This summer I wrote down some possible themes for this Christmas reflection. Who could ever have guessed that September 11 would have occurred and changed our lives - probably forever? Our lives were essentially changed by another event two thousand years ago. That event was the Incarnation of the Love and Mercy of the loving Father in Jesus. September 11 was the incarnation of hatred, terror, wanton death and destruction in our country.
On September 11, I was with Terry Bengel, the artist who is making the leaded glass windows for our new monastery chapel, when I received a message about the Twin Towers collapsing. Before we would dare repeat such a story to anyone else, I had a Sister check out the accuracy of that report on the radio. The impossible was true.
The artist and I proceeded to the shell of our monastic chapel and I had such a hard time concentrating. On the one hand, planes had deliberately attacked the Trade Towers and the Pentagon (the plane had not yet crashed at Somerset) and, on the other, we were building a chapel. It was the classic left brain, right brain syndrome with no connection between them. After 15 minutes, I began to realize that instead of this act of violence and a place of monastic worship going in two entirely opposite directions at equal speed, our lives indeed do impact the lives of these misguided human beings.
Building this monastery chapel is a very important symbol of what we Benedictine Nuns try to do to make this world essentially a better place in which to live. This monastery chapel with choir stalls further enhances the praise of God through the sung Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. This monastery chapel gives visibility to prayer not only in our own name but also in the name of the church for the needs of the whole world. This monastery chapel is a reminder of the reality of our wonderful God to the people driving by on Harvey Avenue.
And how do our lives help make the world essentially a better place in which to live? A monastery is about changing hearts, about letting Christ change ours. Our monastic life overflows into the retreat house where people come to have their hearts changed and renewed by God's love. Enhanced metal detectors at schools or beefed up security systems at airports change no one's heart; if successful, these devices make specific areas safer and they might even cause individuals to look for more innovative ways to commit the violence they desire to do.
Several times I have mentioned to the wonderful craftsmen building this chapel how gratifying it must be to be building a chapel at this time, to be doing something essential to make this world a better place in which to live. Our chapel has a bell tower that has two levels. Beneath the bell tower itself is the Reconciliation room. At the base of the adjacent tower is the devotional area to Our Lady. One bricklayer said they call this project, "the twin towers."
"Twin towers?" Dare one even use this expression when it now expresses such devastation and loss of life? A TV commentator said that he felt the Trade Towers and the Pentagon were seen as symbols of our American money and power which equal influence if not control in the popular mind. Certainly our "twin towers" point beyond ourselves to God, from trusting in ourselves and in our own power to trying to live a life based on the Beatitudes which turn our normal values and norms inside out.
What could "twin towers" in a monastery symbolize? Prayer and work? Humanity and divinity? Love of God and love of neighbor? Body and soul? Love and service? Free will and grace? Justice and mercy? Sin and forgiveness? Solitude and community? Silence and communication?
As one truly free, Our Lady could offer herself as the handmaid to the Lord; she brought forth Jesus first in faith and then in flesh. Showing herself the concerned guest, she points out to her Son that the wedding couple had run out of wine. She pondered these things in her heart. After her Son was betrayed and crucified, she had occasion to wrestle with the reality of sin and the need for forgiveness. Mary is the ultimate success story of what it means to be human.
The other part of our tower has to do with reconciliation with God, especially through the wonderful gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is the result of doing it "my" way, of looking after "Number 1" in a selfish way, of wanting to play God in our decisions.
To speak more directly again about the Incarnation: We have seen the love of God and neighbor incarnated in the generous, self-sacrificing actions of so many who responded to the tragedies on September 11. The honor roll includes the priest who died administering the Anointing of the Sick, the fire and police personnel who laid down their lives in their attempt to rescue others, those who gave blood, and all those volunteers who have provided such varied services to clean up Ground Zero. It is touching also to hear of the children and others who make lapel pins and other craft items to earn money for the needs of the victims' families.
And we have also "heard and seen" prayer and God as politically correct words and attitude. People around the world incarnated compassion by prayer and bouquets of flowers, and by attending services specifically for the victims and for our country. We as a people caught the point in several "flashes" that power and wealth give no control. We said what we always know intuitively that we are in the hands of God.
