Reaching Out For Change Within: Prison Ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

Setonian Tradition of Prison Ministry

Elizabeth Seton’s own daughter, Catherine Josephine, entered the Sisters of Mercy in New York and dedicated 40 years of her life toward prison ministry. Sister Catherine advocated for prison reform and served as spiritual advisor and confidante to even the most hardened criminals.

In the Annals of the New York Sisters of Mercy, Mother M. Austin Carroll wrote, “as soon as [Catherine] began the visitation of the Tombs, she set herself the task of learning German and Spanish [being already fluent in Italian and French] in order that her usefulness among the unhappy inmates might find no limit.”

Many of the former prisoners to whom she ministered kept in touch with Sister Catherine Seton and were eager to show their gratitude in the form of gifts, letters, and donations for the poor.

Sister Catherine Josephine Seton

The New York Catholic News extolled the work of Sister Catherine in in April of 1891: “No one probably ever acquired such influence and control over the thieves and robber class of New York…she was able to prevent much evil and inspire much good.”

Elizabeth Seton’s spiritual daughters have continued this tradition of prison ministry and the need couldn’t be more pressing. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit think-tank focused on mass incarceration, imprisoned individuals earn 41% less income than non-incarcerated individuals (prior to their incarceration). Basically, incarcerated individuals, particularly women, are more likely to struggle with poverty and lack of an education throughout their life, both pre and post-incarceration. In addition, cries for prison reform and human rights echo hollow without advocates outside the prison system.

Prisoners are exactly the kinds of poor, forgotten populations that Jesus Christ, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton have urged us to consider. The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill began their important ministry with prisoners in the 1970s.

Operation Outward Reach

In 1972, Sister Mary Agnes Schildkamp, who was working as the director of Project Forward at Seton Hill College, learned of the need of an organist and GED teachers at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) in Greensburg. She felt called to respond and recruited Srs. Marian Clare McGurgan and Mary Leon Bettwy to help with the Sunday liturgy and GED courses. In 1986, SCI-Greensburg would honor Sr. Mary Agnes at the first GED graduation ceremony for the years she taught men and women in the prison system of Westmoreland County.


It was during this same period that Operation Outward Reach (OOR) was instituted at SCI-Greensburg. Funded by a federal grant through the Governor’s Justice Commission and a state grant by the Department of Community Affairs, OOR was founded to “provide training leading to employment for men nearing the end of their terms in the correctional institution.” The program, which was initially supported by the United Presbyterian Church and the Diocese of Greensburg, took place at the Regional Correctional Facility No. 5.


Sister Mary Agnes became involved in Operation Outward Reach through the GED program and she dedicated nearly 20 years of her life to it. As a work release and skill development program, OOR functioned similar to an apprenticeship program where a cohort of inmates from each prison system would train under the leadership of qualified tradesman, particularly in construction fields. The inmates participated in the renovation and reconstruction of community buildings, historic sites, churches, and local homes.

State Correctional Facility, Greensburg, 1970s

In its first 20 years, the program trained 982 inmates in construction and ¾ of those inmates obtained a job in the field in the year following release. Only 10% of program participants ended up back in prison. In later years, OOR would expand to prisons in Mercer and Huntingdon.

In her retirement letter to Raymond Thompson, Director of Operation Outward Reach, in 1992, Sister Mary Agnes Schildkamp wrote, “OOR is special for me. I have marveled at its function and success since it was born twenty years ago…”

In addition to her work on behalf of SCI-Greensburg, Sr. Mary Agnes was involved in the Western Pennsylvania Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Pennsylvania Council to Abolish the Penalty of Death.

GED Program & Spiritual and Emotional Support

At the invitation of Sr. Mary Agnes, Sr. Edith Strong began teaching mathematics courses to inmates in the GED program at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute in 1974. She would expand her ministry as organist for Sunday liturgies and spiritual and emotional support for inmates and families for nearly 20 years. She also worked at the Westmoreland County Detention Center from 1981 until 1993.

Chapel at SCI-Greensburg, 1970s

In describing her work for the prison in 1985, Sr. Edith wrote, “on Sunday mornings, we have Mass, time to socialize with the residents, and opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, instruction in the faith, bible study, and Holy Name Society meetings. Residents of all faiths attend the Liturgy.” Sr. Edith also served an influential role in fostering interfaith support groups for the inmates and was a proud sponsor of the annual Christmas party where laughter and a sense of joy filled the prison walls.

1980s, Sr. Edith Strong and Sr. Marian Clare McGurgan are ready to enter the State Regional Correctional Facility No. V in Greensburg 

She received an award from SCI-Greensburg in 1993 for her volunteer efforts. In a congratulatory letter, Bishop Anthony Bosco wrote, “it was clear to me that the men had a genuine affection for you and you for them…I commend you for your fidelity.” Fifty inmates attended Sr. Edith’s award ceremony – a true testament to the love and gratitude of this prison community. Although she moved on from prison ministry when SCI-Greensburg closed in 2013, Sr. Edith’s shining example made a lasting impression on those around her.

To read more about Sr. Edith’s experiences, check out a full article in Celebration, Vol. 27, No. 1 here:

Prison Network

In 1992, Sr. Eleanor Dillon took over the ministry of Sr. Edith at the Westmoreland County prison, but found that there were changing needs in the prison community. Sr. Eleanor began administering a program called Prison Network for female inmates in 1994. Prison Network helped filled institutional and legal gaps by answering questions and fulfilling requests that the Westmoreland County Public Defender’s office couldn’t handle. It was a pioneer program in the county and was supported by both judges and prison wardens.

Services also extended to family members of inmates. Sr. Eleanor served as a liaison between female inmates and family, friends, and members of the criminal justice system, rehabilitation facilities, and other agencies. Sometimes the requests were practical – someone needs to turn off the gas in a now-empty home. Other times, the requests were more pressing – who will care for my children while I am imprisoned? When will I be released?

1995, Sr. Eleanor Dillon stands in the doorway of a room in the Westmoreland Prison and talks with one of the administrators.

In a grant application, Sr. Eleanor wrote, “the goal of the Prison Network is to enable the female offender to return to society better prepared to avoid/abstain from further criminal involvement.”

By 1996, Prison Network was ready to evolve. By partnering with THE PROGRAM for Female Offenders in Pittsburgh, Sr. Eleanor expanded and enlarged the scope and design of the ministry. Job placement programs became part of the rehabilitation of convicted women. Seeing the struggle of interim child caregivers, Sr. Eleanor also advocated for support programs for grandparents and legal guardians.  The Pennsylvania Commission on Corrections and Delinquency helped fund the ministry, as well as the Sisters of Charity.

1995, Sr. Eleanor Dillon stands outside the Westmoreland County Prison ready to enter and teach classes for women.

Unfortunately, leadership transitions within THE PROGRAM for Female Offenders in Pittsburgh prompted significant staffing and services alterations. Prison Network in Westmoreland County was discontinued in 1998.

Although Sr. Eleanor hoped to continue prison ministry at the age of 75, frail health forced her into permanent retirement.

Prison Reform

The prison programs adopted and supported by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have served as models for modern work-release plans, educational opportunities, and advocacy programs.

With the opioid crisis devastating the Pittsburgh region in the past decade, an influx of drug-addicted individuals have been and are entering the prison system. Rehabilitation and general support programs, like those mentioned above, are becoming even more necessary for adjustment to a post-release, successful civilian life.

Srs. Marian Clare McGurgan, Mary Philip Aaron, Mary Zachary Endress, Mary Dorothy Huber, Mary Noel Kernan, and Lois Sculco have also volunteered in prison ministry. Let the work of all these wonderful sisters inspire us to “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:1-3).

1955, Sisters take tour of Prison Facilities, Pittsburgh, Pa. Chief Armstrong of the Homestead Police Dept. takes the Sisters on a tour.  Srs. John Baptist Curran, Brigid Marie Grandey, Aquinas Bettwy (Isabel), Ann Francis Reagan, Mary Ethel Byers, Mary Joan Cole.

To the Brink of the Grave: Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill During the Spanish Influenza of 1918

“To stay there would be suicide.

To leave the baby would be murder.”

These are the words Sister M. Carita Duffy wrote in reference to her time spent in Hays, PA, during late October of 1918, at the height of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.

