By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

Mary Lettieri Strenchock, a nurse practitioner at the J.E. Wood Clinic at Pennsylvania Hospital, recently received recognition from her peers in the mental health field through the 2011 Community Service Award given by the Community Council of the Hall-Mercer Behavioral Health Center.

Strenchock, 44, has compassion in her DNA. Her mother, Patricia Lettieri, was also a nurse, and her dad, Dominic Lettieri, taught for a time at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School and established In His Sign Ministries, a Catholic radio program, and the entire family was strongly pro-life.

“My mother was a major influence on me; she was always doing things for everybody, not just family and neighbors, but even strangers,” she said. “She always said we had been given much, but we had to give back.”

As a child Strenchock remembers her father always attended Sunday Mass, but he was not markedly religious.

It was only after a severe business reversal that he had a conversion experience.

“My mom had to go back to work and they didn’t know where the money would come from, but there was never a question of taking us out of Catholic school,” she said. “I would definitely say this made their faith stronger.

“Ours was a close-knit Italian family and very involved in the community, and I had a very happy childhood,” Strenchock added. “I’m active in the pro-life movement and pray every Friday at an abortion clinic at 8th and Appletree Streets.”

She knows once when she mentioned her pro-life convictions during a job interview, she lost out because of it. Her father consoled her and told her she had done the right thing.

As a child she lived in Holy Spirit Parish in South Philadelphia and attended St. Maria Goretti High School before the family moved to the suburbs where she graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor. Her bachelor’s degree in nursing is from Widener University, and she has a master’s in nursing from Temple University.

At various times she has volunteered for programs in Honduras and Bosnia as well as given presentations to students at Regina Angelorum Academy in Ardmore.

Married to Joseph Strenchock in 2009, they are members of St. Pius X Parish in Broomall, but they also keep ties with Joseph’s former parish, Holy Ghost Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church. By coincidence, Holy Ghost is also in South Philadelphia, not far from Mary’s childhood parish, Holy Spirit.

Although her own impulses for compassion spring mostly from faith and family, she proudly notes it is also a tradition at Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia’s oldest hospital which traces its foundation to Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, Franklin, in an appeal for donors specifically cited the parable of the Good Shepherd, for a model one should follow.

Working as a nurse practitioner mostly with people who are mentally ill, her pro-life beliefs carry over to her interactions with patients, many of whom suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, depression or schizophrenia.

“Every day I engage with people who, if you saw them walking toward you on the street, you might want to cross the street,” she said.

“My challenge is to see Christ in every one of them. They are my neighbor, and I comfort them. They also challenge me to be a better person.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.