FOLLOW UP to WATERmeditation

“Praying with the Pros: Thanks to Benedictine Mary Lou Kownacki”

with Mary E. Hunt

Monday, July 10, 2023 7:30 PM EDT




Video can be found at:



         Thank you for being part of our July 2023 mediation, “Praying with the Pros: Thanks to Benedictine Mary Lou Kownacki” with Mary E. Hunt. We were especially gratified to have some people with us who are connected to the Erie Benedictines. We hope you felt a warm WATER welcome and will return to WATER programs as you wish.

Following are Mary E. Hunt’s remarks and the prayer by Benedictine Sister Mary Lou Kownacki which were the springboard for communal contemplation and discussion.


“Praying with the Pros: Thanks to Benedictine Mary Lou Kownacki”

Many participants knew Benedictine Mary Lou Kownacki. I hope you rejoice in the strong presence of her spirit tonight. I was not so fortunate as to know her personally, but like so many people, I was deeply attracted to her writing, to her work, to the life she crafted for herself with people whom I respect.

The list of her contributions to the world is seemingly endless: getting the Pax Center going in Erie; teaching in many forms; starting the Emmaus Soup Kitchen; publishing books on peace; acting as national coordinator of Pax Christi USA; directing the Alliance for International Monasticism. She took Benedictine publishing up a notch in 1992 with Benetvision, a classic monastic cottage industry that publishes the work of Joan D. Chittister and other fine writers. Then Mary Lou started the online Monasteries of the Heart in 2012 which has fed many of us in our hunger to partake of the best of the monastic tradition. What a smart postmodern thing to do.

I am breathless thinking of it all. And then there were the children she so loved and to whom she imparted her gift of poetry, and the people made poor whom she embraced as her own. I have not mentioned her service in her own monastery where she did everything from development to formation, and probably dishes. What a wonder woman she was, and, from all reports, quite understated about it.

I thought she was about 50 when she died. I was wrong about an octogenarian though I bet her energies were multiple. Her illness and dying were hard to watch, even from afar. But I figure anyone who could play a round of golf and enjoy the beauty of that sacred land on the shores of Lake Erie was someone who lived to the hilt even against the ravages of cancer.

I asked my friend Benedictine Sister Jacqueline Sanchez-Small to describe Mary Lou. She wrote:

“Well, Mary Lou always defined herself as a monk, which she considered a gender-inclusive term. She was a visionary who understood peace as a constitutive element of the Gospel and was firmly committed to working toward it, though she was also a realist through-and-through. She loved to quote the story of the Buddha, when he was asked by a disciple, ‘Is it true that half of the spiritual life is friendship?’ Buddha replied, ‘No, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.’” Jackie concludes, “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she considered her greatest gift to be natural athleticism.”

(Jacqueline Sanchez-Small, email 6/19/23)

That description squared very well with my sense of Mary Lou that I got from her writings. This led me to conclude that what we saw in print was who she was. That is not always the case even for great spiritual figures.

Another friend of mine observed that she did not know Mary Lou either, but when Mary Lou died my friend felt as if she had lost someone close to her. She waited, as many of us did, for what the Old Monk, as Mary Lou called herself, would say next. Luckily, there are many of Mary Lou’s writing to go back to and savor.

I took the Old Monk seriously because she lived out whatever she wrote, or better perhaps, she wrote what she lived. The authenticity was unmistakable, the goodness transparent. That is why I invite us to pray with pros tonight, with Mary Lou. I suspect she would have made a good golf joke out of that expression, maybe said something about amateurs as well!

With Mary Lou’s spirit fully alive in resurrected form now six months after her death, we grab onto her energies for our prayer, hoping even a kernel of her goodness will rub off on us.

For our meditation, I chose one of her many powerful offerings, “Prayer for the Decade of Nonviolence.” It was published in 1998 in Prayers for a New Millennium. Regardless of the decade for which it was written, we need it more than ever. That the U.S. is providing Ukraine with cluster bombs is only the latest wind that chills my soul.


I bow to the sacred in all creation.
May my spirit fill the world with beauty and wonder.
May my mind seek truth with humility and openness.
May my heart forgive without limit.
May my love for friend, enemy and outcast be without measure.
May my needs be few and my living simple.
May my actions bear witness to the suffering of others.
May my hands never harm a living being.
May my steps stay on the journey of justice.
May my tongue speak for those who are poor without fear of the powerful.
May my prayers rise with patient discontent until no child is hungry.
May my life’s work be a passion for peace and nonviolence.
May my soul rejoice in the present moment.
May my imagination overcome death and despair with new possibility.
And may I risk reputation, comfort and security to bring this hope to the children.
— Mary Lou Kownacki, Distributed by Pax Christi, USA

Mary Lou Kownacki OSB

From Prayers for a New Millennium, Mary Lou Kownacki,
Liguori Publications (1998)

After our customary 22 minutes of silence, people offered reflections.

Several lines from the prayer were lifted up for appreciation:

“May my love for friend, enemy and outcast be without measure.”

“May my needs be few and my living simple.”

“May my steps stay on the journey of justice.”

Other comments included sage insights into doing as much justice work as we can without worrying if we are doing enough. Older ministry colleagues emphasized the need for contemplation as a companion to action. The needs of children were lifted up.

A friend of Mary Lou shared her memories of collaborating in various endeavors. She always had the sense that the visionary Mary Lou listened to others, believed in her sisters, and invited them to join in the work. As the friend put it, Mary Lou would “get to the edge and jump.” What a role model when others might be tempted to stand still.

WATER thanks the Erie Benedictines for their love for Mary Lou and for sharing her with a broader world. Tonight’s experience was proof that her strong spirit continues to inspire and encourage.

Benedictine Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki, Jacqueline Sanchez-Small and Sr. Mary Miller at a housewarming party. (Breanna Mekuly), July 11th, 20023: .