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Nun leaves 'retirement,' keeps plenty busy as Faith in Action volunteer

| Sunday, June 29, 2014, 10:39 p.m.
Austin Bachand | Tribune-Review
Sister Pat Wilson (left), a Faith in Action volunteer, visits with Jack and Carmen Riddle of Greensburg. Wilson said the nonprofit's goal is to help people remain independent in their own homes as long as possible.

After 61 years of marriage, Jack and Carmen Riddle have an easy, teasing relationship.

Jack Riddle, 85, has some health issues, and his wife, 83, worries about leaving him alone in their tidy Greensburg home when she runs errands.

Through Faith in Action, a United Way of Westmoreland County agency, she was put in touch with Sister Pat Wilson, a volunteer.

On a recent visit, Wilson told the couple about another volunteer who could not only spend some time with Jack, but could offer Carmen companionship and speak her native Spanish.

“Oh, I would like that,” said Carmen, who was born in Puerto Rico.

Wilson, 81, has devoted her life to service. A member of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, she retired at age 74 from active ministry, and teaching, administrative and parish assistant posts that took her to North Carolina, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

After she retired in 2007, Wilson had too much free time and began volunteering.

“I don't golf, hunt or fish. I love to read, but you can only read so much. Helping in the office was like salvation for me,” she said.

Wilson joked that one does not “retire” from religious life, but rather “retreads.”

She dedicates several days a week as a visitor, intake, transportation and office volunteer. She's secretary of the Greater Greensburg Faith in Action steering committee, chairwoman of its speakers bureau and a member of its fundraising-marketing and event committees.

“People say, ‘What is Faith in Action?' That is our challenge now,” Wilson said.

Companionship and transportation are two of the greatest needs its volunteers fulfill, Wilson said.

“It's the goal of Faith in Action to help people remain independent in their own homes as long as possible. Each case is different,” she said.

Wilson has both office skills and a knack for easily befriending people, said Lori Sendro, Faith in Action program director for the Greensburg and Alle-Kiski areas.

“She jumps in. She likes to have a lot to do. I will ask her to remind me of things,” she said.

Referring to Wilson's idea to match the Riddles with a Spanish-speaking volunteer, Sendro said she “has a way of making everything work.”

Born in the Sheraden neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Wilson was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic elementary school. She later transferred to public school because of the cost of tuition and street cars.

At age 18, she said, her life course was set.

“Somehow, I knew I had to pursue going into the convent,” she said.

Her mother “vehemently, vocally” opposed her choice.

“I never had the courage to ask why. People didn't understand religious life. It worked out. ... She learned to adjust,” Wilson said.

“I guess in the back of my head it was, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.' It was the right decision for me,” she said.

Soon, she was teaching part-time in Catholic schools.

During a 15-year period, while continuing to teach, she earned her bachelor's degree in secondary education from Duquesne University on nights and weekends. She later earned a master of arts degree while posted in Arizona.

As part of her parish work with St. Barbara Catholic Church in Harrison City, she started support groups for the separated, divorced and widowed, and began a parish newspaper.

She's now pursuing a different interest.

While watching people dance during a Sounds of Charity fundraising event for the Sisters of Charity, she noticed her own toes tapping. Soon after, she signed up for ballroom dance lessons.

“I was sitting there watching them, aching to be out there. I thought, I'm wishing my life away. I'm going to do it,” she said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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