Where One Woman’s Green Habits Grew

Sloppy dog kisses, dandelions and stargazing in the American West shaped Sr. Elise Mora. She had a tough upbringing as an orphan. She lived with six different families, often wondering why no one wanted to keep her, and why people abused animals. But connecting with pets and the outdoors led to her lifetime of environmental advocacy as a Sister of St. Francis of the Providence of God.

Sr. Elise is animated as she touches the shoulder of a woman at reception.

Sr. Elise (left) works the crowd after Standup Sisters: Green Habits. Photo: Ryan Haggerty/Work Hard Digital Services

“Being a Franciscan turned out to be a perfect fit for me,” Sr. Elise says. “St. Francis loved all of creation: He spoke of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Wolf. And he especially loved the poor.”

Sr. Elise was one of five Catholic sisters who shared personal and professional stories of care for creation at Standup Sisters: Green Habits. Unabridged Press produced the March 8 event at St. Thomas More Church in Bethel Park, Penn. About 250 school children and 125 adults attended to celebrate the first day of National Catholic Sisters Week, Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

Standup Sisters Mic and Rosary LogoStandup Sisters: Green Habits was inspired in part by Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. “Laudato Si'” means “Praise be to you,” and borrows from the words of the Canticle of Creationa prayer by 12th-century Italian, St. Francis of Assisi

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet,” the pope said in the 2015 document. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Standup Sisters: Green Habits hopes to advance that new dialogue, through the stories that will be released in audio and video formats in the coming months. If you wish to receive notification when we have new stories and news to share, please add your e-mail address in the box below and click “subscribe.” 

Sr. Elise displays a mostly dry paper towel in her kitchen.

“You only need one towel.” That’s one of Sr. Elise’s favorite practical tips for environmental conservation. Photo: J.Szweda Jordan


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Join us for inspiring stories from women who get their hands dirty! The event includes a reception and a special green gift for all attendees. Celebrate International Womens’ Day, and National Catholic Sisters Week with us.

Sr. Lyn Szymkiewicz. Photo from the Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Standup Sisters Mic and Rosary Logo





Standup Sisters is sponsored in part by National Catholic Sisters Week, the Paulist Fathers, and individuals like you. To contribute to this nonprofit, click here.

Soon! Standup Sisters: Green Habits

PITTSBURGH__Catholic sisters are a passionate and powerful, if little known, force in the conservation movement. On March 8, five sisters share their inspiring and joyful stories–from raising bees to dining on donated roadkill–at the free public event Standup Sisters: Green Habits.

Sr. Rejane with llama

Sr. Rejane Cytacki, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, directs the Racine Dominicans Eco-Justice Center.

“Decades before Pope Francis published Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home in 2015, sisters were harvesting solar and wind power,” says Jennifer Szweda Jordan, a longtime environmental journalist and producer of Standup Sisters. “I’m thrilled to help share the stories of these dedicated and delightful women from western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin.”

This event is part of National Catholic Sisters Week and International Women’s Day. St. Thomas More Church is hosting Standup Sisters: Green Habits and a post-story reception, in its Family Life Center at 126 Fort Couch Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. The event begins promptly at 7 pm and ends at 9 pm. Michelle Kardos, music minister for the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, will play the piano.

Standup Sisters Mic and Rosary LogoThe following women will share their stories:

  • Sister Rejane Cytacki, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth (KS) and director of the Racine (WI) Dominicans’ Eco-Justice Center.
  • Sister Elise Mora, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Providence of God, has woven environmental lessons into her Spanish teaching. She jokes that people might run when they see her coming because of her varied practical suggestions to save resources.
  • Sister Barbara O’Donnell, of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, is the driving force behind the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center. As an educator with youth and adults, she focuses on spirituality and ecological sustainability.
  • Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, Director of Grounds & Eco-Projects at Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden. Sr. Lyn is a certified beekeeper and the “co-star” of a book written by a child she influenced, “Barbee the Bee Visits Sr. Lyn’s Beehives.”
  • Sister Agnes Therese Davis, of the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. Sister Agnes works in the convent kitchen, where she goes to great lengths to prevent food waste by serving her sisters roadkill, beef hearts, and whatever else is donated to the community.

Please register here to ensure enough delicious food for all at the reception.Standup Sisters event and podcast series is in its third year. A podcast featuring last year’s event is here.

Standup Sisters is supported by National Catholic Sisters Week and The Paulist Fathers, as well as individuals Danelle Ardell, Jenny Briggs, Annmarie Fatula, Mike Hren, Maryann Jordan, Emily Lippert, Sue Freeman, Rosemarie Perla, and anonymous donors. To support Standup Sisters, visit our fiscal sponsor New Sun Rising or inquire about sponsorship packages by contacting jennifer@unabridgedpress.com.

