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Audio books keep Sister of Charity busy as volunteer at 85 


Sister of Charity Jeremy Mahla works on an
audio recording at the Carnegie Library for
the Blind and Physically Handicapped. CAustin

By Maria Guzzo
Special to The Catholic Accent

PITTSBURGH — When God sought out Jeremiah to speak, the prophet initially balked at the calling.

Sister of Charity Jeremy Mahla, who derived her first name from Jeremiah when she made religious vows in 1951, is having no problem speaking.

At age 85, the Oakmont native spends five hours every weekday at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in the North Oakland section of Pittsburgh making or editing audio recordings of books.

Her most substantial work to date is a 514-page manuscript written by fellow Sister of Charity Shin Ja Lee about the woman who founded their order.

"The Practice of Spiritual Direction in the Life and Writing of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton" was Sister Shin Ja’s dissertation for her doctoral degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

After more than 40 years in religious service, Sister Jeremy makes her home at the Elizabeth Seton convent in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh, travels to the order’s mission in Korea, heads out to Seton Hill University, Greensburg, for bell choir practice, and attends Pittsburgh Symphony performances regularly.

"Sometimes I’ll go out and sweep the front stairs," she said. "I’m just an ordinary sister."

Mark Sachon, librarian at Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, said Sister Jeremy is more than ordinary.

"She’s amazing, first, that she had the incentive to do it — it’s a huge work," Sachon said about her work on Sister Shin Ja’s book. "And second, that she persevered where others might have gotten tired of it. It took a year and a half to finish."

Sachon said Sister Jeremy also did the book’s editing, which takes six times as long as the narrating.

"Sister learned every aspect of audio book production," he said. "She’s in her 80s. She doesn’t let the technology learning curve stand in her way."

Sister Jeremy is nonchalant about her efforts.

"If you learn one thing at a time, it’s not so bad," she said. "At 85-and-a-half, as long as I can hear and see, I’ll keep going."

In the decades as a woman religious, Sister Jeremy has traveled between the United States — where she was a teacher at the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in Pittsburgh — and Korea, where the Sisters of Charity have a large presence.

Sister Jeremy met Sister Shin Ja in Korea 40 years ago and was there in 2010 when she published her dissertation.

"I read the first couple chapters and called her up — she was in Korea, too — and said this ought to be available for our older sisters," Sister Jeremy said. "They can’t read all this."

Sister Jeremy reached out to the Carnegie Library and connected with Sachon who set her up as a volunteer.

All four copies of the recording are currently checked out.

"Usually, the fact that they’re in circulation is a good sign," Sachon said. "Some titles sit on the shelf for lack of interest."

Sachon said the library offers patrons audio books for free.

"It’s a great service if you’re having trouble reading," Sachon said. "We can bring books back to you. They’re all mailed free, like Netflix; on your doorstep, as many as you want."

Sachon said Sister Jeremy also has been valuable at marketing the library.

"She works hard at promoting our service," he said. "I can’t tell you how many people she’s brought into our patronage. They didn’t know we existed."

Sister Jeremy also helped the library keep true to the Library of Congress funding rules that they must create audio books of works about Pennsylvania or by Pennsylvania authors.

"We were a little concerned," Sachon said. "Initially, we couldn’t find a Pennsylvania connection until Sister told us about Elizabeth Seton’s order in Philadelphia."

Sister Jeremy’s next project is a book about the Pittsburgh Symphony, of which she’s a big fan.

"Oh my, yes," she said. "I’ve been going as much as I can since 1945. I was just a high school kid at Sacred Heart, and we got special tickets. Now I have season tickets. It’s worth spending money on one of the great symphonies of the world."

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