Benedictine Nuns, St. Emma Monastery, Greensburg, PA
Website: www.stemma.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Jesus is the reason for the season” is not only true for the
Christmas season, but it is also true for all the seasons of our lives. Last
August on the tenth anniversary of my election as Prioress, I gave a conference
titled, “It is all about Jesus” or a personal reflection on my experience of the
I began by pointing out the obvious once again: Jesus is the reason that each one of us is in this monastery. We believe at that He has called us to follow Him in this particular vocation and that He is the One Who enables us to continue to follow Him.
During the four decades that I have been a member of St. Emma Monastery, Jesus has been the reason for each of the many seasons of our monastic community and of my monastic life. In 1962 when I entered St. Emma Monastery, there were four finally professed Sisters, a “borrowed” novice mistress (Sr. Mary Grace Hauber OSB, St. Joseph Monastery, St. Marys, PA), two novices, and yours truly, the postulant. I had no idea that we were pioneers in establishing the monastic life at St. Emma for only the year before had the first American women, entered! I only felt that Jesus had called me here.
For many years, we hovered around the apostolic number of 12 as we celebrated Holy Week. As the number of our Sisters decreased at St. Vincent Archabbey and College, Latrobe, PA, due to poor health or our needs, our number here increased. Jesus was with us during those seasons of our lives.
In May 1987 when the last 13 Sisters from St. Vincent came to St. Emma, we reached the goal of having all the Sisters live together. Within eight months, we had gone from 18 Sisters to 33! Jesus was truly with us in that transition of seasons, for that transition went beautifully.
During the season of 1987 to the present, there has been the season of harvest as God has called many of our nuns home to Himself – nuns ripe in years and in loving commitment. As with the Paschal Mystery of death and Resurrection, we have also known the season of springtime as ten women have entered in the last ten years.
We watch the members of the novitiate offer a steadying hand to our Sisters in their late 80’s. We know that it is Jesus who has been “the reason” for these aged nuns season after season in the 70 years of their monastic life. What an inspiration these nuns are to the rest of us, especially those who have just experienced Jesus as their reason for entering monastic life.
As a cradle Catholic, I was always blessed to know Jesus through that season of my life through high school and my entrance into this monastery. During this recent season of my 10 years as Prioress, I have also known Jesus in a special way through the responsibilities and blessings of this office.
Ultimately, this is a reflection on the Incarnation: God who pitched His tent among us, took up His dwelling, got involved with and took on our humanity. To be human means to have limits, to know changes, to experience seasons. The major seasons are birth and growth, death and resurrection; the four seasons of the year symbolize these movements that continually overlap in our lives. How wonderful that Jesus knows all of them from the inside out.
This awareness of the Person of Jesus in our lives is like the air that we breathe: it is so constantly there that we often do not think about it. Special seasons of grace such as Advent/Christmas and Lent/Eastertide help us to focus and focus more clearly on the Person and the meaning of Jesus in our lives.
As part of your Christmas reflection, I invite you to allow your memory to wander back through the many seasons of your life and to discover afresh that Jesus was some how in them all and accompanied you through them all.
The Liturgy of the Hours embodies the seasons of the liturgical year through the hymns, antiphons, and melodies appropriate to each season of the Church’s year. As we sing these Hours six times a day, we pray that – whatever season of hope or near despair, joy or dejection, sickness or health, youth or age you might now know – that you are able to find Jesus now in your life in a still deeper way.
Blessed season of Christmas – and of each season of your life with Jesus Christ!
Mother Mary Anne Noll OSB
On July 26 Sandra Chverchko, a former member of St. Monica
Church, Chest Springs, PA, received the Benedictine habit and white veil
signifying that she is a novice in a ceremony preceding Vespers. Before entering
in July 2002, Sr. Sandra was employed at Christopher & Banks, Greensburg, PA.
Having entered in August 2002 from St. Agatha Church, Meadville, PA, Laura Walters became a novice on August 30, 2003. In the ceremony just before Vespers, Laura received habit and white veil. Before entering, Sr. Laura had worked in a factory that manufactured vibrational components.