Look Who’s Here! All-Abilities Media

Look Who’s Here! All-Abilities Media is a groundbreaking new project from Unabridged Press.

It provides news and features for and about the disabilities community, with significant reporting, production and planning conducted by people who have disabilities.

So far the team’s covered Medicaid, fitness training for people with special needs, an accessible fall festival, and more. All of our content has been released on our Facebook page.

The founding host of Look Who’s Here! is Erin Gannon, who lives in a group home run by Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh. Emmaus serves people with intellectual disabilities. Gannon has Down Syndrome. Emmaus is where Gannon met Unabridged Press producer and founder Jennifer Szweda Jordan, who has a parallel career as a direct support caregiver.

“I heard you’re on the radio, and you’re a writer,” Gannon said to Jordan one day. “That’s one of my dreams.”

Jordan has reported for The Associated Press, NPR, Pittsburgh’s 90.5 WESA and The Allegheny Front environmental news program, and was eager to show Gannon the ropes.

“Look Who’s Here!” is the phrase that Gannon often uses to enthusiastically greet people. And the words also represent a coming out of sorts, a new way of looking at people with disabilities–as agents of their own stories.

Gannon and Jordan attended podcast workshops at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, and practiced reporting skills at home and in the office with the support of Emmaus. In the summer of 2017, the first Look Who’s Here! video episode was filmed. Gannon interviewed her personal fitness trainer of 15 years, Dee Barker, of Better Body Image. Gannon was Barker’s first client who had special needs.

“Once we started working with you,” Barker told Gannon on the episode, “that opened the gates for others with special needs or disabilities just like you to come in and be mainstreamed into regular exercise.”


Mark Steidl with Jess Solomon, director of programs at the Woodlands, and Jennifer Szweda Jordan with recording gear. Photo courtesy of Woodlands.

Look Who’s Here! has also attracted a second host/anchor, 22-year-old college student Mark Steidl. Steidl uses a DynaVox device to speak (similar to the famed physicist Stephen Hawking). That’s because Steidl has what’s known as spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Communication is in Steidl’s blood–his mother, Tina Calabro, is a longtime columnist about disabilities for the Post-Gazette and she now runs a blog about disabilities.

Steidl brings his interest and experience in arts, and a mischievous sense of humor to Look Who’s Here!

“Can it be fun?” is Steidl’s frequent question in developing program content. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

In coming weeks, interviews from Look Who’s Here! will include conversations with Marsha Blanco, a disabilities advocate for over 40 years, who’s retiring from ACHIEVA, one of the largest disabilities service providers in Pittsburgh. We’ll also find out how The Nutcracker and the musical Wicked will become more accessible in special performances for people with autism. Stay tuned!

Look Who’s Here! All-Abilities Media, and the Unabridged Press project Standup Sisters are both fiscally sponsored by New Sun Rising–a 501(C)(3) empowering leaders in the Pittsburgh area. As such, donations are eligible in most cases to be tax-deductible. Visit New Sun Rising to support Look Who’s Here! All-Abilities Media!


Courage and Compassion

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan

Five dynamic women share personal stories of their lives spent teaching, feeding, and learning from people from around the world.

Each Catholic sister spoke at the Standup Sisters: Border Crossings event, held at La Roche College. The audio is now available for each story by clicking on the images below.

“We are lucky,” said Sister Nelida Naveros Cordova. “And we all at the same time have the responsibility to help those in need. I invite you to find ways how we can reach those in need.”

Please listen, and prepare to be inspired!

Special thanks to National Catholic Sisters Week, La Roche College Mission and Ministry, Sisters of Divine Providence, Communications Professor Janine Bayer, and St. Thomas More Young Adult Ministry.

(All photos by Ryan Haggerty)

Sister Betty Sundry, a Sister of Divine Providence, is a social justice legend in Pittsburgh. Here, she talks about the event that sparked her interest in righting wrongs.

Rhonda Miska (who becomes a sister this month with the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters) shares her story of a holy walk with Nicaraguan villagers.

Sister Nelida Naveros Cordova, a Sister of Divine Providence, remembers seeing poverty for the first time, and describes her work mobilizing students to help people in need.

Sr. Janice Vanderneck, a Sister of St. Joseph, speaks of her early crush on Latino culture and her work today helping migrants from Mexico living in Pittsburgh.

Sister Mary Lou Palas, of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, was a small-town Pennsylvania girl who traveled around the U.S. to teach. When she was 70-something, she packed her bags and moved to Korea for another adventure.

