Recent Stories

‘The Most Fortunate of Women’ at 91

10382057_810879235669959_3027182156348654087_oNinety-one-year-old Helen Baney’s officially retired from working with Allentown’s commercial leaders, but she’s still often dressed for business.

On a recent afternoon, Mrs. Baney donned sling-back pumps and a silky ladybug print scarf with a classic skirt and blouse as she welcomed a reporter into her home. Yet despite Mrs. Baney’s classy propriety, the conversation quickly gets intimate–she’s open and witty whether discussing the difficult or charmed parts of her life.

“A woman who tells her age will tell anything,” she says.

During our visit, Mrs. Baney serves pistachio pudding in parfait cups. We sit side-by-side facing a large window overlooking the slope toward downtown Pittsburgh. Allentown is a community some deride as challenged these days, but she talks about it with fearlessness.

“The advice I would have is get out there,” she says. “It’s a world of people and things to meet and to do and to find out how interesting life can be. And I don’t need the soap operas and I don’t need television to tell me that. It’s all around me if I really want to take advantage of it.”

Mrs. Baney’s mother served as a great example of making the most of life even when it got tough.

“When I was 14, my mother and father and I came up to Excelsior Street to take care of my grandfather who owned the house next door,” she says. “My father and my grandfather both died within six months of each other and left my mother a widow with me, an only child.

“It was still during the Depression. And my mother was a very clever, smart, intelligent woman who knew she was going to have to make her way in the world one way or the other and decided to buy this house with some of her money and some my grandfather had left me–a trust fund. So we purchased this house in May of 1941. And rented out the second and third floor to pay for the mortgage. And we lived on the first floor. I never moved. I got married and had my children here.”

Mrs. Baney’s mother encouraged a certain courage by thrusting her into a center-stage personality early on.

“My mother pushed me as a youngster,” she says. “I had to sing for the (school) classes when I was in the second grade. And my mother used to teach me German songs so I could sing German songs in a German school. That was kissing up to the nuns is what it’s called. If I was ever shy or backward it was completely covered up by my mother deciding that you had to perform or present yourself. After you get into that, then it’s like anything else-‘Hey, here I am.'”

She maintained the same outgoing traits into high school where she met her husband.

“It was only, I guess, when we were in 11th and 12th grade (he was a year older),” she says. “That was a very small school. It was a very close-knit community. You danced together, we had socials, and before you know it, somebody’d ask you out on a date and I never said no.”

11130153_810879255669957_2708513517081263423_oHer late husband worked his way up to be a vice president at Mosebach Electric Supply. Long before the phrase, “It takes a village” was in fashion, the Baneys lived it. Helen Baney’s role was at the center of the home.

“When I was young and married there was usually at least six people if not eight people that lived in this house,” she says. “I did all the cooking, the washing, the ironing, the cleaning. My mother worked, she had to. Then when I graduated, I got a job. Then I got married and had a daughter about two years later. And then another one came along in 16 months. And then I decided I was going to be the parent. There wasn’t going to be somebody on the outside raising my children.”

One of her house rules was no interruptions allowed during dinner–no television, no phones.

“We all sat at the table and we spoke,” she says. “And I said there’s nothing like putting a meal in a kid’s stomach and having the tongue get loose. I found out more things that went on that they never would have told me one-on-one. Or when you get them together (and one tells another) ‘Ha ha, I did that.’ And you listen.”

When the children grew up, and Mrs. Baney’s marriage got difficult, she engaged more in the world outside her home.

“I’ve been involved with Allentown and organizations since 1973,” she says. “I started with the Hilltop Civic Improvement Association. Which was organized by the businessmen … and I was their secretary. I went to Allentown Civic Improvement.”

The community was changing as suburban life and malls became attractive and businesses and other gathering places closed.

“When you take churches and schools out of communities…you lose young people, and that’s what you need to keep a neighborhood or a community vibrant,” she says. “You need young people. And you need young children. That’s another thing that I find with senior citizens. They’re so unhappy with children who run and scream. That’s what you’re a child for–to get it out of your system. You’ll grow up to be cranky and crotchety anyway.”

Mrs. Baney’s civic work included hosting meetings to encourage civic participation. She found people weren’t particularly excited about joining her.

“When I grew up during the Depression, and nobody had anything and we were poor, people seemed to be so happy because whatever they did get made their life just a little bit better,” she says. “And you had more community spirit. Now everybody stays in, and I know television has a lot to do with that. When we would have meetings, to get the people to come out and listen… We provided meals, we provided food, snacks…you cannot get people to come to a meeting.”

But she stuck with it.10987367_810879249003291_4048684572029842842_o

“I like being around people,” Mrs. Baney says. “I love knowing what’s going on.”

Allentown hasn’t rebounded yet, but there are certainly signs of life.

“I’ve been waiting 40-some years for Allentown to come back,” she says. “Will I live to see it? I don’t know. I don’t want Allentown to be what it was when I grew up. And that’s usually the cry if you go to a meeting, ‘Oh, remember when we had this.’ We don’t have those things. People don’t want those things…The next generation has totally different ideas of their wants and needs. I would love to see a really nice grocery store. I would love to see a bakery….A brewery–great! You know, things that would draw young people with imagination and a desire to say, ‘Hey this is not a bad place. Why don’t we investigate and look into making it into our home?'”

But no matter which direction Allentown takes, Mrs. Baney has been fulfilled by her part in it, in keeping up her home in the community, and often continuing to attend meetings, though no longer in leadership. She eschewed a recent trip to Disney with her children and grandchildren. She’s content surrounded by the quilts she’s made and her collection of wedding dresses gathered from thrift stores and displayed through the bedrooms.

Someone commented on her latter half of life as a widow recently and she says she told them, “I am the most fortunate of women. I have had 22 years of so much happiness and good fun and friends that I don’t want to see it come to an end and it will eventually. But I am very, very lucky.”

This article and photos, both by Jennifer Szweda Jordan,  first appeared in the South Pittsburgh Reporter. To see more of Ms. Jordan’s writing in that publication, click here

Standup Sisters: All Together Now

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All too often in pop culture, nuns are portrayed as silly or strict–think of the windup toy sister with the ruler and angry face. But many Catholic sisters today are women of exemplary courage, faith, and charity.

Standup Sisters is Unabridged Press’ effort to highlight the contributions of these extraordinary women by giving them a stage to tell their stories. Catholic women have been instrumental in forming founder Jennifer Szweda Jordan’s interest in documenting stories about the environment, social justice, and spirituality.   

“In every area where social progress is desperately needed–human trafficking, immigration, homelessness–sisters are working creatively to help those in need,” says Jordan. “While some girls or young women may hear the sisters’ stories and be inspired to lives of service as sisters, perhaps other listeners will be inspired to start a garden, or to reach out to a refugee family.”  Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 5.42.58 PM

Following the success of public storytelling events like The Moth, Standup Sisters’ launched with a live event. The kickoff took place in March, at St. Sylvester’s Church in Pittsburgh. Most of the audience of 125 people were children from the church–many said they had never met a sister. With the support of a grant from National Catholic Sisters Week funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we commissioned the design of a logo, and gave out temporary tattoos so the event audience could walk away with a conversation piece and keep the Standup Sisters story going.

The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill were featured in this event, which was recorded and distributed online. All four episodes are found on this page.

“We rarely toot our own horns,” Sister Barbara Einloth told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette religion writer Peter Smith, who covered the project. “That might be a good thing and humble, but it doesn’t help people know who we are and what we do. This is an opportunity for people to get to know who we are.”

Unabridged Press is seeking funding and partnerships to continue Standup Sisters. To find out more about how to help continue this important work, contact or 412-200-2017.

The storyteller sisters are:

Sister Rosemary Donley, PhD. She holds Duquesne University’s Jacques Laval Chair for Social Justice  for Vulnerable Populations in the School of Nursing. She was named a living legend by the Academy of Nursing in 2009.

Sister Barbara Einloth. She’s one of five women leading the U.S. Province of the Sisters of Charity, giving particular attention to issues of social justice.

Sister Mary Clark. Clark is a longtime English teacher, Hospice and parish minister.

Sister Barbara Boss. She heads the Seton Center, providing innovative child and adult care, and performing arts programming. Boss has doubled as a beautician for her sisters every Saturday for the last 30 years.

‘That’s Not Islam, That’s Like Psychopaths’: Spirited Conversations

In recognition of Islam’s holy days of Ramadan, Unabridged Press offers a recorded conversation with Muslim convert Christine Mohamed. It’s part of an occasional series about everyday faith called Spirited Conversations. Please click the SoundCloud player to listen to this unusual story of an American woman who grew up Catholic and who now worships at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Christine Mohamed converted to Islam

Christine Mohamed, at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. Photo: J.S. Jordan.

When Pittsburgher Christine Mohamed converted to Islam several years ago, her Catholic mom was embarrassed to be seen with her daughter, who now dressed in headscarves and long skirts. Mohamed’s dad, a Desert Storm vet, was quick to accept his daughter’s choice. But, all told, Mohamed walked a tough road. She lost friends.

“When I first converted, it was not a pretty sight,” Mohamed says.

Study and prayer drew Mohamed, an advertising professional, to Islam. It was an emotional time. Her decision probably couldn’t have come at a more challenging time to be Muslim in America. After all, the faith has been a source of confusion and fear for many in the U.S. in these days after 9/11, Boko Haram, ISIS, and now the mass shooting in Orlando. Mohamed says those who have been so violent aren’t even really following Islam. So part of Mohamed’s life’s work now is helping converts like her through the transition, and helping the public understand her brand of faith.

“You just have to…make sure that the education is out there and available to people, so next time they see something like this, they say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s definitely not Islam. That’s like, psychopaths,’ and be able to tell the difference,” Mohamed says.

Mohamed sometimes responds to bad press involving Muslims in simple ways–by helping out at a soup kitchen, for example.

“I just try to change the perception by going out to make sure I do something good in my faith,” she says. Going out of my way to be kind and courteous, so people can say, ‘Hey, yeah, I met a Muslim once and she was really nice.'”

At the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, where Mohamed worships, the outreach group she’s part of offers interfaith potlucks, campus lectures, school presentations, church and synagogue discussion meetings.

The outreach is working, at least in Mohamed’s own life. These days Mohamed’s mom has accepted her daughter’s practices and even attends the Islamic Center’s picnics. Mohamed married a Muslim man and they’re raising their children in the faith.

Even after the deadly shooting took place at the hands of Muslim Omar Mateen at a gay dance club in Orlando, Mohamed–characteristically–saw an opening for public conversation.

“The Orlando massacre is absolutely horrible,” Mohamed says, and yet, “It has opened the doorway to many questions concerning homosexuality and Islam. Heck, it has opened the doors in all faiths that typically are not approving of that lifestyle. We are all human beings, it’s sad that some feel certain lives don’t matter.”

Please listen to the recorded audio to hear Mohamed speak about more challenges and blessings of her conversion–the difficulties she had with a more segregated relationship with men, the surprisingly tight sisterhood of women in her faith, and more.



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!