Sr. Carita Duffy Hays Pa
The first page of a record kept by Sister M. Carita Duffy detailing her time volunteering in Hays, PA during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Upon arriving in Hays, Sister M. Carita and her companion, Sister M. Hubert, offered to help the local doctor. He then sent them to care for local families too ill to move from their homes. The first family they encountered was in dire condition—mother, father, three children, and the baby were ill. A ten-year-old daughter was left to care for them by herself.

After doing what they could to ease the family’s suffering, the Sisters decided to take the baby with them that night. It died the next morning.

This record and others in the archives trace the tragic impact of the 1918 Spanish Influenza in southwestern Pennsylvania. They also serve to highlight the courageous volunteer efforts of Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. This year in particular we remember 100 years since the arrival of this deadly disease.

When the Spanish Flu hit, it did so suddenly and without mercy. Mortality rates were high; medical knowledge at the time was of little help. At the height of the pandemic, daily death rates were so great in number that there was a shortage of caskets and gravediggers throughout many areas.

Prior to that, however, preventative measures were initially seen as a nuisance. In Pennsylvania, all places of amusement in the state were closed—this included theatres, movie houses, saloons, and college football games. Pittsburgh streetcars were sanitized between trips, soaking traveller’s pant legs and skirts. Spitting in public became cause for arrest.

Then the flu did indeed arrive and the matter became deadly serious. Upon the pandemic’s arrival in Pittsburgh in early October, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Institute of Technology campuses were quarantined. Shortly thereafter, the United States army took over both Magee and West Penn Hospitals.

Pittsburgh Hospital & Nursing School—staffed and attended by Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill—found itself part of the efforts to combat the flu. One such nursing student was the mother of Assistant Archivist Sister Louise Grundish. Sister Louise recalls her mother talking about the flu and her role at that time in the men’s ward of the Pittsburgh Hospital. Most of the men in the ward died. One man desperately jumped from the window. Surprisingly he lived, surviving both the flu and his own self-inflicted injuries.

After fighting the flu, victim’s bodies were weak and susceptible to further disease. As such, pneumonia was often the true cause of death. When a victim contracted pneumonia, fluid filled the lungs and made it hard to breathe; skin turned blue due to oxygen deprivation. Those who succumbed to pneumonia drowned on dry land.

Those living in damp and crowded conditions were even more vulnerable to pneumonia and the flu. These conditions made the Steel City a deadly place to live in the fall of 1918 when the Spanish flu swept through. According to an article by Kenneth A. White, Pittsburgh experienced 22,000 reported influenza cases that year and over 4,500 fatalities.

Youngwood Emergency Hosp
Flu epidemic patient intake record from the Youngwood Emergency Hospital.

Tent hospitals were soon set up in open spaces to accommodate sheer number of victims (in addition to providing fresh air for the ill, which was thought to have curative properties). The Carnegie Steel Company hosted one of these hospitals, which had 3 large tents in addition to a tent for the nurses’ quarters. The hospital’s 60-bed capacity was nearly always full during the pandemic. During this time, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill assisted nurses and did laundry and housekeeping.

Smaller towns and communities faced their own challenges. These places were in dire need of trained medical professionals, most of whom were overseas at the time helping in the war efforts. Those who remained were stretched thin; some areas lacked any medical professionals at all.

As sickness spread, schools and parishes closed. Sisters of Charity were recalled from their assignments and sent to help at the motherhouse in Greensburg and at various locations. In Sr. Electa Boyle’s history of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, she writes that the Sisters received appeals for aid from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. They were sent to be volunteers in McKees Rocks, Hays, Homestead, Youngwood, Greensburg, and beyond. It’s likely the Sisters had little company in their efforts—White writes of a Red Cross call that went out to Pittsburgh nurses in mid-October, asking for volunteers. Eight responded.

Archival records list five Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill as victims of the Spanish flu. Sister John Francis Conlon is pictured above; also pictured is a Pittsburgh Daily Post article from November 1, 1918 that details the Conlon family’s encounter with the disease.

Sister Mary Clarissa Benson was a volunteer at the time of the pandemic and was given her last rites by a Reverend Father Brennan, who had also baptized her and given her First Holy Communion. Sister Leo Vincent Guiser was still new to the community in 1918 and took her vows on her deathbed.  Sister Mary Maurice McDermott and Sister Teresita Foley were both teachers prior to falling ill.

*Shown below are some pictures of Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill who are known to have volunteered locally during the time of the Spanish Influenza. Of the 350+ Sisters in the community at the time, it is presumed that 40 volunteered as nurses.

Once the flu’s spread subsided and life returned to normal, schools opened again and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill returned to their posts. Their efforts were not forgotten, however; the archives retains some letters expressing gratitude for the Sisters’ service. Shown below are two of the thank-you notes that Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill received. Of particular interest is $400 given by the Jamison Coal & Coke Company, a gift amounting to over $6,000 by today’s standards.

Jamison Note
Letter from George B. Taylor, Assistant to the General Manager of Jamison Coal and Coke Company to Mother Mary Joseph Havey, January 31, 1919
American Red Cross
Letter from the Chairman of the Mt. Pleasant Chapter of the American Red Cross to the Sisters of Charity

Written by Bridget Malley, archival intern


Newspaper clipping, “Two Die in Family; Three Others Ill,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 1, 1918. Retrieved from

Record of ministry in Hays, Pennsylvania, Sister M. Carita Duffy [October 21st, 1918], Box A-906.001, Apostolic Special Ministries Emergencies File, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill Archives, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Treatment record for emergency hospital in Youngwood, Pennsylvania [October 15th, 1918], Box A-906.001, Apostolic Special Ministries Emergencies File, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill Archives, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Thank-you letter from American Red Cross in Mount Pleasant to the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill [undated], Box 906.001, Apostolic Special Ministries Emergencies File, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill Archives, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Thank-you letter from Jamison Coal & Coke Company to the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill [January 31st, 1919], Box 906.001, Apostolic Special Ministries Emergencies File, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill Archives, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

White, Kenneth A. “Pittsburgh in the Great Epidemic of 1918.” The Western

Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 68, no. 3 (July 1985): 221-42.

Journey with Elizabeth

In June of 2018, the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill were approached by Seton Hill University to help curate and organize an exhibit on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in honor of the university’s centennial year celebration. Titled Journey with Elizabeth, the exhibit will rotate periodically and explore an aspect of Elizabeth Seton’s life and legacy by making connections to Seton Hill students, alumni, professors, benefactors, and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

Portrait of Elizabeth Seton by Sr. Fides Glass

This first foray, however, simply details Elizabeth’s journey from an educated New York socialite, wife, and mother to the founder of an influential American women’s religious community. In addition, the exhibit briefly explores the path of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in western Pennsylvania, as well as the founding of Seton Hill College.

The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have built a small collection of artifacts and documents related to the life and legacy of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity and the first American-born saint.


In the planning of Journey with Elizabeth, we wanted to celebrate Elizabeth Seton as the first American-born individual to be canonized by the Catholic Church, but more importantly, we wanted to humanize Elizabeth Seton. We believe that the life and legacy of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton echoes the journey of all Setonians. She experienced devastating loss, as well as great success. She questioned her Episcopalian upbringing, looking to God for answers…for more. She lost devoted friends and close family members after her conversion. She became a penniless widow. She suffered the loss of several children. She was human and experienced all that life can give and take away. However, Elizabeth triumphed. Her sacrifices and struggles led to the establishment of a new way of life for thousands of Catholic women. Her life inspired millions more. Those that followed her did great good in the world.

Image of the exhibit being installed in the parlor at Seton Hill University

Journey with Elizabeth highlights several treasured items from the collection of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

First, we must mention Elizabeth Seton’s personal copy of Thomas à Kempis’ The Following of Christ with Elizabeth’s personal notations. This book, given to Mother Aloysia Lowe when she left Cincinnati to establish a community in Altoona in 1870, has been lovingly cared for by the Sisters. The importance of this rare book, however, was rediscovered in the 1940s when the postulator for the cause of Elizabeth Seton’s canonization was visiting Seton Hill. While showing the postulator Seton’s The Following of Christ, Sr. Fides Glass, at that time a young Sister, discovered a key passage written in Elizabeth’s hand – the passage related to Elizabeth’s baptism! It was the only written evidence of her baptism since the church of her baptism had burned down.

