Nuns' decline, resilience shown in documentary

Written by Peter Smith on .

In 1965, there were nearly 180,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the United States. By 2013, that number was barely 50,000, and large numbers of them are now elderly and receiving the kinds of health care that many of them once provided.

A new documentary premiering tonight on WQED-TV looks at the impact of that change in and around western Pennsylvania. It shows vacated motherhouses and other ministries once run by large religious orders. 

"I don’t know who is going to take up the slack," wonders one relative of a deceased nun, recalling the "dedication these sisters had."

Still, the documentary, "Change of Habit," focuses on the resilience of the remaining sisters.


"Instead of complaining about it or feeling sorry for yourself, you just reinvented yourself," said Sister Patrice Hughes of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. "... Old nuns never retire, they keep plugging away."

"I do believe girls will come and embrace this charism," said Sister Catherine Meinert, provincial superior of the sisters of Charity.

The documentary goes behind razor wire of the maximum security prison in Greene County to portray Sue Fazzini, a Benedictine nun working as an addiction counselor; and Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a former religious-education administrator who works in a garden at the Sisters of St. Joseph's motherhouse in Beaver County, producing food for local pantries and honey products for the sisters' gift shop.

And it portrays the Franciscan Sisters of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Steubenville, Ohio, a small order but one countering trends by growing with an appeal to younger women wearing the traditional habit. Sister Rita Claire, a former woman's professional football player for the Detroit Demolition, admits religious life is harder than the gridiron because "in football you can run people over when you're mad. In religious life you have to die to yourself and listen to the Lord."

The documentary goes into impressive depth on the lives of religious women past and present. It doesn't delve in detail into the big question looming behind all this: Why? Why did such a central part of Catholic life in America, and in the Western world, suddenly go on a trajectory toward a small niche? Many people have their pet theories, and one could take a lot longer than this documentary to try to answer it. But it succeeds in its purpose of offering a rich portrait of those who do continue to answer the call to religious life.

The half-hour documentary, airing at 8 p.m. on WQED-TV, was created by reporter/producer Michael Bartley and photographer/editor Paul Ruggieri.





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Higher gas tax has trickled down to the pump

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

gaspricesThe increase in the wholesale gasoline tax approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett has trickled down to the pump.

The transportation funding bill that passed in November eliminated the 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax paid by consumers and shifted all taxation of gasoline to the wholesale level, removing an artificial cap on the wholesale tax, with the net effect of a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the total tax effective Jan. 1.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge report, the statewide average price for a gallon of unleaded rose from $3.457 on Dec. 30 to $3.554 on Sunday, an indication that distributors are passing the full burden of the higher tax to drivers. National average prices remained relatively stable during that time frame.

Here's a statement from the Sheetz convenience store chain about the transportation funding bill and tax increase:

The lack of funding available for repairs on Pennsylvania roads and bridges has taken a significant toll on Pennsylvania drivers, including our customers, our employees and the many trucks that serve our 464 stores throughout the Commonwealth and the other five states in which we operate.

Sheetz commends Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly for the recently enacted, bipartisan transportation funding legislation, which will provide a much needed financial source for infrastructure improvements across the Commonwealth. The legislation takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Sheetz is committed to assuring our consumers the lowest possible price on gasoline and there are many factors that go into how those prices are set. While removal of the oil company franchise cap is one reason that retail costs could increase, there are other components of this legislation that could decrease those costs, including the elimination of the 12-cent liquid fuels tax that consumers pay at the pump.

Act 89 provides for a comprehensive investment in transportation that will make our road system safe and efficient, stimulate the state’s economy, and improve the quality of life for both our employees and customers.

Photo: The Huffington Post


In addition to socking us with cold and snow, Old Man Winter is exposing the ridiculousness of those long-range winter forecasts that local TV meteorologists trot out every fall.

dartboardThese heavily hyped ratings gimmicks purport to tell us how much snow and cold we’ll get each month for the entire season. Our guess is that the TV execs want you to watch, then forget. We decided to keep track throughout the season.

The National Weather Service recorded 15 inches of snow in December. WPXI’s Stephen Cropper predicted 10 inches; WTAE’s Mike Harvey said 8 inches; KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla told us we’d get 4.4 inches. So the best forecast of the three was off by 50 percent.

Mr. Verszyla had us getting 6.6 inches total during November and December, while Mr. Harvey predicted 10 inches for the two-month period. The actual total was 24.3 inches, meaning your Aunt Nellie’s Ouija board probably came closer to the correct total than the experts.

Mr. Cropper didn’t hazard a guess for November, waiting till the end of the month to deliver his winter forecast.

Mr. Verszyla said December temperatures would be 5 degrees warmer than normal, while Mr. Harvey forecast an average 1 degree below normal. The actual average was 1.7 degrees warmer than normal. Mr. Cropper didn’t predict the average but said “quick shots” of cold air would move through, not exactly a daring forecast for Pittsburgh in December.

For January, Mr. Harvey says to expect 15 inches of snow; Mr. Cropper says 12 inches; Mr. Verszyla, 7.9 inches — not 8, mind you, but 7.9.

Your guess is as good as theirs.


Just a reminder that Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls went up at midnight, 12 percent for cash payers and 2 percent for E-ZPass subscribers. For more details, see the Post-Gazette's report from last week right here.


While The Roundabout was tending to various holiday demands, Allegheny County announced the completion of the Brownsville-Broughton-Curry Hollow intersection realignment project in early December. This gets our vote for Project of the Year, a vast improvement to one of the most congested intersections in the region.

