On the block: Benedictine Sisters sell convent items

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One might not expect to find commercial-grade mixers or wood shop equipment in a convent, but the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh were nothing if not resourceful.

"We had big festivals, and we made hundreds of pies," said Sister Evelyn Dettling. "You baked pies for days, froze them, then reheated them. They were good, too."

Mementoes of 143 years of service to the community are being auctioned today through Saturday at the former St. Benedict Monastery on Perrysville Avenue in Ross. The the monastery and a former high school were sold to Highmark last year for $2.7 million.

The 40 sisters have moved to a new facility in Richland.

St. Benedict auction

What: Items from 143 years of community service

When: 9 a.m. today, Friday and Saturday

Where: Former Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh monastery and the former St. Benedict's Academy, 4530 Perrysville Ave., Ross

Preview items: www.Auctionzip.com, ID number 11267

Auctioneer Mark Barkley of Zelienople is tasked with selling what the sisters could not bring to their new home. He worked last week to stage the items in the chapel and cafeteria.

"We're finding stuff every day," he said. "There's something new every day that we're here."

More than 1,000 items will be auctioned.

Today, the auction features office equipment and the cafeteria furniture, including more than 80 tables and more than 100 chairs. The items in the sisters' bakery, including an antique, 30-quart mixer that still works, were auctioned Wednesday.

Friday's auction will include miscellaneous items such as dishes, coat racks, chalk and exercise machines, as well as the wood shop items, including a commercial band saw.

"I just don't picture them down here cutting stuff up," Mr. Barkley said. "I just don't picture them as builders."

Saturday, Mr. Barkley will auction the "collectibles" the sisters could not fit into their new home. Those collectibles include a wooden tabernacle with a hand-painted silk interior; a large painting of The Last Supper; paintings of saints done by art students at the high school; some stained glass; outdoor statues of St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica; scores of crosses of varying sizes; and a statue of the Guardian Angel that was in the order's original Motherhouse in Carrolltown, Cambria County, in the 1880s.

Sister Evelyn came to St. Benedict Academy in the first freshman class in 1950 when she was 13. She entered the novitiate when she was a senior. She was part of the tide of sisters from the 1920s to the late 1960s that was fueled by women wanting to be more than a wife, nurse or teacher, she said.

"Nuns were directors of hospitals. They were presidents of colleges. Within the religious community, there were a lot of options," she said.

"We trained women in our high school to be strong leaders."

Sister Evelyn spent many years teaching in Kentucky, then returned to the motherhouse.

"This was home to me, this building," she said, pausing at the door of her old room on the fourth floor.

She noted that she painted the furniture and put up a border in the room, and pointed out where she placed her "prayer chair" at the window that looked out onto the grounds.

"When we would have ice storms, it was like living in a crystal palace," she said.

At one point, the order had 200 sisters. They are now down to 50 -- 40 of whom are living in the new convent and 10 are on missions.

Although most of the buildings were being used by other agencies, the sisters decided to sell the property when they could no longer maintain it.

"We try to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and downsizing is part of the American culture today," she said.

"We had to do this. We had to be good stewards of our property."


Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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