This time last year we were in the throes of construction: our slides and photos remind us of the incredible amount of work that was done in 54 weeks to build our chapel and renovate the 16 rooms in our first monastery building.
Several months into the construction, an image came to me that God is both Divine Architect and Divine Contractor. As we once again celebrate the feast of the Incarnation, of God becoming Man, and of entering into our world and our existence, I share these reflections with you.
The architect is the one who listened to our needs, our desires, and even considered the cost. He has considered various options (five very creatively different ones for our chapel) and brought the plans for approval. Both the striking beauty and the functionality of the design of the present Cor Jesu Chapel struck us. Complete with grass indicated and tree in foreground, the design won our heart and our vote. We knew that we did not need to understand the many pages of detailed drawings for the various contractors and trades nor the timing. We trusted the expertise of the architect for his planning and the general contractor to orchestrate "all that it would take" to bring this dream into reality.
Enter the contractor. At first the hole in the ground was not that large and the equipment not that much. But each day more earth was hauled away and more equipment and supplies were added. Walls were knocked down, holes cut through floors for the elevator, conduits run, old plumbing removed and fuse boxes installed. For us EVERY wall was a bearing wall; we could not imagine the rooms without them - even though we desired a monastic library.
Our small chapel that was the center of our worship of God was torn down and the inside of the monastery that we had also known for 40 years was changed. The external landscape that we knew and cherished was greatly altered.
We waited for the removal of the extra rock so the foundation could proceed, for the delivery of the steel piers, for the elevator (it arrived at 8:45 am on 9/11!), for the roof, the windows, appropriate weather, etc., etc. We waited, of course, after the contractor told us when it was due because we had no idea what the next step was.
After weeks of the three "D's": destruction, dirt and dust, the "construction" of the affected 16 rooms in the monastery, started to become apparent. After weeks of work on the excavation and pouring the footers, the chapel began to take shape.
We rejoiced when an area was dry-walled, then painted and the flooring installed. We noted the installation of vinyl hoses for the radiant floor heat, ductwork and wiring, the pouring of the cement, the re-location of the electrical transformer, the blacktopping of the sidewalks, and the installation of the leaded glass windows. The men from Riegsecker Hardwoods, Shipshewana, Indiana, who made and installed the beautifully crafted choir stalls and pews said they had never seen a group so happy with a delivery: that might be related to the fact that our community had waited 70 years for that shipment!
June 29, 2002 was the "forever"-anticipated day of the dedication of the new chapel - even surrounded by some green grass. We had practiced the singing and the ritual; now everything and everyone was in place. The dedication of our monastic chapel set aside this space for the worship of God by our monastic community and for those who join us in praising God - in our name and in the name of the Church and the needs of the world. Visitors rejoice with us over the beauty and the functionality of this simply elegant chapel.
Is not our experience of God somewhat analogous? At some moments in our life, we know God in a very personal way. He is so immediate, so real that our whole being "melts:" This experience is so intense that we think that we could never again question God or His love for us again. This "Divine Architect" offers intimate union with Him and renews the holy and very personal covenant of Baptism. We hear Him say again in the very depths of our being, "I will be with you ALWAYS - no matter what."
In response we reply, "God, whatever it is that you desire, whatever you will for me, whatever you plan for me can be only good because I know you are loving. I offer you my all; take me and do with me what You will. Our hearts are so moved that we surrender everything in order to receive this love of God more fully.
And, then, the Divine Architect becomes the Divine Contractor in order to bring about this goal and to fulfill the desire of His heart and ours. Over the course of time, we notice that walls (and sometimes "bearing" walls) are removed through the loss of a loved one or a job or, even, our national security. The familiar landscape of one stage of our lives is altered through the process of our own maturation, the growing up of our families, the changes in our jobs and economy, the concerns of our health. Often it is difficult to see how some events of our life can ever have a positive outcome or that the "timing" of situations is not on fast forward. We cannot imagine how specific pieces of this puzzle could even fit into a picture or how they could contribute to the finished product.
