Living the Monastic Life

Colleen Leathley, a former participant in the Benedicta Riepp Monastic Experience program, began her postulancy on Monday evening, September 16, 2019. Colleen, a psychologist and academic with dual citizenship in New Zealand and Australia, shared: “From my experience, and what I know of the community's history and values, I fully believe that joining the Benedictine Sisters of Erie will enable me to deepen and respond more fully to God’s presence and call in my life in a positive way, not just for myself but also the community and greater good … I welcome this opportunity, as well as the prospect of being further inspired and enabled to advance the valuable role that women have to play in our Church and world, while promoting Gospel values of inclusivity, human development and peace.”

Postulancy is the first phase of monastic formation. As a postulant Colleen will participate fully in the life of the community and live the communal life of prayer and ministry. She will learn community history, vision and values and have classes on Benedictine spirituality as she continues to discern her vocation.

Sister Ann Muczynski, whose home parish was St. Joseph in Warren, PA, entered the Erie Benedictines in 1992 and professed her first vows in 1994. Sister Ann has embraced the monastic way of life with sincerity and integrity and this year celebrates her 25 year anniversary. Sister Ann’s first years in ministry were spent in elementary education as a teacher in the Erie Diocese. She then pursued further education and earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University. Sister Anne is a board certified clinical social worker with experience as a trauma specialist gained from working for Belle Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse in Ohio and Family Services of NWPA where she was a trauma therapist and supervisor. Since 2011 she has been employed at Erie’s VA Medical Center as a posttraumatic stress disorder specialist and serves as the clinic’s Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator, work to which she brings exceptional competency. Sister Ann walks through life with a direction and purpose that is guided by a strong desire for peace and justice for all. She is deeply committed to Benedictine life and her faithfulness to prayer gives her the strength to be a healing presence in her community life and ministry.

Reflective thoughts . . .
Sister Ann Muczynski is a listening heart wide open to the world and the people she serves. Deeply rooted in the monastic values that define her soul and the prayer that centers her life, Sister Ann extends compassion and love to those whose needs are most urgent. In a lifelong devotion to her students and then, to traumatized children and most recently, to veterans, she is single-minded in her efforts to promote healing and wholeness. Sensitive and deeply genuine in her acceptance of one and all, Sister Ann never withholds sincere words of affirmation and gratitude. Her dedication to the challenge of engendering hope wherever and however it is needed, empowers Sister Ann to foster life-giving change in any and all situations.

Sister Jacinta Conklin, originally a Benedictine Sister of Elk County and past prioress who supported her sisters with compassion and care, came to Erie in 2016. It had become clear that St. Joseph Monastery in St. Marys, PA would need to close as a result of a climbing median age and lack of new members and the sisters began to discern their own personal future. Faithfulness of heart and an abiding commitment to the monastic way of life led Sister Jacinta to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie and in 2018 she transferred her vows and was fully incorporated into the community. This year she celebrates 50 years of monastic profession. Sister Jacinta’s ministries in Erie have kept her close to nature and close to people. She is community driver, library aide and sacristan and makes a big contribution to seasonal lawn care. Her sense of humor, easy smile, positive attitude and willingness to help wherever needed is truly a blessing.

Reflective thoughts . . .
Sister Jacinta embodies a genuine compassion and mindfulness for every part of God’s creation. She loves the earth and tends the grounds and gardens with the same particular care with which she accompanies those whose step is faltering or tends to all that is sacred and beautiful in the chapel. Sister Jacinta finds contentment in the routine of the daily and joy in the surprise of unexpected pleasures. She relishes a great meal, a hearty laugh, a challenging card game as much as she delights in a breathtaking sunset or a satisfying book recommended by a friend. Ever faithful to Benedictine ora et labora, prayer and work, Sister Jacinta lives with firm conviction and steadfast hope in the monastic way of life.

Sister Susan Doubet is a golden jubilarian. Her 50 years of vowed life have been a journey marked by ongoing discernment and change. After 27 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Northwest Pennsylvania, Sister Susan discerned a new call—the call to monastic life. She began the transfer process to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in 1993 and her incorporation was finalized in 1997. As a Sister of St. Joseph, her ministerial life was spent as a secondary teacher, primarily of math and physics, for a brief time at Bradford Central Christian High School and then for 23 years at Villa Maria Academy where she also spent time as administrator/principal. As a Benedictine, Sister Susan has held the position of staff member in the Development and Public Relations departments, Benetvision Publications, and AIM (Alliance for International Monasticism) of which she eventually became the Executive Director for eight years. Since 2003 she has been Research Assistant to Sister Joan Chittister, a position in which she continues. In 2010, Sister Susan was appointed subprioress and continues to serve the community in this role.

