This summer, the Sisters of Mercy hosted StoryCorps Door-to-Door at their convent on Carlow University’s campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My co-Facilitator, Mitra Bonshahi, and I recorded stories with nuns from different congregations about their lives committed to service and the Catholic faith.
I met Sisters Rosella Lacovitch and Sally Witt, both Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pennsylvania, who spoke of their work with the Sisters of Mercy. Sister Rosella reflected on her time teaching at a school in the 1970′s in the Hill District, an inner city, predominantly African-American neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Sister Rosella spoke of how her awareness of social issues developed while teaching in the Hill District and through her service work in underprivileged communities. During this time, she joined the marches of African-American union workers, which sparked controversy among members in her religious community. But according to her, she felt she had to stand up for social justice and for what was right even if it angered some in her congregation.
In the classroom, she tried to empower black children by keeping a mirror with ‘Black is beautiful’ written on top of it. Looking back, Sister Rosella reflected on how else she might have impacted the lives of her students in the midst of the racial tension, poverty, and urban decay of 1970′s inner city Pittsburgh.
She shared the story of one student named Bruce, an unusually inquisitive sixth grader who wrote her a poem highlighting how helpful a teacher she was to him. Thirty-five years later, she met Bruce again and learned that he had become a minister and inner city youth educator. He told Rosella she inspired him to follow a path of religion and education. Today, Sister Rosella still keeps Bruce’s sixth-grade poem tucked inside her Bible and reads it whenever she feels down or overwhelmed.
In Pittsburgh, inspiration is a two-way street.
Much thanks to Sister Rosella and the Sisters of Mercy for sharing this and other inspiring stories of social justice.