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North Hills Monthly

Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh Celebrate 150 Years of Service

Jul 30, 2019 08:54AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

The history of western Pennsylvania is closely intertwined with the history of the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh. As well it should be—the sisters have been serving the region for 150 years. On Aug. 25, the sisters will kick off celebrations to take place throughout the year in honor of their 150th anniversary in America.

According to Sr. Roberta Campbell, co-chairperson of the celebration planning committee for Celebrating 150 Years of Ministry, the history of the sisters began in the fifth century with founders Saint Benedict and his twin sister, Saint Scholastica. “Monasteries were quite prevalent in Europe and our specific founders came from Saint Walburga's Abbey in Eichstätt, Bavaria,” she explained. 

Three of the abbey’s sisters came to America to educate the children of German immigrants and settled in Saint Mary’s, PA. In 1870, at the request of the Pittsburgh bishop, several sisters came to the city to establish an independent monastery. 

Education remains the foundation of their ministry. “Over these 150 years, sister have worked and still serve in the field of education; we have also served in health care, social services, faith formation in parish settings, teaching music and art, foster child care, addiction counselor at the federal prison, and visiting shut-ins, to name a few,” Sr. Roberta said.

While the sisters also serve in Ohio and Kentucky, their main focus has remained in western Pennsylvania. Over the years, the physical monastery has been located in Carrolltown, North Side and Perrysville, and in 2013, they moved to their current location in Bakerstown. There are currently 33 sisters living in Bakerstown, three living at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Perrysville and two sisters ministering in Waynesburg, Greene County. 

Like the region itself, the sisters have faced difficult times. “The community is resilient; we have been able to turn challenges into opportunities,” said Sr. Roberta. 

These challenges have included the closing of their school, Benedict Academy for Girls, in 1985. But that closure also presented an opportunity. “It gave birth to HEARTH, a housing program for abused women with children, as well as a senior adult day care, Meals on Wheels, and the Mercy Behavioral Center,” said Sr. Roberta. 

Today, the sisters continue to serve, working as educators, in local prison ministries and through the Salvation Army. They also provide workshops and retreats at the Bakerstown campus.

While the year-long celebration has several formal events, the public is always welcome at the monastery. “We love to have people here,” said Prioress Karen Brink. “They can celebrate Mass with us or just come visit.”

As for upcoming anniversary events, the public is welcome to share in their joy. Key celebrations include a Giving Thanks event on Nov. 17, 2019; a Festival of Peace on Mar. 21, 2020; the Annual Gala on May 4, 2020; and a closing event on Aug. 29, 2020.

“The sisters are such an important part of the history of this region that it is worth celebrating,” said John Lally, co-chair of the celebration planning committee. “People should recognize what they mean to our area, and how the history of these women is so tightly woven with our own history.”

“This is the opportunity to celebrate with us and give thanks for all that we have been blessed with,” agreed Sr. Karen. “We have been blessed to have ministered to people for 150 years; that has allowed us to touch a lot of people. And this celebration is for all of us.”

For more information about Celebrating 150 Years of Ministry, contact the Advancement Office at 724-502-2597.