Reflective thoughts . . .
Sister Susan Doubet is relentless in her pursuit of the sacred and the beautiful and justice and peace in our world. Unwavering in her love for the monastic way of life, Sister Susan’s efforts and energy extend in kindness for the good of others. She gives herself fully to the task at hand and does nothing halfway. The world would be less without her caring attention, keen observations and solid convictions. Sister Susan is a teacher par excellence, delightful storyteller, wise mentor and solid friend. Her love of nature and care for creation is made manifest in the pleasure she takes in feeding the birds and the deer, measuring the snowfall, and walking the beach on a summer’s day. Life is an event for Sister Susan and her talent for finding the humor in everyday situations allows others to find the inherent meaning and value that lies in all of life’s experiences.

Sister Rosanne Loneck met the Benedictine Sisters as a student at St. Benedict Academy (SBA). Upon her graduation she earned a degree at Villa Maria College before entering the community where this year she celebrates 50 years of monastic profession. To this day SBA holds a significant place in her life. It was there that Sister Rosanne served as teacher, Director of the Summer School Program, and assistant principal and now as liaison to the SBA Alumnae Association. After SBA closed in 1988 Sister Rosanne engaged in a number of other Benedictine Ministries including St. Benedict Education Center, Camp Glinodo, and several internal ministries. Through the years Sister Rosanne has served the community as a formation director, purchaser of community supplies, Dean of the Monastery, Director of Human Resources, and Co-director of the Oblate/Associate Program. In 1991 Sister Rosanne became a certified Spiritual Director and since then has offered guidance and spiritual direction to individuals and retreatants alike, privately and through the Mid-Life, Long Life retreats she offers at the monastery.

Reflective thoughts . . .
Sister Rosanne is a woman of grace and gracefulness. With a gentle presence and a steadfast heart, she moves quietly through every day, leaving beauty and calm in her wake. Ever sensitive, always genuine, overflowing with interest, Sister Rosanne’s is an everyday simplicity – expressing her own gratitude for life in the thoughtfulness she extends to so many in unassuming, creative ways. She inspires generosity by her own selflessness and empowers expansive kindness by her own unbounded compassion and care. Faith and spirituality define Sister Rosanne. She reflects a monastic com

Sister Susan Freitag grew up in South Bend, IN, and began her religious life with the Daughters of Divine Charity where she made her final profession in 1973. After much discernment she transferred those religious vows to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in 1988. Her favorite line in the Rule of Benedict reads: “Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love”—words that she lives by daily. As a Benedictine Sister she continued in the ministry of education she had begun with her community of origin and taught in Erie Diocesan schools.This was followed by Benedictine ministries and parish pastoral work. No matter what her ministry, Sister Susan understands that everything she does is done with God’s help. She believes that the religious woman she is and the work that she accomplishes is in the hands of God. At present Sister Susan is a staff member of the community’s Development Office and a teacher at the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House where she gives generously of her time and talents.

Sister Dorothy Stoner entered the Erie Benedictines from St. Joseph Parish, Sharon, PA, in 1966. The call to be different from the world around her was what attracted her to the monastic life—a call to which she was able to respond because of the loving, supportive family life created by her parents. To this day she is challenged by the line in the Rule of Benedict that reads: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” A communal way of life, grounded in scripture and given expression in prayer, continues to give meaning to her monastic life. Sister Dorothy has ministered in education and pastoral work. Currently, she shares her monastic life of prayer and community at St. Benedict Education Center, a ministry owned and administered by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie that provides education and job placement services to those on public assistance and assists refugees in their enculturation and resettlement process in order to improve the lives of families. Sister Dorothy prioritizes being a monastic presence to all whom she meets.

Sister Janet Goetz, a native of Northeast, PA, attended St. Gregory Parish Schools. She credits her vocation to her parents and the sisters who taught her. The sisters’ love for monastic life, their daily attention to the Liturgy of the Hours, and their joy in community inspired her to enter the Erie Benedictines and to make a perpetual monastic commitment. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a registered nurse and then a nurse practitioner. Eventually she became a nursing instructor, working with young women and men and helping them to become compassionate, caring and well-trained nurses. Spiritual and educational programs provided by and through the community direct and influence her monastic life. The sisters’ commitment to praying the Liturgy of the Hours together and caring for each other in small ways continues to inspire her. At present, Sister Janet works at the monastery as assistant to the community archivist. By her gentle presence she reverences the life that surrounds her.