Standup Sisters: Border Crossings

Get ready for an inspiring evening of courageous women’s stories, emceed by KDKA’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland.Standup Sisters JPG

Unabridged Press, La Roche College and the Sisters of Divine Providence present Standup Sisters: Border Crossings. The event brings four Catholic sisters, and one “sister-in-training” to the stage at La Roche College from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 14. The Standup Sisters will share their stories of the places and people they serve around the world, including people they serve who’ve crossed borders to live in the U.S.

Sr. Mary Lou and Korean sisters

Sr. Mary Lou Palas, in the center, with fellow Sisters of Charity in Korea

“While America is now wrestling with its immigration policy, sisters have been the ‘boots on the ground’ of foreign and domestic aid for centuries,” says Jennifer Szweda Jordan, producer of Standup Sisters. “These women will share true personal encounters of the risks and rewards of serving God and global neighbors.”

This event is part of National Catholic Sisters Week, a series of events celebrating sisters’ accomplishments. La Roche College is generously hosting this FREE event, which includes a reception, in the elegant College Square of its Zappala College Center. The address is 9000 Babcock Boulevard, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15237.

The Standup Sisters represent the following congregations: Sisters of Divine Providence, whose motherhouse is adjacent to the La Roche campus; Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill; Sisters of St. Joseph-Baden; Sinsinawa (Wisc.) Dominicans.

Please register here to ensure there is enough delicious food for all at the reception. 

The Branding of Catholic Sisters

The world will be a better place, says Sister Rosemarie Nassif, when people are aware of, and support the work of Catholic sisters.

Sister Heather Stiverson helps unemployed refugees with their English skills.

Sister Heather Stiverson helps tutor primarily Yemeni immigrants who lost factory jobs in Detroit. Photo: SisterToAll campaign

“The global sisterhood is a very powerful network and it hasn’t yet been fully unleashed,” Nassif says. “Unleashing that network can bring such tremendous positive realities to our entire world.”

Nassif directs the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The foundation recently paid for public opinion research about sisters.

“We’re committed here to assure that (the sisters) network has a life, and a life that can continue to change the lives of the millions across our globe whose lives are so precious and yet so vulnerable,” says Nassif.

The Hilton Foundation is the legacy of its namesake, the late hotel founder, whose affection for sisters began when he was taught by the Sisters of Loreto. The foundation spends $17 million dollars a year funding sisters’ work to help the poor around the world. So the foundation wanted to learn more about what people think about Catholic sisters, and how Catholic churchwomen can build their brand.

“We believe that how people perceive sisters–no matter if they’re Catholic, or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu–kind of ingrains a dynamic in the culture that can influence how our works and prayers can be received, can be in some way emulated,” says Nassif.

The research found that most people–73 percent–like Catholic sisters, without having very accurate ideas about what most sisters do today. For example, many people don’t think sisters’ work impacts non-Catholics. But Nassif says that’s simply false.Data Image: Some sisters wear habits, most don't

“The truth is that sisters serve all,” she says. “No matter the religion, the ethnicity, the socio-economic status–although they do prefer the poor. And we feel that correcting that false perception among all people is very important not only to sisters–it’s very important to our nation.”

The research firm Anderson Robbins conducted about 15-hundred interviews about sisters.

“These women are trailblazers, risk-takers and pioneers,” says Anderson Robbins’ CEO Jennifer Robbins. “These are words that could be used to describe them 100 years ago and still today.”

Robbins isn’t Catholic and hadn’t done a study on any Catholic issues previously. She says she was “just amazed by what type of role these women played in our country’s history. …It was everything from work to help disadvantaged and poor to talking about how they were the first nurses on Navy ships. How a Catholic sister helped invent the first incubator for babies.”

Robbins says the people she spoke with at focus groups were also surprised.

“In some of these groups, after all was said and done, people wanted me to keep sharing information about these women. There was a real appetite for more detailed information,” Robbins says. “It was like like I blew their minds.”

The survey found a third of all Americans want to learn more about Catholic Sisters. The researcher says more knowledge may help those considering life as sisters to encounter a little less friction at home. Forty-three percent of people who answered the survey said that if they had a daughter considering the sisterhood, they’d support her completely. But 13 percent would urge her to re-consider and six percent would strongly oppose the decision.

“While these people think Catholic sisters are wonderful and doing great work, to the extent they know about sisters, they think that entering religious life is synonymous with giving up your dreams,” Robbins says. “That’s also not the case. Catholic sisters are physicians, social workers, engineers. This misperception about who they are and what they do really is kind of clouding people’s judgments about Catholic sisters and the opportunities one might have in religious life.”

