Sisters of St. Francis open for tours


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Over the years, Ron and Ann Trageser of Baldwin Borough have driven past the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God campus countless of times.

But last week was the first time Mr. Trageser, 65, set foot on the sisters' 33-acre property that overlooks Whitehall and Castle Shannon. He attended the History of Twilight tour of three worship spaces on the grounds.

"Between the stained glass and woodwork, it is amazing," he said.

"This is just a treasure up here," Mrs. Trageser, 64, said of the sprawling grounds atop Grove and McRoberts roads.

In addition to containing housing for 33 retired and active nuns, the property is the site of the Franciscan Child Day Care Center, Franciscan Spirit and Life Center, three hermitages and more.

The Tragesers were among an estimated 65 people who gathered outside the front entrance of the Motherhouse at the start of the evening excursion.

The tour's purpose, Sister Barbara Zilch said, was "for people to come and get to know the sisters and to experience what is on their property."

Tour guide and congregational archivist Dennis Wodzinski began by saying that as every journey is a pilgrimage, those taking the tour were pilgrims on a journey to sacred spaces of prayer and reflection.

The first stop was the Heritage Room, which housed the original Motherhouse chapel constructed in 1925 for the Lithuanian Sisters of St. Francis. But its small size -- providing space for only 80 worshipers -- proved problematic as the sisters had to craft an open confessional in the sacristy because of the lack of space.

The priests disapproved, however, saying the arrangement was against Canon Law, and a new solution had to be devised.

Sister J. Lora Dambroski read what Sister Ursula wrote at the time:

"So a grill was cut in the panel of the sacristy door. The priest was in the sacristy and the penitent in the chapel."

The cut in the door is still visible.

The next stop was outdoors at the Holy Michael Archangel statue, which stands at the former site of a prefabricated chapel that housed 200 people from 1932 to the 1950s.

Mother M. David Pocius wrote to Bishop Rev. Hugh Boyle in 1946, read by Sister Barbara:

"... the temporary chapel, we feel, has outlived its usefulness, and it is our earnest desire to build a permanent structure in the form of a wing to the Motherhouse."

The current Mary Immaculate Chapel, with seating for 300, was built in 1955 on the same site.

By that time, the sisters' name had been changed to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God to reflect ministries to all ethnic groups.

As tourgoers sat in pews in the chapel, stained glass artist Nicholas Parrendo, 84, talked about its 20 stained glass windows that he designed and painted in 1954.

The nine-month job involved cutters, glazers, two additional stained glass artists and others in fashioning artwork depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

At the tour's conclusion, Mr. Wodzinski said he was inaccurate in saying the tour was about buildings because it actually was about the thousands of ceremonies held there and the thousands of lives that were touched.

After the tour, members of the Class of 1985 of St. Francis Academy, a former all-girls high school that the sisters operated on the grounds for roughly 50 years, said they enjoyed learning the history of where they spent their formative years.

"It gives you a coming-home feeling," said Lori Kukich of Houston, Washington County.

"It strengthens your faith in the church as our roots are here," said Angela Wilamowski of Scott.

More information: www.osfprov.org.

neigh_south

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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