Sister Marla Bleil entered the Erie Benedictines from St. Gregory Parish, North East, in 1966. She credits her monastic community, the Erie Benedictines, for guiding her throughout the journey of her religious life. For Sister Marla, communal and personal prayer, scripture reading, retreats and the love and support of community have fostered and nurtured her spiritual growth. She has shared this stability through ministry. For many years Sister Marla taught as an elementary school teacher throughout the Diocese of Erie. After 32 years in education Sister Marla took on the work of Administrative Assistant at Benetwood Apartments, a ministry of the Benedictine Sisters that offers monastic hospitality to low income, elderly and handicapped persons. Now, 18 years later, she remains in this same ministry and offers a stable, welcoming presence to all whom she encounters.

Sister Mary Susan Hallstein, a Pittsburgh, PA native, was exposed to a number of different religious communities at a young age. She was taught by Mercy Sisters and Franciscan Sisters and volunteered with The Little Sisters of the Poor at their home for the elderly. She even had a relative who was a Sister of Charity. But, as she says, somehow God called her to be a Benedictine. Sister Mary Susan worked for several years after high school before entering the Benedictine Sisters of Benet Lake, WI, where she made her perpetual monastic profession. In 1986 she came to Erie when her community of origin began a merger process with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. With the 1991 completion of the merger, Sister Mary Susan transferred her vows and fully incorporated as an Erie Benedictine. While in Benet Lake, Sister Mary Susan served as Procurator and Formation Director. Since coming to Erie, Sister Mary Susan has worked as the community’s Health Insurance Coordinator, a ministry she began in 1990 and in which she still serves. What is most important to Sister Mary Susan is that first and foremost she is a lover of Christ. It is that presence that she extends to community and through ministry with gentleness and generosity.

Sister Margaret Ann credits her parents for giving her a strong faith foundation and stable family life, both of which influenced her decision to enter religious life. During her time in community she has been involved in the ministry of education and her favorite quote from the Rule of Benedict supports her desire to be the best teacher possible: “Listen with the ear of the heart.” (RB Prologue: 1) She taught in Erie diocesan elementary schools before moving into secondary education at St. Benedict Academy where she spent 12 years until its closing in 1988.

Through the years Sister Margaret Ann pursued her natural talent for art by education and opportunity. She has participated in and won awards in various art shows over the years. In 1994 she was named artist of the monastery and also took on the responsibility of managing the community’s gift shop, Chapter 57, named for the chapter in the Rule of Benedict that speaks of the artisans of the monastery. For the past 22 years Sister Margaret Ann has been involved in ministry at the Inner City Neighborhood Art House (NAH) in a variety of capacities: clay teacher, artist in residence, and Art Coordinator. Since 2010 she has been the NAH Program Director. It is her hope and desire to continue to share her artistic gifts with children through her ministry in the safe, nourishing and caring environment of the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House. She understands that art is a means of helping children communicate ideas and grow in sensitivity to the world around them.

When I was a novice, I was attracted to this quote by Teilhard de Chardin: “Nothing is profane to those who know how to see.” Given my limited world view at the time, I had a naïve interpretation of its meaning. The lovely children I taught, the caring families I encountered, the simple and sheltered convent life of the time, made it easy for me to see all of life as a reflection of a loving God. Then the years passed and my worldview widened. For instance, I visited Haiti five times and saw unbearable poverty and destitution. I began working at the Emmaus Soup Kitchen and listened daily to story after story of depression, abuse and suffering. Nothing is profane? Really? I wrestled with the meaning of Chardin’s quote until I realized that the key words were “know how to see.” It was up to me to see differently, to take “a long loving look at the real” and find God there. All of it is real—the beauty and suffering, the kindness and greed, the hospitality and loneliness, the sense of justice and oppression. And all of these realities live in me, too. I cannot turn away. I am still learning to embrace all of it with love, with presence and with prayer because “nothing is profane to those who know how to see.”

