Summer 2000

Dear Friends in Christ,

With this newsletter, we share with you the happenings from late fall 1999 through early summer 2000. With summer comes the "experience" of the warmth of God’s love, the wonder at the vibrant colors and pastel shades that flowers come packaged in, the nearly visible growth of seed through plant into the amazing variety of vegetables and flowers, and, this year, the luxuriant foliage of a summer blessed with much rain.

Growth at St. Emma

We, who are the Benedictine Nuns at St. Emma Monastery, are experiencing this same kind of summertime. We marvel at God’s goodness and Providence at the growth of our community and the incredible number of women inquiring about our community. For the past 18 months our first ever and very wonderful Steering Committee and Mother Mary Anne have planned for our very first capital campaign which was formally announced on July 1. The Monastic Guest House which we thought we would only be building in a dozen years will be blessed in November! The fidelity and generosity of OUR volunteers continues to inspire us and so the miracle continues that we have no hired help.

Vigils added

Our community continues to grow in wonderful ways. With the first Sunday of Advent, we added Vigils to our daily horarium (schedule) and now pray the full Liturgy of the Hours six times a day in English, and, most of it sung according to simplified Gregorian chant melodies. Centered around the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours frames and structures our day, sanctifies time, glorifies, thanks and petitions God both in our name and in the name of all people, especially those who ask for our prayer.

Novice makes monastic profession

On May 27, our novice, Sr. Julia Augustine of Washington, PA, made her monastic profession for three years during the Eucharist. Her religious name is Renata, which is Latin meaning "reborn in the Spirit" and her feast day is Pentecost. Photos in the center section show her singing the psalm verse, "Suscipe," which is sung as part of every Benedictine profession ceremony after the vows are spoken. The profession card is then signed and placed on the altar. Before she entered, Sr. Renata worked in a bill collection agency. Sr. Renata is in charge of the retreat dining room, helps with our sick and aged Sisters, and the "whatever it takes" category.

Postulants welcomed

On the Feast of St. Walburga, February 25, Carolyn Littlejohn became a postulant in our community. A native of North Carolina, Carolyn most recently lived in eastern Maryland. On the Feast of St. Benedict, July 11, we received Vincenta Grum of Wilkes-Barre, PA as a postulant. Vincenta first learned of our community through our ad in A Guide to Religious Ministries.

This first step in the ongoing discernment process within the community lasts a year. The initial formation period also includes a two-year novitiate and three years of vowed life before a woman makes final monastic profession. The formation period has to do with experiencing our monastic life and transformation into Christ rather than the information goal of academic life.

Vocation inquiries at all time high

Since mid-February we have received 29 requests for first time information about our community; this interest is unprecedented in our history! Six women attended our Monastic Live-in July 7-11; three other women from California, Minnesota and Colorado visited in spring while several others visit regularly. Two of our vocation guests found us via the Web. We are deeply touched by the number of people who tell us that they pray for us by name every day as well as all the other prayer remembrances that we are included in. You can see God is responding to these prayers in a wondrous fashion. Thank you!

Retreatants’ chapel anniversary

On July 1 about 210 people joined us in celebrating God’s goodness on the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Fatima Chapel (retreatants’ chapel). These people symbolized the more than 165,000 people who have come to St. Emma’s in the last 50 years to grow closer to God and to pray, in a special way, in this chapel.

Announcement of Campaign

After Mass, in a picture perfect setting with the Crucifixion Scene in the background and people sitting in the shade of the ornamental crabapple and apple trees, Mother Mary Anne shared the amazing history of our community. February 25, 2001 will mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters at St. Vincent Archabbey and College, Latrobe, PA where they cooked and served for the next 56 years.

Having reviewed the incredible witness and achievements of our Sisters, Mother Mary Anne then shared our vision for the future which is expressed in our first ever capital campaign: Monastic Life: A Gift Received, A Gift Shared – The Campaign to Strengthen Essential Benedictine Values.

A Gift Received, A Gift Shared

Rooted in our Baptism, our monastic vocation is not only a gift from God for us personally by which we live out a particular lifestyle based on the Gospel but is also a gift to be shared. Monastic life directs the human heart God-ward according to centuries old successful methods of living a God-centered life. This regular pattern of prayer and work provides the framework for us nuns who have consecrated our lives to God. Struggling to balance these elements in their lives, people often find in us a public example of "how to" and find in St. Emma’s an oasis where they come to be renewed.

