A fundraising initiative to help locate a nun from Long Island who’s not been heard from since July 6 while visiting Austria has brought in more than $8,000 since its launch nearly two weeks ago.
With a goal of $25,000, the money is earmarked for private investigators in Austria to explore further explanations for the disappearance of Sister Eileen Christie, beyond the possibility of her being “lost during one of her daily swims” in Lake Hallstatt, according to Gofundme.com/sistereileen.
In fact, investigators started Friday, with plans to re-interview local police and others who made statements, looking, too, for further leads, said Andy Kelsch, 48, of Northport.
He and his wife are one of five couples, all belonging to a monthly prayer group, Teams of Our Lady, who are behind the fundraising page, he said. Sister Eileen has served as spiritual director of the prayer group.
They have been working in conjunction with Sister Eileen’s nephew, Bill Freda of Valley Stream, in attempts to move the investigation along and keep focus on her disappearance.
Sister Eileen, 72, a retired St. Anthony’s High School teacher, wrote July 6 in an email of her plans to head out to a supermarket in the town of Hallstatt to buy food, Freda said in mid-July.
After hearing no further word, he called her lodgings in Innsbruck, which was her next destination, on July 11, only to hear that she had not arrived as expected on July 9.
He then called her hostel in Hallstatt, he said, and was told she had not been seen there since July 6 and her belongings were still in her room.
Christie, an avid hiker and swimmer, is a veteran solo traveler, Freda said. Investigations by local police have included checking local hiking trails and searching the lake and area around it, he said.
Christie, with the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, had just retired after 25 years teaching theology at St. Anthony’s High School, Brother Gary Cregan, the South Huntington school’s principal, told News 12 Long Island in July.
As of Monday, around 130 people had made donations to the GoFundMe.com page launched Aug. 12, with the effort shared more than 500 times on Facebook.
Word of the fundraising endeavor was also posted on Friar Alumni, the St. Anthony’s High School Alumni Facebook page, followed by a playful video of Sister Eileen in a kitchen singing the praises of bananas. The video post, viewed 26,000 times, has also been shared on Facebook more than 270 times.
“The fundraising effort has been successful thanks to the efforts of so many people that know and love Eileen,” Kelsch said. “Social media has been a vital engine behind the effort.”
The aim, he said, is to expand the search beyond that for just remains. If Sister Eileen did perish on a hiking trail or during a swim, “it couldn’t have been a better ending,” he said, given her love for the outdoors.
Still, “there is the possibility, as narrow as it might be,” that there’s another explanation — confusion or amnesia, perhaps, or, given her trusting nature, befriending the wrong person.
“Just knowing she could be somewhere,” even possibly being held, “it’s what drives us,” he said.