“I really believe being here is the easiest way to live the joy of the Gospel that I know,” said Sister Evelyn Dettling, OSB, on a recent Thursday at the Education & Community Center of St. Athanasius Parish in Westview, Pennsylvania.
From basketball to basket-weaving, Sister Evelyn coordinates close to 30 programs at the center. She greets people, organizes activities and keeps the center moving every day.
After more than 60 years with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh, Sister Evelyn enjoys “the small things” about her job now the most.
“Being able to welcome people, to assist them, to cheer them up if they’re down or just share their joy,” she said, “to encourage them.”
“I think my whole life, when I taught school, when I worked with the Commission on Justice, one of the things that I really loved to do is encourage people, to give them hope and to listen to them and to assure them that ‘Yeah, life is good, and you’re going to make it.’”
Sister Evelyn came to live with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh as an aspirant at age 13, and she made first vows when she was finishing high school in 1955.
For 20 years, she primary and secondary grades and worked in campus ministry at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Then, in 1979, her prioress asked her if she would establish a new ministry in Appalachia. She and three Sisters moved to Neon, Kentucky, and Sister Evelyn began working with the Glenmary Home Missioners for their Commission on Justice. She spent the next 20 years focusing on issues of land, labor and racial justice. For Sister Evelyn, those years in the South were “an eye-opener to what life was all about.”
Sister Evelyn entered religious life out of love for people – “to serve people and share faith,” she says. She still lives out that call every day, running what she called “a ministry of presence.”
“I keep the doors open. I keep the programs running. I’m here for people. People will come in and sit and talk, they’ll come in and ask for prayers. Sometimes I’ll just pray with people. I laugh a lot.”
Here is her motto: “Joy is the echo of God’s life in the soul.”
“That’s what I wanted to share my whole life, whether I was teaching children or teaching adults, or whether I was walking in a picket line or whether I was working in our infirmary. I just wanted to share (joy) and that’s what I do here.”
Looking back on it now, Sister Evelyn said she is most grateful for living a life so rich and so full.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” she said. “There have been ups and downs but I have loved my life as a religious woman.”
Sister Evelyn thanks SOAR! for bringing peace of mind to aging Sisters in her congregation who have given their whole life to God.
“It’s a great consolation and comfort to us to know that because of the help you’ve given us that our older Sisters are safe and secure and have what they need,” she said.
In 2016, SOAR! awarded an emergency grant to the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh for a wander guard system.