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Congregation of St. Joseph Loves and Serves the Dear Neighbor

Photos by Heather Ziegler Members of the Knitting Circle at Mount St. Joseph include in no particular order, Bev West, Sarah Blizzard, Sr. Kathleen Durkin,CSJ, Amy Lough, Jane Mahlke, Kathy Bee, Martha Blizzard, Lynda Check, Anna Marie Troiani and Sister Carolyn Berke.

WHEELING — The soft clicking of knitting needles could be heard last weekend at the St. Joseph Retreat Center at Mount St. Joseph.

It was a special meeting of the Knitting Circle that gathers regularly at the center operated in conjunction with the Congregation of St. Joseph at the Ohio County motherhouse.

Last Saturday, the Sisters of St. Joseph throughout the country celebrated the first of several fall service days with various projects benefiting those in need.

The Congregation of St. Joseph Service Days carries the theme “Hearts United … to love and serve the dear neighbor.” It is not a one day event, rather a mission they embrace each and every day.

The Knitting Circle met last Saturday in conjunction with other service day events conducted by the active and retired nuns at Mount St. Joseph. Typically Knitting Circle members meet from 1-3 p.m. each Tuesday except for just once a month during the summer, said Sara Blizzard, coordinator of the group.

Anyone can join as these novice and master knitters click away to create an assortment of warm and welcomed items that are distributed to local cancer patients, the homeless, hospital patients, veterans, infants and children and just about anyone they find in need of the warmth and comfort that goes into each stitch. They also consult with Kate Marshall at the House of Hagar in East Wheeling who aids those in need who routinely grace her doorstep.

Blizzard said the group is always open to new members. “We started out as a one-time event, but everyone enjoyed it so much we decided to continue each week.”

She said there are beginners and longtime knitters. “You can learn to knit … we all help each other. We have a good time together,” Blizzard commented.

Blizzard said they send items such as chemo hats to patients at Wheeling Hospital and to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. Knitted items also are provided to Helping Heroes in Moundsville and a host of local service agencies.

Sister Kathleen Durkin, CSJ, one of the knitters, said Saturday’s service day was an opportunity to engage in outreach in several ways.

Annie Marie Troiani, executive director at the Retreat Center and a member of the knitting group, said since January, the group has created over 200 pieces. “They have made scarves, hats, mittens, wash cloths and blankets.” She said other local knitters contribute items, too.

Much of the yarn has been donated for the projects or knitters can bring their own. Anyone interested in joining can learn more by calling Troiani at the Retreat Center at 304-232-8160; or visit online at www.stjosephretreatcenter.org to learn of other upcoming programs of interest.

Also last Saturday, the sisters and lay workers at Mount St. Joseph heard from Susan Brossman and Lynn Kettler, better known as the Street Moms. Sister Durkin introduced them, noting their work is an example of community outreach that the nuns could embrace.

Brossman and Kettler explained their mission to provide comfort and aid to the homeless population in and around Wheeling. They gave the sisters a visual slide show of the places and people they visit on their rounds. The slides showed the under belly of the homeless population as they learn to survive in the most challenging circumstances,

“We don’t judge them. We meet them where they are and try to fill the cracks. … We make ourselves available 24-7,” Brossman said.

Pictures of the tent camps where many of the homeless squat along Wheeling’s creeks and under interstate bridges show how they live in poverty and often filth. The Street Moms provide tents and tarps when they can. They bring food and clean water to the homeless, many whose lives are consumed by addictions or mental health issues.

Kettler said the lives of the people they deal with are complicated. “They are real people with real gifts. Some are talented artists. They carry everything they own on their backs. If they go to jail, we keep their items for them until they get out. I kept one man’s mother’s ashes while he was in jail.”

Brossman said most of the addicts they meet who are homeless cry when they talk about their children because they know “they’re choosing a drug over their children.”

The Street Moms said they provide “jobs” for the homeless by paying them a dollar for every bag of trash they collect at the campsites. Brossman said it gives them a sense of purpose while helping to clean up their living space.

She said homeless folks often are hoarders and surround themselves with what others may consider junk.

Kettler said while they are plagued by drug addictions, “There is no addiction that can cover a beautiful soul.”

After hearing the Street Moms’ stories, the sisters at Mount St. Joseph worked through the afternoon to create “blessing bags” filled with snacks, hygiene products, socks and other items to aid the Street Moms’ mission.

Sr. Gabriella Wagner, C.S.J., at 101 years of age, joined in Saturday’s mission by handwriting messages to those receiving the blessing bags. She is an example of a life well lived in the service for others.

The written messages were of hope, encouragement, and of course, prayers. It’s just one of the ways that the Sisters of St. Joseph everywhere love and serve their dear neighbors.

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