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There is really no other word for it: they are giants in our community. Women religious in our area have taught us, not only in the classroom, but by their example. They are educated, prayerful, committed, Christian women who have publicly pledged their lives to God and service.

It is well beyond time to dismiss any stereotypical image of what a nun or sister is. Anyone who logs onto the websites created by the three largest communities of women religious in the Diocese of Erie will find the depth and impact of their work to be breathtaking.

Start with a video of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie singing the Te Deum, an ancient hymn reimagined by the late Sister Mary David Callahan. It’s embedded in a YouTube video featuring photographs by some of the sisters and associates. Then read about the work of Benedictines for Peace or click on a link to discover “What Sisters are Reading.”

Need prayerful support? Log onto the website of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania and you can submit a prayer request online. Then take a moment to nominate someone for a Spirit of Courage Award, given out at one of the most highly respected and well-attended annual events in the region.

The Sisters of Mercy New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community comprises Erie, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Rochester and the Philippines. More than 800 sisters and associates make a difference for others in spiritual, social service, education, and health ministries; establishing Houses of Mercy in impoverished neighborhoods; and contributing to the life of Catholic parishes.

The long thread of the commitment of women religious in this ­region stretches across oceans and centuries: from St. Walburg Abbey in Eichstatt, Bavaria, in 1035 for the Benedictine Sisters who arrived in Erie in 1856; to Le-Puy-en-Velay in France in 1650 for the Sisters of St. Joseph who ­accepted Bishop Joshua Young’s invitation to open an orphanage in Erie in 1865. And to Dublin, Ireland for the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, who came to Erie from Titusville when Father Andrew Jurcak invited them to teach the children of Slovak ­immigrants at his parish school.

Their courage and fidelity continue to serve as vital resources for the community of Erie.Peace and hospitality are at the heart of the work of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. Everyone – including the stranger – is to be welcomed and treated like Christ. The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House transformed an abandoned downtown building into a vibrant place that provides classes in visual, performing and literary arts and a plentiful green space for at-risk children.

The St. Benedict Education Center offers services that move families and individuals from welfare to self-sufficiency. It also opens doors for refugees looking for employment in the region.

Emmaus Ministries, which encompasses both the Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Sister Gus’ Kids Café program, provides food and companionship to Erie’s poorest and most vulnerable.

For the past 96 years, the Sisters of Mercy have been present to the people of Erie. Their ministry began in the city’s Catholic schools, teaching the children of immigrants. Today, the order’s ministries have expanded and blossomed in multiple areas. The House of Prayer, located on Erie’s lower west side, opened in 1971 and continues to offer a quiet place for prayer, contemplation and spiritual direction in the center of a busy city.

Mercy Hilltop Center, formerly known as the Mercy Center on Aging, provides fellowship, information, a health clinic, a beauty salon, educational opportunities, assistance and activities for area seniors. The center is Pennsylvania’s first accredited senior center.

Mercy Center for Women assists women and children with transitional housing in an environment conducive to healing, recovery and growth. The organization also networks with other agencies and programs, providing resources and referrals. Classes in everything from self-esteem to healthy relationships help cultivate growth.

The Sisters of St. Joseph opened Erie’s first hospital, Saint Vincent, in 1875 as a three-story, 12-bed facility. Their commitment to healthcare continues today through Saint Vincent Hospital’s Mobile Medical Unit, a collaborative effort with Allegheny Health Network, to carry on the Sisters’ healthcare ministry and provide care to those who lack access or transportation to health care facilities. Physicals, screenings, vaccinations and more are offered.

Established in 2000, the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network in Erie’s historic Little Italy neighborhood provides free meals at St. Paul Center, English as a Second Language instruction, tutoring, financial assistance, housing assistance, advocacy and programming for new mothers. Community gardens are helping to revitalize the neighborhood.

Education has been a hallmark ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The order sponsors Villa Maria Elementary School for students in 2-year-old preschool through eighth grade. Alumni value the first-rate education, which the sisters have been providing since 1892.

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