At Villa Assumpta Devotion to a life of teaching, ministry and prayer continues at Villa Assumpta

BEYOND THE THRESHOLD

February 14, 1993|By Algerina Perna

Engraved in my memory since early childhood is a simple moment that has perhaps compelled me most toward this project. At the time, I was attending Catholic school, and I walked up the steps to the gray stone convent in West Grove, Pa., to speak with my elementary school teacher. The purpose of my visit and many of the physical details have blurred over time. But the thoughts and feelings I experienced are as clear to me now as they were then.

One of the sisters opened the door and I stood on the threshold and spoke to her. She loomed tall before me in her navy blue habit, her headpiece making her even taller. Colored sunlight filtered through the stained-glass window inside. Behind her, I could see part of a room with windows, light-colored walls and religious items washed in yellow sunlight.

I wanted to see what was around the corner. I was curious about the sisters who lived and dressed differently from me and all the other people I knew. I wanted to see more than a glimpse of their life beyond the threshold. For my master's thesis project in photojournalism (Ohio University), I decided to record a Catholic way of life that an ever-dwindling number of people in this country choose. On this and the following pages are excerpts from the project.

The Congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame allowed me to spend over a year documenting life at Villa Assumpta, the motherhouse of the congregation's Baltimore province. At the villa, situated on Charles Street in Baltimore County, about 117 semi-retired and retired sisters live, work, convalesce and pray.

The congregation was founded in Nurnberg vom Wald in Bavaria on Oct. 24, 1833, by Mother Theresa of Jesus, the former Caroline Gerhardinger. There are approximately 6,000 sisters serving throughout the world.

ALGERINA PERNA is a photographer for The Sun.

Copyright 1992 by Algerina Perna.

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