Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sauntering toward the light

          Cincinnati is not known as a city that comes alive at night like downtown Chicago or New York City. This past week, however, the region was abuzz, “alight” if you will (pun intended), with the BLINK festival. “BLINK is one of the largest light, art and projection mapping events in the nation. This year it spanned more than 30 city blocks and crossed the historic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River. BLINK turned "the region into an outdoor art museum with large-scale projection mapping installations, murals, and immersive art.” While most of this year’s event will remain a mystery to me, I did manage to see the displays on the Covington side of the river. And they did not disappoint.

          While the world’s largest disco ball was a sight to see, there were other stops along the walking tour that prompted a bit more pause. One was the Suspension Bridge. It was stunning. But the more impressive sight was the people crossing the bridge. From my vantage point, I could not hear them or see any features, just silhouettes were visible. Just people. But they just coming, and coming, and coming, slow and steady. It was an endless procession sauntering toward the light. Perhaps there was more to see on the other side—something brighter, more colorful, something new. At the very least, there were many opportunities to see our world differently, if only for a few brief nights.

          Did I walk the bridge? Not a chance. I didn’t want to be caught in that crowd after hearing reports of the bridge swaying! But will I saunter towards the light? I certainly hope so.

          Eileen O'Connell

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Feast of the Holy Rosary

In just five more days we will celebrate the feast of the Holy Rosary. It also reminds me of the way I came upon my name as a religious (Sr. Victoria.) In 1946 I was a nun in our high school senior class play about a Catholic Boarding School. How could the director find enough habits to outfit the nuns in the play? The elementary school principal had the answer for me. Her deceased sister, Sr. Victoria, had my perfect fit. I returned the habit, but the name stuck.
Next, I wanted to know from which title of Mary the name was derived. I found the titles in alphabetical order and far to the bottom was “Our Lady of Victory.“ As you might guess, the origin of that title would be another blog! After I graduated high school in 1946 and entered St. Walburg Monastery, the postulant phase ended, and It was time for the novitiate year and for a new name. We were given the opportunity to write three names in order of our preference. Was I ever excited as my first choice, Sr. Victoria’ was announced.
In preparation for the feast on October 7th, I enjoyed doing a little research on the Holy Rosary. I discovered that the word rosary came from the Latin word, Rosarium, crown of roses or garland of roses. That brought additional thought for me when I say the rosary. I had known that people in very early times counted prayers on a string of beads. I did not know that the Our Father was the prayer repeated 150 times.
In 1214 Our Lady is said to have appeared to St. Dominic, gave him a rosary, and told him to promulgate the rosary for the protection Mary gives the Church in answer to the faithful who pray the rosary. She also told him to substitute the Hail Mary for the Our Fathers and that adding the meditation on the mysteries would help eradicate a current heresy. While this apparition may be legend, there is adequate historical proof that Dominic and the Dominicans who followed him did as Mary requested.
I had no idea that the 150 beads were related to the 150 psalms. Then someone had the idea of separating each set of 10 Hail Mary with an Our Father. In monasteries it became the custom for the uneducated who could not read to substitute the rosary for selections from 150 psalms that the educated prayed several times a day.
. From the 16th to the early 20th century the structure of the rosary remained essentially the same. In the early 20th century the Fatima prayer was added to the end of each decade and became very popular. There were no other changes until 2002 when Pope John Paul II instituted the Luminous Mysteries. For me these were a beautiful addition and brought the mysteries of the rosary full circle.

         Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Befriending Death

          Recently with increasing age and increasing disabilities I have been contemplating end of life issues at the behest of my primary doctor. Many know that Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton have been my favorite companions for many years; likewise my spiritual director for 20 years Louis J. Lipps SJ who is currently enjoying his reward in heaven. My OSB Benedictine Monastery has also been rich in fertile ground for contemplation and spiritual enrichment through examples of holy women in their pursuit of holiness in becoming one with Jesus. Much of the following thoughts are coming from reviewing some of my past journaling.

          2 Cor.4:18 “ So fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  It seems that one of the mysteries of life Is that memory may often bring us closer to each other than actual physical presence. Physical presence not only invites but can blocks communication. In our pre-resurrection state our bodies hide as much as they reveal, indeed, many of our conversations only touch on the periphery of our lives while ongoing sharing of deeper thoughts creates this closeness we seek. The more experience in living we have the more we sense that this continuous interplay between both memory and felt presence the closer we become within the body of Jesus Christ. Nouwen mentions times he has sat before the tabernacle for an hour of prayer and meditation which ends up not being a period of serious attentiveness to the divine.

