Sister Elizabeth Apel held many roles in more than six decades of work with two religious orders, but she seemed especially suited for hospice.
Sister Liz, as she was known, cared for her dying sister then volunteered at a hospice, eventually making it her full-time work and, in the last years of her ministry, provided part-time hospice care to fellow nuns.
"Jesus visited the sick to give comfort, and he rejected no one. He was a comforter and consoler," she once said of her calling.
Sister Liz, of the Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless, died Thursday of complications of stomach cancer. She died in the order's infirmary, where she had helped to care for colleagues. She was 85.
She was born May 17, 1928, in Lawrenceville, one of 11 children of Joseph and Elizabeth Guentner Apel.
She graduated from Bethel Park High School and, in 1951, entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity from St. Kieran Parish in Lawrenceville.
Sister Liz did social work at Home of the Good Shepherd in Troy Hill, worked at Gilmary School in Coraopolis and took a leadership position with the order in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., before returning to Gilmary School to serve as director of social services.
In 1973, after a stint at Transfiguration House of Prayer in Butler, she transferred to the Sisters of Divine Providence, working as a social minister at All Saints Parish in Etna, as a member of her order's retirement team and as a social worker at the Area Agency on Aging and the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland.
In 1979, she began working for the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, first as director of parish outreach for Catholic Charities and later as director of a spiritual renewal program in dozens of parishes. She was named diocesan planning director in 1991, was serving as director of planning and pastoral ministries by 1992 and was named executive director of pastoral services in 1995.
But she was to immerse herself in social work again, a turn related to her 51-year-old sister's death from cancer in 1988. After learning about her sister's illness, Sister Liz traveled to North Dakota to be with her. After her sister's death, she began volunteering at a Youngstown hospice.
In 1997, she returned to Pennsylvania as a social worker and the volunteer and bereavement coordinator at Sharon Regional Hospice in Mercer County.
Sister Liz's personality lent itself to hospice. Sister Marian Senish, a longtime friend, described her as compassionate and a good listener. Sister Sheila Rooney, another friend, said Sister Liz could "see below the surface" and "help people work through their feelings."
But she also had an educational grounding in hospice. She completed various seminars on grief and loss and was a member of the National Association of Social Workers and National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved Inc. She had a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Duquesne University and a master's in social work from University of Pittsburgh.
In 1999, Sister Liz returned to Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless, where she was a chaplain for the hospice program and a counselor to sisters in assisted living and in the infirmary.
Sister Liz is survived by a brother, Edwin.
Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today and noon to 3:30 p.m. Monday at Providence Heights, McCandless, followed by a Mass at Mother of Divine Providence Chapel.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.