisest?!?!) sister turned 98 this week. That makes our range 98 to 27! Congratulations Sister Placida and thank you for all your encouragements, the fine book reviews for that page on our website and for sharing these daily trivialities with your friends and families. I hope they enjoy this little lens into our daily life here at MSB in Erie.

"October gave a party.."

Monday, October 19, 2015

October = Apples

We have been the beneficiaries of baskets and baskets of apples this month, as local farmers and neighbors are very generous with their harvest. Yesterday one of the sisters told me that there were 3-4 boxes of "apples for the deer" in the kitchen! I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but I found them and gladly set them out in my usual place for our herd. Here's my deer "deli," usually only open in deep winter when the snow covers every bush and shrub on our grounds causing the soft, overly ripe apples from our kitchen to find their way to this "table."

The behemoth that is our air conditioning system.

Hidden nicely by a perimeter of arbor vitae which not only hide it a bit, but cut the noise, too.

The cement base for the system stays much more snow-free than the ground around it. A perfect place setting for hungry deer.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

PSU blue & white

Over a dozen community members are at Penn State Wednesday and Thursday for the opening of Sister Joan's literary archives. Quite an event, in the October orange and golden fall scenes of rural Pennsylvania. The first afternoon of panels and speakers went very well. Thursday morning's were just as good for the wrap up. Most presentations are available online through this site.

We were on the road by 2:00 pm, getting "out of Dodge" right before a huge concert came into town: Paul McCartney.

Here are some views of this glorious event:

The exhibit is large and beautiful. On display through December 15. Try to get there!

Joan and Sister Simone Campbell outside of the Paterno Library.

Joan presenting her keynote at the end of the 2-day event.