Prioress' Reflection

        For nearly 30 years hearing the liturgical Proclamation of Christ's birth sung after Lauds December 24 by Mother Agnes was such a moving expression of Christmas for me each time. The Gregorian chant carries one through the centuries from the creation, to the flood, to Abraham, to the exile, and with the pitch raised, to the birth of Christ. This December 24 will be the 8th time that I as Prioress have had the privilege and the responsibility to sing it - this December that is spoken of traditionally as the 2000th year of the birth of Christ.

        Last January 1st during the Millennium Mini-Retreat, after a pregnant pause following the 12 gongs for midnight, the privilege and responsibility was mine to sing the liturgical Proclamation of Christ's birth to my community and to the world represented by these 90 people who came for that retreat.

        The privilege and responsibility of announcing this great mystery of God's love belongs to each of us. Recently a family visited St. Emma. Nearly three years old, Marlen lay at the foot of his bed, looked at the crucifix and, with arms outstretched, asked, "Am I doing it right, Jesus? I can't get my feet right!" The question is ours as Christians; after 2000 years are we doing it right? Can people look at us and see Christ? Have we been grasped by the reality of God's incredible love for us that knows no bounds, no reason, no rationale, no weighing the cost, and no marking of limits beyond which if we transgress, there is no more chance or love? 

        Is the world the same after the birth of Jesus Christ as it was before? No! Should it still be more different? Yes! Are our thoughts, our hopes, our reactions cruciform shape or do they look no different than an unbeliever?

        The sung Proclamation of the birth of Christ continues to this day. Each of us has the privilege and the responsibility to sing a line when we comfort the troubled and fearful, when we nourish those who are spiritually and physically hungry, when we work to make this world a better place in which to live, and when we hold another in prayer in the heart of Christ. Nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus told us that if we did these things to another, we were "doing it right."

        May Jesus so possess our minds and hearts and will that people will come to know our Master, our brother, our Beloved because as good students and disciples, we are "doing it right."

+ + + + + + + + + +

        As you have already noticed, our "visits" with you will have the title, Benedictine Touchstone as well as a more enhanced format - thanks to more good suggestions from our readers!
        A monastery is truly a "touchstone" with God for those of us whose monastic vocation unfolds and is lived within this monastery and for all of you who come as guests, retreatants, and visitors or to the Gift and Book Shop. This newsletter serves as a "touchstone" between us, the Benedictine Nuns of St. Emma, and you. It is humbling for us to be this touchstone between so many people and God each year.

+ + + + + + + + + +

        To mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of our Sisters at St. Vincent Archabbey, Seminary and College, Latrobe, PA in 1931, one section of this newsletter will be devoted to a brief overview of these grace-filled seven decades. Of the original 40 Sisters, I have been privileged to know all but five. I marvel at the faith and foresight of Mother Leonarda who at age 80 built the first monastery wing here at St. Emma - despite the fact that she and the Sisters had been in this country for 29 years and no one had seriously asked to enter! It is because of their lived faith and foresight that we have this wonderful monastery. Without that, I would not be here writing this. It is my generation's turn and responsibility to exercise that kind of faith and foresight for our future; hence, our Capital Campaign, Monastic Life: A Gift Received, A Gift Shared.

+ + + + + + + + + +

        This issue includes Community News, 70th Anniversary of Sisters in USA, Capital Campaign, Monastic Guest House Opens, Volunteers, and Ripples. We hope you enjoy the rest of this issue.
        In my own name and that of the community, I extend to you our prayer for a Blessed Advent and Christmas Season! 

                                                                            Mother Mary Anne Noll OSB

Community News

New Postulant

        On October 20, we received our third postulant this year, Paula Martin, Clarksburg, WV. In August 1999 Paula made the Six Day Silent Retreat and met our community; during the next 14 months, Paula visited us frequently. For 13 years, she had worked as a nurse in the critical care unit at United Hospital Center, Clarksburg, WV. She was received as a postulant in a brief ceremony before Sext and None.

Vocation Interest High

        Since mid-February we have received 42 requests for first time information about our community. Six women participated in the Monastic Live-in during July; in addition, five have visited once and several others visit regularly. Women have come from Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Minnesota, and New York.

