Recent Stories

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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Our Values, Our Stories: 2016 Benefit Report

With less than a shoestring budget–something more like a thread–Unabridged Press produced an event and podcasts that brought media attention to women who’ve dedicated their lives to health care, education, and social equity–Catholic sisters. It was a great year-one accomplishment for Unabridged Press, a media outlet dedicated to creating a more just and sustainable world through sharing people’s stories.

Post-Gazette Standup Sisters

Click image to see Post-Gazette coverage of Unabridged Press’ Standup Sisters.

Once a year, Unabridged Press reports on what it has accomplished in meeting its goals of serving people, the planet, and profit. This is that report.

Unabridged Press was established as a limited liability company in 2015, after Jennifer Szweda Jordan stepped away from a long tenure reporting and editing environmental news at The Allegheny Front. Fueled by the ethos and skills honed from work at The Allegheny Front, Associated Press, and family-owned newspapers, Jordan sought to create a storytelling-focused media company to celebrate the stories and histories of people who don’t often make the cover of magazines–the elderly, the disabled, churchwomen, and so on. Another coverage goal is to explore topics that are typically not covered–like religion. Unabridged Press can be seen as a social justice press with high professional journalistic standards, and a frequently playful approach.

With the support of financial gifts from family and friends, Jordan contracted with Pittsburgh attorney Eric Davis in early 2015. He’s the local legal leader in the formation of social enterprises. These types of enterprises are committed to measuring success in ways other than financial profit.  Davis included language and structure to help Unabridged Press to stay true to its purpose.  In the future, Unabridged Press hopes to become officially B-Corp Certified once its size and income grows.  

WorkHardPGH features art by former Steeler Baron Batch.

WorkHardPGH features art by former Steeler Baron Batch.

WorkHardPGH, the site Unabridged Press has resided in since mid-2015 has a mission that is largely consistent with Unabridged Press. WorkHardPGH is made up mainly of media professionals (film, audio, etc). And it has a greater mission of helping rebuild Main Street economies in a way that is inclusive–of minorities, of small business owners, of an ex-con janitor seeking a second chance. Because WorkHardPGH membership includes equipment rental, Unabridged Press is able to share equipment instead of purchasing it–naturally providing an environmental benefit. Unabridged Press has contracted with other new small business owners at WorkHardPGH for professional media services. In this way and through desk space rental, Unabridged Press has contributed financially to the communal economy at WorkHardPGH, and to Allentown (a neighborhood of Pittsburgh).

In keeping with its social and environmental objectives, Unabridged Press has operated out of two coworking startup incubators (StartUptown and WorkHardPGH), both located in

Work Hard Women

PA First Lady Frances Wolf chatted with business owners Alayna Frankenberry (c) and Jennifer Szweda Jordan (R) when she and Gov. Wolf visited WorkHardPGH. Photo: Ryan Haggerty Media.

distressed urban locations. These sites were selected expressly because their missions align in social and environmental benefits. At both sites, all amenities are easily accessible by foot, bicycle or public transit–and Unabridged Press’ founder, and contractors use these methods to maintain a connection with the community, save money and live lightly on the land. In keeping with the commitment to the local economy, Unabridged Press contracts with local startup Fort Pitt Web Shop, based at StartUptown, for web services. Unabridged Press has worked with the mission-aligned peer mentoring group Mashup U., which assists local business owners–and students–navigating the innovation economy.

City Paper Last Word feature

Unabridged Press’ efforts to collect stories was turned into this article in the City Paper.

The media topics Unabridged Press focused on in its first year included seniors in Pittsburgh’s South Side. As the South Side Market House building celebrated its centennial last year, Unabridged Press was the first media outlet to take note, and the only outlet to report in-depth on the seniors, bringing together three media professionals–Jordan, Heather McClain, and Reid Carter–for a day to capture the stories of those who grew up using the community center. Each senior interviewed received a CD of their professional interview to share with their loved ones–a gift like that given to participants of the national StoryCorps oral history project. Articles about this event, written by Jordan from material she gathered with colleagues, were published in the City Paper, and the South Pittsburgh Reporter.

Another project completed by Unabridged Press was Standup Sisters–a free community event and podcasts that highlighted the work of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill–who have been at the forefront of healthcare, education, and caring for the poor in our region since 1870. As in most male-dominated churches, women do not typically take center stage–the inaugural Standup Sisters event and podcast series moved the dial just a bit. This content was partly funded by, and distributed in partnership with, the organization National Catholic Sisters Week. The effort won excellent coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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While building Unabridged Press, Jordan continued to publish in other press outlets to support herself as well as to carry out the mission of covering regional people who are not in the media spotlight. This included profiles of three female leaders of the late-20th century–now seniors, they were South Pittsburgh’s old guard–shepherding the communities through significant changes and devoting countless hours to the community. One took ownership of the South Pittsburgh Reporter in her 40s–an inspiration to Unabridged Press as a woman-owned business.

Roberta Smith

Longtime South Pittsburgh Reporter publisher and editor Roberta Smith. Click image to read about her.

Benefit reports also highlight the challenges in meeting goals. For Jordan’s work founding and producing content for Unabridged Press, she has received no financial compensation, which is not sustainable, although often seen in the first three years of startups. Jordan is grateful to work weekends offering support to developmentally disabled adults with Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, social work that fuels the development of Unabridged Press–and keeps Jordan focused on the lives and stories of unsung people. In 2016, Unabridged Press will launch a fundraising campaign to continue the Standup Sisters project and to also finance similar projects. Unabridged Press also is working to highlight stories of small-scale farmers.

Unabridged Press is grateful to the family and friends who covered many expenses so that a company can be created. And volunteers who helped at every step. We’re pleased with 2015’s achievements and we look forward to telling more underreported stories in the coming year, always with an eye to benefitting the environment and people.

This report was overseen by Dominic Necciai, benefit director for Unabridged Press. He’s an investments advisor and heads WYEP’s Community Advisory Board. And he’s studying media marketing in Point Park University’s masters program.

Parklet over Pittsburgh

Getting back to nature within the city–visiting this parklet just down the street from WorkHardPGH suggests a big picture view of the stories in our future.


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…


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.


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 or call 412-200-2017. Thanks for stopping by!