National reporter Matt Sedensky and video journalist Jessie Wardarski gave voice to the intense emotion within communities of Catholic nuns that have experienced devastating losses from outbreaks of the coronavirus. The Felician Sisters alone lost 21 of their own from four U.S. convents, a remarkable blow for a community of about 450 women.
This intimate look within the cloister showed the lasting effects of what the pandemic wrought — in this case, the most reverent found themselves questioning faith and how one might continue living when so many nuns didn’t.
When Sedensky first started making calls on the story, he thought he’d have no problem finding sisters who’d talk about what they’d experienced. But as his calls and emails went unanswered, he started to doubt anyone would talk. “I kept widening my net more and more, but most of my messages remain unreturned to this day,” he said.
But he made some headway with a sister in the community that was hit perhaps hardest of all in the U.S.: the Felicians. A meaningful hourlong conversation with one Buffalo nun opened the door to multihour conversations with nuns elsewhere and, ultimately, with Sister Mary Jeanine Morozowich in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who had a level of introspection and eloquence that he knew could help drive this story.
Sedensky and Wardarski, both compassionate listeners, encouraged the openness of the sisters, helping introduce the pair to others at the St. Anne Home ministry in Greensburg. “Eventually two other sisters gave into my gentle pestering. And by the time Jessie and I paid a visit there, we were able to share moments and conversations with all of them,” Sedensky said.
Along the way, a couple of sisters told him that they felt better after their conversations.
The package, including Wardarski’s poignant visuals, found a receptive audience, with the social videos receiving more than 120,000 views on Twitter the first day. The AP pair received innumerable emails expressing how much the story moved readers. One email was headlined: “My tears flowed as I read your article.”
And a book publisher in California emailed: “Dear Matt Sedensky, Your article about the loss of these beautiful women will stay with me always. If ever there was an article that should be turned into a film, yours is one. You wrote it so beautifully and with such respect. I hope that happens for you, and for a world searching for meaning during this pandemic.”