Thursday, October 27, 2016

I’m a Middle-Aged Woman who Enjoys Knitting!

Hello Sisters and Friends!

Before I dig into the meat of my time here in Bristow, I first want to give a warm thanks to all the sisters who sent me letters via “nun mail.” I truly appreciate you all keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. Please know I have not forgotten about any of you.

For the most part, I have pretty much adjusted to living in the monastery. I completely gave up on attending 6:30 morning prayer. I felt it was in my best interest and those around me. Mornings and I just don’t mix. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Bristow for only two months. I’ve created special bonds with many of the sisters already. One would think that we have known each other for years.

Every Sunday night after supper, I play Rummy with Sister Mary Ellen, Sister Henry Marie and Bethany. I always end up losing, but it feels good to be in the midst of great company! Although, I enjoy the company of the sisters, I feel myself turning into a middle-aged woman. Never in a million years would I think that I would find solace in knitting and watching “Jeopardy!” And never in a million years did I think that I would get excited about buying yarn. These are things that I am slowly but surely learning about myself. That’s the great, yet terrifying, thing about going some place different. You are placed in situations where you are forced to experience new things.

In the beginning of October, Bethany and I went rock climbing. Anyone who knows me understands that I am terrified of heights. I chickened out the first two tries, but by the third try I had made it all the way to the top. That moment alone was an experience I will always remember. I couldn’t help but relate this to my faith in God. I am going through a lot of changes in my life. I will be getting married soon, I will be starting my master’s degree program and, in the near, near, near, future become someone’s mother. These are all things that terrify me. But I know that if I cast my troubles and fears aside, God will see me to the top! I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!


God Bless!

Mo Shannon, BWSC Volunteer

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nature is a Unique thing

(Photo by Karen Streveler, OSB)
It is amazing this time of the year to watch the lush green leaves that blossomed with the summer warmth and rain change to a brilliant color of red, orange and yellow as the crisp coolness of fall comes upon us. Squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits that were so abundant are now a little more sparse as they gather food and prepare to settle into their winter homes. Birds have started their descent to the south. The days have gotten shorter and warmer attire has been pulled out for the next several months. And soon the leaves will fall to the ground leaving the trees barren, ready for the winter and then spring when there will be new life again. Fall is a time of such transformation. It is a great time to walk in the woods, listen to the leaves under your feet and listen to what it tells you about your own process of growth and transformation. As the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been, we too have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Our Sister Adelia has shared two short stories about how things in nature have touched her too:

When visiting my friend, I chose to sleep on the sofa not wanting to misplace my friend from her own bed. Sadie the little dog worked so hard to be my friend. After being settled for the night, Sadie hopped on me and I was startled and knocked her down. She looked at me sadly and ran to her owner. When she came back to me, I said, “Sadie, I am so sorry.” The next day she hopped on my lap and I could tell we were friends again as I massaged her back. I am sorry can heal a broken relationship.

Standing on a sidewalk under a shade tree, I noticed a tiny bird trying to get a bug to eat. After several unsuccessful attempts to get past me, he travelled quickly past me and zip, he had his meal. One needs to take risks. If you really want something badly, take a risk like the bird did!


Adelia Sirek, OSB

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The World is Becoming Smaller and Much Bigger

At Saint Benedict’s Education Center, I am most often found on the third floor. Home to refugees learning English and preparing to find a job, usually in housekeeping, a plastic factory, packaging or laundry. I get to work one on one, conversing with these people from across the globe.

At first, I was struck by the vulnerability it takes to take a chance on speaking a foreign language. It is a constant struggle in the hopes of being understood. One Syrian man opened my eyes to the struggle. While we went over new vocabulary words in English, he would ask me to repeat them back in Arabic. We would laugh with each other as we mispronounced and forgot certain words in the other person’s language. I was self-conscious of my pronunciation and concerned if I was saying the correct word. He opened my eyes further to the everyday vulnerability it takes to simply speak.

As I get to know some of the refugees, we would talk about where they are from, what life was like in their native country, their children, where I am from, why I am there, what my family is like. We both have our phones out, showing pictures to the other person of the people we love. There would come a point when one of us would say, “Same!” We would recognize a similarity in the other person. We would make some kind of connection. With one woman from the Congo it was the little bit of French I could remember from high school. I teach one man’s children at the Art House. One Bhutanese woman has three children like my parents. Many of the refugees have not seen their parents for many months or many years. They understand what it is to miss someone who is far away. We found a shared experience of leaving home and leaving loved ones behind. Those stories remind me that our homesickness is the same. We see each other as people who have come from places with beauty and people to be missed. I am in awe of their courage and sacrifice taken for their families. While I will see my parents in two months, many people are unsure of when they will see their parents or loved ones again.

