Recent Stories

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

A Moment of Truth and a Mystery

Sisters formally commit to be part of their religious orders in a sequence of ceremonies. But they informally commit to remain sisters day after day. Even when leaving seems like a better idea. How do they do it? Sister Mary Clark, of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill has this story about a moment of truth. Her talk was part of the Standup Sisters event, produced by @JeniferPossible and Unabridged Press.

Standup Sisters is a media project highlighting the contributions of Catholic churchwomen by giving them a microphone to tell their stories.

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The music by Bach in this episode was performed by Cellist Jeanne Tupper. This Standup Sisters event took place in St. Sylvester Church in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. Photo of Sr. Mary Clark by Ryan Haggerty, Haggerty Media.

 

This Sister’s Still Cool, and Popular, Too

And now for our second podcast episode of #StandupSisters…

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Pittsburgher Barb Boss was a cool teen-ager hyper-focused on her social life before God gave her a shove into the sisterhood. She’s still cool, and she still attracts a big social circle–for decades, she’s headed an intergenerational education center and daycare with a waiting list. It’s called Elizabeth Seton Center after the foundress of Sister Barb’s order, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. (Saint Elizabeth Seton was also a socialite with a soft spot for children in need!) But don’t just sit there reading, click below to listen!

Photo by Ryan Haggerty. Audio recording by Epicast Media.

The Tall One: Chosen to be a Nurse

When women entered religious life decades ago, they had little opportunity to choose their careers. So, sometimes they ended up in unexpected places.

For Sister Rosemary Donley, that worked out well.

Someone in the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill tapped Donley to become a nurse. She worked as a nurse, became a teacher of nurses, and she has spoken all over the world about nursing. She holds Duquesne University’s Jacques Laval Endowed Chair in Justice for Vulnerable Populations to educate health professionals about the needs of people who are disabled, poor, and otherwise challenged.

In the accompanying audio recording, Donley tells the story of how her storied career began.

This is part of Standup Sisters, a series of events and podcasts to shine a light on outstanding churchwomen. The idea is to move beyond the typical caricatures of nuns that are seen in Nunsense, Late Night Catechism, and Sister Act. Not that there aren’t truths and humor in those images, but, like all stereotypes, they present a narrow picture.

In the inaugural Standup Sisters event, four Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill shared their stories with an audience of young students and adults at St. Sylvester Church in Brentwood, Pennsylvania, during National Catholic Sisters Week.

The music by Bach in this episode was performed by cellist Jeanne Tupper, of Hot Metal Strings. Photograph by Ryan Haggerty. Funding for Standup Sisters came from National Catholic Sisters Week/Hilton Sisters Project.Standup Sisters JPG

Three more sisters stories from this event will be posted here weekly–as well as a story about sisters–over the next few weeks. So please comment, stop back again, and share.

Standup Sisters

Long before LinkedIn, Sister Mary Theresa gave me my first professional “endorsement” at age 15.

At the time, Pittsburgh’s culture was still dominated by steelmaking and healthcare. Sister Mary Theresa was the first person to tell me that writing–the words churning in my mind and heart–could actually sustain a career.

I managed to support myself through writing. And 30 years later, it seems fitting to shine a media spotlight on the women like Sister Mary Theresa who shaped me–my sisters.

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I’m calling this effort Standup Sisters. Because for every iconic Mother Teresa, there are hundreds of Sister Mary Theresas. Their stories are worth telling in person and podcast. While many sisters have been teachers who’ve had a lifelong impact on students like me, other sisters have been part of American Civil Rights history. Some have been entrepreneurial–starting social service organizations and academic departments.

The Standup Sisters project will have a “soft launch” with an event in Pittsburgh during National Catholic Sisters Week, an annual celebration that takes place from March 8–14. Created to honor women religious, National Catholic Sisters Week is a series of events that organizers say “instruct, enlighten, and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women.”

The March 14 event will feature Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, the same congregation that inspired me in high school, and that taught two of my aunts at the sisters’ Greensburg college (now university). I’m looking forward to being inspired by the Sisters of Charity in new ways myself.

The Standup Sisters pilot event is supported by a mini-grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The hotel magnate with a hard-scrabble upbringing was also deeply influenced by Catholic sisters and his foundation supports sisters, and media about their work.

Stop back for updates!

And pray for this effort if you would!