         Mysteries but rather fatigue, distractions, inner restlessness confusion and sleepiness.
That describes my attempts to quiet meditation. However he/I still seek this that knowing That being in the Presence of the Lord and knowing that that He knows me and understands me is still fulfilling. God is truly greater than our/my senses, greater than my seemingly scattered thoughts, and definitely greater than my heart.

       I have become much more attuned to our daily recitation of the Divine Office which we pray
4x daily. Since retiring from work because of these noted disabilities I am not quite as distracted as previous. It is amazing how these psalms inspire us to voice our own deepest feelings and aspirations. Psalm 139 has become my go to psalm with its many lofty thoughts of God’s knowledge of all my thoughts and inability to hide from Him even if I flee to the heavens to get away.

        Happy befriending death.
                    Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

An 1859 Train Ride

Our monastery annals say three sisters arrived from Erie, Pennsylvania on June 3, 1859 to begin the foundation of St. Walburg Monastery. On August 2 Sr. Alexia Lechner with another sister arrived. I have always wondered how these first sisters of our community got here. Our annals do not mention their mode of transportation. 

I had in my fantasy that they came down the Ohio River on riverboat and landed at the Covington Public Landing. That fantasy was dashed when I did some research and found that they would have had to come from Pittsburgh to arrive on riverboat.

I next emailed the current archivist, Sr. Theresa Zoky at Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie to ask if she had any information about how the early sisters traveled. She said it was oral tradition in the community that the sisters who went to Covington traveled by train. I started to look at the history of trains in the United States in the mid-19th century.

Quickly finding that history to be more complicated than I could easily comprehend, I did find a map of US trains in 1859 the Library of Congress. But I didn’t have enough information to make sense of it. I needed to find a train historian. In my Internet search I found the Railroad and Locomotive Society and took a chance and emailed Peter Hansen, the editor of Railroad History. To my atonishment he emailed back within two hours with all kinds of information. He told me to look at the Library of Congress map I had already found at . . Then he translated the map for me. He said Mother Alexia’s journey mostly likely would have been:
·         Westward on the Cleveland & Erie Rail Road between its namesake cities.·         The Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad, but only between Cleveland and Columbus; the CC&C wouldn’t reach Cincinnati until 1872.
·         The Columbus & Xenia west to Xenia. (I’m not sure why it’s spelled “Yenia” on the map; it’s probably a typo.) 
·         The Little Miami Railroad from Xenia to Cincinnati.
·         A ferry from Cincinnati to Covington. Although the map shows that the Kentucky Central ran between those two points, it’s important to remember that the Roebling Bridge was the first to span the Ohio River at Cincinnati, and it wasn’t finished until 1866. If the railroad advertised service between Cincinnati and Covington, it would have been on a ferry. So-called car ferries, with railroad tracks laid on their decks, were pretty common everywhere in the country before bridges spanned major rivers. [Who knew?] 
So grateful to have received this wonderful information, I wanted to know more. I wanted to know:
  • How long the trip would have taken?
  • Were tickets arranged according to class?
  • What kind of railroad cars were typical of the time?
  • Where would the passengers have gotten food?
  • Sleeping arrangements and how the trip would have felt?

Sister Alexia Lechner

Peter’s answers were wonderful. The total train ride would have about 28 hrs. Most likely the sisters were in coach class. The cost of the travel varied and I will have to see if the state historical society has any records. The cars were universally of wood construction. In 1859, ventilation would have come from open windows.  Smoke could indeed blow in through the open windows, but in 1859, almost all locomotives were wood burners, so it wouldn’t have been sooty, as later coal smoke was. There were no automatic “knuckle” couplers of the kind used today; couplings were done with an iron pin inserted through an oblong link connecting the cars. This tended to make the cars jostle a great deal when starting and stopping. Another safety feature, air brakes, hadn’t debuted yet; cars were braked by means of a wheel on the outside platform of the car, which were turned by the brakeman upon a whistle signal from the engineer. It was pretty primitive.