Also completed were two other major intersection improvements in the South Hills: expansion of the Broughton-Baptist intersection in Bethel Park and a second through lane from Gilkeson Road to Connor Road in Mt. Lebanon. 2013 also brought us completion of the Route 28 interchanges at the 31st and 40th street bridges.


Outbound traffic on Route 28 will be restricted to a single lane in the area of the 31st Street Bridge starting at 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The restriction is in addition to the around-the-clock lane closure already in place before the bridge. It will be lifted at 5 a.m. daily, except Saturday, when it will continue until 8 a.m. Crews will install an overhead sign.

Inbound traffic on West Carson Street will be unable to turn right into the Corliss Tunnel starting Monday morning. Underground electrical work will cause the closure at 8 a.m. It will continue around the clock through Feb. 14, with traffic detoured beyond the tunnel to Steuben Street and Chartiers Avenue to reach Corliss Street. Drivers will continue to be able to turn right from the tunnel onto West Carson. Outbound West Carson Street remains closed for the $39 million reconstruction project that will stretch into 2015.

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NYC's 'humane streets' sets example for us

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .




Atlantic Cities features Clarence Eckerson Jr.’s film on the transformation of numerous streets and squares in New York city since 2005.
A paean to Michael Bloomberg’s administration, notably his transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the film points out the great accomplishments in traffic redesign that gives over much more space to people on foot and on bicycle, with separate channels for cars. The film shows before and after scenes from places like Times Square, the Queensborough Bridge and Union Square.
With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term beginning, Sarah Goodyear, writing about the film and Bloomberg’s legacy of humane streets in “The Dramatic Makeover of New York’s Streets Under Bloomberg,” states that “now that New Yorkers have begun to get used to more humane streets in many parts of the city, it’s startling to see just how stark the contrast is. It makes you wonder, how did people accept the previous status quo?
“Bill de Blasio’s new transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has a tough act to follow. Yesterday, before de Blasio’s inauguration, she was outside City Hall meeting with members of Make Queens Safer, Make Brooklyn Safer, and other street safety advocates, who were rallying in support of the new mayor’s ambitious “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city by 2024. It was an early indication that we won’t be going back to these “before” pictures of New York streets any time soon.”
New York City is flat and Pittsburgh is hilly but there are many places in our city where these kinds of transformations are not only feasible but advisable. Unlike New York, which is still car-congested, Pittsburgh has lots of underused boulevards, many of them multi-laned, that almost beg for a redesign for exclusive bike lanes.
Outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has made modest progress in granting some space to cyclists. The painted images of bicycles on streets with no provisions for safety might be raising the consciousness of some car drivers but it’s time for Pittsburgh to get some protected bike lanes. More chairs on the streets — beyond the ones people post to save parking spots — would be nice, too.
Like New York, we have a new mayor, Bill Peduto, who responds to the description progressive. Maybe 2014 will be the year Pittsburgh breaks out the bold, dramatic changes that have transformed the experience of cycling in the Big Apple.


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The losses mounted in 2013

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Jonathon Denson’s thoughtful year-end list of preservation losses is a worthy read on this last day of the year. It's sobering to see the folly of so many of these decisions. Makes me want to rethink my assertion that 2013 was a great year for Pittsburgh.
We lose opportunities we can never get back when 100-plus year old buildings are knocked down. We lose part of what makes Pittsburgh unique because historic resources are becoming less common across the national landscape. A great range of architecture, both of type and of age, makes a city interesting and tells its residents and visitors that it has strength, wisdom, character and staying power.
But unless people rescue these old buildings before building inspectors can make a case for condemnation -- public safety, usually, which is such a subjective call -- we will continue to lose them. The above photo shows the Lamar Building in Oakland, which was demolished this year. The one at right is an old worker house in East Deutschtown on the North Side. As a frame house, it likely predates larger brick Victorians.EastDeutschtown 056
Surely some of these large corporations who have the deep pockets to be able to build multiple enormous Downtown buildings — I’m thinking about one of the large banks in the region — could renovate some notable and fine old buildings to LEED standards and make them offices. (I’m thinking the ARC House on East Ohio and Madison on the North Side, for starters.)
That building’s for sale. It has city historic “protection.” Will we lose it too before someone steps up?
Let’s hope that 2014 proves to be a good year for preservation. Thanks to Jon’s heads-up post, we now know that its advocates and the gems they champion have had better years than 2013.
Photos by Jonathon Denson

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Top 10 stories on in 2013

Written by Mila Sanina on .

sunset 800 1


The year isn't quite over yet, but we are very close to the end of 2013, so here is a quick look at the top stories on our website from the past 12 months ranked by the number of pageviews they racked up, from highest to lowest.
1) Death of an adjunct opinion piece was by faaaar our most read and most commented story this year
By Daniel Kovalik, contributor
By Liz Navratil, Lexi Belculfine, Eleanor Chute, Moriah Balingit, Molly Born, Robert Zullo and Jon D. Silver
3) Steelers vs. Patriots, the game that left few players injured and made Mike Tomlin angry
By Ed Bouchette
4) The piece from David Conrad, although written 2 years ago, was one of the most shared this year... of course, it's a love letter to Pittsburgh
5) L.C.Greenwood dies at 67
By Ray Fittipaldo
By Alex Zimmerman
By Everett Cook
By Teresa Lindeman
By Liz Navratil
By Ron Cook
The Rubber Duck story (by Michael Fuoco) didn't quite make the top 10 list but it was one of the most engaging and read in A&E this year. It is number 11.
We, at the Post-Gazette, wish you a Happy New Year! Stay with us in 2014 and we will keep you informed and entertained.


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