This pattern of ora et labora has formed and channeled the hungers of the human heart for centuries through the monastic pattern given to the various elements of prayer, work, silence, community living and lectio divina. Prayer and work, the necessary elements of a truly human life, continues to form and channel these hungers of our hearts and the hearts of our contemporaries. This is the gift of monastic life that we share with those who make retreats, volunteer, visit and who will experience our Monastic Guest House.

Monastery chapel ~ Monastery renovations

Architecture both expresses and forms our vital mission of our monastic dedication and service to Christ. With His blessing, our vision is to express more fully the Rule of Benedict in architecture. The monastic chapel, the very heart of the monastery, will show in brick and mortar the primacy of God in our lives with its choir stalls for 32 nuns and space for 80 guests. The Prioress’ office will reflect the special role of the monastic superior as spiritual leader while the present monastery entrance symbolizes the role of the community in which we seek God. Our plans also include clerical offices, a monastic library to provide resources and ambiance for lectio divina (prayerful reading), and a space to be used for community conferences as well as a monastic setting for wakes.

Retreat House elevator ~ Conference room

For our retreatants, we need to build a four-story elevator on the eastern end of the retreat house. Last year’s two story elevator is on the western end where there are only two stories -- which are actually the third and fourth floors. A conference room for 90 to be built above the present retreat dining room will provide a meeting space for large groups outside of chapel. Other improvements in that area will be addition of handicapped-accessible bathroom, St. Scholastica conference room (beneath dining room) refurbished and another conference room for 20 fashioned out of what is presently storage space.

Steering Committee

A capital campaign, we are learning, does not come out of the air! Just several years ago, we could not figure out how an organization could officially announce a capital campaign and at the same time already have raised half the money! That mystery of life has now been revealed. During the past 18 months, individuals who are very dedicated to St. Emma have been meeting regularly with Mother Mary Anne and working hard behind the scenes to launch our first capital campaign. We are most grateful for the generous gifts of time and talents of our first steering committee-- John Robertshaw, Jr. (chair), Abbess Franziska Kloos OSB, Arthur Boyle, Nunzio Galletta, Joseph Koepfinger, Sister Gertrude Foley SC, Prior Earl Henry OSB, Chuck Manoli and John Kelman.

Campaign donations

Although we are still in the first phase of our capital campaign, we have $600,000 in pledges towards our goal of $2.6 million and have received nearly $400,000 already. We are so encouraged by these major first gifts and by the faith in God and the faith in our future that they reflect. We are also so encouraged to receive contributions already from individuals who want to be a part of these projects. In a few weeks, we will be mailing information to you specifically about our capital campaign. Many thanks for praying for us and for our intentions. Thanks, too, in advance, for whatever financial assistance you will give to us to invest in our future which touches the future of the world.

More amazing volunteers

In our Advent newsletter, we will list the nearly endless and always expanding variety of jobs that our very generous volunteers do for and with us. One first-time volunteer put it, "You Sisters are to be admired for your faith and service to the Church. But you demand more of those who come into your lives than their admiration. All of you have obviously lived Christ’s message so well that your many, many volunteers wish to emulate you." The fidelity of God we experience through the fidelity of so many people who come regularly. We also experience the providence of God in the many instances when someone offers "out of the blue" when the extra hand is truly needed. If you are looking to volunteer in a religious atmosphere and where you can really make a difference, please contact us. You would also be welcome to pray with us.

Fatima Chapel renovations

This milestone of 50 years became the motivating grace behind the renovation of the Fatima Chapel. From mid-November (the pews were taken to be re-finished the day after the last married couples’ retreat!) until two days before Christmas (when the pews were re-installed), an incredible amount of work was done. The bulging middle sections of the very beautiful stained glass windows depicting the life of Benedict were straightened and re-enforced while the original asphalt tiles were replaced (with all that entails) with porcelain tiles that never need to be waxed. The ceiling and walls were painted, organ and organ pipes removed to protect them from dirt/paint and re-installed, a controlled shade opening added to organ pipes to modulate the volume, terrazzo floor in sanctuary re-finished (what a major, messy job), and air-conditioning installed. All of this was done in that six week period! Later, the dove tabernacle was polished so its beauty can be better seen from the back of the chapel. The statues were cleaned and their halos polished! The two Stations of the Cross in the most critical condition were repaired with great craftsmanship while the other 12 requiring less critical care will be restored later. The photo in this letter gives a hint of the beauty.

Monastic Guest House nears completion

In November the Monastic Guest House consisting of nine rooms (each with bath), two rooms for live-in volunteers, a 36 foot living room/dining room area with fireplace, kitchen and oratory will be completed. Although only a two minute walk from the monastery and retreat house, it is framed with trees and lawn with no other house in sight. This Guest House will enable individuals to come and share our monastic life of prayer and recollection more directly – either by praying the Liturgy of the Hours with us or simply by having more time to think and pray and be.

