Thoughts from the Prioress on Jubilee

Thoughts from the Prioress on Jubilee

Good afternoon everyone. I am Sister Anne Wambach, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and on behalf of all the sisters of our community I welcome you to Mount Saint Benedict today to celebrate this wonderful occasion with us.

All of you who are the brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, friends and co-workers of the four sisters celebrating today, have had a special role in enriching their lives and, in turn, enriching the life of our community through them.

Welcome to the celebration and thank you so much for joining us.

Our four jubilarians, Sister Mary Lou, Sister Audrey, Sister Rose Ann, and Sister Judith have much in common:

All of them are graduates of St. Benedict Academy. They all continue, to this day, to be proud Lassies. They often sing its praises‒as well as its Alma Mater‒and tell stories of the excellent education they received there, as well as the influence the Benedictine Sisters had on them as young women and what models the Sisters were for their future vocation. They are still strong supporters of the SBA Alumnae Association‒be it at their annual events or in any endeavor.

All four of these sisters grew up in long-established Erie parishes and often share with us their fond memories of the neighborhoods, parish schools and churches they attended at Holy Trinity, St. Ann’s, St. Mary’s and Holy Family. Once again, their families, their neighbors, their childhood friends and school experiences, all brought an immeasurable number of positive influences to them and, in turn, to our community. Those early days and life events helped form the basis of the women they became.

So many of you here today, along with their parents and extended family, are part of those memories, as significant elements in their lives.

Education is another common thread for each of them. Three of them were teachers in their early careers: both in elementary and secondary schools. Sister Audrey and Sister Judith are still involved in education, ministering at St. Benedict Education Center in Erie. Sister Mary Lou teaches poetry after school at the Neighborhood Art House, a ministry that she founded in 1994, and she shares her writing and community publications through Benetvision.

All four have close ties to our community’s commitments to the poor and needy, the underprivileged and struggling. Sister Rose Ann’s present ministry is at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a major provider of food to groups and organizations who help the hungry.

All of them have dedicated aspects of their ministerial energy to the needs of those whose lives are a true daily struggle‒both here in our local area, as well as nationally and even internationally. These challenges can include the tangibles such as food, clothing and shelter or the more intangibles: to live in peace, to feel security, to be educated, to raise children in a just and caring society.

All of them are regular participants in our public community witnesses such as the Take Back the Site vigils to foster nonviolence and peace in our city or in postcard and email campaigns to encourage our local and national legislators to always consider the basic needs and welfare of the people first in decision-making.

Finally, we have much for which to be grateful when we look at the contributions of our jubilarians to the life of our monastic community as Benedictine women. All of them contribute to our music, liturgies, artistic, and literary endeavors‒making them vital parts of our life together and gift to the Church, to the people of this area, and to the broader Benedictine world around the globe.

There is no hesitation in me when I say that without these four faith-filled, committed and loving Sisters, without their years of selfless giving, generous service and faithful dedication to life among us, we would not be the community of Benedictine Sisters of Erie that we are‒here and now‒today.

Their contribution of talents and gifts; their service to the building of community, both in ministry and within our community, have been pivotal to the development of the life that we now share.

It should not surprise any of us that the reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew that we just heard was chosen for these jubilarians. It is one of Jesus’ parables‒his messages within mysteries‒that speaks of an invitation that is not accepted by a certain few and then the invitation is extended to all‒to those who didn’t expect it and yet turned out to be the guests of honor.

I was particularly drawn to the phrase, “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad…” Even in Jesus’ time the Gospel writers labeled people “good and bad.” But in this little tale Jesus puts them all together, extends an equal invitation to all. We have no details that this group was escorted to the green ballroom and that group to the blue one. Those who speak this language were put here, those who speak that language were directed there. The women go to the left, the men go to the right. Those who believe as we do, come first. If you believe otherwise, please lag behind. No, Jesus offers the same invitation to each person. The parables hold Jesus’ messages, his philosophies, beliefs and value‒if only we can recognize them as we hear them.

From what I shared at the beginning about the lives of Sisters Mary Lou, Audrey, Rose Ann and Judith, we all certainly can understand what they heard in this reading‒it reveals their own life choices, shows us the foundation of their decisions, brings out their values, tells us of their inclusiveness of all God’s people and the call that they have been following all of their lives. It announces their following of Jesus.

My second thought comes from the Rule of Benedict that we as monastic women follow as a guide and way of life. In Chapter 4 of the Rule, Benedict writes, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” And a few lines later, “Place your hope in God alone.”

I believe these admonitions of Benedict. And I have seen them lived out in the lives of these sisters. Their ways of acting, of sharing, of giving, of caring, of making decisions, of being, have been different‒are different.

They are following the God who has been calling them for 25 and 50 years. The God who has been leading them, urging them to follow the path laid out by Jesus, and asking them to bring the message, the hope, the faith and the mercy and love, so clearly demonstrated by him, to all with whom they live, work and meet along their own life paths. And this they have done very well.

I conclude in the only way possible: thank you sisters, Mary Lou, Audrey, Rose Ann and Judith. Thank you for your years of dedication, service, vision and generosity to this community, to all the people whom you have touched, cared about, helped, taught and from whom you have learned.

Thank you for what you have brought to each of us who share this special celebration with you. Thank you for your lifetime of “seeking God” as a Benedictine Sister of Erie. May God bless you for many years to come!

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.