Mother Seton’s copy of The Following of Christ with personal notations

Elizabeth Seton was a great writer – of course, by that we mean more than just gifted with the written word. She was prolific in her writings – letters, journals, notes, etc. The exhibit features several primary source documents written by Elizabeth herself, including a letter written to her son, William, whom she addresses as “My Soul’s Darling,” and a handwritten reflection on “Heaven.”  These key pieces in the exhibit reveal Elizabeth’s close relationships with others, as well as her own thoughts on faith, God, and scripture.

Letter, Elizabeth Seton to her son, William Seton, Jr., 1818

In regards to the community legacy, a circa 1815 needlepoint from St. Joseph Academy, the first school founded by Elizabeth Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is currently on display in the exhibit.

Additional highlights include tickets from the beatification of Elizabeth Seton in 1963, a medal from Mother Seton’s rosary, the key to the Stokes Mansion on the Seton Hill property, writings from Mother Aloysia Lowe, a letter certifying the charter of Seton Hill College, and much more.

We hope you enjoy your Journey with Elizabeth.

Written by Casey Bowser, Archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

Sister Spotlight: The Doran Sisters

The vision of a thriving community and home for the Sisters of Charity was imagined by Mother Aloysia Lowe and Mother Anne Regina Ennis, but the third Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Mother Josephine Doran, fully realized that dream. In addition to overseeing the completion of St. Joseph’s Chapel at Seton Hill, Mother Josephine established the first hospital under the management of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill and obtained clear title to the Seton Hill property. She was the first western Pennsylvania-bred Sister of Charity to lead the congregation after the deaths of Mothers Aloysia and Anne Regina. Similar to Mother Seton and Mother Aloysia, Mother Josephine Doran experienced great loss in her young life, but went on to achieve extraordinary deeds for the community.

The name Doran was well-known throughout Altoona in the mid-nineteenth century. Myles and Bridget Doran were among the first Irish Catholic settlers in the area. Mrs. Doran, born in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ireland in 1818, met and married Myles Doran in Ireland. They immigrated to America in the late 1840s and first settled in Peekskill, New York. Several years later, the Dorans found their way to Altoona. Myles owned a prosperous real estate business on the current site of the Mishler Theatre. The Dorans produced eight children, but only four girls survived beyond early adulthood. Two of the Doran sisters were among the earliest members of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

Doran Family
The four Doran Sisters pose with their mother, c. 1870. Mary Jane (Sr. Baptista) is seen standing at the far left while Margaret (Sister Josephine) is seated at the far right.

Mary Jane Doran was born in 1854, the eldest daughter of the Doran clan. She attended what would become St. John’s Academy, the first school run by the Sisters of Charity in the Diocese of Pittsburgh under Reverend John Tuigg. The family patriarch, Myles, died in 1865, leaving his four daughters and a widow without an income.

Mary Jane felt a call from God to enter the newly formed novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in 1871. She received the habit in August of 1871 and pronounced vows on July 19, 1873. She took the name Sister Mary Baptista. Sister M. Baptista began teaching 5th grade at St. John’s, but then spent most of her life teaching at Sacred Heart School in the East End of Pittsburgh.

Sr. Baptista Doran
Sister Mary Baptista Doran

Sister Baptista was considered the quintessential Sister of Charity – practical with good common sense, pious, and an untiring worker. We can only assume she positively influenced her younger sisters. One such sister entered the Benedictine Nuns of St. Mary’s in Erie, Pennsylvania and became Sister Genevieve, O.S.B. Her youngest sister, Margaret, entered the Sisters of Charity in 1874 and took the name Sister Mary Josephine.

Sister Mary Josephine was born in 1857 and was the first full graduate of St. John’s School in Altoona. She took vows on November 13, 1876. With a natural gift for the arts, Mother Aloysia sent Sister Josephine to Cedar Grove Academy in Cincinnati to study painting.

Mother Josephine Doran before entrance
A young Margaret Doran (Sister Josephine) poses while a student at St. John’s School in Altoona.

After teaching at Sacred Heart School in East Liberty, she went on to teach at her alma mater, St. John’s in Altoona. Sister Electa Boyle wrote that “she had a brilliant mind, and was devoted to study. She spoke French fluently, and was a fine mathematician…but her chief interests were music and painting.” When St. Joseph Academy was complete in Greensburg, Sister Josephine established the art courses and remained a teacher at the academy. Interestingly, Sister Josephine designed the shape of Lake Regina, a former lake on the Seton Hill property named for Mother Anne Regina, after the form of a painting palette.

Unfortunately, the elder Doran sister, Sister Baptista, contracted tuberculosis in the Spring of 1882 and convalesced in Altoona. Mr. Olmes of Olmes Meat Market in Altoona provided a daily pint of hot cow’s blood as a remedy for the disease, but despite best efforts, Sister Baptista died. It was a devastating loss to Altoona, Pittsburgh, and the Sisters. In an added shock to Sister Josephine, the other religious in the family, Sister Genevieve, O.S.B., also died in 1882.

As a testament to the good work of Sister Baptista Doran, hundreds of lay individuals attended her viewing and funeral in Altoona. The author may suggest that in the ensuing years of mourning, Sister Josephine may have naturally drawn closer to the older Sisters in the community, named Mother Aloysia and Sister Anne Regina.

Mother JosephineDoran1
Mother Josephine Doran as a young Sister of Charity.

After the death of Mother Aloysia, Sister Josephine Doran became the Assistant Mother from 1889 to 1891 under Mother Anne Regina Ennis. Mother Anne Regina died in office and Sister Josephine succeeded her in 1894. She was elected to two terms.

Although Mother Anne Regina initiated the building of St. Joseph’s Chapel at Seton Hill, she died when the foundation was only partially in place. Mother Josephine had the pleasure of seeing Mother Aloysia and Mother Regina’s vision come into fruition. Mother Josephine’s only remaining sister, Miss Ellen Doran, donated the main altar of St. Joseph Chapel in memory of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Myles Doran.

Interior of St. Joseph Chapel, Seton Hill, c. 1900.

Mother Josephine, utilizing her artistic abilities, designed the stained glass forms for the windows on the chapel doors which included images of Saint Aloysius, Saint Genevieve, Saint Anne with Child Mary, and Saint John the Baptist with Child Jesus. Do these names sound familiar? The stained glass windows, also donated by Ellen Doran, were created in honor of Mothers Aloysia and Anne Regina, Sister Genevieve Doran, O.S.B., and Sr. Baptista Doran – all of Mother Josephine’s great losses.

When St. Joseph’s Chapel was dedicated on November 18, 1896, the Sisters of Seton Hill donated the chapel bell in honor of Mother Josephine’s Silver Jubilee. The next time you are in St. Joseph’s Chapel at Seton Hill University, take a moment to reflect on the good work and life of Mother Josephine Doran. The chapel is truly hers.

During her tenure as Superior from 1894 until 1900, Mother Josephine Doran oversaw the maintenance of twenty-three parochial schools staffed by the Sisters of Charity and the opening of St. Luke’s School in Carnegie in 1899.

Mother Josephine, accompanied by Sister Mary Grace Ryan, made a hurried trip to Colorado in 1895 to visit Mr. John Jennings, former owner of the Seton Hill property, to make clear an undocumented title transfer. Luckily, she succeeded in her efforts.

Music Class at Seton Hill, July 1892. Shown are: (Front L-R) Srs. Beatrice Gority, Angelica Rooney, Marie Joseph Darr, Josephine Doran, Mary Grace Ryan; (Back L-R) srs. Mary Inez Cronin, Annina O’Donnell, Andrea Millbach (withdrew), Mary James Brownlee, DeChantal Brownlee, Hilda Popp, Maria Flanagan, and Felicita McGuire.

In 1897, a team of medical doctors from Pittsburgh appealed to Mother Josephine to administer and staff a nine-room hospital at Stanton and Collins Avenues in East Liberty. Mother agreed and sent the first troop of Sister-nurses to Charity Hospital (later Pittsburgh Hospital).

Pittsburgh Hospital must have been a mission close to Mother Josephine Doran’s heart. After her final term as Mother Superior ended in 1900, Sister Josephine became the first superintendent of the hospital and remained for 10 years. In her obituary the author wrote, “When she went there the hospital was a comparatively small wooden structure, quite incapable of the demands made upon it, and she immediately projected a new and commodious structure, complete in all details, which now stands as a monument to her sterling business ability, as well as her religious zeal.” After much difficulty with local citizens and politicians, Sister Josephine secured the permanent “Finley” property site for Pittsburgh Hospital.

