A documentary, "Lessons of Sister Victoria: Glimpses of life in the 50s" in St. Marys is being shown on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Elk County Catholic High School auditorium. The event is open to the public with free admission. Any donations are being donated to the Elk County Benedictine Sisters.
The nearly two-hour documentary was produced by Gale Largey, a former St. Marys resident and 1962 graduate of Central High School who now resides in Wellsboro with his family. It explores the influence of a convent of Benedictine Sisters on life in the community of St. Marys.
"'The Lessons of Sister Victoria' seeks to balance our understanding by highlighting the positive aspects. By teaching and practicing their motto of 'pray and work' the Benedictine Sisters shaped several generations of Catholic children into very productive members of society," Largey said. "They modeled leadership for young women and fostered honesty, frugality and community-mindedness among the people of St. Marys."
Copies of the film are being sold at the event and possibly at the St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce office.
The opening of the film features an overview of the arrival of three sisters from Germany and the founding of St. Joseph Monastery. The sisters ventured to the area to establish a school for the spiritual and educational advancement of young women.The late Sister Evangelist describes a miraculous episode during the sisters' journey to America.
This is followed by a video tribute to the sisters with a slideshow of photos captured throughout the history of the monastery. They include group photos of the sisters as well as them doing daily activities.
Largey's uncle, Edwin Grotzinger, a noted local photographer of the period, assisted him in obtaining the slideshow photos as many were taken during the monastery's 100th anniversary in 1952. At the time, Grotzinger often took group photos of the sisters for their annual yearbook.
Next is an in-depth interview with Sister Victoria, a native of St. Marys, about an array of topics. She taught for over 50 years before her retirement.
"Her lessons reflect her lifestyle, beliefs and underscore the moral education she instilled in her students," Largey said. "The fact that they (the sisters) modeled what they taught, specifically frugality, provided them with moral authority. It's hard to replace that force."
Sister Victoria touches on several lessons in the documentary specifically the importance of prayer, guardian angels' protection and comfort, living the Benedictine motto of prayer and work, following a code of honesty and the importance of always helping others.
"The basic theme of the documentary suggests that the decline and closing of the Benedictine convent is akin to the loss of a major industry. The product of the Benedictine Sisters were people with a moral fiber that has shaped life in St. Marys," Largey explained.
Largey said he chose this time span for several reasons, the most pertinent being this was a time when the number of sisters at St. Joseph Monastery peaked at nearly 125. Also, 1953-54 was declared a Marian year, a special year declared by Pope John Paul II dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was observed by Catholics worldwide and Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary as dogma in 1950.
By the 1950s, the sisters taught students in three local grade schools - St. Marys, Sacred Heart 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. Walburga Home for Elderly Women.
Largey said he sees the sisters as the backbone and moral fiber of the community as well as being independent, self-sufficient and strong-minded women.
"In this country the loss of the sisters is even more significant than the loss of priests," Largey said. "They were the anchors of Catholicism in American society because they taught the people and instilled it."
The second part of the documentary suggests links between the lessons of Sister Victoria and other Benedictine Sisters and the nature of life in St. Marys.
Providing a glimpse of life in the 1950s were numerous St. Marys residents.
Among them are Gary Ginther, Odo Valentine, Patricia Krellner Pfeufer, Arlita Lecker Feldbauer, Jim Auman, Richard Gausman, Paul and William Krellner, Marcella Grotzinger Largey, Roger Hasselman, Marilyn Schlimm Marconi, Richard Dornisch, Floyd "Bugs" Gerber, James "Jake" Meyer and Alice Ehrensberger.
Many of them related how Sister Victoria's teachings have remained with them throughout their lives.
The documentary was debuted in late January when Largey held a small showing at the monastery for those featured in the film in order to garner feedback from them about it.
According to Largey, when the announcement was made in January that the monastery would be closing he realized he had enough material about the sisters and the monastery to produce a documentary. He quickly began editing footage adding Sister Victoria's interview which he conducted in the fall of 2013.
Many of the other interviews, with Sister Evangelist and St. Marys residents, were completed about 10 years ago. Although Largey completed a total of 25 resident interviews, there are 14 featured in the film.
Largey completed the documentary within several months. He typically compiles between three to five minutes of footage each day.
Assisting him with securing sources and arranging interviews were Largey's friends Floyd "Bugs" Gerber and Bob Schloder.
Currently Sister Victoria has relocated to a monastery in Chicago pending the closing of St. Joseph Monastery.
Largey, who received a bachelor of arts degree from St. Vincent College in 1966 and a Ph.D. from SUNY-Buffalo in 1972, taught sociology at Mansfield University for 35 years before retiring in December 2005.
He is married to Kathleen Werrick and together the couple has three adult children, Melissa, Benjamin and Erin.
Largey is no stranger to documentaries as he has directed and produced pieces since 1995 featuring The Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival, The Austin Disaster, The Impact of WWII on Tioga County, Presidential Reflections, Lester Ward - founder for American sociology, Dr. Harold L. McPheeters - founder of Human Service Education and in 2013 "Lost & Found: Catholic Beliefs & Honesty in the 1950s."
In 2012 he produced "Those Were The Days: Class of 1962," a tribute to his graduating class at Central High School as part of their 50th anniversary celebration. This film took two years to complete.
"In recent years there have been many films that bash nuns, often presenting them as either mean, sexually-repressed women who liked to harshly discipline children or passive pious women who have withdrawn from the real world. The recent film "Philomena," despite its exceptional acting, is a striking example of a film that mistakenly casts a negative connotation about not only adoptive parents, but also religious sisters," Largey said.