During this year of canonical (prescribed by the Church) novitiate, novices experience the monastic life and study the Rule of St. Benedict more deeply as well as classes on Scripture, monastic history, and spirituality. Sr. Maria Glaubitz is the novice mistress.
On September 21 Margaret Weider, Caledonia, NY, entered the
community to begin her year of postulancy. Margaret was a lay associate of the
Abbey of the Genesee, Pifford, NY, and had worked for the Office of Mental
Retardation/Developmental Disabilities for the State of New York.
A member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Pittsburgh (Polish Hill), PA, Deborah Davis began her postulancy October 12. Before entering, Deborah had been employed by the Allegheny County Adult Probation – Common Pleas Court, Criminal Division.
At the community recreation the evening before her 95th
birthday on October 16, Sr. Boniface recalled in great detail her family, her
call to the religious life, her time in Abtei St. Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria
and being one of the three foundresses in Boulder, CO. The youngest of nine
children of a farming family, Sr. Boniface had two sisters who became Franciscan
nuns, a brother who died as a Salesian novice from a sports accident, and a
sister who had been a postulant in another community. Sr. Boniface followed in
yet another sister’s footsteps (Sr. Pia), and became a Benedictine nun at Abtei
Her brother who had remained single was not too happy with her decision to enter the monastery for he had it figured out that she should remain at home, continue to work on the farm, and do the housekeeping!
Several weeks after Sr. Boniface entered in October 1930, Sr. Pia learned that she would be among the first Sisters to be sent to St. Vincent Archabbey and College, Latrobe, PA, in February 1931.
In the fall of 1933 Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel asked Sr. Boniface if she would go with the first group of Sisters to Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, CO, to help cook for the monks and students there. A year later in March 1935, she was sent from Canon City as one of the three Sisters to begin the Convent of St. Walburga in Boulder, CO, where she remained until her assignment to St. Emma Monastery in 1964. This remarkable biographical sketch – and much more – Sr. Boniface shared after saying that she really wouldn’t know what to talk about, for there was nothing special about her life.
What a wonderful example of fidelity to monastic life: each day Sr. Boniface participates fully in the monastic life beginning with Vigils at 5:30 a.m.!
Sr. Franziska to Eichstaett
Not only was Sr. Franziska’s visit to our motherhouse, Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria memorable, but so were her flights to and fro.
The stage for this adventuresome journey began on August 7
when the plane from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia missed its connecting flight to
Munich. This necessitated the first call from St. Emma Monastery at 11:10 p.m.
to our Abbess, Mother Franziska in Eichstaett, before she went for early prayer.
This allowed her the time to change her plans to meet Sr. Franziska at 10:00
a.m. at the Munich airport. Having been flown from Philadelphia to London – you
guessed it, these passengers missed their connecting flight that was to arrive
in Munich at 5:00 p.m. Another phone call to Mother Franziska found her already
at the airport. Finally, Sr. Franziska arrived at 10:30 p.m. in Munich – without
On the return flight on September 3, travelers had to show their passports at three different security checkpoints in the Munich Airport. When Sr. Franziska needed to show her passport for the third time, it was missing. The security people looked for it at the first two checkpoints and could not find it. Since the computer had a record that it had already been shown twice, Sr. Franziska was permitted to board her plane. Besides the fact that the plane from Philadelphia left late for Pittsburgh, it was an uneventful trip!
Sr. Franziska recounts, “The highlight was when I was able to sing my Suscipe (the verse from Psalm 119 sung as part of the profession ceremony and repeated each year on the anniversary of one’s vows as a symbolic renewal of vows) in this abbey. The priest who celebrated the Eucharist that day was a guest in the Abbey and did not realize that I was also a guest. The Sisters really enjoyed his homily when he repeated several times how I had spent many years of my life there! I also felt very privileged to hold Mother Franziska’s profession candle on the anniversary of my profession.”
Attends Abbess’ Blessing
The Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale (originally in
Boulder), CO had the blessing of their new Abbess, Mother Maria Michael Newe,
OSB, on September 6, and Mother Mary Anne represented our community.