1934, An established Pittsburgh Hospital at the Finley Homestead that Mother Josephine Doran secured.

Around 1910, Sister Josephine returned to Seton Hill to teach in the art department of St. Joseph Academy and, later, Seton Hill Junior College. She went to St. Kieran’s Convent in Pittsburgh and died quite suddenly from pneumonia on October 20, 1919.

The Sisters of Charity Novitiate built in Greensburg in 1963 was renamed Doran Hall in 1970 after Mother Josephine.


Written by Casey Bowser, Archivist


Angels on the Way: St. Philip School in Crafton

Angel Way will not be the same as Saint Philip School begins the 2018-19 school year this August.  For the first time since September 1915, there will be no Sister of Charity principal to welcome the students as they pass the Angel Statue on the corner of the drive. Sister Geraldine Marr, the 17th consecutive Sister of Charity principal, bade farewell to the school at the completion of the 2017-18 school year.

Angel Statue St Philip288
Angel Statue by St. Philip School in Crafton

The association of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill with Saint Philip Parish School in Crafton dates back to October 15, 1885 when Mother Aloysia Lowe accompanied Sister M. Borgia Casey and Sister Mary Austin Akers to staff the small two-room schoolhouse built by Father James Keenoy.  The school housed 75 children.  The sisters traveled from Southside by train each day, as no convent was available. Sister Thecla Adams replaced Sister Mary Austin after Christmas that year. Sadly, the school closed on May 17, 1891 due to a lack of finances and a slight economic depression.

sr thecla adams st philp school room 1 1887206
1887, Sr. Thecla Adams with students at St. Philip’s two-room schoolhouse built by Father James Keenoy.

Father William C. Kelty became pastor in 1898 and on February 6, 1906 Bishop Regis Canevin dedicated a magnificent new Church. By 1915, Father Kelty completed the building of a modern school and convent and requested the return of the Sisters of Charity.  In September 1915, the school opened with Sister Benigna Doran as Sister Servant and Principal and ten additional Sisters of Charity to complete the faculty.  The school population grew rapidly and Father Kelty erected a second building, including six classrooms, a gymnasium and a bowling alley in 1929.

1915 school building217
St. Philip’s School in Crafton, built in 1915.

Since the opening of Saint Philip School in 1915, an Angel Statue has stood at the entrance to the driveway used by students coming and going to classes.  Alumni of the school often remember this statue when they reminisce about their days in Saint Philip Elementary School.  Sister Geraldine utilized Angel Way and the Angel Statue to design a character development program based on Virtue education, which proved very successful throughout her 22 years as school principal.  ANGEL WAY formed the anachronism for Achieving Natural Goodness in Everyday Life.

Alumni members who visited the school in recent days remark about the many things that remind them of earlier times at Saint Philip School  They marvel at the marble hallways and some of the classrooms that have weathered years of students passing through the doors.  It is clear to those associated with St. Phillip’s that Father Kelty and the early pioneers created a school for the future.  Sister Geraldine Marr built on that tradition and brought the school into the next century with her efforts to introduce a strong technology program enhanced with a lived experience of a virtuous Christian life.

Father Kelty (center) with St. Philip’s School Class of 1947. Sr. Louise Grundish is pictured 5th row, 4th from left.

Saint Philip School continues to live the Mission as described in the statement below:

Saint Philp School, rooted in the love of the Heart of Christ, exists to pass on the faith and to teach the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.  Saint Philip School is committed to academic excellence and to the development of Christian virtues, which generate responsible character.  It endeavors to prepare the student for life now and into the twenty-first century.

The influence of one hundred years of labor by the Sisters of Charity stands out in the Mission Statement, which sounds very much like a paraphrase of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s words regarding education, “always prepare your students for the world in which they are destined to live.”

1935 graduating class st philip crafton sr miraim fidelis and sr demetrius mc mahon474
Sr. Miriam Fidelis Guinagh and Sr. Demetrius McMahon with St. Philip’s School Class of 1935
sr annina st philip school crafton092
c. 1990s, Sr. Annina Fox with students at St. Philip’s School

A bronze plaque will hang on the outside of the school building to commemorate over one hundred years of service of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill to the students and people of Saint Philip Parish.

The students of St. Phillip’s will continue to pass by the Angel Statue as the school bell rings, but the influence of the many Angels – Sisters of Charity – who were missioned to this beautiful school in Crafton, will also live on.

St. Philip’s Parish, Children outside of the Church

Written by Sr. Louise Grundish, S.C.

A Nod to Nursing: A Recollection of the First Graduating Class of the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing

It would seem wrong to let the year 2018 get further on than May without remembering the 110th anniversary of the first graduating class from the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing.  The school opened in 1905, seven years after the hospital received its charter. Perusing the Archives, the author found a speech given by Sister M. Irenaeus Joyce to the Graduates of the Class of 1968.

In her speech, Sister Irenaeus, the oldest member of the Class of 1908, reminisced about the pioneer days of the school.

Sixty years ago the first group to graduate from this nursing school numbered ten members: five young women and five Sisters of Charity—the Class of 1908.

Class of 1908 Pgh Hosp Lay nurses236
Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1908, Lay Women Graduates

We, like you, had studied faithfully; we, like you had excellent teachers—doctors of the staff who were devoted to their work, well qualified, most exacting, and eager that the first class set the pattern, lead the way for all classes that would follow through the years to come.

Mother Josephine [Doran], the first superintendent of the hospital, provided the best of supervisors and directors for us by employing four graduates from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

After our course was completed, the preparations for graduation day included some free time, a special festive dinner for the graduates and all the good doctors, supervisors and others who had worked for us and with us during our years of study.  The dinner was served in the attractive dining room on the first floor.

The hour set for the presentation of the diplomas and the Silver Medal given to each graduate was early evening—about seven o’clock.  This important ceremony took place in the large operating room on the fifth floor of the hospital.  This room was chosen for it had a balcony on front and on one side—a balcony that would hold chairs for thirty or forty persons crowded closely together. 

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Pittsburgh Hospital Operating Room, where the early Nursing School graduations took place.

The young women wore the white uniform used in that day.  The Sisters wore their best black habits.  All graduates were permitted to carry flowers of their own choice.  Two of the sisters decided they would not carry flowers, for they believed that eight floral displays differing in color and design were more than enough.  I am not certain what seven of the eight bouquets were, but I know that I carried a big cluster of sweet peas, sent by an obliging relative from Philadelphia.

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Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1908, Sister of Charity Graduates

As each graduate called by the officiating member of the Staff stepped forward she was given the Silver Medal engraved with name, date, and school—a prized memento.  Then the diploma was placed in her hand while applause and congratulatory words from floor and balcony filled the room.

I am confident that in this hour of accepting the diploma we were all thinking of the many times we had been reminded by Mother Josephine and all the other able minds and hearts who had guided us that we were the first — the pioneers— in a new Nursing School; that our work be superior; our performance without flaw; our goal must be the highest achievement possible.

We could all repeat the words we had heard the doctors, the teachers, the supervisors say over and over again during the long years of study: “The years to come will judge the worth of our efforts, and the future alone can estimate the value of the foundation we are making in this new School of Nursing.”

And so, tonight I am privileged, dear members of the Class of 1968, to speak to you of the past, to tell you of the first days of your school.

With you I thank God for His goodness in blessing the work of the pioneer days, and for His continued blessing in bringing the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing to the high rank it holds in these later days of the Twentieth Century.

Again expressing my joy in being with you on this occasion, and asking God to guide and protect you through life, I say farewell in Saint Thomas More’s favorite words:

“Pray for me as I do for thee until we meet merrily in Heaven.”

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Nursing Pin of Sister Isadore Boyce, a graduate of the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1908

The Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing opened in January 1905 under the supervision of Miss Emma Powers, a graduate of Johns Hopkins and Miss Ella Beach from Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.  Records of these days are in a ledger containing one page for each student with duty assignments.  Pre-entrance requirements were that the candidate have one year of high school or the equivalent, be at least eighteen years of age, of good moral standing and desire nursing.  Admissions occurred anytime from January to December and students were assigned to floor duty the day after admission to the school.  Twelve-hour duty, seven days a week was the order of the day.  Classes occurred in the evening.  No records of subjects, instructors, or grades are noted.  Miss Powers left her position in December 1906 and Miss Agnes Blewett from Mercy Hospital replaced her.

