Friday, December 16, 2011


Recently I found this quote (source unknown) which certainly rings true of the many saints I have found in the past months in my study of "Saints and Birds"!

"the saints have not fallen from Heaven.
they are people like us, who also have complicated problems.
holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned.
holiness increases the capacity for conversion,
for repentance, for willingness to start again
and, especially,  for reconciliation and forgiveness".

What has been particularly note worthy is the number of holy people Blessed Pope John Paul II called to the front during his pontificate. Almost every country is now represented and there are more non-religious (and non Italians) then ever. Africa, Asia and N & S America are represented as never before. Over the weeks I hope to introduce some of the lesser known but interesting personages. Their life story gives us hope that our own road to the Father may also be paved with special graces.

Before I went to Costa Rica in November I encountered their only saint- at least one recognized as such- and asked her to guide me in my trip. People there were amazed that I knew of her (and a few did not know of her). She is BLESSED MARIA ROMERO MENESES. She died in 1977and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002. She was born in Granada, Nicaragua, in 1902 to a wealthy family; her father was a government minister. At the age of 12, she was extremely sick and paralyzed for six months with rheumatic fever. She was cured by the intercession and apparition of Our Lady Help of Christians, during which she understood her vocation to be a Salesian sister. She  made her final profession in 1929.

Two years later, she was transferred to San Jose, Costa Rica where she taught music, drawing and typing to rich girls. She also trained catechists and trades to the poor. She inspired many of her students to join her in her work with the poor and was known for helping people come to know God in a personal way. More and more, her ministry became focused on social development, helping the rich to see how they could help the poor. She set up recreational centers, food distribution centers, a school for poor girls, and a clinic staffed by volunteer doctors.

In 1973, she organized the construction of seven homes, which became the foundation of the village Centro San Jose, a community where poor families could have decent homes. When her health began to fail she returned to Nicaragua for rest but died there in 1977.

Because she had spent her life working in Costa Rica she was returned there for burial. Blessed María always joined love and devotion to the Eucharist and Mary with her social apostolate. Her body rests in the Salesian chapel at San José, Costa Rica.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


December 17 is the day for the Christmas Bird Count in our area of the country. This count, which takes place all over North America and into Central & South America, is over 100 years old yet many have not heard about it. Around the turn of the 20th C. scientists and bird watchers were becoming concerned about declining bird populations due to the winter tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt". People would choose sides and go afield with their guns. Whichever side brought in the biggest pile of birds won.

Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, of the Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition: A "Christmas Bird Census" that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. Most of the counts were in the eastern part of the US & Canada, though there was one each in California, Colorado & Missouri. Twenty seven people participated finding a total of 89 species.

We have come along way in 111 years!  Today, there are tens of thousands volunteering for the count and over 57 million birds sited in the US alone ( 646 species). For the past 9 years, I have taken my 4-H birding club to scour the island for water birds, small brown birds hiding in the thickets, raptors high above us, and everything in between. Our goal is to find at least 60 species, which usually puts us in the top 10 count for the State of Washington. In February, we will follow up this count with the "Backyard Bird Count" and in May with the "Migration Count". Bird watching, at least in the NW, is now the # one family "sport".

Snowcap -- one of the world's
rarest hummingbirds
Having just returned from Costa Rica, a country with some of the most beautiful birds in the Western Hemisphere, I am grateful that our children learn at an early age an appreciation for God's feathered creatures. In CR  while the people appreciate all who flock to see their birds, they themselves are not that involved in bird watching and in Peru (which I visited 2 years ago- and has the highest # of bird species in the world) even less so.

My friend, the Toucan
Anyone can participate in this annual activity. If you are new to birding, join others more able to identify the local species. All of us can make a difference, and at this time of year when we have so much to be thankful for, we can thank Mr. Chapman for alerting us to more positive ways of protecting our "feathered friends".

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Summer, what  there was  of it, has passed us swiftly by. Now is the time of last harvests, putting gardens "to bed", and relaxing, as much as one does in a Monastery.

Nuns with Ferndale youth group

This year, more than ever, was one of "United Nations", or maybe I should say religions. Our large group of Mormons came in March (their 7th year?) to do their work of clearing the land for us. They bring food, wonderful helpers and always good cheer. In July we had many Catholic youth come, with adults, to build and rebuild: decks, fences, a new pig house, concrete paths to the chicken house, etc., plus bringing in over 1000 bales of hay. Following them was a group of Mennonites from the Seattle area, who "picked up" where the youth left off. Then in August came another younger group of Mormons who left the grounds looking like a park. All who come are amazed at the change.

Chicken heaven -- built by Ferndale youth
We thank one and all, who came for a day or week to help out and enjoy the life of our monastic community.  It is these volunteers who make our life easier to serve the Lord. It is our privilege to share our life of prayer, hospitality and care of  the land with people of diverse views and cultures. Many who come appreciate the solitude and community. Both are essential in a Monastery and create balance, something they find missing in today's culture.

We had two women, both retired school teachers from San Diego, make their first Oblation as Benedictine Oblates - a lay person who seeks to try to live by the Rule of Benedict- this August. They have been coming for many years and we felt now is the time.  Another from Alaska will make her first Oblation at the end of this month. She is a professor at  a small college in Palmer.

