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Pa. EMT nun dies, remembered for serving others

Certified as an EMT in the 1970s, she began disaster relief work after 9/11

By Joe Napsha
The Tribune-Review

GREENSBURG, Pa. — Sister Thomas Joseph Gaines was a tireless worker for others, whether as a chaplain for more than 30 years at John J. Kane Hospital in Allegheny County or helping those struck by natural disasters — hurricanes in Florida and the Gulf Coast or tornadoes in Mississippi.

The ministry of Sister Gaines, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, "exemplified the teaching of Pope Francis," said Sister Catherine Meinert, president/provincial superior of the community.

Sister Gaines, 73, died on Monday, May 12, 2014, in Caritas Christi Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity. She had heart disease.

She was born in Oakmont and entered the congregation of the Sisters of Charity on Dec. 28, 1959, from St. Irenaeus parish in Oakmont.

"She always wanted to be a Sister of Charity," Sister Meinert said.

For 33 years, she served as a chaplain and was certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, said Jane Strittmatter, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of Charity.

Sister Gaines became involved in ministering to those impacted by disaster because the nephew of a friend died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She provided care and distributed food in the wake of Hurricane Charley in Florida in 2004. She ministered to victims of Hurricane Katrina, who were taken to the Houston Astrodome in August 2005 when New Orleans was devastated. In April 2011, a series of tornadoes raged through 39 counties in Mississippi and Sister Gaines traveled there to help.

While pastoral minister at St. James Parish in Wilkinsburg from 1972 to 1981, she became interested in the Wilkinsburg Emergency Medical Service. She was a driver for the volunteer ambulance service and earned her emergency medical technician certification in the late 1970s, Strittmatter said.

While volunteering for the ambulance service, she handled her daily telephone contacts and visits to the elderly, her work with Meals on Wheels and service at a senior citizens center, Strittmatter said.

Former Mayor John Wilkins named her Wilkinsburg's "Citizen of the Year" for her social and spiritual leadership. She received the Harold B. Gardner Citizen's Award for her ambulance work.

She worked at John J. Kane Hospital from 1981 to 2013, rising to the position of chaplain at Kane Regional Center in McKeesport.

She moved to the Caritas Christi Motherhouse about two years ago, and "she continued to minister to the other sisters," Sister Meinert said.

"She went out of her way to do the little things," make people happy, Strittmatter said.

She is survived by a sister, Joanne Abshier; nieces, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday in Caritas Christi Motherhouse, 129 DePaul Center Road, Greensburg, where a funeral will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday.


(c)2014 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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