First Profession

First Profession

First Monastic Profession
Sister Kathleen McCarthy
March 15, 2019

Good evening and a special welcome to Mount St. Benedict to our guests— for this very special occasion, the First Monastic Profession of Novice Kathleen McCarthy.

It has certainly been a circuitous route for you, Kathy: Back and forth, up and down, Pittsburgh-Erie, the United States and Canada—all spanning years and even decades since you first met us!

Regardless of the roads you’ve traveled or perhaps I should venture to say because of the roads you’ve traveled, you have come home now, landed here with us again. We are very grateful for your presence and for your wish to continue your life as a Benedictine woman—to make our journey to God, also your journey.

Today is a special day in another way. Today is the death anniversary of Benedicta Riepp, the young leader of the first Benedictine sisters who came to the United States in the 1850s, to Pennsylvania, to teach the children of German immigrants.

Benedicta was only 27 years old when she arrived in the US and lived only 10 years in this country. She left St. Marys, PA after a while and traveled west, by way of Erie, with others sisters, before settling in St. Benedict Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She died on March 15, 1862.

We honor her memory each year on this date and recognize the tremendous courage and fortitude she and those first young women had in bringing and adapting their European monastic life to this new, emerging country. Their simple beginnings culminated with the establishment of 50 monasteries, including our own in 1856.

Sister Ephrem Hollermann, past prioress of the community she was part of in Minnesota and the tender of Benedicta’s gravesite today, wrote in her book on American Benedictine Women in the early years: “Benedicta Riepp and her companions understood clearly why they had come to America…they had come to America to perform a two-fold mission, namely to instruct young girls and to spread the Benedictine order in this part of the world.”

And in another summary she added: “There is no way to measure the immensity of the work accomplished and extent of the influence Benedictine women had upon the immigrant Church during their first thirty years in America….In that time the order professed 415 members and, in 26 branch houses, they were serving over 6,000 children in schools and orphanages.”

That is quite a heritage to build upon, but build upon it Benedictine women have done and today we continue to offer our talents and our dedication still to educating children, but also to many other facets of the needy among us—the poor, the elderly, the lost, the lonely—particularly when those needs include food, clothing, shelter or assistance. And, through the ever-present hospitality ministry of every monastery and good works in retreats, parishes and countless pastoral endeavors, we tend to the spiritual needs of the soul.

The heritage of these early American Benedictine women is one that we are proud to emulate and continue today.

The vows you pronounce today, Kathy, also echo down through the ages,
through Benedictine communities in all countries and at all times.

The vow of obedience speaks to our intention to be forever in search of the Word of God in our lives. Finding it in the scriptures, of course, but also in our communal prayer and in the wisdom of our sisters in community. We strive every day to move deeper and closer to the Will of God—for ourselves, for our community and for the world in which we live.

The vow of stability promises something quite different than “staying in one place.” Our stability is to this community and to the relationships and commitments we have made and continue to make with each other—for a lifetime. We remain on the journey to God, together; we remain under a Rule and the Gospels; we remain committed to this group, at this time, and to the people of God all around us and among us.

And, finally the vow of conversatio morum, brings us to the bottom line, the true purpose of both the Christian life and our monastic life. That purpose is a continual striving in growth, change and movement in our journey to be one with the Holy One our God. A oneness that we embrace in constant conversion to our better selves, to the hopes and dreams we all had on a day such as today, and to the Christ-life that is in all of us and that we foster through the monastic way of life, in this community, at this time.

Lastly, Kathy, a word on the reading that was chosen for this afternoon. It is from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. It is part of a review of the covenant between God and the people.

The people are to follow God’s law, and in return, God promises that they will be “a treasured people.” What a beautiful image…to be a people “sacred to God.”

And that we are—and that you are today, Kathy.

I pray that God’s promise—to be a treasured person, will be with you today and every day of your life.

We are very happy to have you among us as a Benedictine Sister of Erie. May peace be with you, today and always.

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.