Sheila Grove

ERIE — “Being there” is the best thing. That was the realization of then-Vicar Msgr. Charles Kaza in 1999 when he recommended that cabinet members invite Erie Benedictine Sisters Phyllis Schleicher and Mary William Hoffman to establish a ministry of presence in Potter and McKean counties. The sisters, who had both spent many years in various ministries in the diocese, accepted the invitation and became part of what has become known as Catholic Rural Ministry.

Sister Mary William Hoffman, OSB, left, and Sister Phyllis Schleicher, OSB,
outside their home in scenic Potter county.                   Photo/Ray Biemel

        For more than two decades they have shared prayer, the bounty of their garden and their faith-filled spirit with residents of all ages. They have offered retreats, days of recollection and sacrament classes; visited hospitals; made sure to find a “home” for food left over from funerals and opened the doors of their home to the community for prayer, support and fellowship. Mostly, they have offered themselves as witnesses to the love and compassion of Jesus.

        Msgr. Kaza’s vision of the importance of being there was the seed that yielded much fruit for Catholics and others in what the Potter County Visitor’s Bureau refers to as “God’s Country.” It has been made even more so through the lives of these two women.

        “No one could have envisioned the scope and depth of their ministry,” said Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, director of the Office of Religious for the Diocese of Erie.  “They have generously served the spiritual and corporal needs of the people of this area.”

        “The diocese is indeed grateful for the generous service that they gave to the people of God for 21 years and they will truly be missed, but they are wished a well-deserved change of pace, for we know that sisters never really retire,” she added.

         “We cherish the memories that were made, the relationships that were formed, the seeds that were planted and the growth that unfolded,”  Sisters Phyllis and Mary wrote in a letter to the parishes they served.

        “We have been enriched in far too many ways to even begin to list, but one thing we know for certain — the  years we have shared have been a gift, for as much as we have given that much more have we received.”

        Sisters Phyllis and Mary William were honored on Friday, Sept. 18, by the community they have served and the Diocese of Erie. After nearly 20 years, they will return to their religious community in Erie. Their presence will continue to be felt by those whose homes are nestled in the magnificent mountains of north central Pennsylvania.

        Sister Nancy will be meeting with others to explore ways that the diocese can continue this valuable ministry in Potter and McKean counties.

Editor's note: Read a story published in Faith magazine in 2006 highlighting the sisters' ministry.