Two women welcomed into Benedictine novitiate

Sisters Colleen Leathley, Ann Muczynski, and Jacqueline Sanchez-Small

Sisters Jacqueline Sanchez-Small (right) and Colleen Leathley (left) marked the continuation of their monastic journey by moving from the first official step in the journey, the postulancy, to the second, a canonical novitiate year. They are pictured with Sister Ann Muczynski, Director of Formation, who will also serve as their novice director. After the Rite of Entrance into the Novitiate, which took place at the Vigil of Sunday on Saturday evening, October 17, Ann reflected on the new role she has accepted noting, "I am aware of what a privilege it is to walk with these women on this journey. It also comes with tremendous responsibility."

During a call and dialogue, interspersed with the community singing, "Teach me your ways, O God," Prioress Stephanie Schmidt asked each of the women, "What do you seek?" First Jacqueline then Colleen stated her intent to continue seeking God with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. In his Rule, Benedict makes clear that the desire to seek God is the core of the monastic vocation. Sister Stephanie then asked the sisters of the community if they would support Jacqueline and Colleen during this novitiate time. Continuing the dialogue, Sister Ann was asked if she accepted the great responsibility of directing others in the monastic way of life. Once she made her commitment, Stephanie then asked the community if they would support Ann in this role and, again, the sisters replied firmly, "I will."

Sister Ann gave each of two new sisters the Rule of Benedict, a text in which they will immerse themselves during this year of intense reflection, study, introspection and community living. Because the monastery remains closed due to the pandemic, no guests joined the celebration and the sisters were scattered throughout the chapel.

“I give thanks for this graced and sacred year to deepen my relationship with God, this community and my self as I more fully discern my vocational calling," Sister Colleen said before adding with a smile and with her Australian accent, "Bring it on, I say!” Colleen is a native of New Zealand who also holds Australian citizenship. She is a psychologist and an academic who first came to the Erie Benedictines to live with the community for a year in the Benedicta Riepp Monastic Experience program. She returned to Australia for a year until she couldn't ignore the pull of the monastic community any longer and returned to explore a monastic vocation.

"I’m looking forward to this year as a time to practice the monastic way of life more fully. I’m excited to continue learning and growing with this community," said Sister Jacqueline. Jacqueline found her way to Erie via an internship opportunity. She spent the summer of 2015 as the Joan Chittister Intern working with Benetvision and Monasteries of the Heart. She left at the end of the summer to complete her degrees in divinity and social work, then, more than a year later, returned to Erie and rejoined the staff as a regular member rather than an intern. She became an oblate in 2015 and then in 2019 decided to enter the community to fully explore her monastic vocation. Jacqueline is originally from New Jersey.

The two sisters will join Sister Jen Frazer who is six months into her novitiate.

Listen to Sister Stephanie's reflections on Matthew 22:15-21 during the service.

To explore the possibility of a monastic vocation, please email vocations@mtstbenedict.org and one of our vocation team, Sisters Mary Ellen Plumb, Elizabeth Oettel or Val Luckey, will invite you into conversation.

Colleen, Sister Stephanie, Jacqueline move to the front of the chapel for the call and response.
Colleen, Sister Stephanie, Jacqueline move to the front of the chapel for the call and response.
Sister Ann and Sister Stephanie present the two new novices with copies of the Rule of Benedict.
Sister Ann and Sister Stephanie present the two new novices with copies of the Rule of Benedict.
Sister Stephanie, formation team members Sisters Joan Chittister and Chris Kosin, and Sisters Ann, Colleen and Jacqueline in the monastery dining room.
Sister Stephanie, formation team members Sisters Joan Chittister and Chris Kosin, and Sisters Ann, Colleen and Jacqueline in the monastery dining room.