PITTSBURGH (CNS) — When Alexis Weber decided to answer a classified advertisement for volunteer nurses in the Pittsburgh Catholic diocesan newspaper in 1994, it led her to a mutually beneficial relationship with St. Joseph House of Hospitality.
This spring, Catholic Charities USA, based in Alexandria, Virginia, named her its 2014 Volunteer of the Year. She received the award Oct. 5 during Catholic Charities annual assembly, held Oct. 4-7 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Keynoted speakers at the assembly included Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, who serves as the episcopal liaison to Catholic Charities, a national network of local agencies.
When the award was announced, Weber told the Pittsburgh Catholic: “I was very surprised as I truly believed there are volunteers out there who are much more worthy than I am to receive such recognition.”
Tom Kneier, administrator at St. Joseph House of Hospitality, nominated her. She was chosen out of eight finalists.
“Alexis Weber’s big-hearted generosity is an inspiration and reminder to us all to give back to our brothers and sisters in need,” said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. “I want to thank Alexis and all of our amazing nominees for giving selflessly of their time and talents, and realizing the importance of lending a helping hand.
“Our local agencies would be hard-pressed to serve so many without the tireless support that volunteers like Alexis and hundreds of thousands of others provide every day,” he said in a statement.
Weber is director of the School of Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital, or UPMC Mercy. She goes to St. Joseph House of Hospitality every Friday from 1-3 p.m. and sees any resident who needs her.
Founded in 1937, the residence is a program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
A pioneer in delivering services to the poor and homeless, the facility offers supportive housing in the form of single-room occupancies and congregate living. The professional staff of religious and laypeople serve males older than 50 who have a limited income and who have been homeless or are in danger of becoming homeless.
Kneier recalled a recent homily by Pope Francis, who said Christian love is “loving without counting the cost. This is the lesson of the good Samaritan. This is the lesson of Jesus.”
“To me, this is also the lesson of Alexis Weber,” Kneier told the Pittsburgh Catholic. “When I received the call from CCUSA that Alexis had won the award, I remember hanging up and smiling as I pictured her response. Something along the lines of ‘I’ll only accept this as a way of honoring St. Joe’s and the men who have lived there.’ I got it almost verbatim.”
Weber doesn’t see her efforts “as ‘volunteering her time’ or ‘providing a service,'” he said, but rather as “‘being in a relationship’ with men who are her brothers.”
At UPMC Mercy, Weber has overall administrative and educational responsibility for the registered nurse educational program. She previously was director of the School of Nursing at St. Francis Medical Center from 1990 until its closure in 2002, and from 2002 through 2008 Weber was director of the School of Practical Nursing at UPMC St. Margaret.
Weber “is an extraordinary and inspirational example of Pope Francis’ call to each of us to act with charity and love and go and meet the most need,” said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “We are truly blessed to count her as one of our own.”
When she began volunteering at St. Joseph House of Hospitality, Weber was “very nervous at first as I really didn’t know what to expect.”
“To say that I felt like a nursing student again instead of a nurse with 23 years of experience would be an understatement,” she said. “The residents in turn did not know me or the other nurses, and so there was a trust issue. At first I saw just a few residents. Then slowly but surely the residents came.
“I came to know them as people who had families, jobs and suffered some bad breaks in life or made a few poor choices,” Weber continued.
“We grew closer each week as the other nurses who volunteered had to leave for various reasons, and I was the only nurse left. They shared their lives with me and their hopes and dreams of the future.”
One day she realized she would never leave. “God had led me here, and this is where he wanted me,” she told the Pittsburgh Catholic.
The care provided to the residents at St. Joe’s is a team effort, said Weber, who lives in Shaler Township and is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill neighborhood.
“I am Polish and love to celebrate the Polish traditions of my faith,” she said.
Weber is single and has “an amazing extended family” that includes two sisters, and nieces and nephews.
For those who think they do not have time to volunteer or who may be hesitant to do so, “please listen to your heart,” Weber said.
“I believe God calls us often to do his will, but sometimes we are too busy to stop and listen,” she said. “Many times during my life I did not listen to his call. Twenty years ago I stopped, listened and answered. It changed my life.”
Moody is associate news editor at the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.