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Prayer service for nun who was raped draws 200 in Aliquippa

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 11:51 a.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A statue of the Virgin Mary sits on its perch atop a cliff above the St. Titus Parish parking lot in Aliquippa where an 85-year-old sister was assaulted on Dec. 13, 2013. Members of the church and the community joined St. Titus Parish and Sisters of St. Joseph to pray at the site on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, for nonviolence. The Rev. Paul Householder blessed the site between the two paper dumpsters where the assault occurred. The community prayed for peace and for nonviolence, as well as for the accused perpetrator and his family and for the sister who was assaulted. The sister did not attend the ceremony.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Paul Householder sprinkles holy water as he blesses the site by two paper recycling bins in the St. Titus Parish parking lot in Aliquippa where an elderly nun was assaulted a month ago. Members of the church and the community joined St. Titus Parish and Sisters of St. Joseph to pray for nonviolence at the site on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephen C. Bellissimo, 81,of Aliquippa, raises a crucifix as members of the community and church raise their candles in the St. Titus Parish parking lot in Aliquippa as they pray for non-violence during a blessing of the site where an 85-year-old sister was assaulted a month ago. 'As we pray here today, please know that our Sister is encircled by the love of our Sisters and is praying along with us this owning. While she has recovered physically, she continues on the journey to heal her spirit,' said Sister Mary Pellegrino in a statement distributed at the event on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Sister Mary Lou Shimshock (left in green), 62, of St. Raphael's Parish and Sister Mary Pellegrino (right in green), 50, Congregational Moderator of The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, raise their candles in the St. Titus Parish parking lot in Aliquippa as they pray for non-violence during a blessing of the site where an elderly nun was assaulted a month ago. 'As we pray here today, please know that our Sister is encircled by the love of our Sisters and is praying along with us this owning. While she has recovered physically, she continues on the journey to heal her spirit,' wrote Sister Mary Pellegrino in a media statement distributed at the event on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

Nearly 200 people gathered outside St. Titus Catholic Church in Aliquippa on Friday in peace and forgiveness for the man accused of raping an 85-year-old nun last month.

The Rev. Paul Householder sprinkled holy water on the church's rear parking lot to wash away the stain of violence. People on the gloomy, chilly day prayed, “Send forth your blessing of peace upon this place. Heal every heart wounded by violence.”

Church bells pealed at the onset of the service. A statue of the Blessed Mother Mary, perched 30 feet above on a muddy hillside, watched over the crowd.

“It's such a tribute to the sister, that this is so peaceable,” said Dolly Stalter, of West View, who attended with her husband, Jim. “The public needs to know God is involved no matter what the situation is.”

On Dec. 13, the retired nun was putting newspapers in a recycling bin outside the church when was she was sexually assaulted.

The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sexual violence.

Police said that hours after the attack, Andrew Bullock, 19, of Aliquippa confessed to choking her. Court documents state that he punched her in the face, dislocated her jaw and sexually assaulted her.

“Today we gather in prayer to remove that mark of violence from this place and from our hearts,” said Sister Jeanette Bussen, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden.

Bullock remains in the Beaver County Jail, awaiting trial on sexual assault and related offenses.

The injured nun did not attend the service. Instead, 14 other retired nuns prayed with her at the Baden motherhouse, said Barbara Hecht, director of communications.

No one during or after the service called for retribution against Bullock. People prayed for him.

“We remember her attacker and his family also wounded by violence,” said Sister Barb Czyrnik said.

Also remembered were the 830 people who were assaulted in Beaver County in 2013.

“By responding prayerfully to the tragedy of our dear Sister, it is our hope that we can move toward healing, not only for her, but also for the parish of St. Titus and the community of Aliquippa,” said Sister Mary Pellegrino, congregational moderator for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Beaver County District Attorney Anthony J. Berosh attended, as did Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker and Assistant Police Chief Donald Couch.

Walker and Couch met with the nun on Thursday and said she expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of love and prayer, but insisted that the community must move forward.

“She said she felt a shower of prayers coming down on her, and she asked God to take those prayers away from her to give them to all the other victims in the world of these types of crimes,” Couch said.

“I was just amazed about her love and compassion. She said that after today, she doesn't want anyone to mention it anymore. She wants everyone to move on, to get on one accord, get right with God, and move forward as a community,” Walker said.

Bob Day, a maintenance employee at St. Titus, said he was pleased with the number of people who attended.

“I'm surprised, because the people don't come together in this town anymore. It's a shame,” Day said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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