Sometimes we receive glimpses from the "Contractor" when we meet the "right" person who helps point out God's presence in our life, how one experience prepared us for another and how the encouragement we can offer another is the result of what we had lived through. Sometimes we see God's timing, bringing together people and events into acts of such Divine Providence that we stand in awe for there is no way we could ever bring such forces together.
Indeed, we believe that one day we will understand fully how the large pieces and seemingly unrelated pieces fit together and how the "3 D's (destruction, dirt and dust)" played their part. It will be clear how the excavation was part of the plan, how the timing was perfect, what the "tools of life" effected, and how the whole was visualized - and completed. In that Beatific Vision we will see that our life had a plan and that all things did work together unto good. Indeed, with perfect clarity, we will realize that the Divine Architect and the Divine Contractor was one and the same: our loving Father. Indeed this was the process and the reality that the Son of God assumed when He took on our humanity. Blessed Christmas!
Mother Mary Anne Noll OSB
As the photos show, we are blessed to have six women in initial formation: three postulants, two novices and one Sister in temporary vows preparing for her solemn profession. If you know of any women who might be drawn to our expression of monastic life, we would invite you to have them contact us or bring them for a visit.
Milestones of members
Our first member to reach 70 years of monastic profession (celebrated on September 1, 2002) is Sr. Boniface Wagner OSB, a remarkable 94 year old. Every day she participates in the full community life beginning with Vigils at 5:30 a.m. and ending with Compline at 7:30 p.m. The night before her celebration she reminisced about her 8 older brothers and sisters (four of whom were also religious): not only names but dates of birth and death! When this letter was read aloud for "editing" by the community, Sr. Boniface had the correct dates for community members as well!
In 1935, Sr. Boniface was one of the three foundresses of the Abbey of St. Walburga in Boulder (now in Virginia Dale), CO. She came to St. Emma's in 1964, had bee hives until she was 86 and baked bread for our retreatants until she was nearly 92 - one and one-half years after her quadruple by-pass surgery! Her second oldest sibling, Sr. Pia, was also a member of our community and died in 1977 at age 87.
Our chaplain, Rev. Msgr. Robert Shuda was the main celebrant and homilist; seven other priests concelebrated. Her niece, Cilli Lochner, Troy, Ontario, and two nephews and their families also from that area were among the guests who attended. This was the first major celebration in our new Cor Jesu Monastic Chapel; it is such a beautiful setting for such a ceremony as well as the daily Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist.
On March 3, Sr. Maria Hausler celebrated her 85th birthday. Until recently she worked in the monastery kitchen. Her sister is our Sr. Gabriel. Many of you know Sr. Corona, the tiny Sister who worked in the gift shop for many years. She had her 90th birthday on October 26. Having been in charge of the monastery kitchen until two years ago, Sr. Wiltrud had her 90th birthday on November 21.
Visits Founding Abbey
On September 9, Sr. Mary Clare flew to our motherhouse, Abtei St. Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria, for a six week visit to our "roots." It is such a wonderful experience/pilgrimage to visit this ancient abbey founded in 1035 where our 40-founding Sisters entered and whose spirit has been incarnated here. As Sr. Mary Clare shared, "Words cannot adequately capture what I experienced during my visit to St. Walburg. As I expressed to Mother Franziska and the Sisters in a note at the end of my visit, When you opened the door of your cloister, you also opened your hearts to me. It was a time of learning more about the heart."
In September we had a celebration of another sort: Having come from our motherhouse in Germany just three years ago, Sr. Maria Glaubitz took and passed her driver's license test. Waving pieces of colored material, several Sisters lined the road to the garage on her triumphant return; the modern "cell" phone call gave us the exact hour and minute! Mother Mary Anne presented her with a "perishable" crown of wild morning glories. During the official party, she had to parallel park one of our little red wagons. Each of the crème puffs had a toothpick holding a traffic sign: 35mph, One Way, No Passing, School Zone, etc.