Watching the news has become a new experience. Seeing images of Syrian towns reduced to rubble have now become the places that someone is homesick for, and will continue to be homesick for because of the destruction. The refugees have opened my heart wider to humanity. The world is becoming smaller and much bigger than I ever imagined.

Some other highlights for me from the last month include participating in a Lakota Sweat Lodge with some of the sisters, hearing a presentation by a Buddhist monk and enjoying the Erie Philharmonic. My phone calls home are now prefaced with the question, “What did you do NOW?” I’m grateful for all the unique opportunities I’ve been gifted with since coming to Erie!

Thank you for the prayers and support. Erie is still beautiful, but now with fall colors!

Peace and prayers,


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

There's No Place Like Home

(Saint Scholastica Convent)
Photo by Nancy Bauer, OSB

Saint Scholastica Convent is our senior home for our sisters. Sometimes sisters go there for limited stays after surgery, illness, or injury. Others choose to live at Saint Scholastica Convent because they prefer the slower pace. They like the quality of life, and they are able to serve other sisters while living out their own retirement. Sister Janet recently moved from Saint Benedict's Monastery to Saint Scholastica Convent. This is her reflection in verse:

(Sisters Mary Pattison, Anella Mayerhofer
 and Stephen Kurpiers)
Sitting on a hill, 
this skilled retirement center 
is so monastic. 

I think I’ve seen it all.
Saint Scholastica Convent is my new home
and I love it here. 

For all God’s people, 
they pray the prayer of the church--
Liturgy of the Hours. 

Unique wheelchair spaces 
were designed with thought for all 
in sisters’ chapel.

Asked a person
what strikes her as she visits
and the novice said:
(Sister receiving TLC)
“… calm energy, peace 
and joy emanating from smiles, 
alive but serene.”

I’ve yet to see staff 
not seem happy to be here, 
engaging sisters.

Sisters who are able 
show thoughtfulness to each other, 
stand-in helping hands. 

Unique to these sisters: 
They transport partners’ wheelchairs--
"the buddy system."

(Sister Dalene Schindler pushed in her chair)

That loving push brings
sister’s buddy to her site 
at prayers or at lunch. 

Resident elders 
receiving care for their needs
gift us with wisdom.

Janet Thielges, OSB

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"You Are My Sunshine" in Bristow, Va.

It wasn’t until I sat around the table with the elder sisters while they sang “You Are My Sunshine” that I realized I was homesick. Granted, the tears were tears of joy, but in that moment I knew that I did miss home. I missed my mom and the way that she used to sing this song to me when I was young. As I began to cry, I was quickly consoled by all the sisters; many left what they were doing to come hug me or bring me a tissue. However, I wasn’t crying because I wanted to go home or that I was sad. I was crying because I was happy. I was so over taken by joy that this place and these sisters could replicate such a fond memory of my mom. In just a short month, these sisters here, in this community, have become family to me.  

Just like any family, each individual here has their own unique personality, idiosyncrasies and habits. They have their own ways of doing things and sometimes that might just make you a little crazy! It’s like living in a college dorm again. Only this time, I am coming into someone else’s home and there is no room for compromise: habits are already formed, processes established and ways of doing something are already known.

For a while, I simply observed the sisters and how they did things. I watched as they talked to others, the habits that they have, how they wash dishes and tried to fall into place as best as I could. I didn’t exactly expect to be given a handbook on how to best fit into the monastic lifestyle, but a little more guidance might have been helpful! (Maybe someone would like to write a book about this: The Unspoken Rules of Monastic Life in Bristow, Va.!) However, the sisters have been more than kind when filling me in on how things are done. And if I think that the request is a little bit ridiculous, I have learned that the best answer is always “Yes, sister.” with a smile and nod.

Beyond the typical adjustment period and bouts of homesickness, the monastery has been great and many new things have transpired since I last posted a blog here. I’m no longer just site managing for classes at Beacon or facilitating technology in various classrooms, but I have my very own class! I’m teaching grammar to seven adult students who are learning to better their English. I couldn’t be more excited or nervous. The students are incredible and advanced in their ability to read, write and understand English. Their enthusiasm and passion to continue learning amazes me every time we have class. They ask questions and crave knowledge. I never knew teaching would be so fulfilling for me, but I leave class after session feeling accomplished and proud--proud of my students, their desire to learn and their interest in everything! I’m only on my fifth day of teaching, but I’ll keep you posted on how the classroom experience continues to go.

I have also gotten to explore the area around the monastery. A few weeks back, Mo and I went rock climbing at an indoor facility and did some exploring around Virginia. On Monday, we returned from our weekend excursion to Bethany Beach, Del., where we spent the weekend at a beach house with a few of the sisters. It was so beautiful and gave me just the piece of home that I was craving.

