Sisters of Charity, Federation of
SISTERS OF CHARITY, FEDERATION OF
A number of Roman Catholic Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are inspired by the charisms of St. vincent de paul (1581–1660), St. louise de marillac (1591–1660) and, in the United States, St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley seton (1774–1821). In 1965 several took the first steps in forming the predecessor to the Sisters of Charity Federation, a voluntary association of sisterhoods that share the common Vincentian heritage of the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity (Paris, 1672). The founding communities trace their roots to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's founded by Mother Seton near Emmitsburg, Maryland. This article describes the origin of the Vincentian Tradition in France, its adaptation by Mother Seton in United States and the communities she inspired, the development and structures of the federation, and finally brief descriptions of each of the member congregations.
French origin of the Vincentian tradition. In his Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent explained on Sept. 29, 1655, that he and Saint Louise cofounded the Confraternity of the Charity of the Servants of the Sick Poor of the Parishes (whose members the people of Paris called Daughters of Charity ) "to honor the great charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ" through service to persons who were sick and poor [Joseph Leonard, ed., trans., Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, 4 v. (Westminster, Md. 1939) 3:98]. The Company of the Daughters of Charity, founded on Nov. 29, 1633, developed from the parish-based Confraternities of Charity and became the first successful institute of non-cloistered religious women to serve in the active apostolate in France. As such, the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity became a prototype. The rule developed by Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul was first explained to the sisters on July 31, 1634, and refined over time on the basis of the lived experience of the sisters who sought to live a lifestyle for mission characterized by humility, simplicity, and charity. According to Saint Louise, "If humility, simplicity, and charity which gives support are well-established among you, your little Company will be composed of as many saints as there are persons in it" [Louise Sullivan, trans., Louise de Marillac Spiritual Writings (New York 1991) 532].
Saint Vincent invited the sisters to sign the Act of Establishment of the Company on Aug. 8, 1655. His immediate successor as superior general, Very Reverend René Alméras, CM, (1613–1672; superior general 1661–1672), reorganized the original text of 43 articles that constituted the primitive rule. Alméras arranged them into chapters, with the assistance of Sister Mathurine Guérin (1631–1704) and included some unpublished oral traditions. This edition, in effect for the Daughters of Charity from 1672 until after Vatican II, reflects the thinking and collaboration of both Saint Louise and Saint Vincent.
In imitation of Saint Vincent's first Daughters of Charity, many congregations throughout the world carry the title "Sisters of Charity" and seek to live in their time the Vincentian mission having what Vincent de Paul described on Aug. 24, 1659, "for cloister the streets of the city, for enclosure obedience, going only to the homes of the sick and to places necessary for their service" (Leonard 4:264). The mission of the Company of Charity required a structure and lifestyle that circumvented the 17th-century requirement of enclosure for religious women. Louise explained in a letter to the Abbé de Vaux on June 29, 1649 that she and Vincent established the Daughters of Charity as "just a secular family" (Sullivan 293), "for whoever says religious says cloistered, and Daughters of Charity should go everywhere," as Saint Vincent explained to the Company of Charity on June 29, 1649 (Leonard 4:261).
The Daughters of Charity confirmed their commitment to mission through annual, private vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service of poor persons. The cloister would have prevented the sisters from doing their mission, which, according to Saint Vincent's explanation on May 30, 1659, called them to a state of charity through ministry among the sick poor, rather than a state of perfection through perpetual, public vows. The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul first received (1646) ecclesiastical approval by the archbishop of Paris, but that approbation, together with the royal letters patent, were inexplicably lost. Louise de Marillac wished to preserve the integrity of the Vincentian charism and to protect the Company of the Daughters of Charity from ecclesiastical interference. At her insistence, the substitute document was revised to place the Daughters of Charity under the perpetual direction of Saint Vincent and his successors as superior general of the Congregation of the Mission. Cardinal de Retz, archbishop of Paris, gave his approval on Jan. 18, 1655. The statutes of the company were confirmed in the name of Pope Clement IX by his legate, Cardinal Louis de Bourbon, duke de Vendôme, on July 8, 1668.
American origin of the Setonian tradition. Reverend Louis William Dubourg, SS (1766–1833), had desired to expand educational programs for girls in Baltimore since 1797. He met Elizabeth Bayley Seton about 1806 in New York and invited her to that city, where she served for one year as school mistress. She established (1808) a small boarding school for girls beside the Sulpician institution Saint Mary's College & Seminary on Paca Street. This plan enjoyed the enthusiastic support of John Carroll (1735–1815), first bishop of the United States and first archbishop of Baltimore (1789–1815). Carroll's primary concern was to provide educational opportunities for lay leaders and to develop native clergy for the Catholic Church in America.
The Sulpician priests of Baltimore offered to assist Elizabeth in formulating plans that would be beneficial to the welfare of her children. They expected women to join Elizabeth in forming a sisterhood modeled on the French Daughters of Charity under their direction. Elizabeth entrusted such a project to Divine Providence. In a letter dated Feb. 20, 1809 to Rose Stubbs of New York, Elizabeth explained that she would be forming apostolic women who "choose to lead a Religious life devoted to the education of poor children in the Catholic faith … [with] the prospect of receiving many [spiritual] daughters." Describing her vision of mission to Julia Sitgreaves Scott of Philadelphia in a letter dated March 23, 1809, Elizabeth exclaimed enthusiastically about "the joy" of her "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!" Two days later on March 25, Elizabeth pronounced vows of chastity and obedience to Bishop Carroll for one year in the lower chapel at Saint Mary's, after which the archbishop bestowed the title "Mother" on her.