After a 10-day hospitalization, Sr. Ancilla Brunner died April 17 - just 10 weeks after her 90th birthday. At the age six, Sr. Ancilla lost both parents and an infant sibling within four days to the 1918 flu. With tears in her eyes, she recalled how she and her young brothers and sisters expected nothing from Christkindl that Christmas just two months after these losses. Her uncle, the caretaker of the church, took them to help him in the church. They returned to find a decorated Christmas tree complete with gifts - Christkindl had come through the loving concern of neighbors and relatives.
Having entered St. Walburg Abbey, Eichstaett in 1934, Sr. Ancilla arrived at St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA on Christmas Eve evening, 1936. During the next 50 years, she worked in the Prep dining room, later prepared salads and distributed bread, served as THE community driver and always lovingly cared for the large rose garden at St. Emma. The driving and the gardening were always done during her "free" time between lunch clean-up and supper preparation. Still cooking for the retreatants at age 85+, Sr. Ancilla suffered a major stroke that completely paralyzed her left side - no matter how hard she worked to regain its use.
We are grateful for the wonderful care she received at St. Anne Home (administered by the Felician Sisters), Greensburg, PA during these last years. Each time we visited, Sr. Ancilla asked what was going on at St. Emma. Did we have a large group, how was the money coming in for the new chapel, did we have a President yet? Macular degeneration robbed her of her ability to read but Sr. Ancilla prayed countless rosaries every day. When she said, "I am praying for you," one could bank on it. Sr. Ancilla truly was the "handmaid of the Lord" not only during the decades when she gave herself so generously to God in the service of others but also during the nearly five years in a wheelchair when she gave herself generously and patiently directly to God.
COR JESU CHAPEL
We continue to rejoice in our wonderful, monastic chapel dedicated the 29th of June. We watch in awe the movement of the shafts of sunlight coming through the front and back "lance" windows as they move across the ceiling and around the chapel in the four months we have prayed there. The rays of the sun spread the pastel colors of the beautiful leaded glass windows across the walls while the sections of beveled glass cast intriguing patterns of light and various shaped rainbows across the floor, pews and people.
Our Cor Jesu Monastic Chapel is open all day - whether you want to join us for The Liturgy of the Hours, take a prayer break or simply share our joy and see it.
During September Organcraft, Pittsburgh, PA built our seven rank pipe organ using pipes from two organs as well as the beautiful console from St. Rose of Lima Church. Please join us for the dedication and share our joy of having a pipe organ in our chapel. The details of this invitation on January 4, 2003 appear on the back page of this newsletter.
Besides the 3,500 people who come to the retreat house, the 300 to the Monastic Guest House and the many who come to visit our large Catholic Gift Shop and Book Store, we have welcomed some guests that we would like to introduce you to by name.
Having served in the monks' dining room at St. Vincent Archabbey from 1950-1976. Sr. Angelica was transferred to the Abbey of St. Walburga, then in Boulder, CO. She and Sr. Scholastica, now from Virginia Dale, CO visited us for the Dedication of the Cor Jesu Monastic Chapel .in June.
In June the Apostolic Nuncio to Kuwait, Bahrain and the Republic of Yemen and Apostolic Delegate to Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Archbishop Joseph A. DeAndrea, a Greensburg diocesan priest, visited us in June and described his role, the culture and the challenges that Christians and Catholic Christians face in the various Emirates that he serves.
In July Abbot Primate Notker Wolff OSB, the former Archabbot of St. Ottilien Archabbey, Germany who resides in Rome paid us a second visit. As Abbot Primate, he has the unique position of a world-wide view of Benedictine, monastic life.
Other special guests
About 25 Benedictine Sisters from Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Beech Grove, IN joined us for the Eucharist and for lunch on their way home from the 150th anniversary celebration of the arrival of the first Benedictine Sisters in St. Marys, PA. Several Sisters attending the Chapter meeting of the St. Scholastica Congregation in St. Vincent also visited.