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The Class of 1908 included the following members:

Sisters of Charity:            Sister Marie Fidelis Bridge

                                                                 Sister Isadore Boyce

                                                                 Sister Marcella Renninger

                                                                 Sister Irenaeus Joyce

                                                                 Sister Luigi Walsh

                Lay Women:                         Miss Eulalie Moran

                                                                 Miss Katherine Sophia Frank

                                                                 Miss Julia Mary Madden

                                                                 Miss Mary Emma Kreig

Immediately following graduation, Sister Marcella became Assistant Director of the School until July 1909 when Miss Blewitt withdrew and Sister Marcella succeeded her as Superintendent of Nurses, a position she held until September 1923.

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Pittsburgh Hospital Nursing School Classes of 1908 and 1909. A doctor climbs a tree in the background while another can be seen peeking around a nurse’s cap.

The first class entering under Sister Marcella’s guidance was the first to prepare for the State Board Examinations, which they took following graduation in 1912.  All of them passed, relieving a difficult situation since the examinations were the first in history and no one knew how to help the candidates study for them.  The test was both theoretical and practical.  Those who had completed their studies before 1912 registered by waiver.

All of the graduates of 1908 had successful nursing careers.  The Sisters of Charity from the class continued to hold responsible nursing positions until their retirements or until death. Sister Irenaeus Joyce pioneered the concept of prepaid health coverage at Providence Hospital in Beaver Falls. Modeled on the “Penny Plans” run by their Sisters in Ireland, the Providence nuns, under the leadership of Sister Irenaeus, enrolled more than 1,000 subscribers in the early 1930s, several years before the start of the Hospital Service Association (Blue Cross) plan in Western Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Nurses Association honored Sister Irenaeus as the Distinguished Nurse of the Year in 1963.  She died on October 16, 1976 at age 103.

The Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing would graduate over 1,700 individuals, including 45 Sisters of Charity, until its closing in 1976. The author of this blog post had the responsibility and the privilege to close the school and graduate this last class of gifted nurses.

Sister Louise Grundish



Sister Spotlight: Sister Miriam Francis Cunningham

This April we will highlight the life and accomplishments of Sister Miriam Francis Cunningham. Sister Miriam Francis, whose small stature was no measure of the woman herself, was a dedicated religious and healthcare professional. She was also the longest-living member of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. Here is her story with an additional recollection from her friend and colleague, Sister Louise Grundish.

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Sister Miriam Francis Cunningham

Mary Agnes Cunningham was born January 22, 1898 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to James and Catherine Costello Cunningham. The family moved to Waynesburg, PA and James became a machinist for the Waynesburg and Washington Railroad. Her mother, Catherine, was born in Ireland, but grew up in England with relatives. When the Costello family attempted to immigrate to the United States, 2-year-old Catherine had scarlet fever and was barred from travel. At the age of 15, she travelled alone to America to meet a family she barely knew. She later met James and bore six children.

Living in Presbyterian Waynesburg proved difficult for the Catholic Cunningham family. They encountered much prejudice due to their faith. Despite this hardship, Mary Agnes felt compelled to enter religious life in 1905 at the age of 8. She first encountered the Sisters of the Good Shepherd seeking donations for a girls’ home at St. Anne’s parish in Waynesburg. She knew at that moment she wanted to be a part of that charitable and goodly life in the service of God. However, it would take a number of years before little Mary Agnes or “Mamie,” as she was nicknamed, would find her religious home.

In her late teens, Mary Agnes began work as a secretary for the owner of a local tin mill that made tin hats for the First World War and as a clerk for Western Union. She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph at Baden, but left after only a few weeks due to homesickness.

The call to religious life continued to tug at her. One of Sister Mary Agnes’ cousins, Mariah, had been taught by Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph School in Sharpsburg, PA. Mariah suggested Mary Agnes contact her friend, Sister Mary Albert McElligott, for a visit to Seton Hill. The story goes that by the end of that visit “you could tell by Mary’s eyes that this is where she wanted to be” (Cunningham, 1987). She decided to apply for entrance to the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in 1919 at the age of 21 with Sister Mary Albert as her sponsor. She then became known as Sister Miriam Francis.

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Sister Miriam Francis as a young Sister of Charity

Tragedy struck home in those early years – the Cunningham matriarch, Catherine, passed away suddenly during routine surgery. It was a devastating blow to the family. Sister Miriam Francis herself nearly died from illness during her novitiate years. Throughout her life, Sister would often find herself in ill health.

Sister Miriam Francis was not alone in her trials or in religious life. In fact, her biological sister entered the community in 1925 and became Sister Rose Angela. Rose Angela would head the Home Economics Department at Seton Hill College for many years. The two sisters, tied together by the bonds of family life, would forever be linked in religious life as well.

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Sister Sisters! Sisters Miriam Francis and Rose Angela (right) with Sisters Harriet Omlor and Corrine Omlor (left) at a Jubilee Celebration

After she spent several years working in the Treasurer’s Office of the community, Sister Miriam Francis was sent to Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing in 1929 to pursue her Nursing diploma. She graduated in 1931. She later earned her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing with minors in Psychology and Ethics from St. Louis University.

From 1939 until 1971, Sister Miriam Francis thrived as the Director of Nursing at Pittsburgh Hospital. During her tenure, Sister influenced hundreds of nurses and students, initiated the 8-hour work day, ended the split shift, and helped the School of Nursing achieve accreditation.

“Sister Miriam Francis was a lady to her core. She loved fresh tablecloths, good silver settings, and fine china. When attending conventions, it was a known fact that she would only choose to dine in restaurants with tablecloths and linen napkins. One of the graduate of the nursing school told me she used to study in the “date room” across from Sister’s office. She so admired her lady-like manner, soft voice, and gentle ways that she hoped Sister’s close proximity would rub off on her,” Sister Louise Grundish explained.

A member of the Pennsylvania and National Leagues of Nursing, the American Nurses Association, and the Pittsburgh Hospital Alumnae Association, Sister Miriam Francis became known for her kindness, class, and focused attitude. She was a charter member of the American Society for Hospital Nursing Service Administrators of the American Hospital Association. In 1980, she received the Honorary Recognition Award from the Pittsburgh Hospital Nurses Alumnae Association.

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Her students and fellow nurses affectionately called her “Minnie,” a reference to Minnie Mouse. Sister Miriam Francis was quiet and small, but a true force.

Sister Louise recalls one memorable Easter with Sister Miriam Francis…“Sister Miriam Francis wanted only the best for students in the School of Nursing. She was particular about the Easter candy to be placed in nests on the residence floors. Only the finest would do. One Easter, when Sr. Miriam Francis confined to bed with a heavy cold, Sister James Mary Conway and I went to downtown Pittsburgh to purchase the candy. This was no small task. One stop was Dimlings Candy Store close to Market Square to purchase coconut eggs. Then we went on to Reymer’s for another variety of chocolate eggs. Only the petite jellybeans sold at Dimlings made muster with Sister Miriam Francis and smaller eggs had to be Russell Stover’s – only. The trip took us all afternoon and we arrived home on the streetcar with two overflowing shopping bags of special candy for the nests she would assemble with great care.”

In 1969, Sister Miriam Francis and her two colleagues, Sisters Mary Ida and Mary Cephas, embarked on a whirlwind, month-long tour of Europe. They visited Ireland, Portugal (Fatima), France (Lourdes), Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. It was a well-deserved dream come true after years of hard hospital work.

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Sister Miriam Francis in her nurses’ habit

Although she formally retired in the early 1970s, Sister continued volunteering at the hospital as bookkeeper and patient visitor. She moved to full retirement in 1991 first at Assumption Hall, then Jeannette District Memorial Hospital, and to her final home, Caritas Christi. Sr. Rose Angela was with her every step of the journey.

In 1990, a nephew in the family endowed the Goodman-Cunningham Scholarship at Seton Hill College in honor of Sisters Miriam Francis and Rose Angela.

Despite her lifelong struggle with physical illness and her declining eyesight, Sister Miriam Francis lived to the ripe old age of 103!  Sister Rose Angela lovingly cared for her night and day in those final years.

