The dictionary defines the word oasis as a pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of a difficult, troubled or hectic place or situation. There is such an oasis tucked away in a corner of Hubbard Township.
Built in the grand manner of an English country house in 1910, it once belonged to the Strouss family of the Strouss-Hershberg department store chain. Now it houses the Order of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
The estate is now called Villa Maria Teresa, named for the memory of Mother Maria Teresa Casini, who founded the order in Italy in 1894.
The Oblates, as they are known, have centers in India, Italy, Brazil and Africa. They first came to Trumbull County seeking funds for their war-torn convents in Italy. At the request of the sitting Bishop they settled in McDonald in 1946. Outgrowing their tiny monastery there, they moved to Youngstown in 1949. In 1955, the Strouss family sold their estate to the Oblates and Villa Maria Teresa was born.
Religious orders of women are often called upon to serve in multiple ways. They might be expected, as was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to serve the poor. Other orders may teach in Catholic schools. Still others are called upon to work with battered women. The Oblate Sisters are no exception to multitasking. However, ministerially, theirs is a unique charge; to care for retired and ailing priests.
To paraphrase their mission statement, they are first to pray for priestly holiness. They are also to collaborate with the convalescent priests in a parish ministry. This ministry encompasses hospital visitation and distribution of communion to the homebound. They are also to direct religious education.
All of these goals are accomplished at the villa. Here, their daycare, preschool and kindergarten classes are full. Tuition helps to fund the order. While visiting, one can see happy children playing outside, weather permitting, actually running around and enjoying the great outdoors.
The manor house has large sloping lawns and the sisters have converted part of them into a playground complete with swing sets, sandbox and teeter-totters. Enrollment is open; that is, a child does not have to be Catholic to attend. Here you will find children of professional and blue-collar families playing side-by-side.
The sisters are known throughout the area for their kindliness, their cooking and senses of adventure. One elderly sister recently came back from a trip to India, where the Oblates have a mission. Interestingly, the Oblates are one of the few orders that will admit older women to the sisterhood. These include widows and women who, for one reason or another, decided to join the convent later in life. Upon their arrival in America, these Italian nuns also took in orphans and raised them.
These days, when religion in America seems to be taking a back seat to a more secular world, women of all ages are finding the Oblates via the Internet. Many of them are interested in joining an order that still wears the traditional nun's habit. The convent currently has a number of women who are beginning their training and will progress from postulate, to novitiate, to sisterhood.
There are many good works performed by the nuns that no one ever hears about: helping strangers, ministering to the ill, and delighting in their preschoolers with humility and grace.
Sister Vittoria and Sister Teresina are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the villa in its entirety. They are supported by a very active women's auxiliary that has annual card parties and spaghetti dinners to help raise funds for the order.
The sisters also direct the staff of the two retirement homes for priests that have been built branching out from the villa. The villa is now composed of the convent, the retirement homes, the preschool and the novitiate - rooms for women studying to become nuns.
It takes a special person to make a lifelong commitment to serving others. It takes a special person to travel from their home country to a land where they do not speak the language. It takes a special person to serve selflessly wherever needed. The Oblate Sisters are such special people.
O'Connor is a Brookfield resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.