The increased number of guests already anticipates our new Guest House and so affirms this project which links this house to the hungers of the human heart. In mid-May we had 6 private retreatants at one time who came from the states of Indiana and New Jersey as well from Erie, Leechburg, Johnstown and Butler, Pennsylvania. Some of these private retreatants joined us for all the Liturgy of the Hours; others choose one or the other time. Each spends the time as he or she deems it most advantageous to grow in intimacy with God.

Directed retreats

Directed retreats will be offered in 2001 in the new Guest House. Please see our list of retreats for dates or contact us for more information.

Sisters go forth to meet God

It seemed that Sr. Scholastica Ferstl, 84, awaited the completion of the Fatima Chapel renovation for she died on December 27. If she had died during the renovation, the Mass could have been held in our small Chapel but there is no way a casket would have fit. Sr. Scholastica worked for nearly 50 years in the monastery dining room at St. Vincent Archabbey and College, Latrobe, PA. At St. Emma’s she helped in the retreat dining room, with the laundry and in our refectory. She had entered our mother house of St. Walburg Abbey, Eichstaett in 1932, made vows in 1934 and came to this country the same year. She came to St. Emma in 1987. In a family of 10 children, there was also a Salesian priest and a Salesian brother, a Franciscan Sister and Sr. Scholastica. We sang appropriate Christmas carols for her funeral.

Just two months later at the age of 84, Sr. Pudentiana Lintner died after a longer illness. Having entered St. Walburg Abbey in 1936, she made vows in 1937 and came to St. Vincent Archabbey the same year. She and her blood sister, Sr. Praxedes who preceded her in death, worked together in the bakery for 35 years, making cakes, pies, jams, jellies, and homemade ice cream. At Easter, they made exquisitely decorated Paschal lambs. In 1986, she came to St. Emma with Sr. Praxedes who had cancer and whom she helped care for. Until her last days here, she helped prepare the vegetables and fruit for the monastery.

Grand re-opening of renovated Gift Shop

Thanksgiving weekend we had the official celebration of the renovated Benedictine Sisters Catholic Gift & Book Shop at St. Emma that was re-done as part of the retreat house lobby project. More and more people are discovering our huge selection of books and religious articles. We feature a special section on Benedictine books and another on Benedictine medals, statues, crucifixes, etc. Our store hours are Monday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm. You can also preview our Gift Shop via our Website:

New computers

Last year already we considered new computers and networking them. Due to problems this May with the computer on which all correspondence for the monastery and retreat house depends, retreat reservations are entered, and mailing lists are generated, we feared that the computer was in its "death throes." This major concern about the health of our computer lead to our purchase of two new computers that are networked; what a great help. Soon we will have e-mail! Please check our Website for our address and please include your e-mail address on your correspondence.


Last November the mysterious but STRONG sewer smell in the retreat house was caused by a root ball that filled the juncture of the sewer line from the original house to that of the retreat house. This juncture was exactly under the middle of the retreat house. The men removed the earth along the foundation with a backhoe, broke through the cement block wall, broke through a second block wall after the crawl space, dug out the earth by hand, removed the root ball and attending roots, repaired the holes, refilled the earth, etc. The backhoe also unearthed the terra cotta septic line next to the sidewalk leading to the retreat dining room. The roots of the guilty trees had certainly thrived on what for them must have been a four star restaurant fare! Our bill reflected the same high class dining: $14,000!

During the past months our commercial freezers and refrigerators have been struggling in an unholy competition for our attention. On Sunday, April 9, the retreat kitchen walk-in freezer was WARM. The repairman’s first appraisal was true; no quick fix was possible. After 21 years, this freezer was demanding a new compressor. Translation: all of the food needed to be moved via four trips with garden tractor and wagon into the monastery freezer. This was not the late-afternoon Sabbath we had in mind after a large Lenten weekend and an extra group on Sunday! This summer the commercial refrigerator in the retreat kitchen and the walk-in refrigerator in the monastery kitchen also had problems that necessitated emptying both of them.

Christmas Visit and Vespers

Over 375 people celebrated the Feast of the Incarnation by attending our third annual Christmas Visit and Vespers. A snowstorm quickly changed both the landscape and the driving conditions but everyone got home safely – although "safely" included being in the ditch for one carload of guests. It is so touching that so many people desire an extra spiritual opportunity to celebrate Christmas and do so with us.

