Published by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania
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L ✛ leadership team letter
is clearly relevant today when systemic racism, a global pandemic, and economic devastation are upending our lives and testing our faith.
living the life of Christ through healing, unity
About the cover Sister Sarah Crotty,
carry the banner at the Beaver County Unity Walk on June 27.
Who could predict how these messages would take on renewed meaning and a sense of urgency – not only for us, but for our black sisters and brothers? In these pages, you can read how, like our foremothers, Sisters living inside and outside the Motherhouse are raising our collective voices against racial and social injustice, and how we are networking with diverse communities of color and faith to advance our mission to serve God and neighbor, without distinction. You might find a helpful resource on how to be “actively anti-racist” from Sister Kari Pohl, our Peace and Justice Coordinator, on Page 14. Or, read about the impact of Sister Mary Louise Wessell’s ministries in health care, homelessness, ethics and her influence on two pandemic plans. (Page 20). You might also learn, as Sister Sally Witt did just a few years ago, about a shameful moment in our Congregation’s history when we denied a black woman entrance into our community. Read her reflection on Page 16.
The members of the Leadership Team are front row, from left, Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz and Sister Sharon Costello; back row, from left, Sister Jean Uzupis and Sister Mary Parks.
Campus Outreach Coordinator, helps
Much has dramatically unfolded in our world since we began preparing for this edition of the Dear Neighbor. Through the lens of racism, we had planned to share a retrospective of our history in honor of our 150th anniversary and a focus on our Chapter goals to educate, engage and work with our dear neighbors to dismantle structures of privilege.
It matters not whether you are the hand or the heel, the foot or the finger, the pope or the paper boy so long as you continue to live the life of Christ on earth and to give His love to others. Christians who in love work for greater unity in the Family of God are responsible citizens; they are also fulfilling the Incarnation of Christ.
Indeed, history reveals both pain and promise. Our “real-time” history is shining a brighter light on longstanding systemic racism as multiple generations from diverse cultures try to piece together the past and present and work toward a path of healing, unity and reconciliation. This is what brings us Hope. While the pandemic isolates and racism divides, we believe the convergence of these two monumental moments in history allows each of us to come together in the unifying love of God. In this moment of grace, we can discover (perhaps anew) that the deepest desire of our hearts is to love God and neighbor, without distinction.
Through the pages of The Responsible Citizenship textbook, co-author Sister Mary Dennis Donovan was speaking to children of the Sixties. Yet, her message Sisters of St. Joseph /
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Inside this Issue Dismantling racism
Revealing our sin
Uniting through song
Partnering in mission
Praying with us
Barbara Hecht – Editor Phone: 724-869-6566 Email: email@example.com Dear Neighbor Contributors Barbara Hecht Director of Communications Alison Lucci Marketing Communications Specialist Erin Ninehouser Communications Specialist Jeanne Minnicks Director of Development Sister Gerrie Grandpre Staff Photographer Sister Norma Bandi Sister Mary Susan Connell Sister Michelle Prah Karyn Zaffuto Proofreaders Barb Sterchele, Omega Design Group Design/Layout Permission must be granted for reprinting articles that appear in the magazine.
Connect with us! stjoseph-baden.org page 3
E ✛ outreach
engaging, educating, advocating to dismantle structures of racism
Six days after George Floyd struggled to take his last breath, his neck pinned under the knee of a white police officer whose emotionless cruelty shocked the conscience of a nation, a crowd of people gathered along Franklin Avenue in Aliquippa, just seven miles from our Motherhouse in Baden. Forming a circle outside the Aliquippa Police Department, young and old, black and white, men and women, people of all faiths began to link arms, preparing
Sister Janet Mock joins neighbors and law enforcement in Aliquippa to pray for healing and work for an end to racial injustice.
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to pray. A young black woman paused as she drew closer to the circle, turning her eyes toward the American flag near the group’s center, brightly shining in the midday sun. “I hope this still means something,” she whispered, setting down her sign in the grass to reach for the hand of a neighbor. A heavy silence fell over the group of masked faces as people stood under the weight of this tragedy, hearts shattered by the memory of Mr. Floyd’s final moments and the knowledge that his death wouldn’t be the last in a country that has inflicted centuries of suffering upon our black brothers and sisters. “It’s moments like these when our mettle gets tested. . .
What do we really believe?” the Reverend Herb Bailey asks, challenging those gathered not to look away from the brutal injustices of racism, but to take it apart, piece by piece, through our words and our works. This is a conviction shared by our Sisters, who believe, as Sister Mary Dennis Donovan wrote more than a half-century ago in The Responsible Citizen, that the sin of “racism denies the unity and solidarity of the human race as God created it.”
others, to exploit others, to win at the expense of others.” This spirit animated her pioneering work with the Diocesan Human Relations Commission, where she developed a pilot program in six local parishes for adults to learn about black history and the black experience and discuss ways to respond to the needs of the times. After months of planning and collaboration, “Project Understanding” officially launched in September of 1967, deepening the Church’s involvement in the struggle for civil rights.
Sister Charlotte in classroom at Drexel High School @ 1966
My Days in Atlanta, GA “One morning, one of the (high school) boys, with whom I practiced the evening before failed to come to school. Fr. Hoffman, his family and I checked around. We could not find him and he never returned home that day. He had been chased by the KKK into a corn patch and he remained there all night in the cold dampness until around 4 in the morning! He finally sneaked home, soaking wet, hungry and frightened. “Another student went into Governor Mattox’s drugstore and sat down at the lunch counter. He was refused food but he still sat there and said, ‘I go to Drexel Catholic High School, and I’m not leaving until I am served. I have money to pay for my food.’ They finally served him. Mission accomplished.”