            Budget-minded passengers [as of course the sisters would be] often brought their own food. Dining cars didn’t exist in 1859, but trains did stop at trackside eating houses, most of which were of poor quality. Sleeping cars were pretty basic in 1859, where they ran at all. The passenger got a hard wooden platform to lie down upon, and may or may not have had a mattress, bedding, and curtains. Sleeping cars took a quantum leap forward in the next decade, becoming quite luxurious, more private, and attended by well-trained porters. Such innovations were largely absent in 1859, however. It was considered somewhat disreputable for women to use the sleeping cars — and scandalous if the berths didn’t have curtains, which was often the case in 1859. Both Peter and I wonder if the sisters might have stopped overnight along the way, perhaps at a hotel, a convent, or even a rectory.

            Peter’s final suggestion was to read a book titled Wet Britches and Muddy Boots: A History of Travel in Victorian America, published by Indiana University Press and written by John H. White, Jr., curator emeritus of transportation at the Smithsonian. I haven’t read the book yet.

            I was so pleased to get this information about train travel in 1859 and I owe a great debt to Peter Hansen for cheerfully providing all this information. He gave me the insight I wanted in the experience our sisters had in traveling from Erie, Pennsylvania. Thank you, Peter! My next project will be to see what the city of Covington was like when the sisters arrived.

                                  Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Reflections on Dec. 7,’ Sept. 11, and Today’s Fragmented Society

          The other day someone on National Public Radio used the term “fractured” to describe the society we live in today. It caught my ear with its pointed truth.

          I’d been thinking about the anniversary of 9/11/2001 and a catastrophe 60 years earlier, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. I was reflecting on the similarities and differences between these two horror-filled events and their ensuing years of impact. While the US societies attacked 60 years apart were quite different, there were some basic similarities in the resulting consequences. Both brought unexpected mass destruction and death; both led to war and a major surge in intense patriotism; both were to have an impact that would last many years.

          As I think back to my youth in the years after Pearl Harbor, I remember a simplicity of that time. People didn’t seem to have trouble with easy answers to complex issues. We firmly believed that using ration stamps, saving tin cans, and growing a vegetable garden in our front yard would help win the war. Movies bolstered the country’s confidence by always depicting America as victorious over a diabolical enemy; they assumed that the US was always right and right would always win in the end. The whole country seemed to be bound together with a shared spirit of purpose and vision.

          When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the country was shattered. Since the planes themselves revealed that the enemy was the Japanese government, our president immediately declared war on Japan, and the government developed a “logical” plan to make our country safer. It issued orders that all Japanese-American citizens had to relocate to centers where they could be under continual observation and control by the military and other officials. The suspicion they would betray America for Japan was prevalent. Anyone Asian-looking was suspect because they might be connected with Japan. (One vivid image I have from that time is a photo spread in Life Magazine that illustrated how to distinguish between Japanese and Chinese people. Japanese were the ones to be wary of!)

          Sixty years later, by 9/11/2001, American culture had transformed from a rather homogenous population to one where differences were common; it wasn’t unusual to interact with someone of another color or nationality. Media and other businesses were becoming more focused on the interests and needs of individuals. In the media world, cable tv had grown from small regional entities in the mountains to networks offering hundreds of channels to appeal to countless variety of tastes. The Walkman had launched the personal media boom in 1980 and tv platforms like Facebook and Pinterest were fueling the division of one general audience into millions of audiences.

          Given the change in US culture from one with a kind of communal sense in the ‘40’s to an individuated one 60 years later, one might expect the long term aftermath of the two catastrophes to be very different. Fast-forward to today. Even now, almost 20 years after the 9/11 attack, anyone who even looks Islamic is susceptible to negative treatment because of some people’s fear and attribution of guilt by association. Since 9/11 it seems to be harder for suspicions and fear of the “other” to fade because of the almost continuous tensions and war between the US and many Islamic nations. Exacerbating the situation is the existence of the special prison in Guantanamo and recent US immigration laws and practices.

          What are we to make of all this? One thing is that many of our major problems today have long roots; this means they are not easily solved. There’s no magic wand that will erase distrust of “the other.” Another is that because today’s conflicts are different, so are paths to resolution and peace. Rationing and victory gardens won’t bind a country together when vision and perspectives are miles apart. Still another is that maybe the problems of yesterday were not simple after all, and that the chosen “solutions” weren’t able to heal the roots and the wounds are still with us.

          What to do? Maybe because we are a fractured society, healing has to be approached a fragment or two at a time. Two people or groups listening patiently to each other seems inconsequential when the fracture is so severe. On the other hand, repairing a shattered ceramic vase or cleaning a valuable art masterpiece has to happen one tiny piece at a time.

