By LINDA M. LINONIS
Sister Janet Gardner found “a good fit” as the new executive director of Beatitude House. “It’s in my bones,” she said of helping people.
She succeeds Sister Patricia McNicholas, who served in that position from 2001 and is moving to a new role as senior development officer.
Sister Janet is one of 92 members of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God in Pittsburgh. In 1993, it was among 14 Catholic religious communities that founded Sisters Place Inc. in Clairton, Pa. The program mirrors that of Beatitude House in providing housing and supportive services to homeless mothers and their children and promoting education to achieve self-sufficiency.
“The Beatitude House program really spoke to me,” Sister Janet said. “I love the hands-on of touching people’s lives.”
She said the faith-based organization behind Beatitude House, the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, values “upholding life and human dignity,” which she shared. Sister Janet also is mindful of the practical side of the range of services that help homeless mothers and children escape from generational poverty.
Sister Janet, who has years of administrative experience as the general minister of her religious order, had been offered an administrative position with Bread for the World, a U.S. advocacy organization for the hungry. After interviewing and being offered the job at Beatitude House, her heart took her to the work she loves.
Though she’s keenly aware of the human frailties and financial challenges that are part of the job, she’s motivated by her faith. “My faith gives me an optimism about the human spirit and the potential for people to do good unto others,” she said. “I believe we are all connected to all other living things. It’s important for us to value those relationships.
“We are our neighbors’ keeper,” she said.
Sister Janet met some of those neighbors, friends, supporters and representatives of social-service agencies and foundations during two recent meet-and-greet gatherings at Beatitude House in Youngstown and A House of Blessing in Warren. She was impressed with their commitment to service and cooperation among agencies. Sister Janet said that groundwork will be helpful in the future as the state of Ohio is promoting “one point of entry” for services to connect people to agencies “to best serve their needs.”
Though her Sisters Place experience involved a bigger program, Sister Janet said the financial challenge of “providing quality services” is the same. She noted Beatitude House lends itself to vital cooperation among service providers.
Sister Janet brings a history of working with mothers and children to Beatitude House. Though her background was in theology and music, she realized the need for formal training and earned a master’s of social work from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and was a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania.
At Covenant House in New York, a homeless shelter, she started a program to help homeless mothers transition to other housing options. With Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, she directed the office in Greene County, Pa.
Her religious order ministers at 12 sites in Brazil and one in Bolivia, where pastoral and social services and health care are provided. Educational, pastoral and counseling services are offered at five ministry sites in the U.S.
She spent four years in Brazil and “loved it.” Sister Janet said the work was so gratifying because the nuns developed small community groups that made a “super nutritious” mixture of plants, leaves, seed and eggshells. The mixture was added to rice and bean dishes, the mainstay of the people’s diet, and transformed malnourished children to healthy ones. The infant mortality rate also decreased because pregnant mothers were better fed.
Sister Janet said the charism (purpose for being) of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown meshes well with her order’s. “God works through each of us. ... I believe that’s how he acts in our world,” she said.