This textbook, used to educate thousands of seventh- and eighthgrade students in Diocesan schools in Western Pennsylvania, provides a moral and spiritual framework for observing, judging, and acting to change systems that diminish human dignity and separate neighbor from neighbor, and neighbor from God.
These reflections were written by Sister Charlotte Rodgers who taught at Drexel Catholic High School from 1965-67. Sister Charlotte was one of 39 Sisters who ministered in the Atlanta area at St. Paul of the Cross (1957-1983), Drexel Catholic High School (1961-1967), Archdiocese of Atlanta (1982-1987) and Spelman College (1968-1970, 1971-1972).
“Prejudice is not inherited,” Sister Mary Dennis writes. “It is learned from other people – at home, in the neighborhood, and in other places.” Through their presence in the classroom, our Sisters helped students learn to value themselves and others.
“Education can involve unlearning, too, as we look inward, searching our hearts and actions for hidden biases and examining the ways in which those of us who are white have benefitted from and even contributed to the systemic oppression of our black neighbors,” says Sister
Sister Donna Cronauer is seen inside her classroom at St. Benedict the Moor school in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where she taught for 36 years. Sisters Donna and Margery Kundar continue to serve their neighbors through advocacy, outreach and prayer.
“I always had a mirror where the students hung their coats,” Sister Rosella Lacovitch recalls, remembering her days teaching at St. Richard’s in the Hill District and Holy Rosary in Homewood. “I put underneath it ‘black is beautiful’ so they’d realize black is beautiful, created by God.” Sister Mary Dennis believed that education and “counterattacking misinformation” was key to ending racial prejudice. As a student at St. Louis University, she theorized that “when we really understand the oneness of the human race, we lose our prejudice, our desire to dominate Sisters of St. Joseph /
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Sharon Costello, Congregational Moderator. The Sisters affirmed their commitment to this work at the most recent Chapter meeting in 2018, acknowledging their “complicity in the sin of racism and white privilege” and pledging to “dismantle structures of privilege in ourselves, our Congregation, and the wider community” through education, advocacy, and relationships with persons and communities who are oppressed. “Whether you ask for it or not, those of us who are white are in a privileged position,” explains Sister Sandy Yost, co-chair of the Congregation’s committee on racism and white privilege. “And, so, we all participate in racism by accepting the privileges we have over people of color.” It is something she witnessed firsthand, working at a General Motors plant in Matamoros, Mexico, assembling
Sisters John Mary Stager, Estelle Richards, and Dorothy Baxter participate in a march for civil rights in New Kensington in 1966-67.
Sisters at the Motherhouse held a prayer service and vigil during Unity Week in Beaver County.
car radios alongside engineers from Mexico who were paid far less and worked longer hours. “I got my overtime, and they didn’t, because I was American.” Racism isn’t always so blatant, so unmistakably clear, she cautions, adding that sometimes what we might feel are well intentioned impulses, like saying “I don’t see color,” or “All Lives Matter” can perpetuate oppression by pretending it doesn’t exist. “There’s no escaping participating in racist system that affords white people privilege, but page 8
we can challenge it if we’re aware of it.” Sister Barbara Finch, who co-chairs the racism and white privilege committee with Sister Sandy, believes that true transformation of the heart begins with understanding the interconnectedness of our humanity, “that every human person and every entity of Creation is our neighbor.” She credits God’s grace for the pull she felt to seek deep and meaningful relationships
outside the predominately white community where she grew up. “God is so expansive that we can only understand Him through one another,” she recalls telling those she counseled during her time as a nurse at the Allegheny County Jail, encouraging them to take care of themselves “because you’re important to me. . . you show me who God is.” For Sister Sarah Crotty, Campus Outreach Coordinator, “the relationships are the point.” Sisters of St. Joseph /
Since 2019, she and other Sisters have been part of a growing network of Christians devoting themselves to “unifying the body of Christ in Beaver County across ethnic, cultural, and denominational lines through educational and practical training in the stories, causes, and Biblical solutions to our historical divisions.” Members of Undivided in Christ who span all races, ages, and faith traditions gather monthly to do the work of racial reconciliation, which involves not Sisters of St. Joseph /
only awareness and education, but also confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Welcoming the group to the Motherhouse for its January meeting, Sister Sarah explained that the Sisters’ spirituality “is that of oneness, of unity, striving always toward a love of God and love of neighbor without distinction,” but that “we have not always done that well.” She turned the microphone over to Sister Mary Parks, who looked out from the podium at a room full of friendly faces,
admitting to feeling “unsettled” after hearing complimentary words about the Congregation at the previous month’s gathering. “I failed to make an important confession last month, and I resolved then that I would confess to you about this today.” Sister Mary revealed that in 1960, the Congregation denied entrance to their community to a young woman who heard God’s call. “We denied her because she was black,” Sister Mary said, explaining that “as is often the case, page 9
Sister Maria in her classroom at St. Benedict the Moor in 2010
‘Just Call Me Maria’ “Racism is everywhere in the United States,” Sister Maria Harden wrote in 2002, in a reflection entitled Just Call Me Maria, “and that includes religious communities. When she first met me, one of our sisters said, ‘When I was a child, we lived next door to a colored family. They were very clean.’” Sister Maria describes an encounter with a white visitor at the Motherhouse, who upon seeing her, stepped away “in obvious fear,” and recalls getting “looks of disbelief” from people who would tell her that they had never heard of a black sister. One day, while grocery shopping with another sister, the store clerk exclaimed “those aren’t yours!” when Sister Maria picked up their bags, reacting as though she was stealing them. “We’re together,” she told the clerk. The truth is, Sister Maria continued, “Despite our differences, we are together.” She recalls an experience of feeling struck with love, looking out at her fellow sisters during the liturgy before her first vows. “None of them wants to cause me pain,” she realized in that moment of revelation. “Not too long after that,” Sister Maria continued, “Sister Clemmie (Clement Marie), who was in her nineties, came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I am so sorry I hurt you.’ And I said, ‘Clemmie, when did you hurt me?’ ‘They told me I hurt you by calling you colored. I didn’t know that was wrong.’ I replied, ‘Clemmie, you didn’t hurt me. I love you. From now on, just call me Maria.’” Read Sister Maria Harden’s reflection in its entirety at: stjoseph-baden.org/link.
