Our Founders: Father Don Fisher
Father Don will always be the heart and soul of Focus On Renewal, and we are shocked and saddened by his sudden passing on Saturday February 25th, 2017. Many of our FOR community loved sitting and learning from him in his beloved ceramics studio, his talent for sharing his craft was completely mesmorizing and inspiring. He spoke softly and gently, telling stories and subtle wisdom, that quite often could fundamentally change how you looked at a problem or challenge. Stopping to catch a breath and reflect with him in his blue coat walking down Chartiers Ave, in the lobby of the art center or at a stool at Renewal Coffee, always meant your day was changing for the better.
We will honor Father Don everyday by continuing to work towards his beautiful vision for a strong and supported Sto-Rox community, full of light, love and laughter-just like he was and always will be in our hearts.
Father Don Honored in FOR's 46th Anniversary Gala
Fr. Don Fisher was ordained a Catholic priest in 1961 and has served in parishes throughout the Pittsburgh area. In 1969, he became the first Director of Focus On Renewal (FOR).
Working out of a storefront at 610 Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks, Fr. Don and fellow FOR Co-Founder Sr. Paulette Honeygosky conducted door-to- door interviews with Sto-Rox residents.
Together, they collaborated with other organizations to address the needs of the community and created a credit union, an afterschool program, a lending library, a senior center and a health clinic. Fr. Don left FOR when he was missioned in Africa, from 1975 to 1979. He has also shared his time and talents with Community Human Services, The Haven at Slippery Rock and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation.
It was in the mid 1960s that Fr. Don began to develop an interest in pottery. Self- taught through books, magazines and workshops, Fr. Don honed his craft in a pottery co-op in New York and later in his home studio. He earned a graduate degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, majoring in ceramics, and has been the resident potter at the Father Ryan Arts Center since it opened in 2008.
Focus on Renewal founder Rev. Don Fisher sees efforts bearing fruit
July 18, 2013 4:00 AM
By Bob Podurgiel, Pgh Post-Gazette
In the basement of the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks is a workshop where a dozen students are turning out plates, vases and other works of pottery adorned with paint and glazes that delight the eye with vibrant colors.
The students are taking one of the Rev. Don Fisher's pottery classes.
Sherine Raymond, a first-grade teacher in Sto-Rox School District, was creating what she called a "fairy castle" out of clay. The castle, with its triangular and round windows, looked as if a family of hobbits, the fictional heroes of "The Lord of the Rings" could march out of it at any time.
"All of my projects are handcrafted, created without a potter's wheel," she said.
"Father Don is an expert at the wheel and other students like the wheel, but for me, using the wheel is very a humbling experience and one that I haven't mastered yet," she said.
Under Father Fisher's teaching, however, she has created objects that include clay pumpkins and trays. She has shown them to her first-grade students, sparking an interest in some to make their own creations out of clay.
Another student, Maureen Harris from Monroeville, said she knew Father Fisher and when she found out he created pottery, she wanted to learn how to do it, too.
"He always inspires us," she said as she finished painting a vase during a class last week.
Teaching pottery at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks is something of a homecoming for Father Fisher, who now lives on the South Side.
In the 1960s, he served the community as a neighborhood priest and founded Focus on Renewal, a social service organization that offers a range of health and anti-poverty programs for McKees Rocks residents. Then he left for a post in Tanzania in Africa.
Father Regis Ryan succeeded him and continued the work of Focus on Renewal, which eventually led to the establishment of the Father Ryan Art Center on Chartiers Avenue in 2008.
The center offers classes and programs in the arts for children and sponsors adult classes such as pottery, which is one of the more popular offerings.
"It's thrilling to see the seed planted in the mid-'60s maturing," said Father Fisher, who is now retired. "I am having a marvelous time teaching."
He said he was drawn to carving, painting and pottery as a way to express his artistic side. "I love it. As long as the passion remains, I will keep doing it," he said.
The workshop is equipped with kilns, mixers for creating the clay from raw materials, pottery wheels to shape the clay, and an extruder to form the clay into pieces that can pressed into blocks and then turned to vases, pots and even fairy castles, by students in his advanced class.
Father Fisher proudly displayed two poster boards filled with photos of the pottery created by his students. The arts center's first-floor gallery is currently showing works by Father Fisher and those of other instructors at the arts center.