We are grateful to all of you who "incarnate" your love of God and neighbor by remembering us in your prayer, by donating your services and gifts of whatever kind and, specifically, for donating to our capital campaign.
And the possible themes for this reflection that September 11 overrode? They are in storage for another time. May God bless you.
Mother Mary Anne Noll OSB
Final Monastic Profession
For a religious community, a member making vows for life is the most important grace and event in its life. On September 1 our Sr. M. Franziska Mintus made her final monastic commitment to our community of St. Emma. Having entered from Greensburg, PA in March 1996, Sr. Franziska is the main cook in the retreat kitchen, makes our pleated coifs, cuts grass, weeds, and cares for the flower gardens - and sews when she has time! Bishop Anthony G. Bosco of our Greensburg Diocese was the main celebrant while our Abbess, Mother Franziska Kloos OSB, (Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett, Germany) received her vows. Sr. Franziska's brother volunteered and that is how Sr. Franziska met us and how her vocation began to unfold.
|The following photos are just some of the
highlights of Sr. Franziska's final monastic
coming forth with her
being questioned by Mother Franziska (our Abbess from the motherhouse in Germany)
speaking her vows
receiving the ring espousing
and the wreath symbolizing
One last photo with
In our summer newsletter, we promised you a photo of Vincenta Grum who became a novice and received her habit on July 7. Before she entered from Wilkes-Barre, PA she worked in customer service. On November 4, Paula Martin of Clarksburg, WV, became a novice; before she entered she worked as a nurse in a critical care unit.
|Sr. Vincenta, Novice (left)
July 7, 2001
Sr. Paula, Novice (right)
November 4, 2001
The white veil they wear symbolizes being a novice. During the two year novitiate, the novice lives the monastic life more deeply and learns more about the spiritual life in general and the monastic manner of living it in particular. At the end of that time when both the novice and community have discerned she has a monastic vocation to this community, the novice makes vows for three years; at the end of that period the Sister makes vows for life.
We continue to receive a wonderful number of inquiries about our community. People in this day often request information from many communities in order to learn about the various charisms of religious life and to help them discern where God might be calling them.
Our official Monastic Live-in is scheduled for July l0-14, 2002. We schedule this opportunity for women (single, ages 18-35) to come and experience the ancient patterns of monastic life as we live them here in St. Emma Monastery as they live and pray and work with us. Interested women are also welcome to visit at other times according as their schedule permits.
Surprised that she was seated at the table with the speaker for the annual Westmoreland County PCUC (People Concerned for the Unborn Child) Breakfast in October, Mother Mary Anne was even more surprised when she received their Pro-Life award of the year. The plaque reads: "For your consistent dedication and devotion towards the preservation of and the respect towards life of the unborn child. You are an inspiration to all. May God bless you. And may your Community continue to flourish as an example of faith, hope and love."
We know that the Church is founded on the Rock who is Christ. For better and for worse, the new monastery chapel is built on rocks - but too many and too large! These rocks required a trackhoe with a large "bit" (power point) that hammered them until they split apart - this process took an extra three weeks.
In just 22 weeks, the monastery chapel has gone from a white-paint outline on the grass to a structure that has the basic metal roof on nearly all of it! The bricklayers are finishing up the peaks above the main entrance on the west and the corresponding peak on the east. The roofers are expected to begin on the Prioress' office by the beginning of December and continue their way around to the chapel. Our weather forecast (Hear us, O Lord!) is for 50 degree temperatures for at least another three weeks! Not only are we optimistic about the weather, we have the dedication set for the end of June.
The leaded glass windows have been ordered; they are very beautiful and unique to this chapel. For the choir stall selection, we had several community "sit-ins." Each Sister sat in the sample choir stall so designed that the seat could be adjusted to various heights and the back to various angles. Getting a choir stall that will be completely comfortable for our shortest Sister who is 4'8" (and shrinking) and our tallest Sister who is still trying to grow at 5'8" probably comes under the heading of the impossible "commands" that Benedict mentions!
