Residents from around North Hills recognized for exceptional church service
A legacy of service distinguishes people who get a Manifesting the Kingdom Award from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Every two years, people from every parish in the diocese — along with members of local religious congregations — receive the award for exceptional church service and demonstrating “the presence of Jesus in their lives.”
Bishop David Zubik presented the awards last month in St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
Pastors and leaders of religious communities traditionally nominate the hundreds of awardees, who then receive a letter from the bishop, informing them of their selection.
“They all say, ‘I'm not worthy,'” said Laura Wagner, a secretary in the diocesan office of the associate general secretary, which administers the awards program.
“They are very touched by this,” Wagner said. “A lot of these people have dedicated their lives to the service of the church, and they think nobody saw that.”
The local awardees are:
• Gary Bost of McCandless and St. Alexis Catholic Church in McCandless
Since 1988, Gary Bost has been doing whatever is needed at St. Alexis Catholic Church — whether setting up for the annual parish festival, acting as cashier in the school cafeteria, being involved in helping ministries or working with the sports program.
“I'm not a master of anything, just a jack of everything,” he said.
Simply, he gives back to the church because it always has been there for him.
“It was natural to suggest him for the award,” said the Rev. Paul Zywan, pastor. “He's a very self-giving individual. He emulates the heart of the parish.”
Bost, 61, was at a loss for words when he opened the bishop's letter.
“There I was, a grain of sand on the beach that got a little bigger, and someone noticed,” he said.
From either perspective, “He's there for the underdog. He's always reaching out to pull people up,” the pastor said. “He epitomizes the heart of a Christian.”
Having recovered from open-heart surgery nearly a year ago, Bost is back at work with the North Allegheny School District's custodial staff.
“I look at the letter every now and then to see if it's real,” he said.
He happily shared faxed copies of the note with out-of-town family members.
“My brother in State College cried.”
• Michael Conroy of Franklin Park and St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Franklin Park
At 72, Conroy still finds time to reach out to others in faith.
“I live in my car,” said Conroy, who travels 250 miles each week visiting nursing homes and retirement communities.
“I pray the rosary and deliver communion,” he said, “and (the Rev. Albin McGinnis) comes once a month for Mass.”
Conroy was one of the founding members of St. John Neumann Parish in 1979. Since then, he has served on the finance council, scheduled those who count collections and worked with the Appalachian support group that visits West Virginia each year. He also is an assistant Scoutmaster and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
“We should live in such a way that (people) will see the good things we do and give glory, not to us, but to God who is in heaven,” said the Rev. Albin McGinnis, pastor. “This is how I see Mike manifesting God's kingdom. He knows it is not about himself, but about God, who has given us more than we could ever give.”
Retiree Conroy often wonders how he had time for work.
“God has been good. He's given me time and talents and the ability to share.”
• William and Rosemary Garrity of Franklin Park and SS. John & Paul Roman Catholic Church in Franklin Park
The Garritys took the sport of golf and turned it into $350,000, said the Rev. Joseph McCaffrey, pastor.
The couple had come to him with an idea of using a golf outing as a fundraising tool for the building of a new church.
“We were a young, growing church, and I thought it was a great idea,” McCaffrey said.
Then, the rains came.
“The day of the first outing was the day that (the remnants of Hurricane) Ivan hit us,” Rosemary Garrity, 69, said. “I thought it was an omen that we should not do golf outings.”
But even with the rainout, the church raised $30,000 from auctions and the dinner.
“It's an outstanding thing they do, sharing their gifts and talents, putting together the committees,” McCaffrey said. “They've been doing it for 10 years.”
As the church's major fundraiser, the event has become a social activity – not just for golfers. Rosemary Garrity considers it a team effort for all committee members.
William Garrity, 71, also works as director of operations for the parish, while his wife serves as a lector.
“We are honored and humbled to be chosen for this award,” she said.
