Thursday, January 10, 2008

villa maria, PA

immediately after adam and i got married, we moved to youngstown, ohio and commuted every day to a little convent on the ohio/pennsylvania border. there we worked on the 5-acre organic farm for sisters of the humility of mary , a very small order of catholic nuns who originated from a village in france and emigrated to the united states in the mid-1800's to serve the french immigrants who were living in the cleveland area. they emigrated as a whole (even bringing with them the 4 orphans in their care), and didn't leave any of the sisters behind, a fact that the sisters today are very proud of. they have always had a profound sense of community and commitment.

for a year we volunteered, full-time, on the organic farm that was located on the villa's extensive and beautiful grounds. every day we would drive the short distance, through forests and fields, to our jobs here. we learned to plant garlic during the waning moon (the waxing moon would pull the cloves/seeds right out of the ground and we'd need to plant them over again), we learned how to sort potatoes without sticking your thumb accidentally through the rotten ones, we learned how to transplant all the little pepper seedlings we worked so tirelessly on cultivating in the greenhouse over the spring, and, most importantly, we learned the best speed and angle at which to throw a rotten tomato at the beams above in the barn, so as to get the tomato to stick to the ceiling (temporarily) and only fall off later when we had left and someone else had work to do in there. haha! suckers! (just kidding -- and sorry about all those nasty tomatoes falling on your head, frank! good thing you always wore a good cap, right?)

in the winter, adam and i found other jobs to do around the villa -- i spent a lot of my time working on a "tree walk" with sister therese, speaking in detail many of the trees found on the grounds, but instead of talking about the science of the trees we talked about the spirituality of the trees, and natural remedies that could be made out of their bark, seeds, or leaves. adam worked with frank (who is about as good an example of "living history" as you can imagine -- he knows just about anything you can know about farming and the HM sisters!) on a history of the lands of villa maria, digging up old maps and tracing land acquisitions, looking at satellite photos and old deeds. frank would often take adam and myself on enjoyable hikes through the pennsylvania woods, showing us natural oil wells that had not been capped, describing different trees and rock formations, and encouraging us to discover the hidden histories of deserted homesteads. we also helped to lead the occasional workshop, which is what these two pictures are from: adam, myself, and sister barbara all led a one-day workshop on how to bake bread. we called it "kneading bread, needing bread," and we taught people the importance of bread, from both a nutrition standpoint and also a spiritual standpoint. (in what ways are we kneaded/needed? in what ways do we knead/need others? how can this dough nurture my body and my soul? how can it/i nurture others?)

our first year as wife and husband was spent in the midst of a community dedicated to humility, simplicity, and service -- not a bad way to begin a marriage. and because we were volunteers (the sisters gave us a free place to live, free health insurance, and just enough money to pay for food, gas, and a very small stipend for personal expenses -- aka, "beer money"), we didn't have any reason to fight -- no kids, no money, no problems! we initiated our "family superhappyfun nights" (which we still have even today) during this time, as a way to connect and get to know each other better. when you don't have any money to spend on going out, you find ways of having fun staying in, and these family superhappyfun nights were (and still are) our answer. turn the tv off and talk! what a concept!

we made deep and lasting friendships with the sisters there, and also deepened our own spiritualities. i discovered a very personal and profoundly intense relationship with the holy mother mary, whom i still talk to on a daily basis. (and, thanks to the magnificent church next to our house here in hengelo, i am able to escape to the little mary chapel fairly regularly to light candles and meditate.) we have friends who also volunteered with us during this time who we still keep in contact with today (hi, emily and kathleen!), and there are others who worked with us on the farm who we still consider to be good friends. (in fact, we have a friend who routinely sends us stacks and stacks of pictures from that area, to show us the changing seasons and keep us updated on all the happenings at villa maria. thanks, bob!)

i mention all of this to you because i just got this picture from sister katie, who is in charge of humility of mary service, the volunteer program through which we were able to have this life-changing and spirit-deepening experience. and i was blown away at how YOUNG adam looks in this picture! can it possibly have been 6 years ago that we were there? where did the time go? and am i that challenging to live with that he looks so much older only 6 years later? i remember this moment, of my husband so proud that he had been promoted to tractor duty, sister katie snapping a picture of the handsome young man that all the sisters were smitten over, and then later the two of us sneaking off to catch tadpoles in the streams behind one of the barns. i still talk about my year at villa maria as one of the best years of my life so far. i am so grateful for the connections i made there, with the sisters, with the land, with my new husband, with my Self, with mary. connections and friendships which will last the rest of my life. i know that no matter where we live, no matter where we go, no matter what we do, the sisters will still be praying for us every day. what joy and peace that brings to my heart!


emergent said...

Amber - your blog is so sweet! I love hearing the sort of connection to the land that you describe here.

A little googling leads me to suppose that this is a good satellite map of where you farmed:
225 Villa Marie Road Villa Marie, PA

The A-Team said...

yep, that's it all right. but you're on the wrong side of the villa -- you're closer to the cemetery on this map (you can see the white markers just across the road). if you scroll down a ways, to behind the villa (going south), and zoom in a bit, you will see several barns and open fields. the largest field to the west (left of the screen) is where we planted our pumpkins -- the sweatiest and least fun job of all the chores we had! of course, it was always worth it when the kids from local schools came by on their field trips and got to pick out pumpkins from the pumpkin patch. they were always so happy to be pumpkin hunting, and so proud of the ones that they chose!