Photo 1. Removing altar (end of June) from
former chapel for use in new monastery chapel.
New Offices and Library
The renovations involving 16 rooms in the first monastery building are well underway. For the most part, the dust and dirt that come from knocking out walls have been assigned to distant memory storage. The new partitions define the new use of various areas, the hanging ceilings and new lighting are in place, and the cement floors with the radiant floor heating are finished. Replacing the original 40 year-old windows, the new double pane, vinyl-clad windows guard against heat loss (some of the original windows stayed shut because of "habit" rather than actually physically connecting), require no painting and give a distinct look to the monastery. Painting and flooring are next on the agenda. By the end of January, we should be ready to occupy the Prioress' office, the other office spaces, and the library.
In early September, the huge, steam mangle was disassembled and taken to where disassembled mangles retire; the commercial-size washer and dryer were moved to the new laundry area in the basement. The long awaited elevator arrived (in pieces, of course) September 11; obviously that cause for joy was no longer remembered just one hour later. On October 25 the elevator was inspected and the first rides were particularly enjoyed.
In the intervening six weeks of not having the commercial-size laundry equipment available, Sr. Mary Therese made full use of a large, heavy-duty household washer and dryer. Every week the women who volunteer in the laundry took all the sheets from our retreat house to a local Laundromat where they washed and dried them. Needless to say, we and those volunteers were delighted when the new laundry could be used; the Laundromat was probably saddened because of its sudden recession.
Both we, the Community, and the beautiful faceted glass windows of our former chapel have been re-located due to the construction.
Our re-location involves praying the morning Offices of Vigils, Lauds and Terce as well as our daily Eucharist and Vespers in the Fatima Chapel. For Sext/None at noon and Compline in the evening, we use our temporary chapel that is our chapter room next to our refectory.
The six LARGE windows from our former chapel featuring a priest's hands to indicate six moments of the Mass now form the south wall of our refectory (monastic dining room) where six opaque windows had been located.
Our Unofficial "Foremen"
During the summer and early fall months, Sr. Boniface, 93, and Sr. Gaudentia, only 87 (and recovering from a broken hip), spent hours every day watching the progress of the monastery chapel from the digging of the foundation until their side was finished. Sr. Boniface knew how many men were on which crew and what time their break was! What faith witnesses our older Sisters are - to be so interested in the future of our community! Regardless of age, each Sister saw the diagrams of the various areas, the various suggested changes and the final decision.
One evening in October at recreation, Sr. Maria Hausler, 84, asked if they could see inside the monastery church. We immediately formed a procession pairing the "canes" with the "no-canes." Just as we were finishing the inspection, the Angelus rang - our first prayer within our new chapel.
We are very touched by the interest and encouragement expressed by so many in this building project which both expresses who we are as a monastic community and helps form our future. We are very grateful for the donations and pledges that we have received to date. We know how many claims and requests come your way for the money that you have designated for charity. If our monastic life has touched yours, if you find our project truly a way of trying to make this world essentially a better place in which to live, we would ask the favor of your considering a pledge over three years. Each gift of whatever size is gratefully received and will be acknowledged while plaque recognition begins at the $500 level. There are larger memorials available; please contact us for a listing.
In October a reporter for the Baltimore Sun called and asked if business was better at the retreat house since September 11! He was researching material for an article in that light. I told him there really was no difference here so far, that people who had reservations to come had already been able to name their hunger for God even before September 11. Hopefully people's natural turning to God at a time of crisis will continue into a deeper relationship with God and that that relationship would lead to a desire to make a retreat.
This year Contemplative Outreach held a 10 day retreat workshop here on Centering Prayer. Abbot Thomas Keating OSCO came for two days and also gave an extra conference to our Community on the "Love of God." July 1-10, 2002 is the date set for the next one to be held here.
Monastic Guest House
Twelve months have passed since the blessing of the monastic guest house and many people have found it a very special setting for their own personal retreat, for a directed retreat, or a small group.
If you are desiring a special kind of experience, wanting to be in a God-centered space within the shadow of a monastery, and/or longing for a chance to experience the regular rhythm of prayer and work as lived out in this monastery, consider spending some time in our Monastic Guest House. You are welcome to join us for The Liturgy of the Hours.