Until the night before Mother Mary Anne flew to Colorado, she had only planned to stay from September 3-9 until she learned that the funeral for Sr. Angela, one of the original Sisters, would be on September 8. Not only did the extension of time until September 14 give her the opportunity to spend much more time with the community, but changing her flight at the last minute also sent up a “red flag” to the security personnel at Denver Airport, and she received the full security check!
Participants in Vocation Programs
Last spring Mother Mary Anne, Sr. Mary Clare, Sr. Renata, Sr. Paula, and Sandra Chverchko, postulant, attended the Vocation Program for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown at St. Francis University, Loretto, PA. Sr. Maria and Sr. Mary Clare represented the community at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, OH at their annual Vocation Awareness Day for their students on September 26.
Sr. Wiltrud Ott
How fitting that the first of the nuns to be buried from the
new Cor Jesu Monastic Chapel would be Sr. Wiltrud, 91, who had lived the longest
at St. Emma Monastery! The second oldest of five girls, Sr. Wiltrud learned but
did not practice the leather trade, the trade of her father. Having entered
Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria in February 1935, she arrived Christmas
Eve evening 1936 at St. Vincent Archabbey and College, Latrobe, PA, where she
worked in the kitchens until assigned to St. Emma in 1953.
Sr. Wiltrud and Mother Agnes cooked and cared for Bishop Hugh Lamb, first bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, who resided at St. Emma from 1952-1959, and she also helped in the retreat house. From 1964 until 2000, Sr. Wiltrud was the main cook for the monastery. This included baking bread, making jellies, canning tomatoes, and baking the most delicious apple strudels. For many years in her “free time,” she tatted edgings for altar linens and dolls that the Sisters made to help earn money to build up St. Emma.
At the end of May on her way to Vigils, Sr. Wiltrud fell and broke her hip. Due to her severe memory loss (she could not even remember that she had broken her hip!), Sr. Wiltrud did not benefit much from physical therapy. Since she required constant care, she went to St. Anne Home, Greensburg, PA.
On August 19, Sr. Wiltrud died. Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., St. Vincent Archabbey, was the main celebrant and homilist at her funeral Mass on August 25. Her sister (Lina Lucas) and her niece and husband (Wiltrud and Karl Wimmer) came from Germany for her funeral; it was the first time that any relatives from Germany could come for a funeral for one of our nuns.
For decades Sr. Wiltrud bore the cross of a severe hearing loss that hearing aids barely helped. But a radiant smile made a beautiful contact and expressed her deep spirituality.
Sr. Bonfilia Faerber
After a long illness, Sr. Bonfilia, 78 died on September 27.
Seven years ago, Sr. Bonfilia had a successful operation to remove her cancerous
brain tumor, received radiation and the tumor did not return. However, the
radiation had its own side effects; for the last thirty months, Sr. Bonfilia was
confined to a wheelchair and spent this time at St. Anne Home, Greensburg.
The second youngest of seven children born to a farming family, Sr. Bonfilia was a young woman during the Second World War. She could still sing with gusto the pro-Nazi (she and her family were very anti-Nazi) songs that they had to sing and recalled her dress made from the red silk parachute from an American soldier.
Having worked on the family farm for several years, she entered Abtei Sankt Walburg, Eichstaett, Bavaria in 1948 and was assigned to the Convent of St. Walburga, Boulder, CO in 1952 until being sent to St. Emma Monastery in 1984. During her time in Boulder, she worked on the farm and helped build their monastery chapel (including the choir stalls). At St. Emma her services to the community included cutting grass, doing dishes for the retreatants, and being in charge of the laundry for the monastery and retreat house for a number of years.
In 1950 she made vows on May 3; before the revision of the liturgical calendar, that was the feast of the Finding of the Cross. Certainly she found the cross and bore it very patiently as she crossed the line from being a very strong, capable and independent person to one who became totally dependent during these past years.
Experience Monastic Life
Single women, ages 18-40, are invited to meet our community and experience our monastic manner of life through the Monastic Live-In Experience July 8-12, 2004. Women who wonder what a monastic manner of life is like or think they might they have a religious vocation, may “try it out” by living with us at St. Emma Monastery for a few days. They join us for our daily schedule of prayer, work and community life. Please contact Mother Mary Anne for further information about such a visit that may be scheduled anytime.
