As she reflects on 50 years of service to the Catholic Church, Sister Barbara Einloth says she is astonished at the number of valuable relationships she's formed over the years -- people she's helped and those who have touched and influenced her own life.
These interactions, she says, have made her more "loving, compassionate and fun," as she served the church in places as diverse as Bethesda, Md.; Olympia, Wash.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Greensburg, Pa., and St. Mary Catholic Church in Hudson.
"Sister Barbara was always very welcoming among the congregation. She made you feel at home," says Barb Beck, a member at St. Mary's. Pat Belby, St. Mary's director of development, agrees. "She had a special gift for relating to people. Even as a newcomer here, she fit right in," Belby says.
Einloth sees her Golden Jubilee -- celebrated in a service in July at Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg and at a picnic there later in September -- as an important milestone, offering a chance to look back and be thankful for all of the relationships and experiences that have shaped her.
"Ministry has put me in touch with wonderful Catholics eager to grow in faith, understanding and commitment," Einloth says.
She accepted the position at St. Mary's in 2002, becoming part of the pastoral team overseeing adult education and social outreach programs. She stayed nearly ten years, her longest tenure in pastoral ministry, until elected to serve the United States Province of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill as part of a five-woman leadership team in Greensburg, where she currently serves.
Einloth says it was difficult to leave Hudson. "I loved the town, loved having a town," she says. "St. Mary's is a really fine parish and really very much what I understand church to be."
In her current office, Einloth embraces the challenge of leading the province into the future while balancing the mission of the Sisters of Charity with caring for the growing population of senior sisters. The Sisters of Charity, an international apostolic congregation of women religious who serve in five countries, minister primarily in the areas of education, health care, pastoral care and social services.
The Big Picture
It was the Sisters of Charity who taught Einloth atw Elizabeth Seton High School in Pittsburgh and who she says influenced her to join the community after graduating in 1964.
"I didn't grow up thinking I would be a nun. That was for other people, I thought. But God kept poking at me and the idea wouldn't go away," she remembers. "I eventually accepted that God has the big picture. I don't."
Einloth went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree in English from Seton Hill University, a school founded by the Sisters of Charity, and was assigned first to a school in Maryland and then to schools throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
"I'm instinctively a teacher and was successful as a teacher from the beginning," she says. Though nuns at that time weren't allowed input on where they would be assigned, Einloth sees that as a positive. "I was tossed into all kinds of situations," she recounts. "You discover talents you didn't know you had."
By taking summer classes, she was able to graduate from Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, in 1979, with a master's degree in theology. At that point, her focus started to shift from high school education to adult education.
"Let's face it, high school kids are not too eager to learn religion," Einloth says. "But I had all this knowledge and I wanted to share it."
She got her chance while serving as a consultant for adult catechesis and the associate director for religious education for the Diocese of Greensburg in the 1980s. "I created an adult education program with the goal of getting Catholic adults excited about learning," she says. "Religious education shouldn't be something that ends at grade school."
Adult education was a large focus of her time at St. Mary's in Hudson also. "Sister Barbara was an excellent teacher. She would bring the topic to life and make it relevant to us today," Belby remembers.
Einloth led a weekday morning Bible class that studied the Catholic faith, books of the Bible and other world religions, incorporating novels, maps and history into class discussion. "There was homework but that didn't deter them. This was a group willing to work at learning. They were ready to do that," she says. "I still miss them."
Life Changing Experience
In 1989, Einloth headed back to school and had what she describes as a "life-changing experience" during a sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. While earning a certificate in theological studies, she lived for the first time in an international community and she says it "forever changed the way I look at the world."
She met other church workers from all parts of the world, spent time with refugees from El Salvador, visited the homeless in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco and studied about liberation and spirituality and the church's role in aiding social justice.
All of this, she says, "shifted something inside of me."
"I've always cared about charity, people, living the Gospel, but now I do it with a different attitude," she says.
That was why when she first interviewed for the position at St. Mary's, it was imperative to her that the church was interested in social justice.
That proved to be the case, as Einloth went on to lead a 30-week program called JustFaith, which promotes justice education and formation in the Catholic tradition. "We found people willing to make that commitment every year except one that I was there," Einloth says.
They prayed, shared, read and studied together. "By the end of the session, they were ready to turn their knowledge into action through either direct service or advocacy to change structures," she says. The class led church members to get involved in the Peter Maurin center in Akron; Sweet Dreams, which provides bedding and pajamas for new refugees in Cleveland; Family Promise, an organization that provides shelter for homeless families; the creation of a Fair Trade event at the church, as well as numerous other initiatives that church members continue to be connected to.
Einloth says she's appreciative of the readiness and willingness many people had for getting involved with social action and advocacy. "These people were hungry for more in their faith life," she says. "And they encouraged others to join them."v