Although Sister Miriam Francis left us on May 30th of 2001, her legacy has lived on in her students and friends. Known as a strict disciplinarian with a kind streak, Sister Miriam Francis’ shining example made a better person of everyone around her.

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Sister Miriam Francis and Sister Louise Grundish at the 1981 Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association Banquet.


Cunningham, Sr. Rose Angela. (1987, February 22). Interview by Sister Marie Corona Miller [Tape recording}. Oral History Project of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, PA.

An Exceptional Teacher and Her Students: Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck and the Blind Program at DePaul Institute

The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have had a special tradition of serving as teachers and mentors to deaf and blind children. From the founding of DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in 1908 to teaching blind and deaf CCD classes in Arizona in the 1930s and the establishment of St. Mary’s School for the Blind in Korea, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have often found themselves at the forefront of sensory impaired education. Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck, a beloved teacher at DePaul Institute, epitomized this tradition of love, care, and dedication to her students.

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Sister Francis Louise was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania on October 22, 1914. On November 1, she was baptized Emma Marie at Visitation Church. Her parents, Andrew and Sophia Sidlovsky Honeychuck, welcomed her into a large family. When Emma was four years old, she lost her father in the flu epidemic of 1918. Afterwards, the family moved to Scottdale, PA. To support the children, her mother worked tirelessly, cleaning offices and taking in washing. During that time, Emma cared for her younger siblings, John and Helen. On weekends, she assisted her mother in the casket factory, cleaning the bathroom sinks and toilets and picking up scattered pins. The family’s financial hardships continued, and eventually, all of the children worked to support one another.

Emma attended St. John the Baptist School in Scottdale where she was taught by the Sisters of Charity. At 17 years old, Emma accepted God’s call to become a Sister of Charity. She applied for admission to the community in 1932. Her name, Sister Francis Louise, was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Louise De Marillac.

Shortly after entering, Sister Francis Louise pursued higher education and her first missions in teaching. She taught 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades at St. James School in the West End of Pittsburgh.

Beginning in 1937, Sister Francis Louise was missioned to DePaul Institute in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1908 by the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, the Pittsburgh School for the Deaf, as it was originally known, was one of the few educational venues for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the country. It was later titled DePaul Institute and, unlike many other schools, did not teach sign language, but listening and spoken language skills.

At first, Sister Francis Louise began teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing children, ages 6 to 12. The students learned “speech reading,” which is lip reading combined with facial expressive reading. Teachers taught language development using the “oral-aural” method of instruction. In this method, the children would read a sentence in print and then feel the instructor’s cheek as he or she spoke the sentence aloud. The students felt the vibrations of actual speech and learned how to mimic these vibrations. By the time the children reached 4th grade, the goal became integration into regular public schools.

1955, Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck teaches two visually impaired students how to lace shoes at DePaul Institute.

In 1948, a mother from Erie, Pennsylvania began searching for a school for her 6-year-old visually impaired daughter, Anne Marie Girard. Anne’s mother approached Coadjutor Bishop John Dearden and asked if he could recommend a school for her daughter. Dearden, who would become Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1950, informed her that the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh was available. Anne’s mother was aware of the school, but she preferred for her daughter to get a Catholic education. Bishop Dearden proceeded to ask Father Raymond Dougherty, the Director of DePaul Institute, to provide a classroom and a teacher for Miss Anne Marie Girard. When she arrived, DePaul recruited Agnes Stone, a blind woman, to introduce Anne Marie to the braille system. Sister Francis Louise observed the lesson and directed Anne Marie in the first steps of the reading process. DePaul Institute would offer a Catholic education to both deaf and blind individuals.

Having already earned a Class B Teacher’s Certificate from the Conference of Executives of American Schools for the Deaf in 1944 and a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Duquesne University in 1947, Sister Francis Louise was designated to go to Columbia University in New York to take a class for reading and writing braille. She attended the university alongside Sister Justina Dreistadt, who was also preparing to teach blind and sight conservation classes at DePaul.

With no access to a braille writer, Sister Francis Louise had to study the alphabet and write with a slate and stylus. The slate and stylus used an inverted pattern of writing. The stylus pricked the dots on one side of the paper and the person read the message on the opposite side of the paper. After six weeks of study, Sister Francis Louise came home, having failed her braille exam with two mistakes.  She continued to teach students at DePaul Institute.

In 1951, Sister Angelica Little arrived at DePaul. She was sent to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to learn about educating the blind. Guided by Sister Francis Louise and Sister Angelica, other teachers in the school became familiar with the braille system and used it whenever necessary. Sister Mary Estelle Copeland and Sister Justina Dreistadt later attended the Michigan State Normal College Horace Rackham School of Special Education.

Sister Angelica Little with students; girls use a Perkins Brailler and Sister helps a boy feel the raised stars on the flag
Sister Angelica Little with students. The girls use a Perkins Brailler and Sister helps a boy feel the raised stars on the flag.

In an effort to atone for her original failed braille exam, Sister Francis Louise earned Certification in Blind, Deaf, and Hard of Hearing Education in 1954, a Master’s degree in Education from Wayne University in 1955, and a Certificate from the Library of Congress as a Certified Braille Transcriber in 1962. The last certificate was a huge achievement in Sister Francis Louise’s life since she earned it by transcribing a popular children’s fiction book, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, into braille. Throughout the 1980s, Sister continued taking classes on education of the sensory impaired.

At DePaul Institute, students with usable vision learned with large print materials while the blind students were educated using braille. There were often 2 or 3 blind students in a class with the partially sighted and hard-of-hearing students. The classrooms always contained braille writers and large print readers. Additionally, special desks were provided for the students who used large print textbooks. These desks were set in a slanting position which elevated the books to the eye level of the students for ease of readability. Hand magnifiers were also utilized.

During her tenure at DePaul, Sister Francis Louise took the giant responsibility of developing a curriculum for blind students. Evelyn Reardon, a young blind girl, transferred from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind and moved to a home near DePaul Institute. The teachers found themselves unprepared. They didn’t have the textbooks needed for her education. Sister Angelica Little and Sister Francis Louise then spent long hours brailling the pages required for each day’s lessons, trying to meet her needs in reading, social studies, and math. The school also received braille books and book recordings from other vendors, including the Xavier Society for the Blind in New York and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Disappointed in the selection of Catholic literature for the blind at the Library of Congress, Sisters Francis Louise and Angelica Little used a disc recorder to create a “Talking Prayer Book for the Blind” in 1955. It included prayers of everyday devotion, hymns, and liturgy.

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An article in the August 25, 1955 issue of Pittsburgh Catholic about the “Talking Prayer Book” recorded at DePaul Institute.

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Sister Francis Louise and all of the teachers at DePaul fostered a normal school experience for their exceptional students. The children participated in Girl and Boy Scout programs, played sports, went on camping trips, sang songs, and created arts and crafts. Sister Angelica Little transcribed music into braille for the students to play on the piano. Blind and deaf students worked together to produce music recitals and Christmas plays.

In order to encourage learning and communication in the home, teachers at DePaul Institute taught mothers how to read and write in braille. Classes were held in the evenings once a week. Mothers were then more effectively able to assist their children with school assignments.

1955, Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck observes two visually-impaired students using Braille typewriters at DePaul Institute.

In 1970, DePaul closed the blind and sight conservation classes because of competition with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind. The Sisters sent all the braille materials to other schools that could make use of them and to any individual who requested them.

In addition to her work as a teacher, Sister Francis Louise mentored and inspired a new generation of student teachers working with sensory impaired students. In 1997, Sister concluded her time working and volunteering at DePaul Institute.

Sister Francis Louise enjoyed a well-deserved retirement after decades of teaching exceptional youth. During her retirement, she volunteered in the Archives at Caritas Christi. Many of her students became successful adults with thriving personal lives and careers. They often wrote to Sister and visited her in retirement. In 2014, Sister Francis Louise celebrated her 100th birthday alongside fellow centenarian, Sister Marie Hirt. Sister Francis Louise passed away in April of 2017. Her 102 years of life were well-spent for she was a great influence in the lives of her colleagues, students, and fellow teachers.


Conclusion and Note from the Author:

I am a Junior Creative Writing major and Communication minor at Seton Hill University. When I began interning at the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Sister Louise Grundish told me the story of Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck. As a visually impaired person, I was inspired by her story. Sister Francis Louise was a hard-working, passionate woman who enjoyed every moment of her career. She touched the lives of many students.