this fact was not known among us. It was not even documented in our archives. When this history was uncovered, Sister Mary Pellegrino, Congregational Moderator at the time, reached out to the woman, formally apologizing to her on behalf of the Congregation. ((Read more on Page 16.) “I really wanted to let you know that this is part of our history,” Sister Mary Pellegrino rose to say, addressing the group. “Like many communities, we have engaged in outreach and service in communities of color, particularly the African American community and at the same time, we denied entrance to black women.” There have been just two black Sisters in our community, Sister Mary Parks shared with those gathered - Sister Maria Harden, and Sister Virginia Bertha Sutton. “Maria and I were in the novitiate together and I’m not going to explain what that is, just think of it something like a nun bootcamp,” she joked, before returning to a somber tone. “I knew it was not easy for them to be black Sisters in a white community. They persevered because God called them.”
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Steadying herself against the podium, she began to read from the letter Sister Mary Pellegrino wrote to the Congregation in July of 2018 informing the Sisters about this painful part of the community’s past. “We know we can’t change the past, but the challenge is to figure out how that past can inform the present. As Jesus says in the Scriptures, ‘You are forgiven.’” She paused, fighting back tears. “‘Go, and sin no more.’ I can only promise to try,” she says, expressing the Congregation’s commitment to facing white privilege and combatting racism, “even more so because of the sinfulness and complicity we know we have been part of. May the truth help set all of us free.”
Welling up with emotion, Sister Mary Parks reveals that that Congregation denied membership to a black woman in the 1960. She was speaking at the January meeting of Undivided in Christ at the Motherhouse. Sisters of St. Joseph /
Mock, who attended the peaceful demonstration in Aliquippa on May 31st, explains. “Poverty, racism, and violence kill the body and the spirit.” Holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism Kills,” and memorializing the black Americans who died at the hands of police, Sister Janet stood with Sister Kari Pohl and Sister Mary Pellegrino to join the community’s call for change. Later that week, Sister Kari and others regrouped with Shon on a Zoom call bringing together faith, community, and elected leaders for a strategy session about how to promote healing and unity at a
time when communities across the country are being torn apart by fear and hate. With the warm and welcoming smile gone from his face, Shon looked into the camera, pain, exhaustion, and urgency in his eyes. “Only white people can change this,” he said, asking God to bless us with a spirit of boldness, for the strength and courage to change. Echoing the words of Sister Mary Dennis Donovan, who encouraged her students in 1967 to be the generation that eliminates racial prejudice, Shon said: “Your generation didn’t start racism, but you are the most qualified to end it.”
Sister Sandy Yost, right joins neighbors in Ambridge to stand together against racism and white supremacy on June 7.
Minister Shon Owens, coconvener of Undivided in Christ, thanked Sister Mary and the Sisters of St. Joseph for “the transparency that a lot of us are afraid to show. This is why I became an honorary nun,” he said with a hearty laugh that broke the intensity in the page 12
room. “I’m always glad to be in their presence.” Shon’s wisdom and partnership have been a blessing to Sister Sarah and others who have been able to forge new relationships with and learn from pastors and leaders in the black community.
Over meals at the Motherhouse, across the table during book club at Uncommon Grounds Cafe in Aliquippa, through Undivided gatherings, and more recently, through virtual Zoom meetings, Sisters have been able to listen to the uncomfortable truths about Sisters of St. Joseph /
the very different reality our black neighbors in Beaver County face each day as they work to transform that knowledge into action that restores dignity and humanity to our dear neighbors. “There are many ways to kill a population,” Sister Janet Sisters of St. Joseph /
Sisters host Undivided in Christ gathering at the Motherhouse. The group plans to study the “Be the Bridge” curriculum focused on racial reconciliation this fall. To participate, contact Sister Sarah at 724-869-2151. page 13
Becoming actively anti-racist: See, judge, act By Sister Kari Pohl
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” - Isaiah 1:16-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
About Sister Kari
So, how does one go about being actively anti-racist? Using the “See, Judge, Act” method developed by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn applied in The Responsible Citizen, the first step is to acknowledge the reality of racism and learn to recognize it. This can be difficult at first because injustice, particularly structural injustice, tends to be invisible to those who don’t suffer directly from it. Once you have seen it, though, it can’t be unseen. Some questions to think about as you do this are:
What is happening? Who are the people involved?
Sister Kari Pohl bows her head in prayer during Beaver County Unity Vigil.
