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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Happy 70th to my favorite guitarist: Jimmy Page

Written by Scott Mervis on .


It's Jimmy Page's 70th birthday and as we saw just a few years ago during that Led Zep reunion, the man can still shred. Hope we see him live again soon.

In honor of his birthday, here's a re-run of my list of FAVORITE GUITARISTS from 2010:

1. Jimmy Page

"Hammer of the Gods" describes it pretty well. Along with his amazing dynamic range -- from delicate lines to face-melting riffs -- there was never a more thrilling, passionate, sloppy, daring guitarist. As evidence, we need only point to the 3-minute mark of "Dazed and Confused."

2. Jimi Hendrix
He flipped it upside down and virtually wrote the book on acid, hard-rock guitar. At times, just maniacally, otherworldly good. Think of what he could have done if he'd lived even to be 30.

3. Duane Allman
Only made it to 24, but, wow, did he leave us some sweet playing. He incorporated Southern picking into blues-rock with tones that were soulful and sizzling, whether with the ABB or on the "Layla" album. Of course, you can't talk about Duane Allman without mentioning Dickey Betts.

4. Stevie Ray Vaughan
So heavily influenced by people like Albert King, Buddy Guy and Mr. Hendrix, SRV loses points on originality. But his ability to go from Point A to Point B on the neck was mesmerizing, his tone was big as Texas and his ability to play lead and rhythm together was jaw-dropping. When he played, it came from somewhere else.

5. Jerry Garcia
The first controversial pick on the list, perhaps, because some just consider him a noodler. The thing about Jerry is that, whether he was playing country-bluegrass or going deep into psychedelia, he found colors in his customized guitars that no one else could. When you hear Mr. Garcia, you know who it is.

6. Richard Thompson
The onetime British folk-rock prodigy, who came up through Fairport Convention, is the most underrated guitarist (not to mention singer and songwriter). Choose your poison: He'll give you lyrical finger-picking on acoustic or shred on electric. The virtuoso of this list.

7. Neil Young
Let's see. He came in at No. 83 on the Rolling Stone list, maybe because of one of those one-note solos. While not the most skillful player, the Godfather of Grunge does a lot with a little, and there are few players more expressive or more intense. (One disciple who is tempting to put on this list is Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis.)

8. Andy Gill
Could the Gang of Four guitarist play an actual blues riff? I couldn't tell you. But he scratches and claws at the guitar so jaggedly you fear it could cut you. His icy stare just adds to the thrill. When you see Go4 (one of the best bands I've seen live) it's hard not to stare back. Other punk faves: Billy Zoom of X (pure psychobilly precision) and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets (Garcia on speed).

9. Keith Richards
Bear with me here. As a soloist, he wouldn't make the top 100. And I would add that when I've seen him live, it's been hard to tell exactly what he's doing. But did any band ever generate more great riffs than the Rolling Stones? He has to get props for that, with nods to Brian Jones, the great Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood.

10. Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo
What would the storm of the apocalypse sound like? Sonic Youth's twin towers of feedback provided the soundtrack in their torrential squalls. With their weird tunings and modified guitars, it was more devastating than anything that came before it.

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Nick Miller, Kiana Law leading scorers in WPIAL

Written by Mike White on .

Tomorrow, the Post-Gazette will publish the leading scorers in WPIAL boys and girls basketball for the first time this season.

Here is a sneak peak at the top five (stats are heading into this week):


Nick Miller, Western Beaver (31.0)

Dane Jackson, Cornell (29.9)

Cameron Johnson, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (28.0)

Ryan Wolf, Vincentian (27.9)

Brandon Lawless, Carmichaels (26.8)


Kiana Law, Central Valley (26.3)

Chassidy Omogrosso, Blackhawk (25.5)

Kaitlyn Slagus, Belle Vernon (25.0)

Mallory Heinle, St. Joseph (24.9)

Seairra Barrett, Central Valley (24.5)

More state rankings

If you want to know who might be the top boys team in the state, regardless of class, check out the rankings.

Jerry Shenk has been doing the rankings for decades. There are a few WPIAL teams in the rankings. One of them is Lincoln Park, even though the team is Class A.