Millennium Mini-retreat surpassed expectations

Ninety people including five who commuted and six who slept on couches joined us to pray in the new Millennium! Never before did we have people offering to sleep on couches! The participation at the Eucharist of Thanksgiving, prayer services, the all night Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the 5:30 a.m. Vigils (about 40 people!), sung Lauds, and Eucharist for the Solemnity of Mary was exceptional and Msgr. Robert Shuda’s homilies/meditations truly apt and inspiring. This retreat was a wonderful experience on our side as well but really crowded our monastic life that week; therefore, we are unable to offer it this coming New Year’s Eve. One idea within the community is to alternate the large display of Nativities one year (although we would still offer the opportunity to sing carols and Vespers with us) with the New Year’s Eve retreat the next. Any suggestions?

Pro-Life Prayer Vigil and material

Over 40 people joined us for the annual Pro-Life Prayer Vigil held on January 19. One-third of the people stayed the entire six hours during which the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, conferences given by Rev. Mark Gruber OSB, Vespers and Compline sung with us as well as time for personal prayer. The next Pro-Life Prayer Vigil is January 17.

Our gift shop features a large selection of Pro-Life information including books and pamphlets, bumper stickers, pins, rubber stamps, etc.


On the beautiful spring evening of April 27, our second annual Auction was held. We want to THANK all those who organized it, worked during it, put things away after it, donated items, and those who enjoyed being here and/or bought here!

Please mark your calendar for our third annual auction April 26, 2001. We are also grateful for any items you might wish to donate.

Wonderful youth

Last February we had wonderful youth groups from Our Lady of Grace, Greensburg and our local deanery that held a Bread of Life retreat here. In March we again had college students from Virginia Beach, VA who came to experience that ancient rhythm of prayer and work that is our monastic life. Several young women of high school age volunteer here: three have volunteered many years with their mother; one began last fall while another has volunteered this summer. Our hearts rejoice to be in such close contact with such fine young people. And we are grateful for their help.


Several of our Sisters had first-hand experience of the frailty and delicacy of the human body. On March 21 Sr. Walburga suffered a stroke which necessitated her move to St. Anne Home where she died July 5. Her photo and biographical sketch will be in our Advent newsletter.

On March 25 Sr. Corona fell and suffered several compression fractures that brought with them incredible pain. After two days in the hospital and nine weeks at St. Anne Home, she is now back at the monastery.

Sr. Mary Bernard had two cataract surgeries and Sr. Bonfilia had one; both are experiencing the miracle of modern medicine in regard to cataract surgeries.

A "virtual" visit:

A year ago we launched our Website and have received very favorable reviews. We thank Dawn Cechetti of for the wonderful design using the Benedictine medal as the "buttons" down the side. On our Website, topics include our history, information about our monastic vocation, retreat schedule, newsletters, news releases, map and bookstore. Come and visit!

Looking for a good home for…

Our Monastic Guest House will open in November. We are planning to furnish it with "antiques-in-the-making" – otherwise known as used furniture!

We are offering a good, loving Monastic Guest House home to the following: overhead projector, CD player, easel for print pad (and print pads), bed spreads (single), blankets, linens, easy chairs, lamps and desk lamps, chairs/desks with large drawers, alarm clocks, vacuum cleaner, electric roaster, crock pots, blender, toaster, food processor, dishes, flatware, dish towels, cookware (especially Teflon coated and Teflon utensils), coffee maker (12, 30 and 55 cup), plastic lawn furniture, and golf cart (NO clubs – this is not about golfing but about transporting things to and from the monastery/retreat house to the Guest House!). Also, do you have extra copies of the Liturgy of the Hours (4 vols.), daily and Sunday Missal, step stools, 5-6 foot step ladders, and stationery (also for computers),

We will begin to furnish the Monastic Guest House in early October. Please contact us if you have any of those items or others that you think might be of use. We are most grateful!


Prioress’ message

Reviewing this Summer Newsletter, I am awed by God’s grace and action in our life. It is easy to point to the improvements, the groups, the number of inquiries about our community but it really does spell out in big bold letters: THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD! On a daily base one knows the round of prayer, the schedule of common observances, the decisions that await each day, the very varied things that need to be attended to. On a review like this (similar to what happens on a retreat), one sees the larger perspective. I can only marvel that God has brought so much about in so short a time and the external happenings correspond to the internal blessings that we know in our monastic vocations and that others experience who come here.

Thank you for being a part of our life – perhaps as a retreatant, as a visitor to our bookstore, as someone who asked for special prayer, as a volunteer, or as one who has become acquainted with St. Emma through this newsletter--for letting us touch your life in Christ’s name.

Mother Mary Anne OSB and Benedictine Sisters