Blessings and love to all,

Bethany Purkapile

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Relationships Matter

Many winters ago, there was a sad popular song which described our political situation at that time. The words went something like this: “It’s been a long and cold December kind of day. With our hearts and hands all busy in our private little wars, we stand and watch each other now from separate shores; we lose the way.” I want to weep when I think of the truth of that song just as applicable for this day, this month, this year! And yet, from my readings, ponderings, prayer, I keep noticing the word--”relationships”— reappearing over and over again! What has happened? Have we somehow lost the importance of relationships in our struggle to hold on to what we fight for? Might we be able to leave “our separate shores” and “find our way again,” if we kept that one word in our consciousness?

Daily we pray the Divine Office at 7 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 7 p.m. We are the mouthpiece of the church for the world. We stand in silence preparing to chant the psalmody and listen to the Word of God. We pray the words of Abbot Marmion that give direction to our reason for coming together as a Benedictine community three times a day, day in and day out. Did you know that you are included in that preparation and actual prayer? Listen to what we say:
Before beginning the Divine Office,
          let me cast a glance over the whole world:
          leaders of churches and world religions,
          monastics and contemplatives, missionaries
          and those who teach and  preach
          the good News of Jesus Christ,
          leaders of nations, the sick, the dying, prisoners,
          the poor, the homeless, the lonely and discouraged,
          all who are suffering in mind or body,
          children of the world, sinners who wish to return to God
          but are weighed down by their chains,
          those who work for peace with justice
          and long to grow in God’s divine love and compassion –
          for at this moment we are the mouth of the whole church . . .
          I find Christ in everything and everywhere.
          Christ is the Alpha and Omega of all.
          I am so restless in myself and so rich in Christ.
          To God be all glory forever!

Do come to join us . . . or in whatever corner of Mother Earth you find yourself, be blessed and be a blessing  as you lift your mind and heart to God. The whole world awaits our prayer . . . and whether we recognize it or not, we no longer want to stand on our separate shores; we want to find a way back to God and that, with one another! Relationships matter!

Renée Domeier, OSB

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sometimes Hospitality means saying, "Maybe you should go."

Oblates are lay men and women, married or single, associated with the monastery who live out the Rule of Benedict in their daily life. We are delighted to begin including blogs from oblates on the monastery blogspot. This week, oblate Walter Jost shares his insights into what it means, at the deepest level, to be an oblate of St. Benedict.

If you would like to know more about the oblate way of life, visit our Web site or contact the Oblate Director at or 320 363 7144.

“We did; you sure you’re OK with that?”

Oblate Walter Jost
My wife Ellie and I, Benedictine oblates, attended the 2006 Monastic Institute at St. John’s University; a fellow oblate, Loretta, also attended. She was one of few familiar faces. We gravitated toward one another, found we enjoyed spending time and we birthed a long-lasting friendship. 

Each of us was in an oblate group in the metropolitan area; each felt our group had gotten too large. We left those groups and formed our own.  (“That is so organic! That’s how small oblate groups are supposed to work and form and change,” our Oblate Director bubbled.) 

We spent much time together, even traveled together, and our appreciation of each other grew. Each of us knew the secret to our love was not secret … it was rooted in our spirituality, our love for God, our interior life.  A shorthand for this might be, “in our being Benedictine oblates.”

In 2011 Loretta was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She quickly had surgery and eventually began chemo. Ellie’s overnight stays started with Loretta’s chemo treatments, to help were Loretta to get sick. While I missed Ellie both overnight and in the evenings, Loretta was my friend, too; I loved her. She needed Ellie. I’m a Benedictine oblate, as concerned for her well-being as for my own. I did not begrudge Ellie the time she needed, even as the overnights sometimes became two or three in a row.

As Loretta’s cancer progressed, Ellie stayed overnight more often. She noticed Loretta’s trouble managing meds … when, what and how much. After at least one scare that was almost certainly a morphine overdose, our concern for Loretta grew more immediate. So, four days before Christmas 2014, when Ellie came home from Loretta’s, I said, “I thought we agreed you need to be there for her, to help with meds.”

“We did; you sure you’re OK with that?” (I love her for that question!!)
Without knowing precisely what I was agreeing to, I said, “Of course. She’s my friend too.”

Having stayed overnight previously, Ellie didn’t need much more stuff. She packed quickly and left. She didn’t move back until New Year’s Eve a year later.
The year was filled with heartache, of course. Ellie was gone. Loretta was dying, Loretta died. Ellie began her work as executor of Loretta’s will. It was filled with blessings as well. The deepening of their relationship. Loretta’s making sure I knew I was a part of everything. The hospice team. My learning not only how to pray the Office alone but how to enjoy that. Loretta’s friends bringing overflowing love, and food, which they lavishly shared with Ellie and me.

Our relationship was based on our rootedness in God and I could not have thrived under the circumstances without my rootedness in Benedictine spirituality. It provides a way to view and live life.

Walter Jost, OblSB