Unfortunately, racism is more than a personal sin that an individual can either choose to partake in or not. Racism is also a structural sin - one that provides certain privileges to some groups based on the oppression of others. Many people are realizing that it’s not enough to just not be racist at the personal level, and that what is required of us is active antiracist work to address (and redress) unconscious and conscious historical and structural racism.
In her book, “Resisting Structural Evil: Love and Ecological-Economic Vocation,” Lutheran ethicist Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes: “The fact that individual actions are relatively powerless in the face of structural sin does not mean that personal efforts to counter it are immaterial, ineffectual, or unnecessary. To the contrary, the individual’s response is essential and effectual . . . . Structural sin, while it cannot be dismantled by individual actions, cannot be dismantled without them.” Sisters of St. Joseph /
Who gains from this situation and who loses? The next step involves personal reflection. This, too, can be challenging at first. We all have racial stories: those early memories or that moment when we first realized that our race mattered and resulted in different treatment. Far too often, for people of all races, these stories are painful ones. Some questions to think about as you reflect: Sisters of St. Joseph /
As the Congregational Coordinator of Justice and Peace, Sister Kari supports Sisters and Associates in working toward justice to the greatest extent that each is capable. This involves sharing opportunities to learn, advocate,
How do I feel about this situation? What do I think should have or should be happening?
reach out, and to pray. She is also active in educating and engaging
What does my faith say about it?
the broader public on justice
By doing both of these steps, you will be in a better position to take action. Anti-racist actions can vary widely depending on the situation. Some questions to ask here are:
issues, facilitating discussions
What can I do to bridge the gap between what is happening (the reality) and what should be happening (the ideal/what my faith says)?
on topics like the death penalty, environmental destruction, racism, and human trafficking, and working collaboratively with community and faith-based organizations.
What action am I going to take? Who else can I involve in this action?
Responsible Citizen: Observe, Judge Act page 15
About Sister Sally A writer and historian, Sister Sally
History reveals racism in our Congregation By Sister Sally Witt
formerly served as Archivist for the Congregation. She is the author of three books on the history of women religious communities and her poetry has appeared in regional and national publications. Her latest book, “Beyond the Frontier,” documents the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas. Her poem, “Rosenbloom’s Bakery,” has been published in this month’s issue of US Catholic. During the pandemic, Sister Sally has been writing letters to women who are incarcerated in lieu of visiting them in her jail ministry. She also is chronicling life during the pandemic for the Congregational
Historian Shannen Dee Williams does not know why she specifically named the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden when she spoke in London in May 2015. She was at the University of Notre Dame’s “Nun in the World” Conference, and in her presentation Dr. Williams used the example of Patricia Grey who had applied to enter our Congregation in 1960 but was refused because of race. Through an unusual set of circumstances, I was present at her talk. Later we conversed, and Dr. Williams said she used the example in other presentations but did not always name the Congregation that refused Patricia Grey. There is no explaining why she said it in London that day or why I happened to attend that particular session of the conference. Our Congregation has no record that Patricia Grey, whose mother worked at the rectory at St. James Parish in Sewickley, had formally requested acceptance. No such letters from women who did not ultimately enter were retained in our files. Nor is there
any shred of evidence that the letter our Congregation returned to Patricia Grey told her that we did not accept Negroes. It took Dr. Williams’s patient uncovering of the story of black women in religious life for us to learn this aspect of our history. Perhaps we would never have learned it had not Ms. Grey later entered the Pittsburgh Sisters of Mercy and, in 1968, founded the Black Sisters Conference. A few years later when Ms. Grey left religious life, she carried within her much of the experience of sisters of color in the U.S. When I returned from London I shared what I had learned with Sister Mary Pellegrino, who at the time was Congregational Moderator. Disturbed and humbled, Sister Mary wanted to contact now Dr. Grey to ask forgiveness for our Congregation. We decided to ask Dr. Williams to contact her on our behalf. There were obstacles, including an incorrect e-mail address for Dr. Williams, as well as the surprise of reaching her in her office by phone just
Following her presentation on “The Real Sister Act: The Uneasy History of Black Catholic Sisters in the United States” at the 2017 Fall LCWR Region IV gathering, Dr. Williams, from left, joins Sister Mary, Dr. Grey and Sister Sally for a photo.
before Christmas. She was willing to contact Patricia and would be in touch with her soon. After that, all of us silently carried prayer within ourselves regarding this wound. Patricia one day tried reaching me by phone, and I tried returning her call. Finally, on Holy Thursday we were in touch. I cannot describe her warmth and graciousness in that conversation. She reflected on the fact that it was the Year of Mercy and its unique grace was necessary for us and the entire world. We arranged for her to contact Sister Mary at some point. The forgiveness that Sister Mary asked and that Dr. Grey gave is a grace
beyond words for our Congregation, for religious life, for all creation. Dr. Williams has found a place for the story as she continues researching and telling of black women and religious life in the United States. For us, one aspect of this grace is to hold the entire story. In 1960, as a Congregation, we told a young woman who wanted to spend her life with us that we did not accept blacks as members. That was never a written policy. It is opposed to our reason for being as well as to the foundations of Christianity and other world religions. But it was our practice, and, as Dr. Williams has learned, the practice of
many white sisterhoods. We participated in this. Patricia Grey is now our friend, and for this we are immensely grateful. Yet we must be fully aware that we acted from prejudice and white privilege. This realization calls us to be open to finding other ways we have acted unjustly and to repent. In addition, it calls us to consider what our community, as well as religious life in this country, would be like if we were not in the grip of racism both overt and subtle. (Dr. Williams, an Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University, is completing her first book, Subversive Habits: The Untold Story of Black Catholic Nuns in the United States.)
