WELLSBORO - The Benedictine nuns of St. Marys and their influence on the community is the central theme of a new documentary recently released by director/producer Dr. Gale P. Largey, a former sociology professor at Mansfield University.
The two-hour film, "The Lessons of Sister Victoria," will be presented at the Deane Center free of charge at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Centered around interviews with two of the surviving nuns, Sister M. Victoria, 91, a native of St. Marys and Sr. M. Evangelist, now deceased.
It focuses primarily on the 1950s at which time the number of sisters peaked at nearly 150.
Since then their number and impact on the community steadily has declined.
In January 2014, the remaining 17 sisters determined that it was necessary to close the convent, now referred to as a monastery.
According to Largey, the documentary explores the influence of a convent of Benedictine sisters on life in the community of St. Marys and the basic theme suggests that the decline and closing of the Benedictine convent is akin to the loss of a major industry.
The film begins with an overview of the arrival of three nuns from Bavaria and the founding of St. Joseph's Convent.
They came to establish a school for the spiritual and educational advancement of young women.
Sr. M. Evangelist describes a miraculous episode during the sisters' journey to America, similar to the Bible account of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
By the 1950s, the sisters taught students in three local grade schools (St. Marys, Sacred, and Queen of the World), the St. Marys Catholic High School, and the Benedictine Academy of Music and Art.
In addition, they administered the local hospital and the St. Walburgha Home for Elderly Women.
The film offers a video tribute to the sisters incorporating some of the many photos of them taken by Edwin Grotzinger, a noted local photographer of the period.
Largey interviews Sister M. Victoria, who taught students for over 50 years before her retirement.
She shares interesting insights into her beliefs and teachings, and the importance of moral education.
The second part of the documentary suggests links between the lessons of the Benedictine sisters and the nature of life in St. Marys. It includes excerpts from several interviews, including,
Gary Ginther, who didn't pray before wrestling an ape at a St. Marys Carnival and should have.
Odo Valentine, a pioneer daredevil, who talks of praying before doing stunt flying.
Patricia Krellner Pfeuffer tells of being struck by a car but saved by the intervention of her guardian angel.
Arlita Lecker Feldbaue shares her feelings of being comforted by guardian angels.
Jim Auman speaks of the racial understanding and tolerance promoted by the sisters.
Richard Gausman expresses the pain of losing three children in a house fire and how he turns to prayer.
Paul and William Krellner tell of their father's involvement in building a new house for the Gausman family.
Marcella Grotzinger Largey tell of how the sisters were environmentalists and the interviewee is shown as an example of a "waste not, want not" homemaker of the 1950s.
Roger Hasselman relates his experience of being robbed by hitchhikers he had picked up.
Marilys Schilmm Marconi, a former May Queen, reflects on the influence of devotion to the Blessed Mother and the fostering of motherhood by the sisters.
Richard Dornisch, a former altar boy for the sisters, shares his experience of being told he would have a short life and now, like Sister Victoria, questions medical prognosis.
Floyd "Bugs" Gerber shares an anecdote about belief in wearing a scapular as a means to salvation.
James "Jake" Meyer and Alice Ehrensberger tell about the community response to "Black Sunday" - a day in 1950 when the skies turned inky black and people thought the end of the world was occurring.