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Oldest Benedictine convent in U.S. closing in Elk County |

Oldest Benedictine convent in U.S. closing in Elk County

The Associated Press
The St. Joseph convent in St.Marys, seen on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014.

ST. MARYS — The nation’s first Benedictine convent, which opened more than a century ago, is closing after its 17 remaining members unanimously agreed it was time to dissolve the Pennsylvania community.

The Benedictine Sisters of Elk County agreed Monday to close St. Joseph Monastery. Located about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the convent was founded in 1852.

The remaining nuns, who range in age from 58 to 91, hope to relocate or transfer vows to other Benedictine communities, Sister Rita Brink told The Bradford Era. She will return to a community in Covington, Ky., near Cincinnati, where she lived before becoming the convent’s administrator in 2012.

The closure was prompted by declining health and number of members, combined with outdated facilities, retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman said.

“Basically, it’s an aged community that doesn’t have new people entering. The building is not code compliant in all of its parts and the convent’s numbers are dwindling and that’s a fact,” Trautman said.

“It’s a sad set of circumstances” that has been developing for years, Trautman added.

Brink wouldn’t detail reasons for the closing but said, “Each of the sisters was involved in the discussions and we came out with the best possible outcome for everyone involved.”

The monastery property is owned by the St. Vincent’s Archabbey near Latrobe, home to St. Vincent College.

The sisters formerly served as teachers at area schools and health care providers, including the former Andrew Kaul Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, which they administered until 1978. Several sisters have continued to work at area parishes in faith development and sacramental programs.

The convent formerly housed a ceramics shop, and the sisters had continued to operate a recycling center and gift shop, Brink said.

Benedictines follow the guide to religious life set forth in the rule of St. Benedict, which calls for devotion to prayer and work.

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