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One-way contracts can offer security but no guarantees - 01-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


It was hardly the biggest or most noteworthy contract Penguins general manager Ray Shero agreed to in the 2013 calendar year, but when Shero penned goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, to a two-year contract extension Dec. 21, it offered something Zatkoff had never had before in his six-year professional career.

While it provided a tidy bump in pay from $537,000 to $600,000 per season (according to, the most important term of the contract was the fact that it was a one-way contract. Basically, Zatkoff gets paid the same regardless of what level of the organization he is assigned too. Under the terms of his current contract, Zatkoff's prorated pay drops to $105,000 if he is ever assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

Players with two-way contract are routinely shuffled between the NHL and AHL, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to save on payroll. With a one-way contract, team management has less motivation from a financial sense to send a player to the minors.

For Zatkoff and others who have served their time in the minor leagues, that first one-way contract offers the potential to live in an apartment or house instead of a hotel. It offers travel on planes to Montreal or Los Angeles instead of bus rides to Binghamton or Norfolk.

Most importantly, it offers a chance to be a full-time NHLer.

Recently, members of the Penguins talked about what getting a one-way contract meant to them:

Craig Adams, right winger – “It was great. Obviously, it’s something you work for and hope for. It certainly doesn’tguarantee you that you’ll be in the NHL but it makes it more likely. …You can be an NHLer for a long time before you get that one-way deal. It’s a little bit of security … well it’s a lot of security actually.”


Deryk Engelland, defenseman –“A huge accomplishment. It’s your goal from when you’re little to play up here [in the NHL]. It really drives you to get that reward. A one-way contract is a big accomplishment the way I look at it.”

Tanner Glass, left winger – “It was a huge moment. It’s financial security… for a little while at least. It’s something you definitely look at when you’re playing in the [AHL] on a two-way deal, you look at the guys who have those one-day deals, in most organizations, it’s a bit of job security. It was a pretty big moment in my career I think. .. It’s funny because I got [a one-way deal in Vancouver for the first time] but they sent guys down. You’re getting paid but the goal is to be in the NHL, not to really make money. That’s obviously a by-product of it but it was like, yeah, sure they’re going to pay me but they might send me down too but I didn’t rest on it by any means.”

Robert Bortuzzo, defenseman – “It was exciting. It was obviously something you work for. It gave you a little bit of a vote of confidence from the organization. It was just a nice feeling knowing the organization sees something in you and wants you to be a part of their plans. … You’ve earned someone’s respect and someone’s belief in you, it goes a long way. It definitely was a good feeling.

Jeff Zatkoff, goaltender – “It’s exciting. That’s what you work for, to get a one-way deal. It’s exciting but it’s still a lot of work, especially for me.”

Rob Scuderi, defenseman – “To me, I thought it was two-fold. It was validation that somebody … a great many people thought you were an NHL-worthy player and to be paid that way but it also meant more pressure to deliver. Maybe more pressure on yourself than anything else. You got the contract and you’re super happy but you also want to deliver on that. You feel it both ways."

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)


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Empty Netter Assists - 01-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-Marc-Andre Fleury (above) is pretty good in shootouts.

-Jeff Zatkoff isn't the only goaltender getting his first look at the NHL this season.

-TSN broadcaster Ray Ferraro lost his coffee while working the benches for Tuesday's Penguins-Canucks game:

-Philip Samuelsson scored both of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' goals in a 4-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.


-Max MacKay had a goal and an assist for the Wheeling Nailers in a 6-2 loss to the Reading Royals.

-The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins assigned defenseman Nick D’Agostino, Peter Merth and forward Cody Sylvester to Wheeling of the AHL.

-Happy 36th birthday to former Penguins goaltender Mathieu Garon (right). Acquired midway through 2008-09 in a deal which sent Dany Sabourin, Ryan Stone and a draft pick to the Oilers, Garon's Penguins career amounted to four games, a 2-1-0 record, 2.91 goals against average and .894 save percentage that season. In the postseason, he appeared in one game and made eight saves on eight shots while earning his first Stanley Cup ring. During the 2009 offseason, he joined the Blue Jackets as a free agent.

-After the jump: Welcome back Loui Eriksson (to practice) and which former Penguin is the Czech Republic's best player?

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