• Vincent and Mary Morreale of Mars and St. Alphonsus Parish in Pine
The Rev. Peter Murphy, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, described the Morreales as “great initiators.”
Since joining the church in 2001, Mary Morreale, 46, started a regional Catholic Bible studies group, now with 80 participants from 13 different parishes, she said.
Five years ago, her husband, 46, helped to launch the parish's annual Lenten fish frys, which have raised $50,000 a year, according to Murphy.
“This is his passion where he can use his gifts and talents,” Mary Morreale said. “He's a chiropractor who loves to cook.”
He also helped start the parish's North Pittsburgh Ironmen football team of fourth- through eighth-graders.
“When I saw other parishioners who had won (the award) in the past, I was humbled,” Mary Morreale said. “We do our best, but we're not in the caliber of those people.”
St. Alphonsus is more than a church to them.
“We joined a parish where our children went to school,” she said. “We stayed because those people have become our family.”
• Sister Lois Spinnenweber of Shaler Township and the Sisters of Divine Providence, based in McCandless
Sister Lois Spinnenweber serves the conferences of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Hampton and St. Juan Diego Parish in Sharpsburg. She runs the conference food pantry in a former garage near the St. Mary Parish rectory.
“We nominated her because of the devotion with which she has carried out her work over the years with the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” said Sister Mary Traupman of the Sisters of Divine Providence, a member of the congregation's provincial council.
Sister Lois, who also is at St. Mary Parish, spends a lot of her time visiting parishioners and distributing Holy Communion to them in local hospitals and nursing homes.
“We are all in this together to do God's work — to make God's love more visible in the world, to let him be known to the people we serve,” Sister Lois said.
• Tom Jr. and Deborah Schiemer of Ross Township and St. Athanasius Parish in West View.
The Schiemers are involved in a variety of ministries. Tom Schiemer, 53, is a lifelong parishioner. Deborah Schiemer, 57, has been with the parish for 18 years.
The couple have served on the parish council and the parish assessment and renewal committees. They help with flea markets and festivals and have assisted with youth groups. Both are Eucharistic ministers.
“It's a calling for us,” Deborah Schiemer said. “You meet wonderful people. You get a lot more back than you give. There are others more worthy than we were and who do more than we do, but it was an honor to get it.”
The Rev. Robert Norton, pastor, has known them for 15 years.
“They seem to show up whenever volunteers are needed. Whether it's decorating the church for Christmas, renovating the church hall or during days of service, they are there,” he said.
“They are very unassuming but very dedicated people. They ‘manifest' the best in parish service and commitment.”
• Joan Wersing of Ross Township's Perrysville neighborhood and St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Perrysville.
“I was very surprised and humbled by the bishop's letter,” Wersing said, although she doesn't think she should have been honored.
“We have a very active parish. So many people do so many things.”
Retiring after 35 years as an elementary school teacher in the North Hills School District, Wersing, 66, discovered more ways she could contribute to her church.
She works with wedding coordinators, helps families plan funerals and assists the children's Cherub Choir. She also serves as a lector and Eucharistic minister at the church and at UPMC Passavant hospital in McCandless.
“I love doing everything,” she said.
The Rev. Robert Vular, her pastor, acknowledged her work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Bethlehem Haven for homeless women and a men's shelter. She also is active with North Hills Community Outreach's Backpacks for School program and assists with church fundraisers, festivals and fish frys.
“Joan is truly an outstanding witness to the presence of Jesus in her life by showing forth God's Kingdom among us through her exceptional service to the church and community,” Vular said.
• Ronald Wittig of Ross Township and St. Sebastian Parish in Ross.
“Ron is the kind of parishioner that pastors dream about: always there, always ready to help, always a smile and never a complaint,” said the Rev. John Rushofsky, pastor.
He said he was surprised that Wittig had not been nominated for the honor before.
“His natural humility does not ‘blow a horn' to announce what he's doing,” Rushofsky said. “He just does it quietly and steadily.”
