Elizabeth’s House Opens Its Doors
By Heather Dalton
Nestled in the peaceful confines of the Stella Maris Convent is a hidden treasure called Elizabeth’s House. The house consists of a large sitting room, complete with an extensive library, dining facilities and an entertainment area. What makes the space special, though, is that the women who reside there have opened their home and their hearts to the people of this community.
Elizabeth’s House was founded in September of 1996 by a small group of women belonging to the Sisters of Saint Joseph. For years, Sister Pat Berliner and Sister Judith Shea discussed the idea of opening a center where people from all walks of life could meet and feel welcome to share their different experiences. Stella Maris Convent, located at 140 Beach 112 street, was the ideal setting. The convent, which housed only 11 nuns at the time, had plenty of room to spare. Sister Pat and Sister Judy took up residency there, living alongside their fellow Sisters of Saint Joseph, and set about making their dream a reality.
Their dream is deeply rooted in the founding philosophies of their religious order. The Sisters of Saint Joseph date back to 17 Century France. Their order began with a group of women coming together in prayer to do charitable works for others. At the time, women weren’t allowed to congregate in public, so their efforts were shrouded in secrecy. The notions of cordial charity and working quietly exist to this day.
It seems that the nuns have been working so quietly, however, that not enough people in the Rockaways are aware of what Elizabeth’s House has to offer. In addition to being a retreat house where individuals or groups can spend a day of reflection, the house offers numerous programs to help strengthen the mind, body and spirit.
Sister Judy, an art teacher at St. Joseph’s High School in Brooklyn, is a gifted quilter who lends her talent and spare time to those interested in learning the art of quiltmaking.
"Quilting is an old art form that is being made fresh and new," Sister Judy explains. "Today’s society has lost its tactile sense. People are finding that it can be regained in the bonding of quilting."
In her experience, Sister Judy has found that quilting brings people of all ages and backgrounds together. Women, and some men, sit around telling stories and giving advice. By the end of the quilting session, people leave feeling refreshed.
Sister Judy will be leading a course on basic quilt techniques at Elizabeth’s House on Saturday, November 6 and on certain Mondays throughout the month.
She is also in the midst of helping the eighth graders at St. Camillus design a graduation quilt. Sister Pat Rutter, the newest resident to join the ranks of Elizabeth’s House, is a Social Studies teacher at St. Camillus and suggested the project.
Outside instructors are also asked to participate in the programs being offered at Elizabeth’s House. Donna Flynn is a registered nurse with a Ph.D. who is a nationally certified reflexologist and Reiki II practitioner. She recently led a group of local residents in an infant massage class.
Another scheduled event is a one-day 12-step program for people recovering from addictions, which will take place on Friday, November 12.
Unfortunately, a number of programs have been canceled because not enough people registered for the classes. Others showed up without registering, but the classes had already been canceled. Anyone interested in learning more about Elizabeth’s House should contact the Stella Maris Convent.
"Elizabeth’s House is about being with and for your neighbor," says Sister Pat Berliner. "We want to bring people together."
For the three women who reside at Elizabeth’s House that has meant offering their home and individual talents to be of help to people in the community. Hopefully, more members of the community will begin to respond and return the favor.