Sisters of Charity contributions to Seton Hill, community recognized

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As part of the first National Catholic Sisters Week, Seton Hill University in Greensburg is paying tribute to the Sisters of Charity who founded the Catholic college and remain an integral part of the campus.

The first national recognition of the nuns is being held this week in conjunction with National Women’s History Month. In addition, International Women’s Day was commemorated Saturday by countries and organizations throughout the world. 

The Sisters of Charity are vitally involved with Seton Hill University — six teach at the college and three more are in administration or on staff.

“Since 1882, when Mother Aloysia Lowe purchased the farmland in Greensburg, where Seton Hill’s main hilltop campus now stands, the Sisters have been courageous forward-thinking risk-takers,” Bibiana Boerio, interim president of Seton Hill University and a 1975 alumna, said in a statement. “Education — and preparing students to think and act critically, creatively and ethically — is at the heart of the work of the Sisters. The university continues to transform itself in the best tradition of the Sisters of Charity.”

It was in the mid-1800s when the bishop of Pittsburgh asked the Sisters of Charity, based in Cincinnati, to come into Pennsylvania. The first Sisters of Charity in the state were based in Altoona.

Mother Aloysia, mother superior of the Pennsylvania Sisters of Charity, purchased 200 acres of farmland in Greensburg to serve the growing Catholic population in the Pittsburgh region. She named the site Seton Hill in honor of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity and the first American-born saint.

It was a working farm, and about six nuns moved into the old Jennings farmhouse. They built roads and updated the farmhouse.

The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill soon carved out a mission of education, which was not available to most girls at the time. At first, a high school for girls was established at the site. By 1914, it had become a college for women.

Jennifer Reeger, media spokeswoman for Seton Hill, said the school currently has nine Sisters of Charity employed at the university, including the chairman of the chemistry department, a visual arts teacher, and a family and consumer science teacher.

Sister Lois Sculco, 75, is vice president for Mission, Identity and Student Life at Seton Hill.

“Most Catholic colleges have a priest or Sister who sees that the mission is continued at the college,” she said. “In the spirit of the Sisters of Charity, members of this Seton Hill community not only recognize their responsibility and concern for each other but extend hospitality, graciousness and warmth to others."

Sister Lois has spent most of the last 40 years in various positions at the college. She graduated from the school in 1960 and then, inspired by the story of Elizabeth Seton and the Sisters, decided to become a nun. She has been an English professor, dean of students and executive assistant to the former president JoAnne Boyle, who graduated with her from Seton Hill.

Sister Lois teaches the senior year Capstone Honors class, which encourages students to take a worldview and focus on a career. She has a master's degree and doctorate and is director of The National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at the college.

She has seen the college grow from a small, local liberal arts school to a nationally recognized co-educational institution with 2,600 students and a branch of LECOM, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, established at the school. She also has been active in the community, serving on the Westmoreland County Community College board, for example.

“The spirit of the Sisters still exists at the school today,” Sister Lois said. “I believe the students feel it."

Katelyn Snyder, 22, of New Bethlehem, is a Seton Hill senior who, along with classmate Adrienne Bracken, has been working on an Honors Capstone project about the Sisters of Charity and their deep connection to the university. The Sisters have inspired her to attend classes next year to enter the Roman Catholic faith.

“The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill single-handedly made Seton Hill possible,” she said. "Their love, dedication and pure stubbornness are the only reason this school exists despite all the challenges they faced. They had this amazing vision of a place that would educate girls for the world, an idea that was not very prominent at the time, and they just did it,” Ms. Snyder said.

“The Sisters today are just as important to Seton Hill's existence,” she said. "They hold the community up in prayer and faithfully serve as educators all over the world. I've found them to be some of the best role models I could ever find for persistently and joyfully living out my personal callings from God.”

Ms. Snyder said the idea of a National Catholic Sisters Week is well-deserved.

“If you evaluate how many institutions that help people were started by Catholic Sisters, it's truly astonishing,” she said. "I'm not formally a Catholic yet, but it is the lives of the Sisters, historically and in the present, that inspire me to want to be.”

A Seton Hill student and one of the Sisters are traveling this week to St. Catherine University in Minneapolis, Minn., to celebrate the first National Catholic Sisters Week.

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:

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