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A recent Good Zeal blog by Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB for our monastery website discusses the "different kind of Lent" that all of us are experiencing at this time. And, on the evening of March 31st, the daily reading from the Rule of St. Benedict was chapter 49 on the observance of Lent. The coronavirus causing COVID-19 has indeed made this Lent like none other in modern history. However, through it all, we find ourselves comforted and strengthened by the unfolding of the Paschal Mystery that draws us all into communion with one another and with God.
Our monastery, like so many others, has been closed to guests and to most of our employees since March 18, 2020. The Sisters remain at home at all times unless an individual Sister has an authorized reason for venturing beyond the front gate. The environment of the monastery is much quieter than usual, which has facilitated an atmosphere of deeper prayer and awareness of the suffering world around us. The horarium has been slightly modified, but the heartbeat of common prayer throughout the days and weeks remains steady and strong. Various members of the community have taken on tasks usually done by employees—extra dish duty, more phone duty, assisting in the Infirmary and kitchen, household cleaning of public areas, preparing meals, and attending to financial matters. Sanitizing handrails, handles, doorknobs, and other frequently touched surfaces have been added to the round of daily manual labor. And, all this has been carried out with a spirit of genuine charity, no murmuring or grumbling in the ranks!
The Sisters sit further apart in chapel and in the dining room, yet somehow there is a more intense experience of communion with one another and with the world. We are all in this together. All of us are in this sacred moment together. Sister Tonette, our Prioress, has been in touch regularly with other Prioresses. Sister Lynn Marie, as Federation President and CIB Moderator, has kept in touch with communities of Benedictine around the world. What secular society has dubbed “social distancing,” has in reality joined us all together in a more profound solidarity: solidarity within our Benedictine family; with the poor who struggle and suffer daily whether there is a pandemic or not; with those who long for access to the sacraments but are denied that access for reasons beyond their control, and with all who bear the burden of brokenness and yearn for healing and wholeness. The unexpected upending of our “normal” life has brought us intimately face-to-face with the suffering Christ in our world today.
The Sisters who regularly post on social media platforms have provided videos, reflections, and words of encouragement to the "outside" world, continuing a ministry of presence and service that reaches out beyond the monastery walls. The retreat center is not receiving guests at this time; however, our ministry of hospitality continues with creative forms of outreach. A few of our musicians have made videos of our chapel and grounds, utilizing their talents and technological savvy to bring the peaceful beauty of our house to those unable to cross its threshold during this pandemic. Sisters in parish ministry are continuing to do their work by staying in touch through phone calls, emails, and other forms of safe communication. In all circumstances, the message remains the same--a message of comfort, peace, faith, and hope that is rooted in the life of our Risen Lord.
Furthermore, we are aware of how this process is changing us as well, shaping us into a new manifestation of ourselves in this present reality. The uncertainty of tomorrow, next week and next month challenges us to live more consciously in the present moment--to do the work that needs to be done today, to focus on what is essential just for today, to take advantage of the opportunities that this “new normal” offers us. Sitting at a greater distance from one another in the choir stalls gives us the opportunity to listen more attentively to one another as we attempt to sing the psalms with one voice. Having only three Sisters at a table in the dining room gives us the opportunity to dialogue with those who tend to speak up less in conversations of larger groups. Those whose work often takes them away from the monastery are consistently present through these days, and this has enriched our common experience of this historical moment. No longer being able to have priests from St. Bernard Abbey for Eucharist has given us the opportunity to experience new ways of being together at prayer. So, this Lenten journey has been unexpectedly fruitful. Truly, it is God’s grace at work bringing us all together to everlasting life.
Ten years after the launch of our last website designed by Kinetic Communications of Birmingham, AL, the Sisters decided to update to a new platform that would be easier to manage as well as being mobile- responsive. Because of the quality of their work and excellent service, Kinetic was chosen to design the new website. In January the extensive work of redesigning the website from scratch was finally completed. The Sisters are very pleased with the look and functionality of the new website at www.shmon.org. The retreat center has online registration capability now. A couple of timelines have been added, one for our community history and one for the chapel tour. The community's blog has been transformed and is now called Good Zeal. Several different Sisters now provide content for the weekly blog posts. We hope that enjoy exploring our new website.
The theme of moderation is the thread that runs through the most recent edition of Benedictine Update. Click on the link below to download and view.
March, 2020…The Pittsburgh Benedictines are in the middle of our year-long celebration of 150 years of foundation…August 29, 1870. Visitors from near and far, members of our daughter and granddaughter houses have joined, as well as women and men who have walked our journey with us and told our stories. We even had a visit from our founding prioress, Mother Adelgunda Feldman, although she did have a striking resemblance to Sister Evelyn Dettling!
We continue to recover from our January 31, 2019, flood which caused us to evacuate right into the open doors, open arms and open hearts of the community which we once knew as the Vincentian Sisters of Charity who are now part of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Our time with them was blessed and the blessings continue to overflow in sweet friendships, wonderful memories, and visits back and forth between the two communities. Our chaplain, Leroy DePietro, refers to them as our annex.
Repair work to our monastery following our flood is on-going. We were able to return to our monastery in Bakerstown after four and a half months when all the visible repairs were completed. We are now facing issues of insufficient insulation and the work to repair that is scheduled to begin soon. Fortunately, it has been a rather mild winter in western Pennsylvania, so we have not had many challenges in reference to frozen pipes!
Spas for Women continue to appear on our community calendar quarterly and usually 30 to 40 women of all ages and backgrounds join the community for a day of reflection and celebration.
Our neighbors, near and far, continue to discover us and we find blessing in each visit as we respond to Chapter 53 of Benedict’s Rule.
Come to visit!
The Benedictine Sisters of Florida, like everyone else, are in the throes of our busiest time of the year. Oblate meetings, concerts, workshops and retreats keep the house buzzing both with groups and individuals.
One of our newer programs is “Sharing Your Story for the Benefit of Others.” In many cases, retreatants are very open about why they have come on retreat. Their stories often give great insight to the human condition in our world. They run the gamut stretching from compelling and lost to delightful and joyous…stories you have heard too. Whatever the retreat need, as Benedictines we all strive through what we do to provide an atmosphere of peace and reflection.
At some point, it seemed to us that our retreatants’ stories should be heard and/or read by others. Listening is, of course, the bedrock of our founder, St. Benedict’s Rule. So, a couple of years ago we instituted a more focused program for such sharing.
The point was to emphasize how a particular retreatant’s story and/or experience at Holy Name Monastery might impact someone else’s life journey. The voice inside us is powerful, but is often dismissed. Listening to one’s enter voice and then writing down thoughts and reflections makes a stronger connection whether looking for a new direction, a fuller spiritual commitment, or an entire reboot and renewal.
In asking to share one’s story requires the person’s permission. That permission comes with the realization that they just might be able to help someone else regain their footing. What the program has done since inception is just that. It has proven to be a profound gift to our community and those who hear about the stories or read them in our Tide Newsletter.
January 27th – 31st, we held an Icon Workshop with Phil Zimmerman instructing. The artists and beginners at this art form produced the Noah and the Whale Icon and had a great time. It was interesting to watch the development of everyone’s pieces. If you have thought about participating in one, go for it. Evidently, it is something you can learn to do even if you’re not an artist!
Now we look forward to Easter and being fully present in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
God bless you and keep you in His loving care.
Federation of St. Scholastica
916 Convent Rd NE,
Cullman, AL 35055
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