While waiting for his home to be finished in order to move his family from Ohio, Rev. Alan McLarty, the executive minister of the Penn West Conference, United Church of Christ, stayed here for several months.
On his way from Germany to Massachusetts where he attended a symposium, Sr. Maria Glaubitz's nephew, Benedict Korf, Berlin, Germany, visited in September. He studies the social structures and culture in Sri Lanka and how they affect the development of the country in the aftermath of the civil war that has waged there.
A young English teacher from southern Germany, Helmut Kettl, visited here for a second time and really enjoys the American culture and people. His mother was a girlhood friend of Sr. Bonfilia.
The Steering Committee continues to meet to further our capital campaign Monastic Life: A Gift Received, A Gift Shared by helping people become acquainted with St. Emma Monastery and Retreat House. We are so grateful to these individuals who have met regularly for over three years already. Specifically our goal is to build the four story elevator and additional large conference room for the retreatants plus the renovations needed to bring the retreat dining room up to code (as it was when it was built 23 years ago) and the other renovations involved with this project. The cost for this project is now expected to be $850,000.
We know that you receive many appeals from so many worthy causes but we also seek your help to bring this next very much-needed project which includes handicapped accessibility into reality. We are indeed very grateful when our lives of monastic consecration at St. Emma have touched yours in such a way that you want to be part of ours. We thank you for whatever the size of your donation; each and every "brick" counts. When you are doing your estate planning (if you have a one room apartment, you have an "estate" to consider!), we are deeply grateful for a remembrance in your will, an annuity, charitable remainder trust, etc.
THANKS, too, for remembering us this Christmas season as our annual appeal for all the regular expenses and upkeep continue as well.
THANKS AND MANY THANKS
This Christmas letter gives us the annual opportunity to thank you for the special things you have done for us and for the special people you have been for us during this past year.
Our Wonderful Volunteers
Our Abbess, Mother Franziska, from Germany always remarks about the generosity and helpfulness of the American people - and she/we experience this especially in our volunteers. People find it hard to believe that we still have no hired help! What a miracle!
We thank the volunteers who help in the laundry, office, flower gardens, kitchen, bookstore and with the bookstore inventory. We thank those who clean, mend, sew, paint, wash dishes, set tables, trim shrubs, take garbage to the pick-up spot, drive Sisters to doctors' appointments, re-finish furniture, bake cookies, and make meatballs for the celebrations.
Volunteers this fall removed, washed, and replaced the mattress and box spring covers (times 56 rooms in the retreat house); the pillows were all cleaned and the 160 blankets were washed and dried as well. This is a major undertaking and we are so grateful that it is done again. We are also grateful to those who help with the general "handyman" repairs. The all-embracing "whatever it takes" category includes all of the above and more. Thank you for whatever you have done to make St. Emma such a special place.
In connection with the construction, we thank those who helped clean during the construction and those helped with the final cleaning of the chapel and other areas. Some volunteers also moved the office supplies, the sacristy supplies, the library books and the archive materials to their new locations - hard work and endless trips. Other volunteers helped with the preparation, serving and clean-up of the receptions for the three Dedication receptions. Thanks to one and all!
Thanks, too, for the flower plants and shrubs, photographs of ceremonies, items for the flea market and/or auction, excess funeral food, books, fresh vegetables and fruit, treats, homemade goodies, your time, your talents and your financial gifts of whatever size - and, especially, for your prayer and your friendship. God is so generous through you - you channel His providence so beautifully and graciously to us.
St. Emma Chosen for Memorial Gifts
We were deeply touched by several families, who in the time of deep mourning over the loss of a loved one, chose the Monastic Chapel Fund as the one or one of the designated places where memorial gifts could be sent in the name of a loved one.
We extend our sympathy to these families on the death of
- Mary Lou Fichter, a very long-time retreatant, Pittsburgh, PA, who died in January.
- Robb Rusiski (retreatant and volunteer), age 50, Greensburg, PA who died very
suddenly in June.
- John J. Garfolo, mid-50's who died very suddenly, in September, Pittsburgh, Pa. His
wife, Maureen, makes retreat here.
