Obituary: Sister M. Leontia Spisak / Sister of Charity and teacher whose work spanned decades

Aug. 24, 1914 - Oct. 27, 2013

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Sister M. Leontia Spisak retired from her official duties as a Sister of Charity in 1994, but she kept busy in a number of unofficial ways up until two days before her death when she was doing laundry at the sisters' convent in McCandless.

"She rang a bell and I came and she said it was her time to go," said Veronica Johnson, who had been a caregiver for Sister Spisak for the past several years.

After that moment Friday, Sister Spisak rested in her recliner or bed until she passed away Sunday of pneumonia. She was 99.

She joined her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, formerly known as the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, in December 1930 from St. Joseph Parish in Clairton.

She was a member of the order for 82 years and spent 53 of them teaching at elementary and high schools in the Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Youngstown, Ohio, dioceses.

Sister Spisak held a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University and a master's in education in art from the University of Notre Dame.

Her colleagues described her as a gifted artist, but she taught other subjects as well.

"She was very fair and very kind and very, very much a sister," said Sister Sarah Geier, coordinator of the St. Louise Convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, where Sister Spisak lived in her retirement. "She wasn't a sister that would go out on the playground with the kids. But she was very prayerful, a very good example and she encouraged learning."

She held in-service art training classes for beginning art teachers, judged children's art exhibits in diocesan schools and visited museums and art institutes including the great art centers in Europe and Mexico.

After her retirement from teaching, Sister Spisak worked in her order's business office and became the official calligrapher for events held by local members of religious orders.

As an artist, Sister Spisak was known for her work in calligraphy and illuminated lettering. She had a top-floor studio where she and other sisters at the convent worked on art and sewing projects, but in the past year it became too difficult for her to climb the stairs. So the sisters created a bottom-floor art space for her and presented it to her on her 99th birthday in August. Recently, she had been making plans to hold calligraphy lessons for younger sisters in an effort to pass along her gift.

Up until the end of her life, Sister Spisak kept up-to-date on current affairs and held political discussions each morning with her caregivers. "She kept us informed. She was very political," said Mary Pat Speinmiller, another caregiver.

Surviving are a sister, Margaret, and brother, John, both of Slippery Rock.

Burial will be in the sisters' cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Office of Congregational Advancement, P.O. 9, Nazareth, KY 40048.


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.

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