Sheila Grove

ERIE — In 1999, recognizing that there were no religious sisters living in the eastern part of the diocese, Msgr. Charles Kaza, then-vicar of the six-county Eastern Vicariate, and Sister Mary Rita Kuhn, SSJ, then-vicar for women religious, pursued an idea. 

Sister Phyllis Schleicher, OSB, and the late Sister Mary
Hoffman, OSB, spent two decades serving the people in
the eastern corner of the Diocese of Erie fulfilling a
commitment to Catholic Rural Ministry outreach.   
Photo/Art Becker

          Sister Phyllis Schleicher, OSB, and Sister Mary William Hoffman, OSB, accepted their invitation to live in the area referred to as “God’s country” and began a two-decades long ministry of presence in Potter and McKean counties. 

          The plan was rather simple: be present. Because of the charism of the sisters, presence went well beyond physically being there to include a profound witness to God’s love and mercy shared with those they met. 

          For more than twenty years, Sister Mary and Sister Phyllis developed adult education programs, Bible studies and a place of welcome. They reached out to meet spiritual and material needs of many from the parishes in the area. 

          When they retired last September to return to their religious community in Erie, Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, director of women religious for the Diocese of Erie, pledged to develop a plan for continued presence of religious sisters in the northeast corner of the diocese. 

          Although currently there are no sisters available to live in the area full time, the support of the communities of religious women throughout the diocese to maintain a part-time presence in the area has prompted many sisters to accept a new invitation. 

          Seventeen women religious — representing five communities — have agreed to provide prayerful and educational events for the people in the Bradford Deanery that includes Warren, McKean, Potter and a corner of Elk counties. 

          Some events will be coordinated with Catholic Rural Ministry of the Oil City region, serving Clarion and Venango and parts of Crawford and Forest counties directed by Sister Tina Geiger, RSM, and Sister Marian Wehler, OSB. 

          “Sisters are very excited about our goals — meeting with and providing for spiritual and social needs,” says Sister Nancy. “A variety of experiences will be offered frequently throughout the year, with the exception of January and February, when inclement weather is likely to require cancellations and rescheduling.” 

Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, director of
women religious for the Diocese of Erie 

Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

Here is the schedule through December 2021:p 

  • Oct. 3 –1 to 3 pm — St. Elizabeth Parish, Smethport
      Topic: Becoming our Best Self with Prayer and Presence
      Presenter: Sister Clare Marie Beichner, SSJ

    • Oct. 20 – 6:30 to 8:30 pm — Sacred Heart Parish, Genesee
      Topic: How Faith Informs Life
      Presenter: Sister Carmen Maldonado, SSC

    • Oct. 21 at noon to Oct. 22 at noon — Olmsted Manor, Ludlow
      Retreat: Pope Francis’ Newest Letter on Social Friendship
      Presenter:  Sister Dorothy Stoner, OSB
      $50 for overnight and meals (scholarships available)
      Register by emailing

    • Nov. 6 – 10 am to noon — St. Bernard Parish, Bradford
      Topic: Being a Disciple of Jesus
      Presenter: Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ

    • Dec. 4 – 10 am to noon — St. Theresa Parish, Shinglehouse
      Topic: Living with the Liturgical Year
      Presenters: Sister Kathleen Dietz, FSO, and Sister Catherine Murphy, FSO

    Register for any of these events by calling 814-824-1125. Contact Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, at 814-824-1217 with any questions.


Editor's note: The Diocese of Erie joins the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in praying for the repose of the soul of Sister Mary Hoffman, OSB, who died peacefully on Sept. 26, 2021. Read more about Sister Mary and Sister Phyllis' ministry in Faith magazine.