Archives. page 16
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Earth that brought all those gathered to their feet. The Unity Choir welcomes all people - regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income level, or disability - to bring messages of hope, reconciliation, and love into the wider community through song. It’s an “intentional way of spreading a consciousness about the value of diversity,” Dr. Sheffield says, adding that the choir is a living illustration that “we have more in common that unites us than that which divides us.”
Uniting neighbor with neighbor through song Sister Colleen Crossen signs lyrics to “Let There Be Peace on Earth” at choir practice.
An author and educator, Dr. Don Sheffield, who provides cultural competence training to institutions and
Dr. Sheffield shares his vision for the Unity Choir during an inaugural meeting at the Motherhouse last summer.
organizations in Beaver County has learned that one of the best ways to lead is by example.
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“When I got involved with training in cultural competency, I wanted to do something that allowed us to see what it looks like in action. I’ve had this vision for a long time,” he told a packed crowd at the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce annual gala, before accepting its first-ever Citizen of the Year award. “And it all came to pass last spring when I was at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden for a meeting on white privilege.”
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Dr. Sheffield described “the magic that happened from that meeting,” and how Sister Sarah Crotty has helped to bring his vision of a unity choir to life. “In three short months, we’ve embarked on a mission to teach, through song, what it means to live, work, and play and learn together in unity,” he said, before introducing the choir to give its inaugural performance - a spirited rendition of Let There Be Peace on
The choir, which includes some of our Sisters, looks forward to the choir resuming its monthly practice schedule and performances (once it’s safe for all involved, given the uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic) at community events like car cruises, festivals, or even farmer’s markets. “Wherever people are, that’s where the choir needs to be,” he explains, adding that Sister Sarah’s passion for racial reconciliation and the Sisters support for the choir has been a godsend. “Now we’re part of something bigger than the both of us could ever imagine.”
S ✛ dignity
sister responds to poor through lens of ethics As a young girl, Sister Mary Louise Wessell recalls walking a block to the neighborhood library in Pittsburgh, poring through every book about nursing, imagining herself in a starched white uniform and cap. She eventually realized her childhood dream, but not before becoming a Sister of St. Joseph. History tells us that the first nurse uniforms were derived from the nun’s habit because they took care of those who were sick and injured – what a fitting metaphor for the life and work of Sister Mary Louise.
Sister Mary Louise (front row, right) on “porch” of Georgetown’s School of Nursing in 1964
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When the Sisters of St. Joseph were asked to come to Washington, D.C., to staff Georgetown University Hospital in 1963, Sister Mary Louise was sent with them to attend the nursing school at the university After graduation, she first served as a nurse at Georgetown, then as charge nurse at the Sisters’ infirmary in the Baden convent. Sister Mary Louise eventually returned to Georgetown where she worked part-time as a staff nurse and full-time as a faculty member in the School of Nursing from 1972-1979. During the 1970s, bioethics was coming to the forefront in health care with advances in medical treatments and technology. “As a nursing faculty member, I realized the need to be better prepared to understand and respond to the ethical issues in all health care settings,” Sister Mary Louise recalls. This interest led her to a doctoral program in Philosophy and Bioethics at Georgetown where her studies were interrupted twice when she returned home to care for her terminally ill parents – first her father and, three years later, her mother. “Somehow coming out of times of sorrow, I felt that God was calling me to work with very poor and vulnerable persons,” Sisters of St. Joseph /
recalls Sister Mary Louise in responding to a request from Catholic Charities of D.C., to set up a new program of physicians who would provide pro bono care for poor, uninsured and homeless persons. The Archdiocesan Health Care Network opened in 1984 and continues its mission today with the help of 300 health care professional volunteers who served 2,000 patients this past year.
return to homelessness. Out of that need emerged the Tenants Empowerment Network, a federally funded transitional housing program for homeless families.
After three years at the Network, Sister Mary Louise ministered at programs for homeless and vulnerable persons while working on her dissertation. In 1992, she was called back to Catholic Charities to manage St. Martin’s House, a shelter for homeless pregnant women in recovery from addiction and their children.
Approximately 99% of homeless families served were African American families, many of them coming from generational poverty. Growing evidence indicates that communities of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and that pre-pandemic issues such as longstanding systematic health and
“After visiting the program, my decision was clear,” says Sister Mary Louise who did not need to be convinced to respond to the urgent needs of the women and their children. “Catholic social teaching and religious ethics call our attention to the dignity and worth of each human being, with special concern for the voiceless and most vulnerable.” Martin’s House was only a six-month shelter. Mothers there often asked what the next steps could be to prevent their
Sister Mary Louise worked as senior program manager for the Tenants Empowerment Network for 22 years before moving to her current position as senior advisor for social work issues at Catholic Charities in 2018.
social inequities contribute to their increased illness and death. “I have witnessed the effect of these inequities on homeless families and the heroic efforts of homeless parents to pull themselves and their children out of poverty,” Sister Mary Louise says. With a background in nursing and ethics, Sister Mary Louise has also been a teacher of medical ethics and a trainer at Catholic Charities for more than 20 years.
