Benedictine Sisters enjoying new home in Richland

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The Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh say their new monastery is peaceful and serene, and felt like home as soon as they moved in.

The bright, one-story, environmentally "green" monastery sits on what was a wheat field in Richland. The sisters sold their monastery and high school buildings on Perrysville Avenue in Ross to Highmark last year. They bought the property on Bakerstown Road to build their new home.

"We've truly been blessed through the years," said Sister Evelyn Dettling. "We had the beautiful monastery that served us so well at the time with all those young girls. But, times change and we have to change, too."

The new monastery shape resembles a butterfly with short wings branching out from a center core, which houses offices, the dining room and the chapel. Each wing is designed so the farthest room is not a long walk, Sister Evelyn said.

"Personally, I love it," she said. "It is bright. It is comfortable. It is homey. It makes it easier to come together as family."

Each wing is named for a "strong Benedictine saint," and is decorated, in part, by sculptures of hands depicting the Stations of the Cross. The sculptures were made by Sister Dolores Conley, who teaches art at the St. Athanasius Community Center in West View.

The monastery houses 40 sisters, many of whom leave daily for jobs in the community such as teaching and counseling. Another 10 sisters are doing mission work.

The sisters have updated their ministry to include a Facebook page and photos posted to Flickr. "We've tried to come into the 21st century as far as technology," Sister Evelyn said.

Sister Marcia Koluder, a sister for 62 years, is in charge of the craft shop.

"Everything is so convenient and just so wonderful," she said. "The whole area is just beautiful."

Sister Marcia, who relies on a walker, praised the facility because it is on one floor with no steps or ramps to negotiate. She is also thrilled, she said, to have her own bathroom.

Sister Evelyn said the sisters' rooms are much larger than those in the former monastery, and they have bathrooms and large walk-in closets.

While windows in the old monastery looked onto a highway or a bus garage, the new one looks out onto fields of wheat grass. The other night, Sister Evelyn said she watched a doe outside her window.

"I thought I was going to miss [the old building], but I don't," she said.

Sister Judith Nero, who is in charge of vocations, said the new location is "close enough to whatever we might need, but quiet."

Sister Evelyn called the chapel "the piece de resistance." The sisters brought as many items from the old chapel as possible, including the crucifix that hangs above the altar. That cross shows "Christ the High Priest," who is wearing a crown and robe on the cross.

The architect designed stained glass windows for the chapel that include scenes of wheat, a rainbow that symbolizes "the whole of creation" and images of St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica.

Sister Mary Damian Thaner, 98, called the chapel "a place of serenity, total serenity."

The elderly and infirm sisters live in a handicapped-accessible wing of the new monastery with a nurse on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It is really our intent to keep all of our sisters here," Sister Evelyn said.

Because the new monastery is smaller than the previous buildings, the sisters' excess items were auctioned off over four days in May. The auction met its goal of raising enough money to cover the move, Sister Evelyn said, but she could not watch it for long.

"To see things that are precious being up for grabs was so hard," she said. "And the building was hollow and empty."

The sisters began moving their personal belongings April 18 and 19. The movers moved the furniture on the morning of April 22, and the sisters arrived that afternoon.

"What's most important to us is our community, our family, and we moved as a family. We all came at the same time," Sister Evelyn said.


Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:


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