#WeMadePgh: Writing Was Very Good to this 80-year-old

We’re working to collect and share 100 oral histories of the common folks who made Pittsburgh what it is. As the South Side Market House celebrates its 100th anniversary, we’re celebrating the seniors who go there for community and activities. Here’s the kind of story we hope to share…IMG_6482 (1)

To hear 80-year-old Roberta Smith describe what made her one of South Pittsburgh’s most prominent female leaders is to learn the value of public education, public housing, lifelong connections to a community, and perseverance.

Mrs. Smith, who’s now retired, was the first female owner of The South Pittsburgh Reporter, the first female president of the Brashear Association community organization, and the first female head of the South Side Chamber of Commerce. She’s lived her entire life in South Pittsburgh, primarily in Mt. Oliver.

Mrs. Smith dates the start of her writing career back to third grade, when she was known as Roberta Johnson. She attended Hillsdale Elementary School in Dormont.

“The teacher asked us to write the obligatory ‘What I did on my summer vacation…’ And I had been to visit my sister in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The teacher read the essay. She liked it. She read it to the class and she said ‘Miss Johnson has a talent for paragraph writing.’ And that kind of set me off,” Mrs. Smith says. “Through the years, I was editor of my school paper and the Junior Achievement paper. I entered contests all over the place and with one of them I won a Senatorial scholarship to Pitt.”

But the University of Pittsburgh scholarship was only for half the tuition and that caused a bit of a conflict in the family. Mrs. Smith’s mother, who herself only had a third grade education, was reluctant about her daughter attending.

“She’s going to get married someday and we’ll have wasted all this money,” Roberta Smith recalls her mother saying.

Her father, though, who was a printer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, championed his daughter’s aspirations.

“My dad’s attitude was: ‘What you learn, nobody can ever take away from you,'” she says.

Dad and daughter won out. Mrs. Smith did go to Pitt and became the first in her family to get a college education. She didn’t graduate quickly, though– Ms. Smith did, as her mother predicted, get married.

That marriage to Bill began with what was essentially a long-distance dating relationship-only her suitor lived less than ten miles away, in the North Side. The two communicated only by phone for over a year and finally met only after he’d gone overseas for military duty and then returned on leave.

“We lived above the South Hills trolley junction,” Mrs. Smith says. “I can remember him getting off that streetcar and there was this handsome red-headed guy in uniform.”

She was smitten. Still, it took years and a break-up before the two married and had four children. Which meant she would finish her degree in night school about 20 years after she began?

“I took probably two courses a semester,” Mrs. Smith says. “I wanted to do it for my dad.”

By the time she graduated in 1970, her father had died. But as soon she had her degree in hand, she visited her father’s gravesite with it. As she told this story recently, 40-plus years later, it still brought a few tears to her eyes.

The Pitt education served Mrs. Smith well, and in turn allowed her to serve the community. One of her early jobs was working in a reader contest department for the Post-Gazette. She also worked in Head Start education with three- and four-year-old children.

But what really pushed her career along, she says, was moving into a public housing site, St. Clair Village, when Bill lost his job. Mrs. Smith got involved in advocacy at the complex.

“I went from St. Clair Village to the South Side Community Council,” she says. “I wrote articles about their activities. It came to a point where the (South Pittsburgh Reporter) editor would call me at home to ask for stories.”

Mrs. Smith got to know The Reporter’s business manager at the time, and before long, the company wanted to pass on the paper to her.

“Writing,” she says, “has been very good to me.”

For just a dollar, the previous owner of The South Pittsburgh Reporter, Typecraft Press, which was printing the paper, sold it to Mrs. Smith.

“And he was supposed to charge me $10 after the first year,” Smith says. “At a dinner, I tried to give him the $10 and he wouldn’t take it.”

Asked why she took on the responsibility, she shares matter-of-factly, “I had this education I wasn’t using. It wasn’t enough for me to just be a wife and mother and housekeeper.”

It was a time when a number of community papers were thriving around Pittsburgh, Smith says. She believes what allowed The Reporter to thrive while other papers like it failed is that she lived in the community her entire life.

Plus, she says of her former staff, “We weren’t that concerned with making big salaries. We only had three employees at the most.”

One of those employees was Mrs. Smith’s son, Tom, who went to what’s now Point Park University to study journalism.

“I told him he could come as an intern, but I didn’t want him there for the rest of his life,” she says. “I didn’t think he ever would make enough money to support a family.”

But when she was 65, she retired and turned over the paper to Tom, who continues working today as its editor and publisher, and has also maintained community involvement like his mother with the Brashear Association, Hilltop Alliance, and other groups.

Roberta Smith says she sees the value of The Reporter and other small community papers as not unlike church bulletins.