thanks to our essential workers Sister Mary Louise, center, participates in panel discussion on “reverence for life” at Georgetown in 2017. - Courtesy of Georgetown University
As a volunteer adjunct faculty member, she teaches in the medical ethics courses in the medical schools at Howard University and Georgetown University. As a trainer at Catholic Charities, she formerly taught infectious disease prevention and chaired a task force to write a pandemic flu plan for Catholic Charities when the H1N1 pandemic occurred in 2009. That plan became the framework for the current 2020 pandemic flu plan, which was adapted for COVID-19, at Catholic Charities. Sister Mary Louise is also a trainer for the required ethics class for all staff at Catholic Charities. During this COVID-19 pandemic, Sister Mary Louise shared her insights and perspectives to help our Sisters navigate through ever-developing protocols to keep page 22
the Motherhouse safe. “Sister Mary Louise’s background and expertise have been invaluable to the Congregation’s Emergency Preparedness Committee in formulating our pandemic plan to help keep our Sisters, particularly those at-risk, safe and healthy as well as our staff,” says Sister Sharon Costello, Congregational Moderator, in expressing her gratitude. “Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, we are facing two unprecedented challenges for the world and for each of us,” Sister Mary Louise says, identifying the threat to health and health infrastructure and the economy. She often references the work of the Hastings Center in New York, the oldest bioethics center in the United States, and three programs at Georgetown University – the
Kennedy Institute of Ethics, the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, and the Initiative on Catholic Social Teaching. “All of these are taking a leadership role in bringing the light of ethics to issues related to racism and the pandemic,” says Sister Mary Louise whose work incorporates ethical analysis of these challenging issues into trainings and meetings. “It is with this kind of mutual understanding that we will have the wisdom to move forward to a more just and unified world. In our Sisters of St. Joseph community and at Catholic Charities, we look to our faith to guide us in responding to racism, injustice and a worldwide pandemic. A foundational value in all that we do is human dignity.” Sisters of St. Joseph /
Amid the whirring of washers and dryers, Sister Jacqueline Trzeciak often talks - or just listens - to the patrons of Buggy’s Wash-N-Go in Indiana, PA. Sister Jackie lives just a few blocks from her “laundromat ministry” where she reaches out to local neighbors as well as to interstate truck drivers missing their families. “It’s a blessing to be able to spend time with them and share stories of their lives,” says Sister Jackie, who is Coordinator of Liturgical Ministry at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish. She’s keenly aware that many of
her neighbors do not own a washer or dryer, that many depend on well water, and that essential workers at Buggy’s are responding to a critical need during the pandemic. When Sisters living inside and outside the Motherhouse reached out to essential workers in their neighborhoods to express their gratitude and appreciation for their work, Buggy’s was on Sister Jackie’s list. She also sent Congregationally designed cards to the local pharmacy, supermarkets, fire, police and EMS departments, and the Toyota car
e want e coronavirus, w th of e d ti e th rve t we can to stem harm’s way to se in lf se As we all do wha ur yo ng ci d be rticular for pla e who are or coul os th r to thank you in pa fo re ca d be present to an the public and to I D-19. d for affected by C O V p appreciation an ee d h it w er ay pr red daily in our ies. You are remembe u and your famil yo of ty fe sa d an the well-being G ratefully, seph Sisters of St. Jo Baden, PA Sisters of St. Joseph /
dealership which opened its showroom to a blood drive when the local VFW had to close because of the COVID-19. In Cambria County, Sister Janis Franklin says Sisters thanked the local food banks and kitchens, the Women’s Help Center and the Johnstown Free Medical Clinic. Sister Jean Stoltz sealed her card with a prayer to the local ambulance service in Baden. Sister Barbara Czyrnik, who replaced visits to patients receiving palliative care at Allegheny General Hospital with weekly phone calls, expressed appreciation to Dr. Jeffrey P Gordon for his compassionate work in hospice and palliative care. The outreach was a labor of love for the Sisters who mailed nearly 500 cards - many with handwritten notes - to essential workers in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Altoona-Johnstown and Greensburg where our Sisters live and serve. page 23
M ✛ jubilee
moving toward profound love of God and neighbor
“I wanted to become a Sister to take care of other Sisters,” she explains, recalling meeting Sister Anna Joseph in the kitchen of St. John Gualbert’s Convent during a visit with a grade school friend. Moved by the Holy Spirit and Sister Anna’s example, she entered religious life five months shy of her 18th birthday.
Sister Anthony Costlow, CSJ
Sister Silveria Manion, CSJ
Sisters of St. Joseph /
After returning to the Motherhouse in 1999, Sister Silveria served 10 years as Sacristan in the Chapel. Embracing each new ministry as a “welcome experience,” she continues to warmly greet all visitors to the Motherhouse dining room. Sister Silveria credits her parents for modeling God’s love for their nine children and inspiring her devotion to the children she would later teach. “I loved to learn, and I loved the children no matter what age they were,” she says.
My life has been full of invitations from God, and when I accept, I am full of happiness, peace and joy,” says Sister Frances Rooney. 75th Jubilarian
From 1948-64, Sister Frances taught in Pittsburgh diocesan schools, including Assumption, St. Thomas More and St. Veronica. When asked to fill a need as Director of Religious Education at Christ the King in Ambridge in 1964, Sister Frances first experienced sadness about leaving the “first love” of the classroom, but the new ministry opened her to “the value of the laity” and service to families. That 10-year transformative ministry led to similar parish roles at St. Columbkille and St. Catherine. With her Irish wit and engaging smile, Sister Frances said “yes” again when asked to become an aide at the Citiparks Senior Center where “listening, counseling, and being present” to seniors re-energized her. “They gave me hope for the next phase of life.”