          When God wanted to heal the wounds of the world and reunite humanity with the divine, there was no earth-shattering grand gesture. Rather one man, his son, came in an unassuming manner to an unassuming part of the world. The planet didn’t come screeching to an end when Jesus gave his life on the cross or even when he rose from the dead. Not many people noticed either event, but the mandate he left us was to do an immense thing in a tiny way: Love one another as I have loved you. May each of us work at world peace, even if it is “just” one fragment at a time.

                               Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Thursday, September 5, 2019

185 Volunteer Hours and Counting

            One hundred-eighty-five hours and counting. This has become the new reality for Sister Ann John Kotch, a Benedictine who lives here at the Monastery. I have the joy of living with her.
After a degree and nine years of enjoying teaching, Sister Ann John heard another call and responded to the Community’s need for registered nurses.  She finished a degree and began her new career at Marcum and Wallace Hospital in Estill County Kentucky serving in many nursing capacities at this small hospital.  She had many tasks and was especially fond of working the Emergency Room and with newborn babies. 
When it was time to move on she worked in healthcare in Northern Kentucky. Sister Ann John started at a Health Clinic for the homeless in Covington Kentucky. She has been duly recognized for her outstanding years of service there. It is not stretching the truth too much to say that she was in love with her work. In addition to working with their medical problems she looked at the whole person providing connections for their needs including clean new socks!  Many a Saturday found her shopping for “her guys”. However, after more than thirty years at the clinic it was time for a change – this time called retirement. 
Sr. Ann John Kotch
But her heart was still with that work. Hence the search for a volunteer service. A wonderful match has been found. She is now working at Faith Community Pharmacy several times a week.  The pharmacy provides medications for those who cannot afford them. She does a wide variety of tasks—whatever is needed. (Just ask her and she will happily tell you all about the many different things she does.) Sister Ann John is especially excited about the time she spends with the clients helping them to understand their medications and how to best to take them. Having already volunteered 185 hours she is still as enthusiastic as ever.
I am grateful for time spent with her and to hear details of her day and her many stories.  I pray that her enthusiasm is catching and I will be one of its recipients.

                                                                  Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


     Recently, my niece, who lives in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado, gifted me with a trip there to celebrate my Diamond Jubilee. She lives in Carbondale, CO, an old coal mining town, which sits at the foot of Mount Sopris. She can see this beautiful snow-covered mountain from her home. What a view!  No wonder she loves it there!
      No matter which direction she travels she is driving around mountains, some higher, some lower than 14,000 ft., with mountain streams running along beside her.  Her mother and I experienced many such rides over our week's stay, as we toured other mining towns as well: Aspen, a silver mining town; Crested Butte and Red Stone, coal mining towns; and Marble Mount, an active marble mining area. Everywhere there were snow topped mountains in the background.  In the fall the aspens in the foreground turn all shades of yellow, orange and red.The photo below was taken in

     On my return, it took some time to get reacclimated to the lower altitude, and re-enter the monastic schedule. Now the Scriptures have a renewed symbol to captivate my attention; “The Mountain.”  

      God’s special place of Presence to the Chosen People: “While Israel was encamped in the desert of Sinai in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to speak with God…The Lord told him, “I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you also.” (Ex. 19:2-3, 9)

      “They moved on from the mountain of the Lord, a three days journey, and the ark of the covenant of the Lord which was to seek out their resting place went with them. When they set out, the cloud of the Lord was over them by day.” (Nu. 10:3-4)

      “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.  All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” (Is. 2:2-3)

      In the Psalms we pray: “High the mountains of Bashan; rugged the mountains of Bashan.  Why look you jealously, you rugged mountains, at the mountain God has chosen for his throne, where the Lord will dwell forever?” (Ps. 68:16-17)

      “Incline your heavens, O Lord, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke …reach out your hand from on high and rescue me…” (Ps. 144: 5-7)

      “Praise God you mountains and all you hills…” (Ps. 148:9)

      Jesus frequented the mountains to pray: “Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  He was transfigured before their eyes.  His face became dazzling as the sun, his clothes radiant as light…a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice…” (Mt. 17: 1-9)

      I am so grateful for the mountains of our Liturgical opportunities where we gather in the presence of our God; to praise God with Christ in the Holy Spirit, to hear God’s word, to be fed for the journey, and to respond to the call to go and spread the Good News to all.  In Lectio Divina and personal prayer we individually place ourselves at the foot of the mountain of God and get overshadowed in the comfort of that cloud.

                Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB