A Rebirth for Sisters of St. Francis
For almost a century, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God have provided health and education services to Pittsburgh and beyond. Now, they are welcoming the Baldwin-Whitehall community to share their place of peace.
As a deer was giving birth on a peaceful hillside in Whitehall Borough, Sister Joanne Brazinski was there, camera in hand, to capture the early moments of the frail creature's new life.
Like that young doe, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God are beginning a rebirth of their own.
This rebirth began in June, when the sisters initiated a strategic planning process. The mayors of Bethel Park, Baldwin Borough and Castle Shannon Borough, along with groups representing higher education, long-term care and assisted living, were invited to the campus.
"We had a number of people in at various times to help us look at what are the real needs in this part of Pittsburgh and how might we be able to collaborate in the future," said Sister Joanne Brazinski, who entered the community in 1965 and has been in a leadership role since 1988.
From their founding in 1922, one of the strengths of the small congregation has been the individual commitment to their mission, which they relate to their "charism" (from the Greek word for "charismatic").
"The word means gift, or spirit," said Sister Joanne. "Every religious community has a unique gift of spirit, and it is that which they call their charism."
"Faithful to our charism, we go to those to whom
Providence sends us and,
conscious of our mission in the Church,
we witness to the Kingdom by our lives of service."
~from Mission Statement
To have a fuller understanding of how this mission is put into practice, one must have a knowledge of some of the individual sisters, from Sister Miriam Racas (school administrator, retreat center cook, Lithuanian missionary and receptionist) to Sister Eliana da Silva (Brazilian nurse assistant and beautician) to Sister Elise Mora (bilingual educator and advocacy worker). Every sister contributes a great deal to sustain their small congregation (only 50 in the United States, 51 in Brazil, two in Lithuania, and three in Bolivia). Each sister uses her unique gifts to serve the three areas of the Franciscan mission: Peace, the Poor and the Homeless.
This year, the campus is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a Peace Site. Peace Sites are places that "foster and promote the reality of peace," states The Whitehall Franciscan. The Peace Site slogan is, "Peace is a way of life."
There are several resources the sisters offer which foster and promote peace in the community. The sisters own three hermitages, located at the Franciscan Spirit and Life Center, which are small buildings with the bare essentials (no television or Internet). These are available to anyone in need of solitude and a time to "unplug."
"We also want people to know that we have a retreat center," said Sister Miriam, so if they are looking to have a place to have their meetings, that's a place open to them."
"Another outreach program we are committed to is having the CCAC [Community College of Allegheny County] and Whitehall Borough use our swimming pool," said Sister Mary Ann Lostoski, who has been an educator for 50 years. The sisters are hoping to have the pool operational this January, after remodeling it for handicapped accessibility.
One of the challenges the sisters face is breaking the stigma that they are no longer a cloistered community, and are open to all, regardless of belief or background.
"From our beginning, we lived here and went out and worked," said Sister Nancy Langhart, a Pittsburgh native and college-campus minister for 27 years, "but now, we are trying to get people to come here."
"The biggest change I've seen is that, before [Vatican II], there were priests, nuns, lay people. It was a more hierarchical structure," added Sister Elise. "We're much more integrated now. Those old divisions no longer exist."
When asked what the community can do to help, Sister Mary Ann emphasized the need to support their programs, including their soup sale and upcoming aerobics classes.
One of the reasons community support is so important is that throughout the early years of the congregation, the sisters were not paid a salary for their work as educators or nurses. Only in the past few decades have the sisters been able to bring home a salary to the congregation.
The sisters have several ways of raising funds for their ministry and service to the community, including the following:
- Monthly Soup Take Out – Your choice of the following homemade soups: Wedding, Hearty Potato or Chicken Noodle for $5 a quart with two dinner rolls. Orders must be placed by Friday, Jan. 7, by calling 412-885-7232.
- The Sisters Craft Shoppe – Open most weekdays. Handmade crafts include Steelers "dammit dolls," hand-knitted market bags, decorations, jewelry, crochet blankets and pot scrubbers. Those interested can call for store hours: 412-882-9911.
- Franciscan Blend – This is a fair-trade coffee, packaged by the Arbuckles Coffee Company in Verona, Pa., especially for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God. Order online: www.osfprov.org.
For more information on how you can support the sisters and their ministries, please visit www.osfprov.org or call 412-885-7232.