2001 Monastic Live-in

        Although women interested in our community may visit at any time, our scheduled Monastic Live-in Experience will be July 6-11, 2001 for single women between the ages of 18-35. Women discerning a religious vocation have the opportunity to live our life centered round the sung Liturgy of the Hours, to interact with us, and to work with us. This ancient, Benedictine, life-giving pattern of Christianity is called monastic life - a pattern that has formed, freed and directed the hungers of the human heart Godwards for 1,500 years. 

Sr. Walburga, 1912-2000

        Early July 5, just after all the fireworks on earth but in time to see the eternal splendor of the Trinity in heaven, our Sr. Walburga Fruth, 88, died. Sr. Walburga came to St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA in 1935, just two years after she entered Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria and four months after making vows. During her 25 years at St. Vincent, Sr. Walburga worked first in the seminary dining room when each meal was served twice: first to the large number of seminarians and then to members of the Air Force Cadets. Later, in the kitchen she cut the large loaves of the famous St. Vincent bread and operated the dumb waiter that carried all the food as well as all of the dishes up to and down from two student dining rooms. When the first monastery building was built in 1960, Sr. Walburga came to St. Emma to do the laundry as well as to be in charge of the retreatants' dining room. For twelve years she cooked for the retreatants. Alzheimer's disease robbed her of the joy that she found in the daily round of prayer and work, in gardening, doing crafts, and setting up her various crib sets. Her blood sister, Sr. Pancratia, of our community, survives. Archabbot Douglas Nowicki OSB and twelve priests concelebrated her funeral Mass July 8. May she rest in peace.

Special Milestones

        On August 11 Sr. Bonfilia Faerber celebrated the 50th anniversary of her monastic profession which she made on May 3, 1950 in Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett. Archabbot Douglas OSB and a number of priests also concelebrated her Mass. In 1952 she came to Convent of St. Walburga, Boulder, CO and in 1983 to St. Emma Monastery. Here she cut grass, washed the laundry, and did dishes for the retreatants until her brain tumor five years ago gradually diminished her activity. Sr. Bonfilia also celebrated her 75th birthday on May 16 and had two cataracts removed this summer!
        On August 29 Sr. Gabriele Hausler celebrated her 85th birthday. Sr. Gabriele arrived in this country in 1939 for a two year assignment! During her years at St. Vincent, she cooked the vegetables and made salads. At St. Emma she cooked for the retreatants until three years ago when mini-strokes curtailed her activity.

70th Anniversary of Sisters Arrival in USA

       On February 25, 2001, the Feast of St.Walburga, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Mother Leonarda Fritz and the first 10 Sisters at St. Vincent, Latrobe, PA; by 1939 they numbered 40 Sisters. The Sisters cooked, canned, and served in the various dining rooms and witnessed to Christ by their daily prayer and service to all at St. Vincent from 1931-1987.

        Until the outbreak of World War II, the Sisters sent every penny they could save to their motherhouse, Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett to help support the Community there. They also basically paid for properties for the two other foundations that Abtei Sankt Walburg made in the 1930s in Colorado and England and paid for the room and board of the Sisters in Minster, England who had to stay with a British community during WW II.

        The aerial view of St. Emma Monastery shows our amazing development from 1943 when Mother Leonarda bought the original house and 10 acres until today. In 1944 she bought the 93 acre adjacent farm, and in 1950 built the retreat chapel for 120 with dining room beneath.

Aerial view of St. Emma (photo courtesy of John Hudock) -- top to bottom, Monastic Guest House, two monastery wings connect to the original house, Fatima Chapel/Blessed Sacrament Chapel (retreatants' chapel), retreat house/dining room.  Walburga Shrine shown in foreground.

        At age 74, Mother Leonarda had a choice of building either the retreat house or the first monastery wing. In order to provide an income for the Community, she built the retreat house that opened January 1955. At age 80, Mother Leonarda built the first monastery wing; for the first time there was space for American women to enter. The very next year the first American women entered. At age 83, Mother Leonarda was building the second monastery building for the time "when the Sisters would no longer be at St. Vincent" - still 23 years later! At age 84+, Mother Leonarda insisted on having a cemetery designed; six months later in May 1965, she was the first to be buried at St. Emma.