Although I never got to meet her, she touched my life, too. I applaud her for learning braille on a slate and stylus, something that I never learned due to the invention of braillers, the blind version of a typewriter. I learned braille at the age of 5 and was lucky enough to have teachers of the visually impaired to assist me in my education. My teachers proofread my papers, and like Sister Francis Louise, brailled a few of my textbooks. Today, there is still a shortage of teachers for the blind.

I appreciate Sister Francis Louise’s determination as a teacher when there were still few who knew braille or who were willing to get students proper materials. I am grateful for Sister Francis Louise and her presence in the visually impaired community because, without her, people like myself would find it difficult to succeed in traditional school environments.

Jessica Minneci with her service dog, Joyce, working in the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

Thank you, Sister Francis Louise Honeychuck. I hope that God continues to bless you up in Heaven.

Written by Jessica Minneci and compiled by Casey Bowser, Archivist

The Man, A Vision, and His Castle

By Jonteal Hasty, Intern and Junior History major at Seton Hill University

In the 1920s, Seton Hill College experienced tremendous growth and change, particularly around the time that the first priest President of Seton Hill was inaugurated. Reverend Daniel Richard Sullivan was born December 1, 1875 in Towanda, Pennsylvania. This Towandian pursued his education and the priesthood before finding his way to a small Catholic school in western Pennsylvania. A man with a vision for his own future would alter the fate of Seton Hill College in ways both traditional and unexpected. His namesake, Sullivan Hall, stands as a reminder of President Sullivan’s great forethought.

President Sullivan

Reverend Sullivan first attended Susquehanna Collegiate Institute. Later, he went to Colgate University and Niagara University. Sullivan completed his studies at St. Charles Seminary in Rochester, NY. He was ordained June 12th of 1909 for the Pittsburgh Diocese. He was sent to Wilmington, Delaware for a brief period before being appointed to Holy Cross Church in Pittsburgh where he remained until assigned to Seton Hill.

When Sullivan arrived at Seton Hill in 1911, he served as the Chaplain for St. Joseph Academy. He spent several years in that position before becoming the Dean of Faculty for the newly chartered Seton Hill College in 1918. Prior to Sullivan’s tenure, the Mother Superiors held dual roles as Superior of the Sisters of Charity and President of the College. So in 1925, Sullivan began his legacy as the fourth President of the women’s college. Sullivan was known in the academic community for his work in economics and sociology. In his presidency, Sullivan focused on the growth of the college as a premier institution of higher education. He had a particular concern for the library and often stocked the shelves with books bought from personal funds. He contributed more than 600 volumes to the library.

“Hazard Yet Forward!”

Hazard Yet Forward

Students, faculty, and the Sisters of Charity community have cried out on the Seton Hill campus, “Hazard Yet Forward!” Many have held onto that vision of hope for all. To continue on, to always look up with the knowledge that there will always be obstacles, but in order to overcome, we must keep moving. Sullivan chose the “Hazard Yet Forward” motto for the school when he gave a speech for staff and students. Sullivan’s main focus as president was to keep pushing for Seton Hill College to grow and flourish. “Hazard Yet Forward” originally comes all the way from the 12th century; it is the motto of Clan Seton, the Scottish family heritage of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This first school motto rallied the entire community.

Unfortunately, in November 1930, President Sullivan was involved in a debilitating car accident. His vehicle skidded across the Lincoln Highway near Laughlintown, flipped, and pinned him underneath. President Sullivan often had Seton Hill faculty drive him around as a leisure activity. Helen Cronin Schmadel had been the faculty member in the car with him that day. He was 55 years old, going on 56, and had already started suffering from unknown illnesses, but he was in the prime of his presidency. The accident left him with a broken spine and he was not expected to live.

On November 23, 1930, a letter from Seton Hill was sent to the President of Cedar Crest College, William F. Curtis, informing him that “medical opinion does not permit us to hope that President Sullivan will be with us very long.” During this time, Sullivan suggested that Seton Hill inaugurate Reverend James A. W. Reeves as the next president. Four months after his accident, President Sullivan succumbed to his injuries in Westmoreland Hospital at 1:38 a.m. When Sullivan passed away, Reverend Reeves, who at the time was Vice President, became acting President. Reeves continued Sullivan’s policy of advancement and helped give the Activities Building the purpose that Sullivan had envisioned.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette August 25, 1929
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 25, 1929
Sullivan Hall
Completed Sullivan Hall, 1930

Many students in the Seton Hill University community know little about the buildings they walk in, learn in, and even sleep in. In order for Sullivan’s idea of Seton Hill to grow, the campus itself had to grow. Seton Hill needed the Activities Building as it would “provide for the spiritual and intellectual requirements at the college.” (Sr. Electa Boyle, Mother Seton’s Sisters of Charity in Western Pennsylvania, 1945). A facility was required to house a recreation center. In the early years, this facility was called the “Activities Building.” Construction began in 1928, with a design by Carlton Strong from Pittsburgh, who, with Sullivan, had visited Seton Castle in Europe for inspiration before drawing up plans. In total, the new building cost around $270,000 and was completed the following year. On October 25, 1929, the Activities Building opened on campus. It earned the nickname the “Castle Building” because of its Norman Chateau-style architecture. The Activities Building housed “a swimming pool, bowling alley, showers and a gymnasium” (Altoona Mirror, 1929). It also offered a lounge, student club offices, weight rooms, laundry rooms, athletic offices, café, and campus book store.

Swimming Pool Sullivan Hall
Sullivan Hall Swimming Pool
Sullivan Hall Lounge
Sullivan Hall Lounge

In 1947, the building was officially named “Sullivan Hall” after President Sullivan. The death of President Reeves and the naming of the library in his honor prompted the change in title. Since the initial building of Sullivan Hall though, the campus has continued to grow and move forward. On April 19, 2005, the Katherine Mabis McKenna Center opened with a gym for sports teams, indoor running track, aerobics room, fitness, weight and athletic training facility, and athletic offices. It is connected to Sullivan Hall as Sullivan’s exterior walls serve as McKenna’s interior walls. President JoAnn Boyle saw the joint buildings as a symbol of continuity. This suited President Sullivan’s vision of moving forward.  In honor of its namesake, Sullivan Hall will forever be a symbol of both the past from which it is inspired and of growth for the future.

SHC Canonization Celebration 1975
Seton Hill College celebration of the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1975. Fireworks erupt over Sullivan Hall.

A Dream Incapable of Realization, 100 Years Later

2018 marks the centennial anniversary of the charter of Seton Hill College. The granting of this charter of incorporation planted a seed of fruitful growth for the Sisters of Charity community, for regional Catholic education, and for Greensburg as a thriving seat of Westmoreland County. The story is one of progress, ideas, and determination. Characters always make the story. In this case, the dedication of the Sisters of Charity and the unwavering support of their friends thrust their vision of an institution for Catholic higher education into fruition, but not without encountering a few hurdles along the way.

St. Joseph Academy c. 1920
Seton Hill College, c. 1920

After the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill purchased their property in Greensburg, they applied for their first official charter in Westmoreland County in 1885, having previously been incorporated in Altoona.  The charter stated that “the purposes for which it is to be formed, is to establish, and maintain an educational academy and boarding school… St. Joseph’s Academy, Seton Hill…and for the further purpose of establishing institutions…benevolent, charitable, educational and missionary purposes; and to perform in general the duties of charity and mercy; to visit the sick, poor in hospitals and prisons; to take charge of destitute orphans; and to maintain boarding and day schools for the education of youth within the said diocese of Pittsburgh and Allegheny…It shall have power to confer Academic Degrees.” Although the charter indicated that the Sisters of Charity would have the power to confer academic degrees, the granting of higher degrees to young women was not in demand at this time. The Sisters of Charity would dedicate themselves to work at St. Joseph Academy, St. Mary’s School for Boys, and among the poor and sick.

In 1895, the original charter was amended to include a representative government of 25 “Corporators,” including the Mother Superior and her Councilors, and the annual election of five directors. However, Article 11, which stated the purpose of the Corporation, had been altered. It no longer made reference to the conferral of academic degrees. Unbeknownst to the Sisters of Charity, new conditions set forth by an 1895 Act of the General Assembly passed under Pennsylvania Governor Daniel H. Hastings. It required that any institution holding charter privileges must present evidence of such within 3 months. Unfortunately, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill did not produce this evidence and the charter of 1885 lapsed.