At the Infant Home in Ebensburg, Sister Anthony cooked for the babies, “runabouts,” and staff. Back in Baden, her role expanded: cooking three meals a day for over 200 people. She made time for “side hobbies” ceramics and framing - creating beautiful works of art that enlivened the Motherhouse halls and sold quickly at the annual Harvest Festival. Grateful “that God picked me” for such a rewarding and joy-filled life, and especially for the blessings she’s received from the community, Sister Anthony believes “prayer is the answer to everything.”
Known for gentle nature, Sister Silveria ministered in education for more than 45 years in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Altoona-Johnstown. She taught at St. Bernard, Assumption and Holy Rosary (Pittsburgh) before becoming a guidance counselor at the Diocesan Child Care Center in 1961. Sister Silveria served as a counselor and teacher at Quigley (Baden) from 1972-1981 and taught art and religion at St. James (Sewickley) from 1984-1999. With a passion for the arts, she recalls feeling overjoyed when one of her canvas paintings sold during Harvest Festival.
17 Sisters celebrate a total of 1,155 years of loving service
During her 48 years directing plant maintenance and capital improvement, Sister Anthony Costlow worked to make the Motherhouse a home. A talented craftswoman and loving caretaker, she managed projects from installing new windows to laying blacktop to replacing the roof. “It was a treat to be able to make it more comfortable for the Sisters,” she says.
As a third grader at St. Veronica in Ambridge, Sister Silveria Mannion first pondered religious life after experiencing the kind and joyful spirit of her teacher, Sister Mildred (Ildephonse) Boeh.
Sister Frances Rooney, CSJ
Sisters of St. Joseph /
Inspired by the faith of her parents and siblings who grew up poor, Sister Frances never forgot the generosity of neighbors who left groceries at their doorstep. The first in her family to reach 90, Sister Frances sheepishly admits that her prayer intentions sometimes include her own that she receives the grace of a new day. page 25
Happiest when helping others, Sister Jane Stephen Rosko’s good humor and jovial spirit are as undeniable as the pull she felt as a young woman to enter religious life. As a child, she marveled at Sister St. Mark’s skillful care of the Motherhouse grounds - then a working farm - during visits from the family’s Johnstown home. “She straightened me up,” Sister Jane says, referring to her Aunt with a laugh and recalling her kindness and profound influence. Fun-loving and fearless, Sister Jane left a 13-year teaching ministry to live among and care for the people of Borba, an isolated village along the Madiera River in Amazonas, Brazil, accessible only by boat. “My Portuguese wasn’t so good,” she recalls, but she was eager to serve, providing first aid and a compassionate presence to those suffering under conditions of extreme poverty.
Sister Jane Stephen Rosko, CSJ
After six years in Brazil, Sister Jane embraced a new challenge: helping people with significant physical disabilities adapt to life-changing injuries. As an Occupational Therapist in rural Kentucky, she encouraged her patients to paint, to write, and to never give up hope. Artistic, creative, and caring, Sister Jane brings the joy of faith and hope in Christ to all she meets.
Celebrating 60th Jubilees are (front row, from left) Sisters Carolyn Wiethorn, Barbara Czyrnik, Sally Witt, Melissa Joyce and Frances Hurley; and (back row, from left) Sisters Jeanette Bussen, Sue Ann Orange, Barbara Ann Graff and Barbara Ann Johnston. Sister Mary Louise Wessell is not pictured.
Journeying with the Sisters Congratulations to our 25-year Associates Janice Carpenter, Linda Patrick, Mary Ann Sirko, Candice Spadafora and Marilyn Sullivan! For more information about joining the Associates, contact Judy Lewis at 412-831-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celebrating 65th Jubiliees are, from left, Sisters Janet Mock, Mary Ann Thimons, Natalie Lann and Honora McCawley. page 26
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D ✛ development letter
dear partners in mission, When I was a teen attending CCD classes, our priest once said to our group, “Time is God’s most precious gift to us. Make the most of what you have.” While I don’t recall the reason for Father’s comment, his words have stuck with me, and if there was ever a time to reflect on his advice, that moment might be now. A perfect storm of crises threatens our own health, financial security and safety, and separates us from the people, places and activities that make our lives go ‘round. And yet, the irony of social distancing and stay-at-home orders is that they remind us not to take the things we care most about for granted and to find joy in simple things: the freedom to come and go as we please; the company of family and friends; nature’s circle of life that continues non-stop in our own backyards.
Jeanne Minnicks, MBA, CFRE
Thankfully, our retired and active Sisters have been spared the health-related impacts of the novel coronavirus, but not their daily routines. Staying safe and healthy has meant suspending Masses, jubilee celebrations, outreach projects, community and small group gatherings – activities that are at the heart of our Sisters’ mission to bring all people into union with God, with one another and with every other person. Better days will surely come, but until they do, your cards, calls and outpouring of concern are nourishing our Sisters’ spirits. We can’t wait to open our Motherhouse and chapel doors and welcome you back to visit and pray together once again. In addition to foregoing congregational and ministerial activities, we’ve had to reconsider some of our traditional fundraising activities, such as our Sisters of St. Joseph Auxiliary’s Annual Spring Luncheon. This event has always been an important source of funding for our general operations and ministries, but it’s so much more than that. To our Sisters and scores of people who return year after year, it’s a 58-yearold tradition of family, friends and faith.
