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Pennsylvania Pilgrimage

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

Last week Beauty First board member, Jennifer Anna Rich, and I attended the Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference just an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Flight schedules being what they are, we had extra time on both sides of our trip, and decided to dedicate this time to visiting sites of significance to us.

Our first stop was Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City. This monastery was founded in 1968 by a Romanian royal. After fleeing Romania during World War II, Princess Ileanna settled in the United States. After her six children were grown, she became a monastic, taking the name Mother Alexandra at her tonsure. With help from Fr. Roman Braga and several sisters from Romania, she was able to establish a humble Orthodox Christian monastery. The current abbess is Mother Christophora.

The sisters graciously gave us a tour, told us their history, and about the iconography and relics of the monastery. We attended a peaceful early morning service and visited the cemetery. This is the monastery where the beloved writer and speaker, Fr. Thomas Hopko, retired and was buried.

Grave of Fr. Thomas Hopko at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City

During the conference, affectionately called AFCon, we connected with writers and podcasters, photographers, composers, musicians, and filmmakers, about telling stories well and the importance of making beautiful things. I reflected on the comment of another attendee, "it's okay to make something beautiful just for the sake of beauty," as we drove from the conference center.

Next we stopped by the neighboring town of Latrobe, which is the hometown of both television host Fred Rogers and champion golfer Arnold Palmer. We found a sweet statue of Mister Rogers sitting on a bench in Memorial Park. Driving down Weldon Street, two neighbors were kind enough to point out which house was the Rogers family's: number 737 with red brick and green trim. Our final stop in Latrobe was the small museum at the Fred Rogers Center for Children and the Media on the campus of St. Vincent College. This small museum showcases letters, puppets, a famous trolley, and several sweaters hand knit by Mister Rogers' mother. Displays tell about his upbringing, his interest in music and TV, his faith and mission, and his impact on thousands on coworkers, friends, and television neighbors. One of the things I love about this exhibit is that it is housed in a building dedicated to educating and informing the next generation about the impact of media on children. The mission of the Fred Rogers Center is to help us learn to navigate that world as responsibly and lovingly as Mister Rogers did.

As we were leaving the Fred Rogers Center, I filled a glass from an iced tea dispenser in the lobby. As I took a sip I discovered that it was an "Arnold Palmer"--a mix of iced tea and lemonade named after the famous golfer from Latrobe. It was a happy and fitting surprise.

There must also be Love

Finally Jennifer and I went to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, before heading to the airport. We were grateful to see the incredible house, which is cantilevered over a waterfall. It was commissioned in the 1930s by a wealthy family as a weekend home where they could escape Pittsburgh pollution--think steel mills. The house is indeed an example of beauty for beauty's sake; it is not practical, economical, or in some ways, comfortable.

At Fallingwater I was surprised that every interaction, from the greeting at the front gate to the manner of various guides, seemed to be lacking the warmth of genuine hospitality. This came in stark contrast to everything we had experienced over the preceding days. During the tour, the guide revealed that the famous architect had an enormous ego, denied being influenced by any other artists, and went to outrageous lengths to prevent clients from ruining his perfect designs with any of their own taste. The ungracious spirit of the artist seemed noticeably pervasive in the house and the staff. I couldn't help but admire Frank Lloyd Wright's genius, but I was relieved when the tour ended.

I concluded that it's not just beauty for beauty's sake that we admire...there must also be love.

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