Benedictine nuns celebrate 25 years of service to Greene County

March 8, 2014
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Jon Stevens/Observer-Reporter
For the last 15 years, Benedictine Sisters Sue Fazzini, left, and Audrey Quinn have been providing shoes to needy children in Greene County through their project, Heart 'n Sole. Their client list comes from social service agencies such as Head Start and Children and Youth, as well as from the county’s five school districts. Sister Audrey estimates they give away 400 to 500 pairs of shoes a year. The boxes of shoes stacked in a room at their home in Morgan Township attest to the generosity of the people of Greene County. Order a Print
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Jon Stevens / Observer-Reporter
This “thank you shoe” is displayed in the home of Sisters Audrey Quinn and Sue Fazzini, showing the appreciation from Carmichaels Head Start and Early Head Start for the sisters’ generosity in providing shoes to needy children in Greene County through their Heart 'n Sole program. Order a Print
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Jon Stevens / Observer-Reporter
Benedictine Sisters Audrey Quinn, left, and Sue Fazzini recently make time at the end of the day to enjoy a meal together in their home in Morgan Township, despite their hectic work schedules and never stopping their adventure to help those in need “with God always leading the way.” Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – It was a hot August day in 1989, and the place to be was the Greene County Fair.

Among the crowd of people walking the midway at the fairgrounds were two Benedictine nuns, Sisters Audrey Quinn and Sue Fazzini, wearing skirts and pantyhose, and trying to assimilate as self-described “strangers in a strange land.”

Anyone who had been listening to them immediately knew they were from the city, their wardrobe notwithstanding. Sister Audrey caught a glimpse of the rabbit cages and reacted as one who had grown up on bricks, but who would soon learn to love the country. She exclaimed, “Look how big the rabbits are! … They are so big!”

That was their introduction to Greene County, and they still remember well the words of the prioress of their monastery in Pittsburgh. “God bless your work. We will give this a year and see what happens.” Well, this year marks the sisters’ 25th anniversary in Greene County, doing what they do best – helping those in need.

Sister Audrey, an only child who grew up on the North Side of Pittsburgh, entered the Benedictine Order in 1959. Sister Sue, one of 10 children and a native of Donora, joined in 1976. Twenty-five years ago, they were asking God to lead them into a new ministry. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘Where are the needs?’ and we choose Greene County, Sister Sue said. Why? Because no sisters were here, there were a lot of unmet needs in social services and it was one of the poorest counties in the state.

So, what plan did they have in mind to help those in need? “We never had a plan,” Sister Sue said. ‘”We always made a leap of faith, prayed and asked for guidance, and we certainly got it.”

Sister Audrey said the two never sat down and said, we want to do this and accomplish this goal. “But by God’s grace, things just kept rolling our way.”

One of the conditions of their ministry was that one of the sisters had to find a job while the other did volunteer work.

Sister Sue took a job with the Care Center as an addictions counselor, and Sister Audrey did volunteer work at the food bank, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity and at St. Ann Church’s soup kitchen. This enabled each to be her best. “That was our goal, our plan,” Sister Audrey said. Sister Sue felt that at the Care Center, and Audrey felt it by volunteering at all the agencies.

Life-changing events

For the first year, they rented an old farmhouse in Jefferson, bringing with them few possessions, “wishing to live simply, and besides, we weren’t sure how long we would be here,” Sister Sue said.

They arrived with two chairs, two dressers, a card table, an incense pot and prayer books. Then, one day, just by happenstance, life changed dramatically for the two.

Sister Audrey happened to be walking on High Street in Waynesburg and noticed a poster on a door seeking local foster parents.

For the next 18 years, Sisters Audrey and Sue fostered more than 160 kids, beginning with teenage girls, sometimes as many as six at a time.

Their fostering then shifted from teens to babies. “We started taking babies right from the hospital,” Sister Sue said. “It was like reverse parenting.