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We acknowledged that a 450 in-person gathering was out of the question, but couldn’t imagine postponing the Luncheon for another year. And then we realized we didn’t have to. People love this event because of the way it makes them feel, not because of where it’s held. And so, our Stay-at-Home Luncheon was born, where everyone could spend an afternoon with the Sisters in mind and spirit, have fun with family and friends, and still support our ministries, all within the comfort and safety of home. So how did we do? 536 of you registered to attend (a number that is probably higher if we were to count everyone at your table). You also donated nearly $75,000 in Pick 4 and Megabasket raffle tickets and cash donations which is on par with our traditional in-person event. Thank for you for joining us virtually and helping us to advocate for peace and justice, protect the life-giving resources of Earth, and reach out spiritually to our neighbors. During these difficult times, your presence and generous financial support are especially meaningful to our Sisters and our neighbors in need. As we all try to make the most of our precious gift of time on this special day, please know that our Sisters are praying for you and your loved ones. If the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph is to endure, we’ll need to continue adapting to a rapidly changing world. Judging by the response to our Stay-at-Home Luncheon, we know you’ll be there for our Sisters, empowering them to live non-violently, to work to transform structures that promote violence, to affirm the dignity of persons, and to be attuned to how all of creation lives and moves and has its being in God.
In loving memory Sister Elaine DiZinno, 80 (Sister Clarita) June 28, 2020 Sister Frances Omodio, 80 (Sister Marie Elise) June 26, 2020 Sister Elizabeth Shearn, 86 (Sister Mary Marcella) March 24, 2020 Sister Bridget James O’Brien, 90 October 20, 2019
Sister Mary Dominic Ravotti, 94 September 18, 2019
Jeanne Minnicks, MBA, CFRE Director of Development
To read more about our Sisters or to make a memorial contribution, please visit our website at www.stjoseph-baden.org
Sisters of St. Joseph /
Sister Callista Williamson takes the faces of our dear neighbors into her heart during a Unity Week prayer service at the Motherhouse.
staying in touch spiritually (and virtually)! During these uncertain times, St. Joseph Spirituality Center continues to nurture and deepen relationships with God and our dear neighbors, moving forward with caution and flexibility. As good stewards of Creation, we will not print our traditional Spirituality Center brochure this year. Instead, we will connect with you through digital channels such as e-mail, Facebook and website, and, by print, if you prefer. Let us know how you would like to receive information from the Spirituality Center in the future at www. stjoseph-baden.org/stayintouch. In an effort to keep our Sisters and staff safe and healthy, the Motherhouse will not be available for Spirituality Center programs for the time being. We anticipate that small gatherings and retreat groups will take place at Trinity House, which is located on our grounds. page 30
We also plan to offer a limited number of virtual programs. Offerings this fall include: • Aging into Divine Relationship Retreat (virtual only) • Better World Book Club Series: “White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo (virtual; limited in-person) • Prayers for Healing (virtual) • Eight-Week Ignatian Retreat in Everyday Life (virtual, limited in-person) • Ignatian Directed Retreat Weekend (limited in-person) • Listening to the Spirit: Young Adult Retreat (limited in-person) For complete program details, online registration, schedule updates and virtual prayer opportunities, visit www.stjosephbaden.org/spirituality. For
questions or to register by phone, call 724-869-6587. Individual spiritual direction also is available at St. Joseph Spirituality Center. Certified spiritual directors can meet with individuals in person, on our grounds, or by FaceTime or Zoom for conversation, prayer, and companionship. For more information on individual spiritual direction, custom individualized experiences and programs for parishes, please contact Kathy Wray Fletcher, Director of St. Joseph Spirituality Center, at 724-869-6585 or email@example.com.
We are never alone God, who is in love with us, help us remember that we are never alone. Even when we experience the worst result of this virus infecting our planet, you remain with us. As our Father, you instill in us the strength we need to endure our loss; as our Mother, you hold us as we mourn our new emptiness.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we adapt to these unprecedented times and find ways to continue to serve you and meet your spiritual needs.
God of life, the breath of your Spirit within us, whispers that love never ends. We reach for your hand as we stumble through our darkness knowing that in your light we will see each other again. We are grateful for the life and love we have shared. We beg for your comfort, O God, who weeps with your children. Sister Christine Kresho, CSJ
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For more prayers and resources, visit www.stjoseph-baden.org/prayer/.
Sisters of St. Joseph /
Non-Profit Org. U.S. Postage Paid Pittsburgh, PA. Permit No. 4675
1020 State Street • Baden, PA 15005
A gift for you from our home to yours! As our gift to you, we wanted you to Experience Our Grounds and the Wonder of God’s Creation from the comfort and safety of your home. And, perhaps, bring us a little closer. Before Covid-19 altered our plans, we had intended to host a daylong gathering of faith, food, and fun this summer on our grounds in celebration of the 150th anniversary of our Congregation. Although the celebration has been postponed until July 17, 2021, we wanted to be with you in spirit. So, we present to you this virtual tour of our grounds: stroll the labyrinth, reflect in the grotto, greet the chickens, soar over the community gardens, and feel the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the trees. Our efforts to live sustainably, care for the Earth and share the sacred spaces with our dear neighbors is part of the spirited history of our Congregation, which is centered on unity with God, neighbor, and all of Creation.
Scan to view video
Special thanks to Christopher Padgett of Human City Creative for this beautiful, bird’s-eye view of our campus at https://youtu.be/3AuT9DX6FLM. Scan the code above! page 32
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