Sister Mary Miller professed her first vows in 1964 as a Sister of St. Joseph of Erie. During her time with the Sisters of St. Joseph she ministered primarily education, which included teaching and administrative positions in schools in the Diocese of Erie. In 1979 she became involved in social services at the Community House for Women and in 1981 at Emmaus Ministries. In 1984 Sister Mary began a transfer to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, a process that was completed in 1987. She continues to work at Emmaus Ministries, where she has been the director for 33 years.

The reasons I came to this community are not the reasons I stay in this community. Fifty-two years ago, just ready to turn 18, I left my home of origin in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and followed the sisters home to Erie. I loved the sisters because they enlarged my innate gifts and emerging talents. Mostly they invited me into their lives and immersed themselves into my life.

I had a humongous sense inside of me that I wanted to take care of the world, be a kind of candy striper for the multitudes. At a young age, I did know that I found my Soul in the canopy of the forest behind my home, and in the other world-ness of sitting in an empty church.

Obviously, I was guided by the hand of destiny, the awe of the sisters, and the joy of my family.

I am re-committing, staying in this community out of gratitude for the freedom and encouragement of those same gifts in me from the very time I entered in 1962. From candy striper to moon woman, I am. From 2014 to 2034 my anthem will be the regeneration of the Self for the sake of this community and the world community. Amen.

Sister Helen Heher was an elementary school teacher in the Diocese of Erie for several years. After 1971, her education in Therapeutic Recreation led her in a new direction that included ministry as activities coordinator and bookkeeper at John the XXIII home in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, Administrative Assistant at St. Benedict Academy, and Summer Camp Director and Recreation Program Director at Glinodo Conference Center. Sister Helen is presently the Wellness Coordinator at Mount St. Benedict Monastery, a ministry she began in 1993.

For me, being Benedictine is being blessed by a loving God who placed me in a faith-filled family and then in a community of faith-filled women. This has been my greatest joy. This is what I celebrate at Jubilee. Little did I know when I first heard the call to monastic life, a life of seeking God and serving others, what the call meant.

The timing was right. To experience core values of the monastic tradition (prayer, community life, hospitality, peace) in a Pre-Vatican II era followed by a period of renewal and change that called forth deep faith and commitment was a great grace and challenge. As a community we heard the Gospel with the ear of our heart and knew that we were to live the Gospel tangibly, daily. Our eyes were opened to see anew. Our hearts were stretched to touch the world.

At Final Profession I received the title “Christine of the Risen Christ.” It is this Light of Christ that guides me to see the way I should walk in relationships, in community, in ministry. It is this light that enlightens my mind and spirit to live life fully. As I look to the Paschal Candle, I live in the present moment with an eye to the future.

Michael Casey, in his book The Road to Eternal Life, states that, “the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict maps out the road to eternal life.” Jesus not only indicates the road we should walk, but He is the road, the only road that leads to eternal life. On the road I have been guided to walk with the poor, with little children, with those seeking peace. At jubilee I celebrate the ongoing journey.

Sister Christine Kosin began her ministry in education as a primary teacher in several Erie diocesan schools. She then became involved in Head Start and day care at St. Benedict Center handling both teacher and administrative duties. She has also served as Director of the Child Development Lab at Mercyhurst University, Director of the Migrant Head Start Program at Mount St. Benedict Monastery and as service coordinator for Case Management Services. In addition Sister Christine has been a member of the Monastic Council and Director of Monastic Formation. In 2002 she became Service Coordinator at St. Benedict Education Center and in 2012 she became a Head Start and day care teacher.

Born and raised in Erie, I was part of a loving, creative family. I recognize that the depths of the unconditional love of my parents and early formation in a family of Christian believers grounded me for future tasks, struggles and challenges.

My current philosophy is to live in the present moment with a listening ear and a wide-open heart. I attempt to live guided by my title, Pax – the Peace of Christ – received at my final profession. The Benedictine witness of prayer, community, peace and justice making resonates with the “call” I experienced as a lay teacher in 1962 at St. Mary School.

The Gospel reminds us of Jesus’ invitation to “lay down one’s life” with the assurance that we have been given everything needed to “bear fruit that will last.” To this day, I depend on these sacred words. Their roots continue to deepen in me. I rejoice in our Jubilee and celebrate all those persons, events and creation itself that form me.

Perhaps any future goals could fall under just one: to seek wisdom, believing it is within me as that is where God and I reside most intimately.

Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski ministered in education for 20 years, both as an elementary and secondary teacher, as well as an elementary administrator before undertaking the ministry of spirituality in which she still serves. Sister Carolyn facilitates retreats and days of reflection for many different groups at the Erie monastery and around the country. She has held numerous positions in the community including: Administrator of Glinodo Conference Center, sub-prioress of the Benedictine Sisters, Director of Human Development, and Director of Novices and Sisters transferring from other communities. In addition, she was one of the founding sisters of the Emmaus Soup Kitchen.

“You are a real Benedictine,” a woman once said to me, “if you are truly seeking God.” I have always remembered that as an affirmation of my vocation. Seeking God and experiencing God seeking me has been both beautiful and challenging on my faith journey these last 50 years.

People — my family, friends, sisters in community and the people I have had the privilege of serving— their presence and love have been the face of God to me and often God’s voice. Lectio, a prayerful reading of God’s Word, has deeply nourished me and I pray daily to be God’s living word of love to others.

Being a member of two monastic communities — first in St. Marys and now in Erie, and the experience of living community with the people of Tanzania — all have given me a global Benedictine heart. For this and so much more, I feel so blessed and full of joy.

Sister Marian Wehler entered the Benedictine Sisters of Elk County where she ministered as an elementary school teacher in the Diocese of Erie until 1980. She then became a missionary and taught English, Scripture and geography in the Arusha Catholic Seminary in Tanzania. This was followed by service as the Pastoral Care Director and Chaplain at Elk Regional Hospital in St. Marys. In 1996 Sister Marian began the transfer process to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie at which time she worked as secretary and staff member for AIM, the Alliance for International Monasticism. In 2004 Sister Marian became Director of Religious Education at St. Bernard parish in Falls Creek, Pennsylvania. In 2007 Sister Marian began her present ministry: Catholic Rural Ministry in the Oil City Deanery.

Sister Therese Glass

“Pinch me! Pinch me!” my inner voice shouted as I began my postulancy with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie more than 25 years ago. The voice continued: “Am I here? Am I really here? And how did I get here?” In reply I could only answer, “Aware or unaware, all my life I’ve been seeking God.” Little did I realize then how God had been seeking me just as God seeks ALL and sustains ALL. Even less could I imagine then how my life would unfold in prayer, community and ministry.

As I celebrate my silver jubilee I am more aware of God’s unconditional love, faithfulness and presence in and through ALL. Whoever the person, wherever the place, whatever the situation, whichever the thing, God is in it. God is in whatever is.

Benedict saw the world in a single ray of light and I am coming to see the cosmos in a single ray of light. That single ray brightens my world, enlightens my mind and warms my heart. It helps me see that for which I am most grateful: my community, the various ministries in which I have served, my family and my friends. It helps me to know that “Day unto day pours out the story; night unto night makes known the beauty” (Ps. 19: 3). It helps me to feel surrounded by the love of God. My jubilee is going to celebrate that gratitude.

I am sure I am where God calls me to be. Nevertheless, I continue to ask, “Am I here? Am I really here? And how did I get here?” Pinch me! Pinch me! My monastic life is so much more than I could ever have imagined!

Sister Therese Glass came to community with 30 years’ experience in elementary education, both as teacher and counselor. As an Erie Benedictine she worked at Benet Press, served as an assistant manager at Benetwood Apartments and as an instructor and intake coordinator at Saint Benedict Education Center. Presently Sister Therese works part-time as personal secretary to Sister Joan Chittister and is a part-time staff member of the Alliance for International Monasticism USA (AIM). In 2010 she traveled to Tanzania where she helped initiate an English program for African sisters.

Sister Marcia Sigler

As I reflect on the 50 years since my first profession of monastic vows I probably would not have imagined having the strength to do some of the things I have done, especially those that required me to “step out of the box,” to take a stand on the edge or take on a new task. But with the strength of community, working and praying through good times and life challenges, I have done much more than I ever imagined I could do alone.

Community means so much to me. I have learned how to be strong and how to be weak, how to rejoice and how to mourn. I have come to understand that living in community is both miraculous and mystical. As sisters in community we are interconnected through the Rule of Benedict by which we live, the monastic vows that we promise, the charism we convey, the corporate commitment we uphold and the daily prayer in which we engage together. The psalms we chant each day speak to me and they often speak to me of the gift of community—the love of God made visible.