We now look forward to some quiet time, which only winter seems to bring in the Monastery, as we prepare for the Holy Days of Advent and Christmas.

Blessings to all and thanks to all who are faithful to this blog.  We appreciate the comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


We all have difficult days.... days when we want to be alone...

My study of  SAINTS & BIRDS continues and amazing saints are found- among a favorite is ST. CHRISTINA the ASTONISHING. She was born in Belgium in 1150. It is known that she worked as a shepherdess, growing closer to God over the years. Due to the fact that she did not take care of her body she died. Some say she had a seizure and was not really dead. At her funeral Mass after the Agnus Dei, she flew up out of her coffin like a bird and perched herself in the rafters of the church. After the Mass the priest told her to come down. She reported that she had been to Hell, recognizing many people there. She was then shown Purgatory, and recognizing many more. She was taken to Heaven where she was offered the choice of remaining with God, or returning to earth so that she could offer herself for the salvation of others. She chose the unselfish course.

Her life is one astonishing event after another; she climbed trees to perch on the branches with the birds (note painting). She exhibited both unusual traits and abilities. For example, she could not stand the odor of  some people because she could smell the sin in them, and would climb trees or buildings, hide in ovens or cupboards, or simply levitate to avoid contact. Many thought she was possessed by devils, and tried to capture her, but she always managed to escape. Making penances for the souls of Purgatory and Hell was the aim in her life. People who knew her were divided in their opinions: she was a holy woman, touched by God or she was suffering the torments of devils – or she was flatly insane. The prioress of Saint Catherine’s convent testified that no matter how bizarre or excessive Christina’s reported actions, she was always completely obedient to the orders of the prioresses of the convent. Christina was a friend of Louis, Count of Looz, whose castle she visited, and whose actions she rebuked. The  mystic Saint Lutgardis sought her advice. Christina died in 1224 at Saint Catherine’s convent of natural causes, aged 74.

She is the patroness against insanity, mental disorders, psychiatrists, therapists, and mental health professionals.   So on those blue days I glance at this painting, which sits by my desk and laugh- wishing I could join the birds in a tree!

Friday, June 10, 2011


    I realize that it has been 3 months since my last news to this site.  Since then my family has come from California and Idaho and my brother Jeff has been laid to rest. The deep pain of loss has not abated but something has been put at peace and we are all moving forward with the legacy of many happy memories.
    In the time when I needed a focus beyond grief, I decided to do a study of SAINTS & BIRDS!  What is the connection you ask?  I have been an avid birder for some years now and  have seen some FAB birds in Australia and recently PERU. Our beautiful San Juan Islands are home to over 200 wonderful species, especially water fowl.
     Recently, I came across an interesting photo of a statue of St. Hildegard in front of her Abbey at Rudesheim, Germany. It is a gorgeous statue but atop her head sits a pigeon.  Then someone sent me a photo of a monument to St. Hildegard, somewhere  near Bingen (Germany). On the wall above the saint's face sits a sweet small sparrow.  Both photos a bit of comic relief- at least to my heart. Both got me wondering.....
    I then discovered that there are many saints associated with birds. Of course as Benedictines we know of St. Benedict's raven,  and his sister Scholastica's dove. St. Francis of Assisi actually preached to the birds.  St. Teresa of Avila is more often than not seen with a dove,  but the Little Therese never.  The Celts seemed to have a great "devotion" to birds and are often depicted with them, probably due to their living on islands.  Both St. Hilda & St. Werburg of Chester had their goose.  St. Milburga was said to have a mysterious power over birds. They avoided damaging the crops when she spoke to them.  (I could do many blogs on saints and birds- some stories fascinating...  but you get the point).
    Peoples of the East and desert regions are rarely depicted with birds.   In some cases birds are shown with a saint for no other reason than an artist's imagination. Then there are the birds who just happen around when someone has a camera!
    Some birds are used as religious symbols.
         The most common being the dove, which represents the Holy Spirit, and purity in some saints.
        The eagle is a symbol for many saints: John the Evangelist,
                  Cuthbert of Lindesfarne who was fed by an eagle,
                  Medard of Noyon who was sheltered from the weather by an eagle.
        The peacock, believed by the ancients to be incorruptible, represents immortality.
        The pelican,  feeding her young with the blood from her breast, symbolizes Christ
                  the Redeemer.
         The phoenix,  said to rise rejuvenated from its own ashes, is a type of resurrection
                 and eternity.
    Some famous Christian artists use birds in many of their works. One of my favorites is the Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe (1913-96). His prints depict biblical scenes in the folk tradition (mingel).  He felt that his prints should hang in the homes of ordinary people, because Jesus brought the gospel for the people.
Jesus and Mary-  S. Watanabe

St. Francis- Dr.Qi

       Another favorite is Dr. He Qi  of China, now residing in St. Paul, MN.  His vibrantly colored art often features a dove.
 I  recommend Googling these artists.
    Whatever your passion is I am sure you can find Saints who relate to it.
                   Happy Birding......