Sister Laura Coughlin is one of thirteen Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill to have entered the Congregation from the Southwest. In 2008, she returned to Arizona and began ministry at Salpointe High School teaching social studies. She is one of four Sisters of Charity serving in the Diocese of Tucson.
Prior to 2008, Sister Laura ministered for eight years at Seton-LaSalle Catholic High School in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Technology Coordinator, she taught both computer and social studies classes at Seton-LaSalle. Additionally, she served as the the Ski Club moderator.
“To me, being a Sister of Charity means that I express my love for Jesus Christ in a direct manner through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. More importantly, the vows are a reminder that he has chosen me for something both special and sacred. Since God’s love is unique for each one of us, not only has God called me, but he has called me to be HERE with this particular order. So my individual calling is meant to be a blessing to the Congregation, and the Congregation, with its many beautiful sisters, is meant to be a blessing to me,” said Sister Laura.
Sister Laura was 28 years old when the seed of her vocation was planted on the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation in Arizona. She was working as a lay volunteer with two Dominican sisters.
“The experience of community life coupled with a satisfying ministry felt right to me, although I did not act on this feeling immediately and returned to paid employment in Phoenix when the volunteer year came to a close,” said Sister Laura.
Three years later, Sister Laura was introduced to Sister Mary Clark, then vocation director for the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.
“As it turned out, there were eight Sisters of Charity living at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Convent in Scottsdale, quite close to where I was living in an apartment. I was introduced to this local community, and started to join them occasionally for meals and prayer. I felt that the sisters shared a spirit that was right for our times. They were joyful, practical, prayerful, hard-working, and lived out of a deep desire to serve God. I also felt that in many practical ways we-the sisters and I-were like each other,” said Sister Laura.
As a result of Sister Laura’s call, she lives in a community with six other sisters. She attends Mass daily and endeavors to nurture her prayer life primarily through the reading of Scripture and devotion to Eucharistic adoration, as well as through other means. Teaching is a new career path for her since entering religious life.
“The charism of Charity affects my ministry because of the type of presence that a religious sister has in a school, particularly in this case, because the Sisters of Charity are the sponsoring congregation for Seton-LaSalle. I feel that our charism allows us to be present to both students and faculty in a special way that carries a history of service,” said Sister Laura.
Sister Karen Cunningham is ministering with the Little Sisters of the Poor as a Development Assistant. The Little Sisters of the Poor have cared for the elderly poor in Pittsburgh, PA, since 1872. Sister Karen’s work supports their ministry at Saints Peter and Paul Home.
“At their home, I witness the beauty, joy, and blessings of the elderly. I value serving the poor and help the Little Sisters stay financially solvent so they are able to continue their mission. I like interacting with the residents, listening to their stories, and encouraging those with financial resources to share with the less fortunate, modeling my actions after Saint Vincent de Paul,” said Sister Karen.
Sister Karen felt a strong connection with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and was motivated by the phrase, “The Charity of Christ Urges Us.” She longed to experience the joy and simplicity of life shared by the Sisters of Charity.
As a result of responding “yes” to God’s call, Sister Karen is a vowed religious, embracing a life of prayer and community that nourishes and sustains her enthusiasm and energy for ministry.
“I am grateful to walk the path of many holy, dedicated and genuinely loving women of the Church,” said Sister Karen.
According to Sister Karen, living as a Sister of Charity has helped her grow to see Christ in the sacraments, other people, in the poor and suffering, in nature, and in many other aspects.
“Being a Sister of Charity means living the vocation to which God has invited me. By sharing prayer and material resources, supporting justice causes, and connecting with other sisters, I find meaning in what is entrusted to me as charism, as well as integration of my life as a Sister of Charity and as a minister with God’s people,” said Sister Karen.
Sister Karen, who is often described as warm, kind, and easy to approach, said the charism of Charity affects her ministry daily. Through her work with the Little Sisters of the Poor, she offers compassion to those whom she ministers.
“The love of Christ makes me more inclined to see Christ in others and urges me to care for the poor and vulnerable. The Little Sisters of the Poor say they enjoy working with me and appreciate my dedication to their mission of caring for the elderly poor,” said Sister Karen.
“As Sisters of Charity, we recognize Christ present within ourselves and the people with whom we minister. Jesus invites us to serve him by serving others,” says Sister Carole Marie Blazina, a licensed registered nurse and a family nurse practitioner.
Through her ministry as the Clinical Director for Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in Pittsburgh, she is responsible for coordinating the care delivered in the downtown Pittsburgh clinic. All of but five members of the clinic’s staff (all physicians, dentists, nurses, and technicians) are volunteers.
“I love the work. It’s good to know that people are getting the help and care they need,” Sister Carole says. “It is particularly rewarding to watch the volunteer dental and medical care providers. All of them express their gratitude for an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”
The Free Health Care Center serves people from 19 to 64 years old who do not have health insurance. Many of the clients are employed in part-time or low-paying positions and do not have benefits. The clients using the center’s services represent a large number of Pittsburgh residents who have no other access to health care. With constant rising costs of health care insurance, many working people and those who are unemployed in the middle groups have no insurance and neglect serious problems because they don’t know where to turn.
Sister Carole expresses her motivation by saying, “Jesus loved in a way that welcomed all people and helped them to be the best that they could be and were created to be. In healthcare and in spiritual care, we seek for all that God created us to be in goodness and wonder.”
Her work as a nurse practitioner and clinical director allows her to practice the healing ministries. “It allows me to witness the awesome creativity and love of our God in designing the human person and the resiliency that is within each of us as we cope with life’s challenges,” she explains.
When asked why she is a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Sister Carole answers, “Because this is where my spirit is at home.” The congregation’s mission of direct service to the poor resonates with what she believes to be her call from God. She describes the Sisters of Charity as “women of love.”
Sister Carole first met the Sisters of Charity while a student at St. Anselm High School (Pittsburgh). Later, in college, she came to know the Sisters of Mercy. “It was during college that I began to seriously explore the option of becoming a religious. I spent many weekends visiting different congregations and attending workshops and conferences for ‘discerners.’”
One of her initial observations was the sense of mutuality and community she encountered among the Sisters of Charity. At congregational events, she worked side by side or spoke with sisters whose ministries ranged from administrators to hospital nurses, from grade and high school teachers to college professors, from social workers to pastoral workers and lawyers. “Yet, in community, all were sisters despite the diversity of ministry and even of dress,” she notes. “When I entered there were some sisters wearing the traditional long habit and cap with bow, some were in the post-Vatican II modified habit, some were in simple suits and a modified cap, and some in simple secular dress. All wore the emblem of the Congregation.”
She continues: “Explaining how I knew religious life was my call is like someone explaining how they knew they were in love with their spouse—the words are hard to find, but the experience is felt deep within one’s being. There is a graced and mysterious knowing that my call is to give myself, my being, as created by God, totally to the mission of Christ. It is being open to discernment and listening to the Spirit at work in my life, the Congregation, and the world. I know this is my call because my response has led to joy. Not a constant state of happiness; there is challenge, disappointment, and sorrow—yet, I know God, Jesus, the Spirit are present and guiding all. God is present supporting and nurturing me—faithful in all as I strive to know and serve God’s people.”
Religious life is today, as always, in a state of transition and constant adaption to the needs of the Church and world, acknowledges Sister Carole. Traditional ministries have taken new shape and new needs are becoming known. “As Sisters of Charity our mission will always be to reflect God’s love present as we serve the poor and those in need. It is a life uniquely blended in graces received and ministry performed in response to God’s call to charity—a challenge and a blessing to work towards the reign of God as Jesus taught.”