A short poem I wrote at a community weekend many years ago expresses for me the strength of community:

Flexible branches
Weaving in and around,
Supporting
Stretching - - -
Coming to the center
Walking to the edge
Seeking together
Healing
Enabling
Being

I am looking forward to the Golden Jubilee. Just thinking about sharing the celebration with community, family and friends and recognizing that I didn’t make it this far alone fills me with the joy of anticipation. Each day the excitement mounts. As that happens, my gratitude for the many blessings that have been mine in these 50 years grows and deepens.

Sister Marcia Sigler ministered in elementary education for 20 years before moving into health care as a nurse aide at Hamot Hospital. After leaving Hamot she became a nursing assistant in the infirmary at Mount St. Benedict Monastery where she continues to minister. Sister Marcia also served as a volunteer EMT for Fairfield Hose Company in Harborcreek Township and remains connected to that organization. For the past 35 years, Sister Marcia has been a weekly volunteer at the Emmaus Soup Kitchen.

Sister Annette Marshall

It is unbelievable to me that I have reached a 50-year mark – I still feel like I am such a beginner! Jubilee is an opportunity to “get back to basics.” Life can get so busy, so fragmented, that it is easy to lose focus. Marking this 50th anniversary helps me to reflect on the core of who I am and what it means to be a Benedictine. Jubilees bring the community together to affirm our life together. It is also an opportunity to gather my family. My jubilee will be memorable for me because these two essential parts of my life will be one in celebration.

Back in my high school days at St. Benedict Academy when I was pondering my future, I was struck by Sister Mary Philip and how happy she was. I remember thinking, “I want to be like that.” During the summer before I entered the community, my father would often remark that he didn’t see how I would be able to last since “each day will be just like the one before it. You’ll be bored!” Many years later I assured him that I was definitely not bored!

The many challenges that life as an Erie Benedictine has placed before me have pulled and stretched me in ways I could never have foreseen. The years of renewal in the ‘60s and ‘70s stripped away the superficial and brought me face to face with the core values of prayer, community and ministry. The call to social justice, so evident in the lives of the sisters and embraced with courage by the community, freed my spirit and opened my heart so that I, too, could reach out to others. The freedom to explore my interests and develop my talents as well as the faith that the community placed in me propelled me to embrace meaningful yet often uncertain roles within the community and in ministry. Most of all, living in this community has taught me that the joy and happiness I was seeking is really an expression of the love and support we offer to one another. Everyone must travel their own life’s journey; in community, we blaze the trail for one another.

Sister Annette Marshall taught a number of years in elementary school and then served as an elementary school principal for 10 years. Leaving elementary education, she became administrator at St. Benedict Academy. Sister Annette has held a number of other administrative positions including Director of Physical Resources at Mount St. Benedict and administrator of Glinodo Center. Presently, Sister Annette is the Executive Director of the Inner-city Neighborhood Art House. She is also a member of the Monastic Council.

Sister Pat Lupo

Jubilee is a special and memorable time because it brings us together to celebrate life—a time to bring friends together—a time to recognize the breadth of religious life and its impact on the world, in our case as Benedictines, for over 1,500 years.

I am very grateful for the support of my religious community over the years. It was my Benedictine community that introduced an eighteen-year-old young woman to the age-old Benedictine concept, “Listen with the ear of your Heart.” They challenged me to join the covenant people and to promote and model sacred actions: actions that spring from our faith traditions and from the Book of Creation. This Benedictine community enabled both my environmental and Central American ministries. I am the woman that I am today because of my many Benedictine mentors.

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said, “Abba, as much as I am able, I practice a small rule, all the little fasts, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet. As much as possible I keep my thoughts clean. What else should I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like the torches of flames. And he said, “Why not be turned into fire?”

Indeed—why not be turned into fire? And so, my passion for the environment and for my work in Central America, especially El Salvador, has led me down many wonderful and hard roads and has also opened the doors to wonderful opportunities and lifelong friends and life-changing encounters.

Thomas Berry talks about the Great Work—we each have a Great Work to be about; each day we are called upon to act. Will our actions be sacred actions? Are we able to surrender to the story that is unfolding around us and to embrace the mystery and be a positive force in our communities, our neighborhoods, our world? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has,” said Margaret Mead. Together we can make a difference; we have the power to heal our communities, to heal the planet. We must embrace our story and be about the Great Work.

Sister Pat Lupo has taught at the elementary, secondary and college levels, mainly in the area of science and environmental education. She led environmental programs at Glinodo Center and EarthForce, later Earth Action. She has served on local, regional and international environmental boards and received a number of awards for her environmental work. Sister Pat is involved in Central America outreach and has taken part in a number of accompaniment projects. Her present ministry is teaching at the Inner-city Neighborhood Art House.