“But not everybody goes to church,” she says. “I always felt like I was providing a kind of unique service. If someone is going to open a nudie bar next to their supermarket …. I liked being able to provide people with that kind of information. And you make a lot of friends and you make some enemies too.”

Mostly, though, Mrs. Smith says the friendships kept her in the business, she says-“from high-ranking public officials to people who worked in their organizations.”

One of those officials is Magisterial District Judge Gene Ricciardi. He says Smith not only shepherded south Pittsburgh’s development, but closely mentored people like him. He recalls a time when he was the sole opponent in a prominent vote in his first week as a city councilman.

Mrs. Smith, he says, “was able to pick people up, brush them off, and send them back into the game. I remember her saying, ‘Did you believe in that vote? Was it based in principle? Then what’s wrong?’ That meant a lot to me.”

But, Mr. Ricciardi says that in Mrs. Smith’s writing, or in person, she wasn’t afraid to take people on herself if a position seemed wrong-headed.

“If Roberta believed that someone had a hidden agenda,” he says, “watch out, because she would actually take you on head-to-head.”

For that honesty, Mr. Ricciardi says, “We really consider her an icon south of the rivers,” Her whole goal was the betterment of our neighborhood, of our communities. I think the respect she garnered was never for herself. Everything was driven to make things better south of the rivers.”

This article was first published in The South Pittsburgh Reporter.

Convenience Store Confessions: Spirited Conversations

Moral or spiritual support can come from surprising places. Producer Jennifer Szweda Jordan gets insights and encouragement at her neighborhood convenience store–it’s a kind of extended church community for her. So she talked with two of the workers about their faith backgrounds, what they struggle with, and like, about their belief systems, and how people of different backgrounds can get along. This is part of the Spirited Conversations project.

 

What’s Up in May

Unabridged Press is now focused primarily on audio podcast content about two subjects. The first features real conversations about faith. Note: we are in the market for a name for this, since the working title of Spirited Project already is being used. The second content goal is to focus on people and issues in Pittsburgh’s urban southern neighborhoods, aka Hilltop–Carrick, Allentown, Knoxville, and the like. The content will incorporate public events and social media. We’re seeking financial investment and partners on these projects. Content from the faith conversations series appears below. More will be posted on Soundcloud, Facebook, and Twitter, and here. For more info, e-mail jennifer@unabridgedpress.com or call 412-200-2017. Thanks for stopping by!

Let’s organize the kitchen!

Note, as of 5/15, we’ve put the Humble Oven project, about creating sustainable food systems for your health and that of the environment, on the back burner. But if you love what you see, and want to support it in some way, contact jennifer@unabridgedpress.com…. And enjoy the content that IS here…

You’ll have more fun cooking if you aren’t digging through drawers to find the right tool or supply! Jill Yesko, of Discover Organizing, shows us how it’s done in these short videos filmed in my apartment kitchen as part of the Humble Oven project!

https://youtu.be/L1MyLqzNmMw

https://youtu.be/RNthF26yJLo

 

Thanks for listening

A woman said this to me yesterday: “Thanks for listening.” And it reminded me that this is the fundamental gift that we can all give each other. It costs very little to spend a few moments listening to another person. (The pictures here illustrate people listening: my friends Kyle and Estelle get a lot done while they listen to podcasts, too…Weenta, on the other hand, likes to get quiet and close her eyes while she listens seated on her bed.)

Weenta

Estelle

Kyle

When I worked at The Associated Press’ Albany bureau, we had assigned “writing days,” a treasured uninterrupted eight hours for doing what we all loved to do. Some people also took “reading days” when they could actually learn from other writers through this venue of writing. You couldn’t let the boss know you were spending a day reading. It wasn’t considered to be as valuable as getting out in the field and actually interviewing people face-to-face. But I think we all need to TAKE time to listen, to read, in different media, face-to-face, online, and in books. Years later, when the creator of the popular radio program Marketplace, Jim Russell, consulted with the team I was on at The Allegheny Front, he pointed out the value of reading time.

I’m a horribly slow reader. And while I haven’t completely given up on books, for myself, I’m instituting listening days, those when I tune in to all the podcasts friends and others are recommending. And the beauty of listening to pre-recorded audio is that I can also get my dishes done, run, and cook while listening.

So here’s what I’m listening to today: Happier with Gretchen Rubin: The Power Hour; Invisibilia: Fearless; my favorite British Jesuit prayer podcast. So… what are you listening to? Thanks for listening, er, reading.

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