New pathways ‘a dream come true’ for cloistered sisters

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Written by LAURIE STEVENS BERTKE, Chronicle Writer   
Friday, 27 July 2012 04:01
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TOLEDO—Michael Bass admits he was initially reluctant when a friend approached him about the possibility of rebuilding some of the outdoor walkways at the Toledo Monastery of the Visitation.

His company, Ebony Construction, does not do concrete work so he “didn’t see the fit,” explains Mr. Bass, who serves as vice president of the Sylvania company.

Volunteers from Toledo Chapter of the Ohio Contractors Association rebuilt the outdoor pathways at the Monastery of the Visitation in July, improving access to the Stations of the Cross for older sisters using walkers and wheelchairs. (Photo courtesy of Michael Bass)
Volunteers from Toledo Chapter of the Ohio Contractors Association rebuilt the outdoor pathways at the Monastery of the Visitation in July, improving access to the Stations of the Cross for older sisters using walkers and wheelchairs. (Photo courtesy of Michael Bass)

After he met with Visitation Sister Sharon Elizabeth Gworek to discuss the project, however, he jokes that if the community’s superior had wanted him to tie the walkway somewhere into downtown Toledo, he would have tried to get that done for her and the other sisters.

“I think she probably could have talked me into just about anything,” says Mr. Bass, who ended up pitching the project to the executive board of the Toledo Chapter of the Ohio Contractors Association for consideration as one of its annual community service projects last spring.

Mr. Bass, a past president of the local chapter and current executive board member who co-chairs the chapter’s community service committee, says it took “very little arm twisting” to get the group to agree to sponsor the project.

And so volunteers from the chapter descended on the monastery during one of the hottest weeks of the summer to replace its crumbling brick pathways with concrete walkways.

The Visitation Sisters have the privilege of papal enclosure, meaning they spend most of their lives within the monastery, leaving only for business, medical needs and other duties. As contemplative nuns, their primary apostolate is prayer.

Sr. Gworek explains the old path leading back to the Stations of the Cross on the grounds was too narrow and uneven to navigate using walkers or wheelchairs. “The older sisters just could not get back to the Stations, and they were limited in where they could walk,” she says.

The contractors replaced and widened that pathway and even extended it to loop around a nearby statue of Mary, opening up where the sisters can walk and pray.

Central Catholic

“It’s really added to what the whole yard looks like,” says Sr. Gworek. “The focus ends up being Our Lady, the way they did the sidewalk around her.”

For many of the sisters, “it’s just a dream come true,” she adds. “I think it’s really going to help the prayer life of the sisters, and just their ability to get outdoors.”

After the walkways were completed, one of the sisters even asked Sr. Gworek, “When can we have our first procession?”

Despite the challenges of the project —a brick wall surrounds the monastery, providing limited access for equipment —Mr. Bass says volunteers competed the project within about a week at the beginning of July. Most workers were putting in extended days after working on their own projects, he notes, and by the end of the week even office staff members were stopping by to lend a hand by laying topsoil and planting grass seed.

The local companies that donated labor, equipment and materials to the project included B & J Concrete of Toledo, The Kuhlman Company of Toledo, The Shelly Company of Maumee, Zimmerman Paint Company of Fremont, Ebony Construction Company Inc. of Sylvania, Kovacik Consulting of Toledo and Independent Concrete Pipe Company of Sylvania.

Workers lay topsoil and grass seed around a new pathway built in the yard of the Monastery of the Visitation. (Photo courtesy of Michael Bass)
Workers lay topsoil and grass seed around a new pathway built in the yard of the Monastery of the Visitation. (Photo courtesy of Michael Bass)

Costs that were not covered by company donations were paid for out of the Toledo Chapter’s community service fund, according to Mr. Bass.

“For us, it was a tremendous gift, because just meeting daily expenses is a challenge,” says Sr. Gworek. “When you add in the maintenance that has to be done, this is something that probably would never have happened, and yet for the spiritual good of the sisters has been a very great blessing.”

Mr. Bass says it was enjoyable to witness the sisters’ reactions as they watched the progression of the project.

“The smiles on all of their faces signaled a job well done,” he says. “I have built many project over my 35 years in this business, both large and complex and small and simple. I don’t think I have ever felt as appreciated.”

When they finished the project, Mr. Bass says he warned Sr. Gworek it might be difficult for the grass the workers planted to grow given the extreme heat and lack of rain this summer. She told him not to worry, that she would take care of the watering.

“As I sat in my office two hours later, an afternoon rain storm rolled through the area,” he recalls. “We hadn’t had any rain in a couple of weeks! I guess she ‘took care of the watering.’ ”