Sister Miroslava, when and how was your Congregation founded?
The origin of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (with their Mother House in Zagreb) is linked to the pastoral activity of the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Juraj Haulik who, on September 5, 1845 invited the six sisters of the Austrian region of Tyrol to come to Zagreb so that, through them, the charism of Saint Vincent de Paul might take root in this new region of Croatia. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in Zagreb originally belonged to one of the various branches of the Sisters of Charity of Germany. The Sisters of Charity of Zagreb follow the original spirit, charism and constitution of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Upon arrival, the Sisters applied the Vincentian charism to their educational and social ministry. Numerous primary and secondary schools, educational centers, kindergartens, and boarding schools for youth were opened. Their concern for the poor, the sick and the disabled led the Sisters to build hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, and homes for the poor.
During the first eleven years of their stay in Croatia, the Sisters of Charity of Zagreb remained linked to the administration of the Sisters of Charity with the Mother House of Zams, in Tyrol. As the number of the Sisters increased and as their works multiplied, the Sisters of Charity of Zagreb became autonomous (October 22, 1856) and through the grace and help of Archbishop Juraj Haulik, they took the name: Congregation of the Sisters of Charity (Zagreb). As the Congregation grew in number, in 1932 it was divided into provinces: the Province of the Mother of Good Counsel- Rijeka, the Province of the Immaculate Conception – Zagreb and the Province of the Annunciation of the Lord. In 1939 the Province of Christ the King was founded in South America with headquarters in Dock Sud (Buenos Aires) and in 1977 that province was divided into two provinces: the Province of Cristo Rey-Argentina and the Province of the Queen of Peace-Paraguay. In 1974 the Province of the Admirable Mother-Sarajevo was founded and in 1959 the Delegation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – Rome. As more Sisters ministered in Bulgaria, especially in Plovdiv and Sofia, in 1963 the Bulgarian Delegation of the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius was also founded in Kometovo-Plovdiv but was later suppressed during the 2017 General Chapter.
According to the latest statistics, (December 31, 2020), the Congregation has six provinces and a delegation in which 621 Sisters work (these Sisters are ministering in 12 countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Monte Negro, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, Austria, Canada, Argentina, Paraguay and the Solomon Islands.
What are your missionary activities?
Following the example of our holy founders, Saint Vincent and Saint Louise de Marillac, the Sisters of Charity strive with great care to promote and cultivate the vocations of those Sisters who by divine inspiration wish to consecrate themselves to missionary activity ad gentes.
From the beginning of the autonomous administration of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Zagreb, the Sisters dedicated themselves to the missionary spirit, so that, as early as 1881, the first missionary Sisters left for Turkey and other Eastern European countries. For many years the Sisters were active in Bosnia, where they carried out various activities, some of which are still continued today. In 1934, the Sisters of Charity of Zagreb left for Argentina and then for Paraguay.
Although the Congregation has seen the number of Sisters decline due to the misfortunes and sufferings of wars, in 2011 four missionary Sisters left for the Solomon Islands, in Oceania, where they continue to carry out activities among the poor of Malaite Island: the Sisters organize many useful projects to improve the religious and family life of the people. With their example, the Sisters inspire new vocations, so that even indigenous women approach them and express their desire to become religious women. Sensitive to the needs of poor countries, each year we organize fund-raising activities in various communities of the Congregation to raise the necessary funds for our missions and those of the Church in general.
As an active congregation, we respond regularly to the needs of the Church and therefore, we are always attentive and sensitive to the needs of the most disadvantaged. Wherever we are, we always strive to preserve and rekindle the spirit of the Congregation, and for God’s sake we open our hearts to those in need in the modern world
During this time of the pandemic, what were the greatest needs that you encountered? Who were the people who suffered the most during this time?
Deeply rooted in the present reality of our people, as well as in the activity of the local Church, we feel compassion and help the suffering men and women. A large part of our Congregation was affected by the dangerous and terrible pandemic, as a result of which 15 Sisters died in the Zagreb Mother House. To this ordeal was added the earthquake that struck Zagreb twice last year and the Banovina region, causing serious damage to the Mother House. For the afflicted members of this country, who were on the verge of despair, in addition to the necessary material help, we were also able to offer spiritual help.
As a congregation, we have often been present in various projects to give material help to the most destitute and to bring spiritual help to the families … we were able to do this with the collaboration of the local pastors and/or through the friends and relatives of the most affected families.
As a Congregation, we often work together with Cáritas and we collaborate with them in the distribution of food, talking to those affected, comforting them and praying the rosary with and for them. We have visited the destroyed villages, organized the celebration of the Eucharist and prayed together for them and with them. As always, the poorest, forgotten and abandoned are the ones who suffered the most as a result of this tragedy.
In January 2020, you participated in the international meeting of the Worldwide Vincentian Family that was held in Rome. Two years removed from that event, what are the initiatives that most impressed you?
Among the many initiatives, I was especially impressed by the emphasis on the need to be connected so as to be able to offer mutual support to the members of all the various branches of the Vincentian Family. Connected to each other we are stronger spiritually and the awareness of belonging to such a family enables us to assist our brothers and sisters as they confront so many diverse situations.
As Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, do you have some project that you are hoping to accomplish at the present time?
The earthquake and the enormous damage caused to the parish church and the Zagreb Mother House, as well as to the local houses, have forced us to carry out an unplanned project, destined to restore and renew the Mother House in order to offer the Sisters a place of prayer and decent conditions in which to live and work.
The second project that touches us closely, and that we started before the pandemic, is the construction of our novitiate house in the Solomon Islands. Since the mission opened in 2011, the number of indigenous vocations has continued to grow. That reality has forced us to begin the construction of the Novitiate house as soon as possible (this in turn, enables us to welcome the local women into our community).
A third project is particularly important to us, and much loved, namely, to work more intensely so that our seven Sisters, Servants of God, are officially proclaimed martyrs as soon as possible.
Finally, an important project is concern for the homeless, the destitute, the abandoned, which we currently express through the “House of Refuge” in Rijeka, where organized help is offered to those in need throughout the day. The Sisters offer the same type of help in the “House of Mercy”, which every day ministers to more than a hundred poor and homeless people. In Argentina, the Sisters offer organized help at the “House of Goodness on the South Pier” in Buenos Aires. In Paraguay, the Sisters help by caring for the poor in the “House of Sister Slava” (a Sister of Charity who died in the odor of sanctity).