“We are grandparents now. Some of our kids have kids of their own, and they still come and visit,” Sister Sue said, glancing over at her refrigerator, where scores of photos of their foster kids are displayed.

In the early 1990s, while still living in the rented farmhouse, the sisters befriended Carl and Jeanne Sieg, who lived nearby. Mrs. Sieg had cancer and had lost most of her hair, and it just happened to be a trend back then that teen girls, including the foster children who were living with the sisters and visited with the Siegs, would shave part of their heads. Apparently, that left quite an impression on the Siegs.

So much so that in February 1992, Carl Sieg casually mentioned that he and his daughter, Joey Sieg-Tom, would like to buy the sisters a house. Jeanne Cotter Sieg had died in September 1991, and they wanted to do something in her memory. They felt that purchasing a safe and comfortable house for the sisters and their foster children would be a wonderful tribute to Jeanne.

“As we began looking for houses, we looked for a sign that we were doing God’s will and not our own. The sign was given to us loud and clear when we found the perfect house off Wrights Road in Morgan Township on Aug. 29, 1992, the 122nd anniversary to the day of the founding of our community, the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh,” Sister Sue said. “Our home is dedicated to Jeanne’s memory.”

But this serendipitous life that has now embraced these two Benedictine nuns was just beginning.

Heart 'n Sole

On their 10th anniversary of serving Greene County, the sisters began Heart 'n Sole, a program to make sure every child in Greene County has a good pair of shoes to start the school year.

“We have been doing this for 15 years now, and we usually give away 400 to 500 pairs of shoes a year,” Sister Audrey said.

Sister Sue recalled several years ago, she received a phone call from a teenager in need of shoes. The call came Friday; school started Monday. He said he took a size 11 but would settle for a size 10. He said he would wear thin socks if he had to.

“We drove out to his house, and there was this kid working on a car, covered in grease. He looked up and saw we had his shoes. He ran up the driveway and gave me a big hug. He had tears in his eyes and couldn’t thank me enough,” she said. “That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Sister Audrey and Sister Sue’s contributions to the people of Greene County have not gone unnoticed.

In 2009, Sister Audrey was one of 10 finalists in CVS Pharmacy’s “For All the Ways You Care” contest. She received $10,000 in recognition for her acts of caring, all all-expense-paid trip to New York City and appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

In 2010, the sisters received an award for their humanitarian work at the Art Rooney Award Dinner, recognizing their work in distributing shoes, backpacks, Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving baskets, coats and blankets to needy children and families.

In July 2011, prior to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ game against the Cincinnati Reds, the two were presented with the PNC Achievers award and a check of $5,000 from Pirate Charities. The award included dinner at the Lexus Club inside PNC Park, tickets to the game and a chance to meet some of the players. They even appeared on the Jumbotron at the game.

And the list continues. In 2008, the sisters won the Nabisco’s 100 Extraordinary Women contest, receiving an all-expense-paid trip to Hollywood, Calif., to meet the other 98 “extraordinary women.”

Yet, despite all the so-called ups in their lives, there have been down times, as well.

When asked what they were, Sister Audrey stopped, thought, and then said quietly, “Every (foster) child that left this house was a down time. We lost a piece of our hearts every time they left,” she said. “But it was more important that we continue.”

Sister Audrey is the director of the Salvation Army’s local office, a position she has held since 2008, and Sister Sue has worked for SCI-Greene as a drug and alcohol treatment specialist the last 10 years.

“It’s been an adventure,” Sister Sue said. “We have the most incredible lives. We have been so blessed.”

They have no intention of leaving Greene County.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 25 years,” Sister Audrey said. “Each stage in our lives has been so enriching. We don’t know what’s next, but whatever comes our way, I am sure we can meet the challenge.”

And don’t bet against them. They have friends in high places.

Jon Stevens was the Observer-Reporter’s Greene County bureau chief. During his 41 years with the O-R, he covered county government, courts and politics, and won statewide and regional writing awards.

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