- Agatha Ott (retreatant and volunteer), North Huntingdon, PA, who died in October.
If you care to send a greeting to Sr. Hedwig, Sr. Gabriel or Sr. Bonfilia, their address is St. Anne Home, 685 Angela Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.
Improvements to the buildings (and benefits to the people therein!) included an air-conditioner in the retreat kitchen, vinyl-clad replacement windows in the original house, and a ceiling exhaust fan on the top floor of the second monastery building. Keypads on the monastery entrance door and the door by the retreatants' chapel make for easier access for people who want to pray early in the morning or in the evening with us in the Cor Jesu Chapel.
St. Emma Nuns attend 150th Anniversary
On June 22, over 400 Benedictine Sisters from across the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of arrival of Mother Benedicta Riepp OSB and two companions in St. Marys, PA from Abtei St. Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria. The Congregation of St. Scholastica had invited Mother Franziska Kloos, the Abbess of St. Walburg, to give the reflection during Vespers. Six Sisters from St. Emma Monastery participated. Mother Franziska and Mother Mary Anne also attended several sessions of the Chapter of the St. Scholastica Congregation held at St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA that same week.
We extend our sympathy to our Sr. Mary Clare (and her mother and her family) on the loss of her father, John Amorino, who died December 3, 2001 after a very brief illness.
We also ask your prayers for two very faithful volunteers. Having volunteered here weekly for over 20 years, Mrs. Dale Cherry, Wall, PA died December 14, 2001; we extend our sympathy to her son, Regis, who has volunteered weekly for over 30 years. Having volunteered for a number of years, Veronica Durco, Hannastown, PA died May 15, 2002. We extend our sympathy to her sister, Margaret, who has volunteered here for nearly 10 years.
THE "Special Gift"
Looking for a special gift for a special occasion for the people who have "everything" - and perhaps are even trying to simplify what they have? Consider giving a donation in their honor to St. Emma Monastery and we will notify the honoree and thank you, the giver. You can also have on hand a similar card that you can give to the family of a deceased person in whose memory you give a donation.
The "special gift" could also be a gift certificate for a personal stay at the Monastic Guest House or for a retreat or a day of recollection or to our Gift and Book Shop. These are truly gifts that "keep on giving."
Please note a new Lenten program: Mary Lou Mlecko Psy.D., Indiana, PA will share a reflection on the Stations of the Cross three Thursday mornings during Lent: March 13, 27 and April 10. A clinical psychologist in private group practice and a teacher of spiritual direction, Mary Lou is married and a mother of two teenage daughters. There is no fee. Time: 9:30 am - 11:30 am.
Participants are welcome to stay on and join the Benedictine Nuns for the Liturgy of the Hours at 11:45.
Scissor cut by Sr. M. Dorothea Brockman OSB
| We observe Mary watching intently the Child she is holding. Was He pointing to the birds in the sky or the lilies of the field? Had he just spotted his foster-father, Joseph, coming home after a hard day's work? Was he observing the Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of their high feasts? Was he marveling at the way the sheep responded to the shepherd's voice?
Jesus observed nature and all the events in His life; they later would be employed in His parables. He heard about the silo falling and killing so many people; he lived under the Roman occupation, he listened to the explanations of the Sadducees and Pharisees concerning the precepts of the Law. His human mind would have wrestled with the realities that made up His world.
In this feast of the Incarnation, we celebrate Jesus taking on our limitations: of being in only one place at one time, of being born in a particular year, in a particular place, in a particular family, in a particular culture and in a particular contemporary society - with all of its advantages, problems and challenges.
We rejoice because Christ has assumed our questions, our experiences, our wonder, our growth, our death, and, was the first to experience the Resurrection. This gives us the peace and hope the world cannot give.
May this peace that is God-with-us be the ballast in our heart as we face the realities of each day's headlines and heartaches and concerns for our world and our Church.
May Peace, who is Christ, be with you. Blessed Christmas!
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