Wittig has been a parishioner since 1969. Since then, he has served the committee that advises parish officials on property maintenance.
Once a year, he travels with young people and adults to Appalachia to work on homes. It's a ministry he has enjoyed for 25 years. On one trip, his group built a two-room house for a family.
“They said it was the nicest home they ever had to live in,” Wittig remembered.
At 76, Wittig has no plans to slow down.
“I'd better keep doing what I'm doing,” he said. “I got the award, so I'm not allowed to slouch off now.”
• Sister Theresa Margaret Bealer, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Ross Township.
Sister Theresa Margaret is engaged in outreach to senior citizens and those with disabilities in Pittsburgh's Bloomfield, Garfield and Lawrenceville neighborhoods.
“Her work is a true ministry – unpaid except for the satisfaction of knowing she has helped someone,” said Sister Grace Fabich, general superior, who nominated Sister Theresa Margaret. “She volunteered for this assignment. We believe Sister Theresa Margaret truly reflects the light of Christ.”
The sister prays with her clients, advocates for them, accompanies them to appointments and even cooks meals. The school principal in Bloomfield might ask her to check in on someone, or the request might come from a local pastor or family member.
“She makes friends wherever she is, even on the bus going to and from work,” Sister Grace said.
In the urban neighborhoods, Sister Theresa Margaret can encounter those who appear to need help. If they do, she's knows the right agencies to call.
“The Department of Aging gets tired of hearing from me,” Sister Theresa Margaret said.
For her, the joy is in the doing.
“I'm just a person who works for the Lord,” she said. “The award is a part of all of us. As our founder said: ‘Go where the need is the greatest.'”
• Sister Maria Kruszewski, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Ross Township.
Nominated by Sister Sally Marie Kiepura, Sister Maria was on retreat and could not be reached for comment. But biographical information from her 50-year jubilee in 2009 shows her community involvement.
For more than 30 years, she served at the order's Holy Family Manor, as provincial superior, teacher at Mt. Nazareth Academy, formation director for candidates to the congregation, director of mission advancement for the former Pittsburgh province and a provincial councilor of the USA Province.
In her letter of nomination, Sister Sally Marie listed Sister Maria's involvements with the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, The Community at Holy Family Manor; Sisters Place Inc. and the City of God Foundation.
“Sister Maria has served on the diocesan group of Major Superiors of Men and Women Religious, or MSMW, and Tri-Diocesan Sisters Leadership Conference. She has been involved in social justice matters, particularly with her involvement with Path to Justice with particular concern about immigration issues and illegal trafficking.
“As a formation director in her own congregation and spiritual director to religious and laity alike, she has assisted others in growing and shaping vocations for service within the church and discovering and deepening a personal commitment to faith in everyday life,” Sister Sally Marie said.
• Sister Francesca Parana of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Ross Township.
Sister Bernadine Marie Stemnock, provincial minister, nominated Sister Francesca.
“She exemplifies what the award is about,” Sister Bernadine said, “manifesting Christ in her life.”
Not only did she lead the School Sisters of St. Francis community at Mt. Assisi in Ross for eight years, Sister Bernadine explained, she also served in the congregational leadership in Rome for six years.
Leading the community through the 1970s, a time of great change within the church, was a challenge.
“It was rewarding having the community move forward and with you,” Sister Francesca said.
Now, at 82, she found her time in Italy to be “eye opening, meeting sisters from other parts of the world.”
She helped to open a mission in South Africa during the days of apartheid and saw the intense need for priests to bring the sacraments to the people. To this day, she said, she makes her monthly contributions to the Maryknoll Sisters, who serve as missionaries around the world.
Having spent 30 years as a teacher, Sister Francesca now is semiretired and writes all the sisters' thank-you notes. She uses this as a time for sharing inspiration. This simple task also is rewarding.
Throughout each day, she remembers those in need.
“I pray for all the continents and all the people,” she said.