Sisters Place director receives award from diocese

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Years ago, Sister Mary Parks left the high profile world of television reporting to become a nun.

Now she is back in the news. Sister Parks, 60, director of Sisters Place in Clairton, was selected to receive the Manifesting the Kingdom Award for outstanding service to the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The honor, instituted by former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl in 1999, is awarded each year to women and men and members of religious communities for their service. Sister Parks received the award given by Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik Jan. 30 at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Sister Parks, who is a member of the religious community the Sisters of St. Joseph, called the award more about "recognition of Sisters Place and the Sisters of St. Joseph who are the unsung heroes."

"It belongs to all those who have helped the mission of Sisters Place."

Sisters Place is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless and near-homeless single-parent families in southwestern Pennsylvania. Founded in 1993 by a group of 14 Catholic religious communities, its mission is to provide housing and supportive services to single mothers and their children.

"If you passed our recipients in the mall, you probably wouldn't know they were homeless. They may have a baby in a stroller or are holding a little hand. But without Sisters Place, located in Clairton, all 27 families we house would be homeless right now," Sister Parks said.

In 2010, Sisters Place provided homes and support to 50 families. Twenty-two of the 23 families that left the program during the year transitioned into independent living. The goal is to offer transitional and permanent housing as well as supportive services, such as case management, job placement and children's programming to help families break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Through grants and fundraising, the Sisters purchased 16 apartments within the Century Townhomes complex in Clairton.

"We couldn't do what we do without the generosity of the churches and the many volunteers who help us. I'm also very grateful for the federal money we receive through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Bureau of Hunger and Housing Services as well as the businesses and foundations in the community," Sister Parks said.

Sisters Place has 10 full-time staff members, and while Sister Parks does not often work directly with the families, she knows every family and child in the program. "We are family for many," she said.

She became the executive director in October 2007 after leaving Girls Hope of Pittsburgh and is the first member of a religious community to serve as executive director for Sisters Place. Before that she served as director of development for Bethlehem Haven, a women's shelter in Pittsburgh and was secretary of communications in the Diocese of Altoona Johnstown.

Sister Parks left public life in 1990. She was a reporter for WJAC-TV in Johnstown.

Jill Thurston, freelance writer: .


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