The foundation has kicked off a public awareness campaign developed in tandem with the research. It’s called Sister to All and it highlights the work of Catholic churchwomen. The first group of sisters the campaign is showing off includes a sister teaching Muslim immigrants from Yemen to learn English, a sister who works with prostitutes on the street, and one who works to find shelter for homeless people.

“What we want to do is present a more accurate image of sisters today,” Nassif says. To learn more about the research and campaign, listen to the audio interviews embedded in this post, and go to SisterToAll.org.

This is part of Unabridged Press’ Standup Sisters project, sharing the work and stories of sisters in live events and podcasts. Standup Sisters received a minigrant earlier this year from the Hilton Foundation. To learn more, contact Jennifer@unabridgedpress.com.

Standing up for Peace

A little peace on earth! Pittsburghers celebrating the International Day of Peace walked flags from many nations from St. Mary of the Mount Catholic Church down along the city’s scenic Grandview Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 21. The annual event in Pittsburgh has long been co-organized by Sister Barb Finch (pictured right, in purple), a Sister of St. Joseph. Sister Barb is a frequent visitor at all of Pittsburgh’s Peace and Justice activities!

“The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly,” according to the organization’s website. “Two decades later, in 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire. The United Nations invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.”

Afterward, the names of 122 people murdered in Allegheny County in the last year were read. A candle was lit for each and those gathered stated, “We remember,” once each line of candles was lit.

Speakers from several different spiritual traditions spoke about peace and some shared pieces of rituals. A Hindu man chanted “Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” and explained that the first “Shanti” or “peace” is for peace in the world, the next is for peace between people, and the third is for interior peace. A Christian pastor offered peace by inviting a Muslim woman and Jewish rabbi to come to the altar, where he clasped their hands in his. In turn, the women carried that same embrace of peace to those in the pews of the Catholic church, a gesture that meant peace is carried from the altar to the outside world. The Rabbi shared a Midrash–interpretive story about reconcilation. Zen Buddhists led congregants in grounding themselves to the earth. Baha’i representatives discussed the tenets of their tradition in relation to peace. A Unitarian Universalist speaker read from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Organizers also shared other upcoming interfaith events–a birthday celebration will be held for Mahatma Gandhi Sunday, Oct. 2, 2-5pm, in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. The event will include tea and conversations, cultural performances and a panel discussion with authors and educators. For more information, call 412-606-6868.

Beautiful Music: Sister Guided Girls

Oh, that all young people dreaming of arts careers would find a mentor like Sister Helen Muha.

Sister Helen Muha

Image: Music teacher Sister Helen Muha. Credit: Courtesy Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

The late Sister Helen, a music teacher and singer, helped many people find their voices. In one case, she helped an entire family to make the world sound a little more beautiful.

Cellist Jeanne Tupper

Image: Cellist Jeanne Tupper. Credit: Ryan Haggerty.

Jane Strittmatter was a young mother of four daughters when she met Sister Helen, of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. At the time, Strittmatter envisioned her daughters in more reliably lucrative careers–like orthodontics. But Sister Helen saw each of the daughters’ talent and helped them find instruments and training. All four of Strittmatter’s daughters are now successful musicians. Strittmatter gets to repay the favor in her work for the community as their public relations director. Sister Helen has since died.

Strittmatter shared this story as part of Standup Sisters, held at St. Sylvester Church in Brentwood, Penna.

Standup Sisters features stories by and about Catholic churchwomen, and was part of National Catholic Sisters Week. At the event, one of Strittmatter’s daughter’s, Jeanne Tupper, played the cello. Jeanne Tupper is a founder of Hot Metal Strings and a teacher at South Fayette School District. 

Click the Soundcloud player to hear Strittmatter tell it–and hear Tupper on cello, too!


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What God Told Her About Suffering

Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s one of those fundamental questions in religion. Sister Barbara Einloth found herself faced with her version of this question. In this episode of Standup Sisters, she shares the answer that came to her in her pleading with God.

Sister Barbara is one of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.
She serves the United States Province of the Sisters of Charity as part of a five-woman leadership team, giving particular attention to direction on issues of mission integration, ministry, and social justice.

Sister Barbara told this story at the inaugural Standup Sisters event in St. Sylvester Church in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. Standup Sisters was funded by a National Catholic Sisters Week mini-grant and inspired by their 2014 event SisterStories, which was developed with The Moth Radio Hour.

The music by Bach in this episode was performed by cellist Jeanne Tupper. Standup Sisters JPG