A number of people did just this. Several found us on the website surfing for a monastic guest house. One woman from Pittsburgh said she had been wanting to do this for years and had thought of Gethsemani, KY but discovered that we were much closer. Besides, her older vehicle could get her here! Devastated recently by the death of her husband, another woman was looking for a Christian setting in which she could try to sort out this experience and begin to determine what the future might hold for her. A Sister traveling from Ohio to New York looked on the web for a space where she could make a few days of retreat.
Priests have also found this setting very conducive to personal prayer time and solitude. With its own oratory, they can celebrate Eucharist there as well.
Thanks and Many Thanks
The miracle continues: we still have no hired help! Occasionally we receive questionnaires concerning our retreat house asking for number of staff, salaries, etc. The questioners probably think we just do not want to share information when we answer that we have no one who gets paid. A potential volunteer asked last week what volunteers did and the answer was "everything!"
Volunteers help in the laundry and serve in the dining room; help clean the retreat house, original house, bookstore and guest house; plant flowers and remove flowers that we call weeds; work in the gift shop and answer the phone; help cook for the retreatants and cook for our community when we make our own community retreat; take Sisters to some doctor appointments; run errands; cut grass and trim shrubs; fix the unending list of things broken or not totally healthy; help bake desserts for the retreats, auction and the 10,000 Christmas cookies.
We are also grateful to the Capital Campaign Committee who have generously given their time and talents. Again this year about 40 students and faculty from Seton Hill College, Greensburg, PA volunteered here as one of the sites for Labor of Love day. Students from the Respect Life Club, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA helped in January and again in October on days they were fasting and volunteering.
It is so touching how God leads people to volunteer and we are constantly touched at their generosity, their love of God and neighbor shown in so many wonderful ways to us and to our retreatants.
Thanks for all the various kinds of gifts you generously shared that we used for the monastery, retreat house and monastic guest house and those items for the auction and flea market. These gifts include: all kinds of delicious food including fresh vegetables and fruit, furniture, flowers, flower plants, dishes, microwaves, bed linens and bedspreads, appliances, house wares, paper, set of Abbot Keating tapes; coffee makers and toasters, step ladders, TV, file cabinets, and excess food from funerals and church dinners.
Want ads: serging sewing machine, step stools, stainless steel wagon (3 shelves), note cards/laser printer paper, and CD player (stereo component). If any of these items are taking up space that you need for something else, we are happy to provide a loving home. Thanks for responding to our previous "Want Ads."
If you would like to send a card to our Sisters Ancilla, Hedwig, Gabriele, and Bonfilia who are at St. Anne Nursing Home, the address is 685 Angela Dr, Greensburg, PA 15601.
In August several Sisters attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Greensburg Diocese. The first bishop, Bishop Hugh Lamb lived at St. Emma the seven years of episcopacy. Sr. Wiltrud who helped care for him just celebrated her 89th birthday.
In August a mother with her 10 year old son and 2 ½ year old daughter were visiting our gift shop when a mole came through a open door that should have been labeled, "For fresh air only!" For half an hour, the mother, son and Mother Mary Anne did "mole patrol" with cardboard boxes while they followed and anticipated (with appropriate shouts and hollering) the mole darting from hiding place to hiding place. The little girl watched with great glee; this was undoubtedly the most interesting store that her mother had ever taken her to! Hopefully she will not be too disappointed the next time she comes and we do not repeat that entertainment. By the way, the mole finally ran into a box and the boy carried it outside away from the building.
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 of to the family of the deceased. Of course we also thank the donor.
Looking for a gift for a special occasion? A Gift Certificates for a retreat or a day of recollection or to the Monastic Guest House are available as well as for the Benedictine Sisters Catholic Gift & Book Shop.
On the first Saturday of each month and on December 8, the Eucharist is offered for members of the Fatima Guild; deceased members are remembered in a special way on All Souls' Day. Of course we remember all the members in the Liturgy of the Hours and as we offer up our daily round of prayer, work and sacrifices.