The Benedictine Sisters had occupied their Ross monastery for nearly nine decades so last year’s move into their new home in Richland was difficult for many of them.
The sisters recently celebrated their first anniversary at 3526 Bakerstown Road, and they are settled and happier than ever, according to Sister Evelyn Dettling, development associate.
“This is a beautiful location and perfect for our ministry,” she said.
The new facility is in a residential setting. It was the former home of a large farm. The farmhouse, which the Sisters are using, was built in 1831.
“It served as part of the Underground Railroad which ties in very nicely to our mission to provide safe spaces for people,” Sister Evelyn said. “To live on a property with such a rich history is ideal for us.”
The move was several years in the making. The monastery in Ross included a five-story building with nearly 90,000 square feet and at one time served as home to nearly 200 sisters. But over the years, the number of Sisters had greatly dwindled and as the property aged, it became more expensive to maintain.
“We looked at downsizing at our old location, but the building was so well built, it would have cost us more to do that than tear it down or move,” said Sister Benita DeMatteis outgoing prioress/president.
Sister Benita directed the move during her tenure as prioress/president and said they started thinking of the move back in 2009. When it was decided to sell the property they started looking for places to build. It took two years to sell the old stone building and 16 acres, but in 2011, Highmark bought the property and allowed the Sisters to rent until they found the farm in Richland.
“When we came to this property, we felt certain peacefulness here. We believed that we had found the place that God wanted for us,” Sister Benita said.
The Sisters purchased the property and started building in June 2012, then moved in April 2013. The new home includes private rooms for each of the 41 Sisters, including an area with skilled nursing care for the older nuns.
Unlike their former home, the new facility is all on one floor with a “butterfly-like” design as Sister Evelyn called it, a format that allows the older Sisters better accessibility to all of the different areas of the monastery.
In addition to the Sisters’ rooms, there is a modern chapel, dining room, craft room, gathering space, small shop and meeting rooms. The chapel located in the center of the building has large stained-glass windows that allow the Sisters to reflect on the natural setting.
“We also have our chairs formed in a circle so we can face each other while we are worshiping. It adds to our sense of community,” Sister Evelyn said.
Sister Benita said the new format of the building has also added to the sense of community.
“With everything on one floor, it is easy for the Sisters to gather at night to play games or sit and put a puzzle together. And if a Sister wants to go to the Chapel to worship before she retires, it is simply right down the hall and very easy,” she said.
Despite the new, modern facilities, leaving their old home was difficult for the Sisters.
“I had lived there myself since 1956 and several of our Sisters had lived there just as long or longer. We loved our convent — it was our home. But as good stewards, we knew we needed to downsize,” Sister Benita, 75, said.
The last year has proved to be one of many firsts for the Sisters, she said.
“We celebrated our first anniversary here, we’ve had our first Christmas and Easter here, and we’ve had our first death here. It has become our home. It has been an emotional, but exciting journey,” she said.
As part of the Sisters’ ministry and in celebration of their new home, they are reaching out to their neighbors.
“We want to share our space and welcome the community here as much as we can,” Sister Evelyn said.
That sharing includes numerous ministries the Sisters are involved with both on and off the campus, including their Guatemalan Service Project, working with St. Barnabas Nursing Home, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Personal Life Counseling at the monastery and Duquesne University, and theology courses for lay persons, plus numerous others.
The Sisters also host various programs on campus such as the “Renewed in Spirit” spiritual spa for women on Saturday.
“This is a way for us to serve our community and help nurture the spiritual needs of the women in our area,” Sister Evelyn said.
Members of the community are also invited to come to worship services at the monastery or even stop by just for lunch with the Sisters, she said.
“We want people to know we are alive and well. We may have downsized and are at a smaller location, but we love people and want to serve them. We want them to know us,” she said.
As they look at the future in their new location, Sister Benita said the move has been a good one for them.
“This has provided an opportunity for our Sisters to live much simpler lives in not as much space. We are growing closer as a community,” she said.
“Renewed in Spirit” will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The program is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. Advance registration is requested at 724-502-2591 or www.osbpgh.org.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.