Each year we try to practice Benedict’s ideal to “welcome all
guests as Christ.” This includes the 3500 retreatants, the 300 guests at the
Monastic Guest House, and the many people who visit our Gift & Book Shop. Some
people we would like to introduce to you by name.
This past March Abbot Richard Yeo OSB, Downside Abbey, Bath, England visited us while visiting St. Vincent Archabbey. A week later Bishop Roger Foys, Diocese of Covington, KY, came for a tour when at St. Vincent for the Feast of St. Benedict.
Last year to the great loss of Western Pennsylvania, St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA closed. In the first decades that our community was in this country, they also benefited from the wonderful care and generosity of the Franciscan Sisters of Millvale, PA, who founded and operated St. Francis Hospital. To our express gratitude for their care, we invited these Sisters to spend a day with us in May.
This summer each of the three newly ordained Benedictine priests from St. Vincent Archabbey, Father Brian Boosel OSB, Father Tom Curry OSB, and Father Cajetan Homick OSB, offered the Eucharist for us.
On August 5, Bishop Issac of the Malankara Rite (responsible for members of this rite in Europe, Canada and the United States) stayed here while visiting the Daughters of Mary from India who work in St. Anne Home, Greensburg. Bishop Issac reminded the community very strongly of the importance of monasteries to pray for the Church and the world.
While visiting this fall, Edmund Rabanser, Ortisei, Italy, said that the statue of Our Lady in the Cor Jesu Monastic Chapel had been carved in Germany while the Stations of the Cross in the adjacent hall had been carved in his own locality! Edmund carved the beautiful statue of Emma in the retreat house lobby and the originals of the Benedict and Scholastica statues that are on sale in the Gift & Book Shop.
While attending the 100th anniversary celebration of his home parish of St. Ambrose, Avonmore, PA, in October, Rev. Anthony Delisi OCSO, from the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, GA, celebrated the Eucharist for the community and visited with the Sisters.
Members of the Contemporary Catholicism class at Seton Hill University (taught by Dr. Fran Leap), Greensburg, PA, spent a class with our community learning about this particular monastery.
Mother Pilar and Mother Paula, nuns of the Evangelical Orthodox Church in America, visited again at the end of October. They are from Holy Redeemer Monastery, Bloomfield, Indiana. It is always nice to have them here.
Volunteering for ten days in November was Karl-Ludwig von Poschinger, Eurasburg, Bavaria. Among other jobs, he helped with the major annual cleaning of the monastery kitchen, used the tractor with the leaf-bagger to gather leaves, and learned to lay vinyl floor tile. One evening we asked Karl-Ludwig to tell us about his great-grandfather, Karl of Habsburg, who was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary during the last half of the World War I. Pope John Paul II declared him “Venerable” on April 12, 2003. Having been forced into exile finally at Medeira, Spain, Emperor Karl died at the age of 34, leaving his wife and eight very young children. Karl-Ludwig told us that his great-grandfather had tried to bring about peace, gave much of the family’s personal goods to the poor, and attended Mass every day.
The capital campaign, Monastic Life: A Gift Received, A Gift Shared -- Campaign to Strengthen Essential Benedictine Values continues. Your donation makes a huge difference not only in our lives within the monastery and its impact on the world that only God knows but also in the lives of each retreatant. This is an essential difference since it brings people closer to God and, therefore, makes the world a better place in which to live.
Four-Story Elevator/Conference Addition
As this letter is written, nearly every “t” has been crossed and every “i” dotted concerning the four-story elevator/conference room addition and completely renovated retreat kitchen that will begin in spring as soon as the weather breaks. Each group of retretants has several people for whom steps are more than challenging. An elevator for that area has become a necessity that can no longer be delayed. Approximate cost for that whole project? $1.2 million.
The retreat house parking lot entrance onto Route 819 (Harvey) has always been less than ideal due to a dip in the road on the farm side that hides oncoming traffic. A new entrance closer to this dip in the highway will increase the visibility of oncoming traffic. The existing parking area needs to be enlarged to accommodate the cars when two groups are here. Preliminary work on the expanded parking lot will begin early winter so that it can serve as the route for the construction vehicles in the spring. This project will cost about $150,000.
"Developing what?" is the question. The answer is developing
the financial resources for the ongoing future of St. Emma Monastery and Retreat
House. Nearly all retreatants express awe and wonder for what they receive in
accommodations, food, beautiful surroundings etc. for the offering that is
asked. During the last fiscal year our utilities alone cost about $50,000, and
the major hike in the price of gas this fall is promised to us as well.
Special projects (translate as "expenses") this year included a food warmer for the retreat kitchen, a copier, and a $20,000 back-up generator for all the emergency power in the retreat house. As you read this newsletter, the new vinyl thermo-pane windows for the second monastery building will be installed to replace the warped, single-pane wooden ones that refuse to close or any longer hold paint. Cost? About $25,000.
Besides, the donations for "general use" and for the building project, it is necessary to build an Endowment Fund that helps to provide an ongoing income to help cover the ongoing major expenses. You can stipulate your donation to the Endowment Fund if you so choose; that money is invested, and only the interest can be spent.
Gifts of stock, life insurance policies, annuities, property, matching gifts, and trusts are all gratefully accepted, and experts can advise you how to save on taxes.
When making out your will, might we ask that you remember us? Our legal title is The Sisters of St. Benedict of Westmoreland County.
THANKS AND MANY THANKS…
In our Christmas letter, we detail the wonderful services and
goods that we receive throughout the year from the special people who
continually incarnate God’s love for us.
Our volunteers always make the High Honor Roll! They give so faithfully and generously of their love and labor. We are thankful to the following: those who help in the retreat kitchen and dining room, with the care of our elderly nuns, mangle the sheets for the retreat house, clean the chapels and the many areas of the retreat house and original house, plant and weed the extensive flower beds, cut the grass and gather up the leaves, do routine maintenance, run errands, take Sisters to doctors’ appointments, work in the bookstore, sew, iron, bake desserts and Christmas cookies, trim shrubs and cut down trees, help organize and gather things for the Flea Market, re-do the outdoor Stations, and, in general, live the exciting life of a volunteer at St. Emma!
We thank the faculty and students of Seton Hill University who worked here as part of their annual volunteer day for the broader community called Labor of Love.
We are also indebted to the donors who generously gave delicious foods and baked goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, items for the Flea Market, flower plants, flowers, bed linens, various pieces of furniture and equipment, homemade items for the Gift Shop – and many et ceteras!
Special thanks to all who organize groups for the retreat house! In a special way, we want to recognize Dorothy Minnick, St. Marys, PA, who organized a bus group of women for a weekend retreat every year from 1955 through 2003! What a wonderful record! May your successors do the same!
Next year December 8 will be the 50th anniversary of the
dedication of the Retreat House.
Please note January 21 is the PRO-LIFE PRAYER VIGIL from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Expression of Sympathy
The nuns and I offer our deep sympathy to Sr. Franziska
Mintus and her family on the death of her two sisters: Katie Kostyo, Kansas
City, KS, who died in December 2002 and Victoria Golkosky, Norvelt, PA, who died
We also extend our sympathy to Chuck Schloder, St. Marys, PA, on the death of his wife, Doris, in November. Doris was the sister-in-law of our Sr. Mary Bernard (deceased), who was one of the first American women to enter our community in 1961.
This year we received several bequests. We remember Mary F. Welch, Hilda Kring, and Marie Dubinsky in a special way in our prayer for their generosity. What a wonderful way to be an ongoing part of St. Emma! Many thanks to the children of Katie Kostyo who suggested memorial contributions might be made to our Monastic Chapel Fund.
For a gift that truly keeps on giving, have you considered a
Gift Certificate for a retreat, a time at the Monastic Guest House, or
shopping at our Gift Shop and Bookstore?
Don’t know what to give someone who has everything? Donations given to recognize a special occasion in honor of someone will be acknowledged to the recipient as well as to the donor.
Gifts may also be made in memory of a loved one with acknowledgement to the family as well as the donor.