Sister Mary Ellen Cummings

This 50th Jubilee is truly a monumental event in my life. The experiences and happiness that have been mine in these 50 years has far surpassed my imagination. Doing anything for 50 years is almost unheard of in our fast-paced society. Yet, living religious life for 50 years has been a special blessing for me.

It has been a gift to have loved every place I taught, every place I lived and every place I worked from North East to Oil City to Sharon to Fryburg to Erie. Teaching at St. Benedict Academy in Erie was a dream come true.

From a very young age, the idea of being a missionary was always in the back of my mind. That, too, became a reality when I was able to serve as a missionary with the Erie Diocesan Mission of Friendship in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico for five years. The opportunity to work that closely with the poor of another culture changed my life forever. I came home from Mexico to work at Pax Christi USA, which had its own rewards, and then at St. Benedict Education Center as a caseworker, another work I truly loved. Now I am at the Neighborhood Art House with children from many cultures and they have found their way into my heart. I have learned that missionary work can be done right in our own backyard.

None of this would have been possible without the blessings of community life and my sense of humor that my Mom implanted in me and each of my brothers and sisters.

Benedictine monasticism has been a good fit for me since the day I entered. Daily prayer keeps me grounded and Eucharistic liturgy keeps me nourished. The Benedictine Sisters of Erie are a community of women that knows how to celebrate. This Jubilee is one more way to truly enter into a full, communal, spiritual celebration of each other’s lives. To celebrate with the community, with my family and with my friends will definitely increase my blessings a hundredfold.

Sister Mary Ellen Cummings is presently the assistant to the Program Director and also the receptionist at the Inner-city Neighborhood Art House. After working for several years in elementary education, Sister Mary Ellen taught high school at St. Benedict Academy. She also worked at Pax Christi USA and served as a missionary at the Erie Diocesan Mission of Friendship in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico. Immediately prior to her current position, Sister Mary Ellen ministered at St. Benedict Education Center.

Sister Theresa Zoky

One of the highlights of Monastic Profession as part of the Erie Benedictine Community is the receiving of our “title.” On the evening before my profession 50 years ago, the Community and I waited in anticipation for this big moment. It was my turn to be given a title by Sister Mary Margaret Kraus, prioress at that time. My title has always been special to me: “Sister Theresa of the Humanity of Christ.” While Jesus walked the earth in the flesh, he brought comfort and healing to those in need. I hope that through my teaching ministry, my love for the missions and, as I strive to be Christ’s presence in this hurting world, I am doing the same.

Maybe that is why my favorite quote is really the prayer of St. Theresa of Avila:

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
No hands but yours; no feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes through which His love
Looks out to the world:
Yours are the feet with which He goes about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which He blesses people now.

This prayer sums up the whole Christian message of love and service for me. I am called to use the gifts and talents bestowed upon me to enable the God of Life to be present to all with whom I live and work. It is only through my prayers and actions, and by all of us working together, that the Humanity of Christ is made manifest in this hurting world.

This jubilee means a lot to me. A celebration such as this gives me the opportunity to express gratefulness to all the people in my life —my family, my community, and my friends—who brought me to this time in my life. I can’t think of a better way to express my love and appreciation than in the form of a jubilee celebration.

Sister Elizabeth Adams

When I was twenty-eight years old I was living in Washington, DC and working at a Senior Citizen’s Center. I had a persistent, deep down feeling that God was calling me to do more with my life. After much discernment I felt called to Benedictine monastic life. Thomas Merton believed that monastic vocation is not chosen. He said, “Instead, it picks you.”

After living this monastic life for twenty-five years I believe it did pick me. I believe my monastic vocation is to seek God each day and to live my monastic vows of stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience.

I have many favorite quotes, one of them being from the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset.” As a very practical person, this very practical advice reminds me to keep going despite difficulties and challenges and because of joys and blessings. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” Living in the present moment is what I try to do; living in the present moment is what I cherish doing.

Sister Anne McCarthy

These days, my morning begins with coffee and a book when it’s quiet on East 22nd Street and at Mary the Apostle Catholic Worker where I live with six others including a young couple with two children, and a friend with developmental disabilities. Later, I join three other Benedictines on the block for morning prayer. Breakfast is with five-year-old Brigid while Lisa watches for the Lift pickup for work and John, a toddler, re-discovers the kitchen cabinets. My ministry is with Benetvision and Monasteries of the Heart, stretching the boundaries of Benedictine life to new forms for the future. Later there might be neighborhood gardening, or meetings at the Mount or a peace demonstration. At the end of the day, Jess and Matthew, the parents, and I gather briefly for night prayer.

