St. Joseph Monastery Closing After Over 160 Years

St. Joseph Monastery Closing After Over 160 Years

It's the end of an era for a the oldest monastery in the United States.
ST. MARYS, ELK COUNTY - The St. Joseph Monastery in St. Marys is the oldest in the United States, and after 161 years of serving the community, it's closing its doors.

At its peak in the 60s and 70s, the St. Joseph Monastery in St. Marys, Elk County had 125 sisters. Today, there are 17 left, ages 58 to 91, and they'll have to find a new home.

We spoke with many people in the St. Marys community who say the St. Joseph Monastery is a huge institution for the community. They say the news of it closing is devastating.

It's the end of an era.

"Just as God calls a group of people into ministry, I think there's a time when God says you have completed your ministry and it's time to move on," St. Joseph Monastery Administrator, Sister Rita Brink, said.

The 17 remaining Benedictine Sisters of Elk County are saying goodbye to their community.

"I think it's fair to say that the Sisters have received as much from the people of this community and the surrounding communities as the community has received from the Sisters," Sister Brink said.

"We will never, ever be able to repay those Sisters for what they've done for us," Consultant to Administration for Elk County Catholic Schools, Mary Agnes Marshall, said.

 Mary Agnes Marshall isn't surprised the Monastery is closing. With the declining number of sisters, and deteriorating buildings, it's a day she knew was coming.

"They've left a strong legacy," Marshall said. "We still feel their presence because a lot of our teachers were taught by those sisters, so in that regard, we're going to miss them."

It's a loss local historian Ray Beimel takes personally.

"It was my second grade teacher, Sister Joan, who let me know it was okay to read," he said.
Beimel has spent his entire life in St. Marys. His family grew up under the instruction of the Benedictine Sisters of Elk County.

As a photographer, he's had the opportunity to document the Monastery's history. He was the only person invited to document the 150th Anniversary in 2002.

Beimel says their legacy will forever remain in the community.

"Most of what I use on an everyday basis, I learned from Benedictine nuns," he said. "How can you repay a debt for that kind of contribution to your life? I'm not alone."

"Any time you make life changing decisions, they're pretty hard to deal with," Sister Brink said. "There's always a loss. Everyone is dealing with a certain amount of loss, knowing they will be moving on."

A final date for the Monastery to close has not been decided yet. Sisters say there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.

The 17 sisters that decided they couldn't keep the Monastery running will find homes in the 19 other monasteries around the country.

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