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A Real “Punching Nun”

I got to head back to college this weekend for the 25th reunion of the class of 1987 at St. Vincent College, a Benedictine Monastery and liberal arts college nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range in Western Pennsylvania. The school became co-ed in what would have been my freshman year after 150 years of just men, monks and seminarians. I transferred to SVC from William & Mary. I did that all on my own and my parents were none too happy with me until last Friday evening when I was given an alumni of distinction award and they forgave me for good. I think we are all in agreement that things worked out fairly well. I was asked to detail some memories from those couple of years spent in a place that my children say looks like Hogwarts. There were only eight Econ majors in my class and I was the only woman (ok–girl). We had two classrooms and an office, and I spent more than my share of all—nighters in those brick walled rooms,panicking that I’d never remember what those 70 graphs were supposed to mean. At 4 AM, we’d hear the quiet jingle of bells and smile. The sisters were waking up to begin their day of serving the students, professors and clergy preparing three meals—-over long, 12 hour days, every day. They were German, part of an ancient order of nuns who didn’t teach or nurse, but remained nearly cloistered serving others.

This weekend I stayed with what remains of them, just eight tiny women at a place called St. Emma’s. If you ever find yourself traveling east of Pittsburgh and you like B&B’s, I highly recommend St. Emma’s and the Robertshaw Country Home. I’m a bit biased, as the chapel was designed by my father (a self-made architect who changed the landscape of our little town with his creativity). Mother Mary Ann runs St. Emma’s. She is a talker, but has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve met in a long time–and an even bigger hug. She’s rarely been away from St. Emma’s in the past 50 years since she joined the order in her twenties. Mother said, “I have not seen much, but I believe in the rest of this great country on faith.”

The oldest of eight siblings (I’m the second oldest of seven), she and my husband and kids chatted on and off over the weekend. She looks like my logo, like a movie character except that she is the real deal. Their simple motto is: “Love made manifest in work”, and they do that every day. They serve people who come to them down on their luck, traveling to see family, or as a place to retreat from the world to contemplate more spiritual things. They believe that every encounter with a new guest is for a higher purpose, they take nothing for granted and they work very hard. I was refreshed in our few days at St. Emma’s, and I believe my children were as well. That’s what my work is about, or at least I hope that it is—I serve others, help them build their business, fulfill their purpose and I really do get so much out of those interactions.

I will remember Mother Mary Ann next time life gets difficult and I’m not feeling grateful. And I know I’ll smile and keep working, serving my clients and my family, fulfilling my purpose…