        Since that time St. Emma has continued to build upon that dynamic foundation: Walburga Shrine (1974); three story retreat dining room/kitchen addition including conference room, rooms for retreatants (1979); Blessed Sacrament Chapel addition to Fatima Chapel (1986); "elevette" in the second monastery wing (1990), monastery entrance (1993), retreat house entrance and bookstore renovation (1998-99), renovation of Fatima Chapel (1999) and monastic guest house (2000).
The history of the buildings is easy to document but it is an expression of the very dedicated lives of our Sisters who left home, family, and culture out of love for Christ -- and most did so within a very few months after dedicating their lives to God by vow as Benedictines. So many lives have been touched through their lives of dedication: all the monks, students and seminarians at St. Vincent 1931-1987 as well as over 175,000 who have come to St. Emma since 1943. Who would even dare to guess the number of people whose lives have also been touched profoundly because of the prayers and sacrifices throughout the monastic lives of our Sisters?

Capital Campaign

        Monastic Life: A Gift Received, A Gift Shared summarizes our life and its effects. Although lived within this monastery, our monastic life is not only about us individually or communally. Our consecrated lives lived in the heart of Christ and His church affect the church and the entire world since we pray to and praise God in our name and that of the whole church. Each year we welcome 3,500 people who come to pray and connect with God in a deeper way during retreats and days of recollection here at St. Emma.


        During the advance phase of our first ever capital campaign to build the monastery chapel and the four story elevator/conference room for the retreat house, the Lord is really blessing us through your generosity! At this writing of late November we have received pledges totaling $900,000: 35% of our goal of $2.6 million! A wonderful beginning - for us actually a miraculous start - and a very hopeful sign of the success of our campaign! Once again we thank our Steering Committee and those who have already contributed by their prayer and their gifts to bringing this vision into reality.

Campaign Mailing

        As you know from the recent campaign booklet that you received for your prayer and your consideration, any size gift that we receive is greatly appreciated. That booklet shows you the sketches of our projects, gives you a thumbnail summary of our wonderful history, and includes greater detail of our vision and our needs. Would you perhaps consider a pledge over a three-year period and/or remembering us in your will or estate planning? With so many very worthy causes and requests coming to you daily for support, we are very grateful for your prayer and for whatever other help that you give us.

        A monastery is a large God-stone in this lake of culture that constantly produces waves of awareness that there is a God, that God does love us, that God can be known, and that we can love Him in return. A monastery is a center of prayer, a visible Christian community.

        Each person who comes to the retreat house is a smaller God-stone rippling out God's love and mercy and concern to all the people on the shores of their lives into a world that needs this so much. A monastery truly makes this world essentially a better place in which to live for it is about changing hearts, allowing God to change our hearts and the hearts of all who come to match more perfectly the heart of God.

New Monastic Guest House Opens

        On November 11, our chaplain, Msgr. Robert J Shuda, blessed our new Monastic Guest House. About 65 joined us for this special occasion; 45 minutes before the blessing the sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the vibrant red leaves of the maple tree against the white stucco of the house.

        Twelve years ago we bought this adjacent three acres complete with what was an underground house (with four feet of earth on the roof) - just beyond the Crucifixion Scene and our cemetery. Two years ago, our renters of 10 years said they were moving. Our contractors told us that it would cost $20,000-$30,000 to upgrade equipment/furnishings, etc., that were 21 years old.

        Faced with this scenario, we believed that God was asking us to change this house into something that incorporates it into our monastic values now - and not ten years later as we had planned! This Monastic Guest House offers individuals the opportunity to experience our monastic life and values in another dimension than the group retreats. People can experience the peace and love of God just by being in this God-centered atmosphere; they are also invited to join us for any or all of the sung Liturgy of the Hours and for Eucharist. For more information, please check the last page of the enclosed retreat schedule describing the various possibilities in the Monastic Guest House.

Interior Photos of Monastic Guest House:  (left) 36' living room/dining room; (right) oratory features stained glass window.

God's Providence and this House

        God's guiding and providing hand was so evident in bringing the Monastic Guest House to completion. In response to our offer of a warm, loving home to various needed objects, we received wonderful dishes and flatware, electric roasters, crock pots, blender, furniture, lamps, pillows, rugs etc., etc. Several people even bought new dishes, flatware, couches, area rug, pillows, shower curtains, etc. Once again your generosity is more than touching!

        A retreatant who works at a hotel notified us of 10 rooms of furniture that were being replaced and that were available at a very good price. The final phone call came at 5:30 P.M. Thursday and it had to be cleared out by 2:00 P.M. Friday-and it was a two hour drive away! By late that evening a team of Sr. Mary Clare and two men were lined up and we could only hope there would be a rental truck available the next morning when the rental places opened! About twenty-three hours passed from the time we had the final phone call until the furniture was here!

