KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF THE BENEDICTINE SISTERS ALIVE IN ST. MARYS
By Melanie Sisinni
The Benedictine Gift Shop at 139 Church Street in St. Marys is so much more than a typical gift shop.
St. Mary Church was built at 315 Church Street to serve the German Catholics who settled in St. Marys. Just a block away from the church, St. Joseph Monastery was built to house a community of Benedictine sisters — who initiated several important Catholic ministries in the area.
As early as the 1930s, Sister Agnes Schreiber was selling religious items, often handmade, to the people of the community in a little room in the basement of the Maurus Street entrance of the monastery. As the years went by, sales grew and the shop expanded. Under the leadership of Sister Margoretta Judy, with the help of numerous religious and lay people, the store became known as, “Trifles and Treasures – Religious Articles and Gift Shop.”
When St. Joseph Monastery closed, the people of St. Mary Parish officially took over the business to keep the spirit and history of the Benedictine sisters alive. The shop was moved to its current location and is completely run by local volunteers from the three Catholic parishes in the St. Marys area.
Bonnie Pearson, the parish secretary for St. Mary Parish, spends much of her free time volunteering at what is now called The Benedictine Gift Shop.
“No one here wanted to see the shop go by the wayside. The ladies here decided if they worked together, they could run the gift shop,” said Pearson.
Pearson’s shared duties include buying new items to stock the shelves with pieces ranging from crucifixes and rosaries to gifts for sacraments. They even offer religious- themed socks.
“When I got here and found out how passionate they were about the gift shop…keeping the legacy alive, keeping things going for the sisters, I was obsessed. We are not in it for the money,” said Pearson.
In addition to the shop, the St. Marys community has organized a Heritage Room, which can be visited free of charge. The Heritage Room contains pictures and artifacts and statues from the Benedictine sisters, recognizing the importance of their role in founding the first Benedictine convent in the United States. The room is dedicated to the sisters and honors their legacy. It allows all who visit to gain an appreciation for the hard work of the Benedictine community.
“There is a specific wall that has pictures of prioresses of the past,” said Pearson. “There is a Cois spin machine which is how they made their headpieces. There are statues that came out of the convent.”
One of the statues on display has an interesting background. It is a replica of the statue that the sisters brought over on the boat from Germany.
“The boat was too heavy, said Pearson. “They tied a rope to the statue, threw it overboard, and pulled it back up when they got to America.”
The spirit of the Benedictine sisters is alive and well in St. Marys thanks to the volunteers who work tirelessly to run The Benedictine Gift Shop and the Heritage Room attached to it.
The Benedictine Gift Shop is open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 am to 5 pm, and Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm.