Mission as a Sacred Trust: Past, Present, Future

by | Jan 2, 2013 | Sisters of Charity, Vincentian Family

The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati offer a video response to the question “What is the Charity Mission?” Reviewing quickly their roots in Vincent, Elizabeth Seton and the early Sisters of Charity they present a quick tour of their heritage and conclude saying

“Although times change and programs vary according to the current needs of society, the charity mission remains the same — to go forth in Jesus’ name; to bring fire to the earth by inflaming it with Christ’s love. The spirits of Elizabeth Seton and all who have carried forth this mission — sisters, co-workers, parents, volunteers — serve as beacons to us as we continue this effort in the 21st century. “

Script for video Mission as a Sacred Trust: Past, Present, Future

   What is the Charity Mission? In the parting words to his disciples, Jesus exhorted them, “Go, and therefore, make disciples of all nations.”

   St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Charity family, told his co-workers, “Our vocation is to go not merely to one parish or even one diocese, but all over the earth. And to do what? To inflame hearts to do what the Son of God did. He came to bring fire to the earth by inflaming it with his love. What else can we want, except that it burns and consumes everything.”

The Charity mission is carrying forth the spirit and values of the Gospel with the particular spirit, priorities and virtues of the Charity charism:

  • Humility
  • Simplicity
  • Charity
  • Service to the poor and those with unmet needs

Carried out in a spirit of servant leadership –

  • putting collaboration over control;
  • trust over competition;
  • participation over exclusion and marginalization.

Anticipating the founding of the American Sisters of Charity in 1809, Elizabeth Seton wrote to a friend, “to speak the joy of my soul at the prospect of being able to assist the poor, visit the sick, comfort the sorrowful, clothe little innocents, and teach them to love God!” This spirit of service animated Elizabeth and her companions even as it continues to animate those who carry out the Charity mission today.

When Elizabeth Seton and the early Sisters of Charity assembled in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to begin their lives together, they brought a wealth of good will and personal talents, as well as a desire to serve God by serving others. Their original Rule, modeled after that of St. Vincent de Paul’s Daughters of Charity, stated: “The principal end for which God has called and assembled the Sisters of Charity is to honor Jesus Christ Our Lord as the source and model of all Charity by rendering to him every temporal and spiritual service in their power in the persons of the poor either sick, invalid, children, prisoners, even the insane or others who through shame would conceal their necessities in some instance.”

In this spirit Sisters of Charity spread throughout the United States where they founded and conducted free schools, orphan asylums, hospitals and academies as well as direct service to the poor. From their inception, the Sisters have collaborated with clergy, co-workers, parents, volunteers, and others to spread the fire of Christ’s love. As their efforts grew, their works touched the lives of thousands each day.

Four Sisters arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, in October 1829, at the request of Bishop Edward Fenwick who was “confident that great good could be done by the establishment of a female orphan asylum under [their] zealous and charitable care.” The Sisters opened St. Peter’s Girls’ Orphan Asylum and School where they served hundreds of both Catholic and Protestant young women each year.

When the Sisters became a diocesan community in 1852, they immediately expanded their work to include a boys’ orphan asylum and opened St. John’s, the first Catholic hospital in the city. By the end of the 1860s they opened missions beyond Cincinnati, sent Sisters to serve as Civil War nurses, and traveled the Santa Fe Trail to begin a long history of service on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Believing that Christ was truly alive in every town and pueblo, among the forgotten and the needy, they served miners and railroad workers, Native American and Spanish, school children and the elderly without discrimination. As the decades passed, the Sisters constantly modified their work to meet the ever changing needs of society.

Many Sisters were involved in the rapid expansion of parochial schools beginning in the late 19th century. Besides parish schools, they taught in academies, orphanages, Latin schools, special education schools, schools of nursing, and, in 1920, founded the College of Mount St. Joseph.

In New Mexico, Colorado, and Michigan their hospitals operated as tuberculosis sanitariums, while elsewhere general hospitals were established. Recognizing unmet needs in Cincinnati, with the assistance of generous benefactors, the Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Home for unwed mothers, and Santa Maria, a multi-service social center for immigrants. A few years later they began staffing St. Rita School for the Deaf, and in 1918 they sent Sisters to rural mining areas in Colorado and Kentucky to serve victims of the influenza pandemic. Ten years later they opened their first foreign mission in Wuchang, China, and in the 1940s began conducting a retreat house and a day-care center in Colorado. Wherever they were, the Sisters and their co-workers provided services to the poor through their schools and hospitals. In addition, they reached out to families and individuals in any number of ways that were available to them.

All of the Sisters’ ministries were coordinated out of their Mount St. Joseph motherhouse. It was here that they learned what it meant to be a Sister of Charity – to carry Christ’s love “to all nations.” They learned that to be a Sister of Charity meant to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence in every person they met – to believe that God’s Will would unfold in each day’s encounters and events. Their goal was to live their community motto: “The Charity of Christ Urges Us” and to practice the community virtues of humility, simplicity and charity. They learned that life as a Sister of Charity was not an either/or,but a both/and spirituality and lifestyle:

  •          Contemplation AND action
  •          Solitude AND community
  •          Charity AND justice
  •          Love of God AND love of Neighbor
  •          Service of the poor AND service of the wealthy
  •          Tending to spiritual needs AND tending to material needs.

These firm foundations remained the Sisters’ strength as they grappled with the many challenges and changes that came about in the Church and in society beginning in the 1960s. At the request of the Second Vatican Council, the community reassessed their ministries and  lifestyle, making changes designed to assist them in fulfilling their mission in the contemporary world. While the community continued to support their traditional ministries, it also explored new ways of serving in a rapidly changing society. Sponsorship of Sister of Charity hospitals was transferred to Catholic Health Initiatives in an effort to ensure their future. Some ministries were relinquished while new ones were embraced.

The Sister of Charity Mission Statement expresses their goals:

“Urged by the love of Christ and in the spirit of our founder, Elizabeth Ann Seton, we Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati strive to live Gospel values. We choose to act justly, to build loving relationships, to share our resources with those in need, and to care for all creation.”

The essence of this vision is witnessing to Christ’s presence in our world in a four-fold manner:

  • Acting justly,
  • Building loving relationships,
  • Sharing our resources with those in need,
  • Caring for all creation.

The Sisters of Charity focus on these points both in their personal lives and in their ministries. In addition, our Sponsored Ministries join us in these efforts.

  • Acting justly involves education, advocacy, and direct service. Our Congregational Office of Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation provides resources for continuing education and advocacy on justice issues such as immigration and anti-racism, while our efforts in Corporate Responsibility address issues of economic justice. Sisters work toward justice for those in need by providing basic social and medical services, working on building home ownership for the low income, and working with women and children to strengthen families. The Sisters of Charity adopted a priority of caring for the elderly, women and children that resulted in the establishment of such ministries as Bayley, a continuing care retirement community that offers a full range of life-style options, Seton Family Center, a counseling center serving children and families of all backgrounds and means, and The Women’s Connection, a neighborhood center committed to strengthening families in the Price Hill community.
  • Focusing on building loving relationships, the Sisters collaborate with our sponsored ministries primarily through our Corporation Board for Sponsored Ministries. A Sister of Charity serves as liaison with each ministry and seeks to provide resources and offer assistance as they work to live out their missions. Periodic board retreats and other programs offer all board members the opportunity to interact and deepen their understanding of the Sister of Charity mission. In addition, for nearly 40 years our Sister of Charity Associates in Mission program has invited women and men who share the Charity mission to join us in a formal relationship of prayer and community. Our Spirituality Center at the motherhouse sponsors events that invite people to deepen their relationships with God and with others through retreats, reflection days, massage therapy and a labyrinth. Our Sister of Charity Vision Statement also articulates our goals of seeking to embrace cultural expansion by reaching out to immigrant and minority populations in the United States as well as supporting programs in less developed countries.
  •  We share our resources with those in need by responding with personnel when possible. For instance, the Sisters of Charity have been deeply involved in establishing the House of Charity in New Orleans, contributing to efforts to help that city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. One of our Sisters coordinates activities there and a number of others have participated in “nuns build” programs. Sisters work and volunteer in every manner of social service outreach, on boards of social service agencies, and in educational settings. Our Motherhouse is available to many groups as we continually welcome visitors through our hospitality office. We share our financial resources through the SC Ministry Foundation, the Seton Enablement Fund which offers low interest loans to community development organizations, and the Social Justice Fund which offers emergency assistance to those in need.
  • Caring for all creation has long been part of our Sister of Charity mission. EarthConnection, built in 1991, is a model active solar building that has attracted national attention, and the Clifford Bird Observatory, located at the motherhouse, sponsors educational and bird-banding activities, while the Charity Garden provides opportunities for Sisters, Associates and motherhouse employees to grow their own produce. Sisters are engaged in discussions about the United Nations Earth Charter and our carbon footprint while the Office of Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation focuses on water, renewable energy, and climate change issues.

In carrying our Charity mission forward, we have a special partnership with our seven Sister of Charity sponsored ministries: three of which are educational institutions, two are senior care facilities, and two provide services to children and families with special needs. They are;

  • The College of Mount St. Joseph, a liberal arts college founded in 1920, emphasizes values, integrity and social responsibility along with an excellent education.
  • Seton High School, founded in 1927, offers a quality education through a comprehensive curriculum with a mission to develop women of faith and commitment.
  • DePaul Cristo Rey High School, founded in 2010, offers an opportunity for young women and men with economic need to obtain a Catholic college preparatory education in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
  • Bayley, founded in 1990, is a continuing care retirement community whose mission is to guide older adults through the journey of aging with skill, compassion and innovative care.
  • Light of Hearts Villa, located in Bedford, Ohio, and founded in 1989, is an independent and assisted living community committed to serving seniors with grace and integrity through quality affordable services.
  • St. Joseph Home, founded in 1872, creates a loving environment for non-ambulatory infants, children and young adults who have severe/profound mental and physical disabilities.
  • Seton Family Center, founded in 1989, provides affordable and time-effective mental health services to children and families of all backgrounds and means.

Although times change and programs vary according to the current needs of society, the charity mission remains the same — to go forth in Jesus’ name; to bring fire to the earth by inflaming it with Christ’s love. The spirits of Elizabeth Seton and all who have carried forth this mission — sisters, co-workers, parents, volunteers — serve as beacons to us as we continue this effort in the 21st century.

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