Although old soldiers may just fade away, retired schoolteachers often join the army of volunteers working behind the scenes to assist their communities – be it church, school or hospital. This is the case with Helen Sandor who after teaching for many years in the Pittsburgh public school system retired some 10 years ago. While she may have stopped preparing lesson plans and grading papers, she claimed she is “busier than ever.”
A member of St. Lawrence O’Toole parish in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, she proudly admitted that “the parish is the center of my life.” Having lived there for more than 20 years, she now has the time for “all the things I couldn’t do before.” One activity that she always found time for is her parish prayer group, which meets Tuesday evenings.“I really think prayer helps people cope,” she said. “We live in such terrible times – fear of terror attacks, abortion, homelessness, drug abuse. People feel they are helpless, but they’re not. There’s so much to pray for.”
Miss Sandor also makes time for comforting the sick. As a eucharistic minister in her parish, she brings Communion to residents of Laurentian Hall, an assisted living residence that at one time was a Catholic school. Her visits are social as well as spiritual, she said. “I like to take a few minutes to chat with the people. They seem to enjoy the visit.”
Another source of consolation, Miss Sandor said, are Gregorian Mass cards – named after Pope St. Gregory the Great – that she sends to friends who have lost a loved one. The cards provide for the celebration of Mass for 30 consecutive days for the repose of the soul. She receives these Mass cards from Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the papal agency founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 to support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. The Masses are offered by priests in countries served by CNEWA.
She has been a supporter of CNEWA for about 10 years, she said, and likes the agency because it “helps people directly rather than going through a lot of red tape.”
As a former teacher, she maintains an interest in education, specifically Catholic schools. She is dismayed at the closing of many Catholic elementary schools. “More and more parishes are reporting that they are combining their schools,” she said. “It means some children have to travel a greater distance,” she added. But many parents, she said, are willing to go the extra step to see that their children have a “value-centered education.”
Her interest in children extends to the unborn. During the years she was teaching, she was unable to participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., which commemorates the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States. Since retirement, however, she has traveled to the nation’s capital every January to take part in the march. This year, despite freezing temperatures, she boarded a bus sponsored by a nearby parish pro-life group. “We had a good turnout,” she said.During the year, she participates in other pro-life activities such as sidewalk counseling and praying the rosary outside abortion clinics. Several times a month she joins others in distributing pro-life literature at public as well as Catholic high schools. She finds, surprisingly, that many of the public school students are receptive to the pro-life message.
She has distributed material at Oakland Catholic High School for girls and Central Catholic High School for boys and said the students are interested in the pro-life movement. “They’ll ask us questions,” she added. “It’s important to get to the young people with our message before others get to them.”
She is reluctant to talk about her personal life, but said she grew up in a large family; there were 12 children; four survive. Children today, she said, with one or two siblings, “are missing out on the give and take of family living. They’re not learning how to get along with others.” She has many nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great nephews, “and still counting,” she added.
A highlight for the family took place in September 2002 when members gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of religious life for Sister Barbara Sandor, a Sister of St. Joseph, who resides at the congregation’s convent in Baden. “It was fun to get together and reminisce,” she commented.Miss Sandor attends Mass daily. She knows the Mass schedule of the churches in her area and if she cannot get to Mass at St. Lawrence, she will drive to a nearby church.
She enjoys traveling and has visited Rome several times. On pilgrimage, she has visited Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje and the Holy Land and laments the events taking place there now.
“I have wonderful memories of these distant places, especially the Holy Land. When I hear the Gospel stories, I know the locations first-hand. The Bible is alive for me.”
Although Helen Sandor, schoolteacher, is retired, in many ways she continues to teach. But rather than stressing the three R’s, she teaches by example – devotion to the Eucharist and spreading the pro-life message.
“I’ve been very blessed,“ she said. ”Before I retired, I wondered how I would spend my free time. It hasn’t been a problem so far.”