When I made monastic profession, I did not envision the form of life I now live in this my jubilee year. The only sure bet about the next 25 years is there will be more new forms. But the essentials will hopefully remain: a rhythm of prayer, community, ministry, nonviolent witness, celebrations, and leisure. My hope is that monastic life—life structured for growth in gospel love and freedom—will still be forming me.

I have a favorite quote of Dorothy Day, well known Catholic social reformer, that supports my hope: “We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We can give away an onion. We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.” It is clear that significant and effective actions are built on love. This is a beautiful model and a great hope.

Sister Mary Lou Kownacki

In my office I have a beautiful photo on the wall above my desk with
this quote by the Japanese poet Ryokan

“Oh, that my monk’s robe
Were wide enough
To gather up all
The suffering people
In this floating world.”

I have lived my monastic life trying to live into that poem. I believe that at the end of the day all the years of prayer, of work, of community building and relationships will be measured by one standard — how wide is my monk’s robe, how compassionate is my heart? So I pray it every day.

Sister Audrey Steff

When I entered the community in 1960, my mother felt badly about me living, as she called it, “a very boring life.” How wrong she was! And to her credit, she later admitted that our life is anything but boring.

As I’ve walked, sometimes stumbled, along this path, I have learned a great deal about life. Probably most important is the power of prayer. I value community prayer because it links every member to each other. We begin each day with morning prayer and I try to take a “nugget,” a word, a sentence, a verse from prayer to recall during the day, a mantra of sorts.
During evening prayer we remember our sisters who have died on that date from the very beginning of our community and we also pray for the sister in our community who will next meet our Creator. It is a comforting thought. During these 50 years when I faced difficulties, I would read Isaiah 41: 10 -13 which continues to give me strength, “Do not fear; I am with you. Do not be anxious; I am your God. I will strengthen you and uphold you in justice.”

With the exception of one year, I have worked in education my entire community life. Presently, my ministry is at St. Benedict Education Center where I work with people who are on welfare. Among them are many refugees who have recently come to America, mainly from Africa and Asian countries. These people have taught me so many things about faith, kindness, gratefulness, generosity, humility and joy---and I thought I was the teacher!

I am grateful to my family, my community, my friends and my students for helping me along the way.

Robert Frost said it so well,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I---
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Sister Judith Trambley

When I told one of my uncles that I was entering the community, he suggested that “I consider one of those outfits that do more traveling – it might be more interesting.” He’d be surprised to know how much traveling I have done with this Benedictine community – not measured in miles of land traversed but in the breadth and depth of my being.

In my early days in community, I was somewhat chagrined by the passage in the Rule of Benedict that says, “If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself…” RB 42

On this path of life I learn I need not earn God’s love; but, that I can choose to become more aware of it. And far from my earlier strivings, what gives meaning to my life is not to be perfect, but to live in and share with others the expanse of God’s love.

It is with the psalmist that I rejoice and acknowledge that God has placed a marvelous love in my heart for others. It is the light of Christ in me. This joy keeps me traveling on this path of life.

Sister Rose Ann Kolbas

As I reflect on my 50 years as a Benedictine Sister of Erie, I am filled with gratitude for the monastic formation I received. The ongoing community rhythm of prayer, Eucharist, lectio, community, ministry and work have grounded me in my search for God, and these monastic practices have given me stability and strengthened my bond with community.

Living in a community where all members share the same vision and mindfulness has created an environment where I am enabled and encouraged to become my best self. When I first entered religious life in 1960, I was a very timid individual; but gradually I am growing in confidence and self-expression. I have become aware that each morning is a new day of grace; a new opportunity to begin again to live consciously in God’s presence.

The annual liturgical cycle has immersed me in Scripture where I encounter God in history; and I have been led to transform my childhood image of God as an exacting judge to a more loving friend who addresses me as the beloved. The contemplative dimension of monastic life has especially enriched my soul and continues to shape me into who I am becoming.

The older sisters who model faithfulness, perseverance, generosity, holiness, gentleness, and selflessness have motivated me to desire to follow in their footsteps. They have given me a glimpse of God; community has been my lifeline.