        By the end of the following week the furniture was basically re-finished due to the dedicated work of a couple who coached and worked several days with several Sisters and three college students (two of whom are exchange students from South Korea) from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. Other re-finishing, tailoring of headboards, and re-upholstering completes the image of 10 rooms of matching "new" furniture.

Our Outstanding Volunteers

        The miracle continues that we have no hired help! Divine Providence is clearly at work by inspiring people to come and help on a regular basis and on the "just in time" times. Track records of volunteering stretch from an offer this afternoon to every week for nearly thirty years!

        These generous people help care for our infirm Sisters; cook in the retreat kitchen and work in the dining room; mangle and fold the laundry; clean the retreat house, chapels, and original house; carry the garbage and compost; drive the Sisters to doctors; staff the gift and book shop; cut the grass; plant and weed the many flower gardens and vegetable garden; answer the phone; work in the offices; count gift shop inventory; rake leaves; prune the shrubs and trees, spray the fruit trees and harvest the apples; clean the fountain; re-finish furniture; sew our habits; and fix all kinds of things.

        Thanks go to the 45 students and faculty from Seton Hill College, Greensburg, who came for the second year as part of their Day of Sharing. With so many people, they achieved so much in a few hours.

        Thanks, too, to the Youth Group from St. Barbara, Harrison City, who raked lots of leaves one afternoon.

        We are deeply appreciative of your ongoing prayer and support of every kind that lets us experience your love and God's love for us. We are very touched by the number of people who tell us that they pray for us by name each day.

    Are you looking for a place to volunteer where you can deepen your spirituality, really make a difference to the people you immediately help and make the world a better place in which to live? Call us!


Our Thanks

        We are also very grateful for receiving flower and vegetable plants, various kinds of delicious food, fresh vegetables, furniture, linens, dishes, appliances, shelving, items for our auction, monetary donations and donations of services. We try to be very good stewards of whatever gifts you entrust to us.

Gift and Book Shop

        We offer a very large selection of rosaries, statues, first Communion items, music tapes and CD's, crucifixes, books, Bibles, greeting cards, Christmas items, children's books, Last Supper plaques, Benedictine medals and crucifixes, etc. The Benedictine Sisters Catholic Gift & Book Shop at St. Emma is open Monday - Saturday, 10 A.M. - 4 P.M.

        Beginning in October, we are now able to process Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards.

Nuns on the Web

        Although we have had a Website since September 1999, we now have Internet service and email. Our address is Be sure to check out our Website at for announcements and happenings here at St. Emma. Soon we will be able to update our Website ourselves. As with our newsletter, we are open to suggestions.

Youth Programs

        November 17-19 we had Youth Groups from St. Bartholomew, Penn Hills (for a second time) and St. Michael, Loretto. That same weekend we welcomed students from Frostburg University, Frostburg, MD who came to see how we live in an "intentional" community and how we exercise servant leadership.

 And When You Really Care Enough…

        We pray for the members of the Fatima Guild (living and deceased) in a special way at the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist each day, at the Eucharist offered for members on the first Saturday of each month, December 8, and All Souls' Day. Please send for information.

        Cards recognizing a donation given in honor of someone who is living or a donation given in memory of a deceased person will be sent either to the honoree or to the family of the deceased. Of course we also thank the donor.

        Looking for a gift that makes a real difference in someone's life and not just adds another "something" to be possibly stored or awkwardly thanked? A Gift Certificate for a Retreat or a Day of Recollection enables a person to come aside, experience God's love and mercy in the depths of their being and go out refreshed, ready to begin again.

        Gift Certificates to our Gift & Book Shop are also available.

Want ads

        In your category of "no longer used but too good to be thrown out," are you perhaps storing step stools, stainless steel wagon (3 shelves), note cards/laser printer paper, sheets and blankets for double beds (the new double mattresses are really BIG!)?

Manufacturing "copy"

        Just a week after you received our Summer Newsletter, the sewers in the basement beneath the retreatants' kitchen decided to go on strike just before supper for 50 retreatants. In the early stages of clean-up, Sr. Renata inquired if we were trying to get material for this our Christmas letter! Obviously true! When the repairman came at 1:30 am, we were only very grateful!