Act of the General Assembly 1895 from Report of the Attorney General of PA
Report of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, 1898.

Business continued as usual. St. Joseph Academy attracted eager young women from across the state and elsewhere. In 1912, a young woman named Juliet Marie Power from Crafton, Pennsylvania asked if the Sisters of Charity would accept her for work beyond her high school courses. Along with a Miss Emily Gaither, daughter of a prominent Greensburg lawyer, the Sisters of Charity began offering classes to these two young women through St. Joseph Academy. However, they found that the burden of providing advanced classes to only two students was too much. The students were able to transfer to Trinity College in Washington, D.C. and Coe College in Iowa to complete their studies and earn degrees.

Beginning around 1912, the Sisters of Charity also began in earnest to send their teachers on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in order to keep pace with national trends. Although continuing education had always been a part of community life, it became essential in the academic fields.

Once again in 1914, Miss Clara McCormick from Aliquippa approached the Sisters of Charity while attending a St. Joseph Academy graduation ceremony. She wanted to pursue post-graduate work. Two additional successful St. Joseph Academy graduates expressed interest in college courses. Mother Mary Francis McCullough granted permission for the Sisters to begin a Junior College.


“Spurred on by the earnestness of these young people in their efforts to secure college work under Catholic auspices, and encouraged by predictions and advice of friends in the community, the sisters made inquiry as to the procedure and requirements involved in the securing of a charter entitling them to confer degrees,” wrote Sr. Jane Elizabeth Smith (1925). However, the Sisters were immediately dismayed. The Act of 1895 now required an endowment of $100,000 and a faculty of at least 6 full-time professors in order to earn a charter of incorporation and confer academic degrees. Due to insurmountable odds, “a college at Seton Hill seemed but a dream incapable of realization” (Smith, 1925).

In spite of this, the Junior College program grew. Four more students joined the following year. In collaboration with Trinity College, the College at New Rochelle, St. Elizabeth’s, and D’Youville College, Seton Junior College channeled young women from Greensburg, where they began their studies, to degree-conferring institutions of note. However, many schools were unwilling to accept credits from an unknown, unaccredited school in western Pennsylvania. Sister Francesca Brownlee, directress of St. Joseph Academy, couldn’t let her girls down.

On March 25, 1917, Sister Francesca Brownlee and Sister Clementine Oler embarked to Harrisburg to discuss the process for gaining a charter for a Catholic women’s college with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Nathan C. Schaeffer.

Shortly thereafter, the Sisters of Charity and their attorneys, Messrs. Moorhead and Smith of Greensburg, created an amendment to the 1885 charter. The amendment was presented to the Honorable A.D. McConnell, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County. A copy was directed to the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

According to the Act of 1895, a college may not be chartered until a “College and University Council, whose members included the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” approved the request.

The Council appointed a committee led by Samuel B. McCormick, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, to “look into the conditions at Seton Hill.” W.H. Crawford, President of Allegheny College, and Samuel Hamilton, Superintendent of Allegheny County Public Schools, also served on the committee. Writing to Bishop Canevin in June of 1917, Dr. McCormick claimed, “what we wish to see are the property, the buildings, the equipment, courses of study and laboratories, and make inquiry about the teachers. Of course it would be pleasant to see the students, but it is not a fundamental necessity.” The committee completed their tour on July 9th of 1917 and submitted a detailed report.

Following are excerpts from the report:

“THE PROPERTY. “The statute requires that the institution making application shall have at least $500,000 invested in buildings, in equipment, and in endowment.” “It is clear, therefore, that the School meets the blanket requirements as to property. The statute, however, rightly interpreted requires a distribution of this value…”
“The equipment consists of

  1. a) Small but pleasant classrooms
  2. b) A very slight equipment in physical and chemical laboratory
  3. c) A very small library.

The equipment therefore would be quite inadequate for college purposes…”

The following individuals were listed as part-time Junior College faculty:

Rev. P.A. McDermott, C.S.Sp., Ph.D.

Rev. Daniel Richard Sullivan, A.M.

Rev. J.A. Dewe, Litt. D.

Sister M. Clementine Oler, A.B.

Sister M. Electa Boyle, A.B.

Paul Glenn, A.M.

Clinton B. Lloyd, A.M.

Sr. Marie Elise Blouin

Sister Maria Francesca Urnauer

Senora Roman Lomolin

Sister Cecelia Schwab, M.M.

Gertrude Gallagher

Miriam R. Driscoll

Lila G. Byrne

The curriculum plan was found to be satisfactory by the committee.

The Council made several suggestions. First, that, in terms of property, the Sisters would be required to procure equipment for a proper Chemical Laboratory, Laboratory of Biological Sciences, Laboratory of Physics, and a larger Library. A minimum endowment of $100,000 would be necessary. The faculty must consist of 6 fully dedicated individuals, rather than part-time.

The Sisters had a plan and they would go to work. “Chancellor McCormick proved himself an interested friend and adviser, offering assistance of heads of departments of the University of Pittsburgh in bringing laboratories up to standards required” (Smith, 1925).

The College and University Council would meet soon thereafter on August 15th of 1917 to decide the fate of the College at Seton Hill. Once again, Sr. Francesca and Sr. Clementine ventured to Harrisburg for the meeting. The Council did not vote in their favor for two reasons. First, the property of the College was still owned by the community and not vested in itself. Secondly, they did not have the large required endowment. Shortly after the meeting adjourned, Dr. John H. Harris, President of Bucknell College, pulled Sr. Francesca aside to offer advice on an action plan.

John Howard Harris, President of Bucknell College

The 1917 school year commenced with Sr. Francesca and her team working to overcome the hurdles required of the charter. Father Sullivan championed the growth of the library. Sullivan arranged for a temporary loan of books from the Pittsburgh diocesan seminary with Father Stephen Walsh. Generous gifts from clergy, former students, and family members, as well as additions from Fr. Sullivan’s personal collection, helped bulk up the library holdings.

The science laboratories were outfitted by the generosity of the Sisters’ families, including the parents of Sister Hildegarde Eichenlaub, Sister Ignatius McLaughlin, and Srs. Mary Grace and Hyacinthe Ryan, as well as former St. Joseph Academy students.

At a meeting of the College and University Council in October 1917, an attorney for the Sisters of Charity was present and wrote to Sr. Francesca that the Council was far more amenable to the application. They requested that the corporation name change from “Sisters of Charity” to “College” or “University.” The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary had done so to charter Marywood College in Scranton, PA. It was also suggested that the Sisters consider the sum of their real estate holdings as equivalent of the endowment.

The Scranton Republic, August 31, 1918, Marywood College Advertisement

Although the Council had promised to review the application once again in November, the Sisters of Charity were given no word on the fate of their school for nearly 6 months.

On April 18, 1918, Sr. Francesca, along with Mother Mary Joseph Havey, and their attorney, Mr. Smith, finally attended the meeting of the Council. Once again, they initially spoke unfavorably of the application, particularly in regard to the Bachelor of Science Degree. Ultimately, only the Home Economics portion of the Bachelor of Science degree was awarded. Dr. Schaeffer wrote to Sr. Francesca following the meeting, “I feel compelled to inform you that for a time the vote stood four to four and that President Sparks finally changed his vote from the negative to the affirmative so that your petition might be granted….I did the best for you that I could.”

The application was finally approved! Seton Hill College could award Bachelor’s degrees in Art, Music, and Home Economics. The attorneys next sent the application for amendment to the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County. “On June 3, 1918, the welcome message came from Moorhead and Smith’s office: Judge McConnell to-day entered the final decree authorizing the amendments to your charter and from this time forward your corporate name is Seton Hill College and you have authority to confer college degrees.”

The wide and generous network of friends and supporters of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, as well as the unwavering fortitude and leadership of Sr. Francesca Brownlee, heralded a new era. An era of higher education for young women in the Catholic tradition. An era of progress and exchange of ideas. An era of community growth. 100 years later, we look back in awe at the foresight and vision of the characters involved in the beginning of this story, but its many ensuing chapters have developed a depth and richness indicative of Mother Seton’s wish for the world.   Hazard, Yet Forward!


Written by Casey Bowser, Archivist