Mary Solberg

 Women of Carmel, we remember you…

A single bouquet of flowers was placed
on the new gravesites where the nine
Carmelite nuns were reinterred at
Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Erie, July 12.
Photo/Rich Papalia
  • Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified (Dorothea Hurley)
  • Sister Christine of the Cross (Christine Feczko)
  • Sister Pauline of Our Lady of Sorrows (Pauline Bach)
  • Sister Joseph of Jesus and Mary (Helen Kenzora)
  • Sister Agnes of Jesus (Alice Chess)
  • Mother Eliane of the Mother of God (Margaret Cooper)
  • Sister Marie Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (Helen Gertrude Schorr)
  • Mother Maureen of the Precious Blood (Janice M. Lanzilotti)
  • Mother Emmanuel of the Mother of God (Margaret M. Smith)

         These nine women — all deceased sisters of the former Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family in Erie — gave their lives to God in a cloistered, contemplative setting a stone’s throw from St. Mark Seminary in Erie.

         They prayed unceasingly for the world, the church and generations of people in the Erie area who daily requested their intercession in times of joy and trial.

         Upon their deaths, from 1980 to 2016, they were buried in a secluded glade behind the one-story monastery on East Gore Road in Millcreek Township. Their gravesites were unknown and unseen by the general public, much like they lived their religious lives.

         But the closing of the monastery in 2020 changed that. In July, with permission from each of the sisters’ next-of-kin, the nine Carmelites were disinterred from their burial ground behind the monastery and reinterred at Erie’s Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Their gravesites are now available for public viewing.


Father Michael Kesicki, who, along with Father Nicholas Rouch,
served as one of the chaplains to the Carmelites of the Holy
Family Monastery, presided at the private reinterrment attended
by a number of Sisters of Mercy as well as two Carmelite nuns.
Photo/Rich Papalia

    “For me, the occasion was very moving,” said Father Michael Kesicki, who led the rite of committal at Gate of Heaven and who served for 18 years as co-chaplain to the religious community. “It was the end of an era, but it was a good era, and I’m grateful to have known these remarkable women of faith.”

         Five of the nine deceased sisters — Mother Mary, Mother Eliane, Mother Emmanuel, Sister Marie Therese and Sister Joseph — were among the original six Carmelites who came to Erie in 1957, at the invitation of Archbishop John Mark Gannon. Mother Emmanuel was the only one born in Ireland; she died in 2016.

         Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico and Mother Paul Augustine, OCD, prioress of the Carmelite Monastery of Rochester, New York, agreed that because the original gravesites were not in a designated cemetery, they could not be assured proper care of the burial ground in perpetuity, explained Father Christopher Singer, chancellor of the diocese.

         “The diocese is profoundly grateful to the Carmelites for their spiritual support of the clergy and people of the Diocese of Erie for so many years,” Father Singer said. “Now these nine sisters are buried in sacred ground that allows not only their family members but people from throughout the Erie area to visit their gravesites.”

         The disinterment and reinterment were the result of at least a year of collaboration among several individuals and organizations: the St. Joseph’s Association, to which the former Erie Monastery belonged; the Carmelite Monastery of Rochester, New York, to which the Erie monastery affiliated itself before its closure; the Sisters of Mercy in Erie, who had an ongoing close relationship with the Carmelites; Brugger Funeral Homes and Crematory; the Diocese of Erie; the Pennsylvania Department of Vital Statistics; Erie’s Quinn Law Firm; and other professional consultants.

         Austin Brugger, funeral director, ensured that the concrete vaults that held each of the sisters’ simple, plywood caskets were not compromised in any way.

         “Over the years, Brugger Funeral Homes had handled all of the Carmelites’ burial arrangements, so I wanted to be sure when the time came for disinterment that they were peacefully reinterred,” Brugger said.

         Brugger coordinated the transfer of the sisters’ vaults to a 12-grave plot owned by the Sisters of Mercy at the south end of the cemetery in Section 7. The Sisters of Mercy in Erie donated the site to the Carmelites; many Mercy sisters are buried nearby.

All nine nuns are buried next to one another in a plot
donated by
the Sisters of Mercy. The public is welcome to
visit the
gravesites in Section 7 of Gate of Heaven Cemetery.
site can best be accessed by taking a left at the 12th
entrance to the cemetery, 5711 W. Lake Road, Erie.
Photo/Rich Papalia

         “While the Carmelites were in Erie, we offered them our infirmary at different times. We were most willing to offer them anything they needed,” said Sister Mary Ann Bader, RSM, sister life minister for the Sisters of Mercy. “Hospitality is part of our charism and, of course, we are all sisters in Christ.”

          Several Mercy Sisters attended the committal service, along with Rochester’s Mother Paul Augustine and Mother Maria of the Heart of Jesus, OCD, who was among the last three sisters to live at the Carmelite monastery in Erie and who now is in the infirmary at the Mercy motherhouse.

         “The reinterment and committal service means a great deal to me and my community because the deceased sisters of the Erie Carmel are now in their final resting place,” Mother Paul Augustine said. “Now, family and friends can freely visit their graves since the cemetery where they are interred is open to the public. At the monastery, that was not possible because of the law of enclosure.”

          A few family members of the deceased sisters also were in attendance, placing a simple bouquet of flowers on the gravesite.

          The leadership of the St. Joseph’s Association and the Rochester Carmel will determine the future of the now-closed Erie Carmelite monastery and its property. Meanwhile, their prayers will continue for the people of the diocese.

          Said Mother Paul Augustine: “The member monasteries of the St. Joseph’s Association have adopted the Diocese of Erie and will ever pray for its bishop, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful.”