by Tony Rossi
(originally published at “Christopher Closeup” on Patheos.com)
At the age of 31, John Schlimm was at a crossroads. He had spent his 20s working in public relations for the White House, and then, for country music stars in Nashville. From a worldly perspective, he had it made. Yet, he felt restless and empty, as if there was something deeper that needed to be fulfilled in his life.
That quest for meaning led him to leave his job and return to his hometown of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. It was the place where his family’s brewery (Straub Brewery) is located, where he knew the names of all his neighbors, and where he had happy memories of being taught by the nuns at St. Mary’s Church elementary and middle schools and Elk County Catholic High School.
On the advice of a friend, Schlimm visited a small ceramics shop on the grounds of St. Joseph Monastery, which was home to the Benedictine Sisters of Elk County. As he walked through the door, he felt impressed by “this incredibly humble and simple space, filled with the most amazing colors and positive energy.”
Then, Schlimm saw her – the woman who changed his life and inspired his memoir “Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions.”
The “her” in question was 87-year-old Sister Augustine, who single-handedly ran the ceramics shop and created all its pieces of art. Schlimm noticed a palpable joy in her personality, which was ironic since he used to work with people who had the world at their fingertips yet struggled to find happiness. In contrast, here was a cloistered, elderly nun working by herself in an out-of-the-way ceramics shop who was totally happy and content.
Schlimm sensed that she might be able to guide him toward that deeper fulfillment for which he was looking, so he began visiting Sister Augustine frequently and engaging in hours-long conversations with her about life and faith and all the ways that ceramics can be a metaphor for life.
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