The Sulpicians actively recruited the first candidates who joined the germinal community named at Baltimore between December 1808 and June 1809. Among them were the Misses Cecilia O'Conway (1788–1865), Anna Maria Murphy-Burke (c. 1787–1812), and Mary Ann Butler (1784–1821) all of Philadelphia; Susan Clossey (1785–1823) of New York; and Catherine (Kitty) Mullen (1783–1814), and Mrs. Rosetta (Rose) Landry White (1784–1841), a widow, of Baltimore. Elizabeth's youngest sisters-in-law arrived from New York and accompanied her to Emmitsburg in June of 1808. Cecilia Seton (1791–1810) was already a convert, and by September that year Harriet Seton (1787–1809) was also received into the Catholic Church.
Samuel Sutherland Cooper (1769–1843), a wealthy convert and seminarian at Saint Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, wished to address the needs of poor persons. Cooper donated $6,961 to purchase 269 acres of land from Robert Fleming for Mother Seton and her new community. Cooper designated the property, near Emmitsburg in Frederick County, Maryland, for education, care of the elderly, and employment training. Initially Elizabeth considered naming the community the Sisters of Saint Joseph but in recognition of the Vincentian tradition, she expanded its title to be the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's.
The Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's. The community of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's was founded July 31, 1809, at the Stone House in Saint Joseph's Valley near Emmitsburg, Maryland, and from there launched their apostolate of education and charity, trusting all to Divine Providence. The Provisional Regulations for Saint Joseph's Sisters (1809) was the primitive governing documents of the new community. In mid-February of 1810 the sisters moved into the newly constructed Saint Joseph's House (the White House). There 86 candidates joined the new sisterhood during Elizabeth's lifetime. The women were courageous in their mission despite the ravages of illness and premature death, which first claimed her sisters-in-law, Harriet and Cecilia Seton, then her oldest and youngest daughters, Anna Maria (1795–1812) and Rebecca (1802–1816). Elizabeth also buried 18 young Sisters of Charity during the 12 years she lived in Saint Joseph's Valley.
Under the guidance of Archbishop Carroll and the Sulpicians, Mother Seton and the early members of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's shaped the first native sisterhood in the United States, creating a truly American community. Despite their humble beginning, the American Sisters of Charity launched multi-faceted ministries and became trailblazers in many fields, especially in education. They established the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the United States (Emmitsburg, 1810). As the prototype of the Catholic school, Saint Joseph's Academy and Day School laid the foundation for a national network of quality Catholic education through the parochial school system, which developed later in the century. After Mother Seton's death, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's also began the first Catholic hospital in the United States (St. Louis, Mo. 1828).
The second Sulpician superior of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, Reverend John Baptiste David, SS (1761–1841), commissioned (1810) Benedict Joseph Flaget, SS, (1763-1851), bishop-elect of Bardstown, Kentucky, to obtain French Daughters of Charity during his trip to Paris. David's goal was for the French sisters to establish themselves at Emmitsburg and train the American women in the Vincentian way of life, incorporating them as members of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. Mother Seton expressed her grave concerns about the implications of David's plans in a letter dated May 13, 1811, to Archbishop Carroll. "What authority would the [French] Mother they bring have over our Sisters (while I am present) but the very rule she is to give them? —and how could it be known that they would consent to the different modifications of their rule which are indispensable if adopted by us … How can they allow me the uncontrolled privileges of a Mother to my five darlings? —or how can I in conscience or in accordance with your paternal heart give up so sacred a right."
Mother Seton and Dubois modified the original French rule to address the urgent needs of the Church in early nineteenth-century America. Their rule was based on a manuscript copy of the Alméras edition of the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity (Paris, 1672), which Flaget had brought when he returned to America. John Carroll approved The Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America (Emmitsburg, 1812).
The Sisters of Charity responded to the urgent need for female education in America and initially made it their primary ministry. The American rule is the root foundational document of the majority of the congregational members of the Sisters of Charity Federation. Article Four of The Constitutions of the Sisters of Charity in the United States of America (1812) specified membership criteria and outlined stipulations regarding parental obligations of widows with minor children. In the same letter to Carroll, Mother Seton expressed her sentiments about the exemption granted her as a mother with five dependent children, then ranging from 10 to 16 years old. "The constitutions proposed have been discussed by our Rev. Director [Dubois] and I find he makes some observations on my Situation relative to them but surely an Individual is not to be considered where a public good is in question—and you know I would gladly make every sacrifice you think consistent with my first and inseparable obligations as a Mother."
Eighteen Sisters of Charity pronounced private, annual vows for the first time on July 19, 1813. They committed themselves to "Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience to God and our Reverend Superior General until the 25th of March next" and engagement in "the corporal and spiritual service of the poor sick … [and] the instruction of those committed to our charge." The vow day was the feast of the Annunciation each year.
Mother Seton seemed pleased to give progress reports to Antonio Filicchi on the missionary efforts of the Sisters of Charity in Philadelphia and New York and at Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary near Emmitsburg. In October of 1814 she first sent Sister Rose White, accompanied by Sister Susan Clossey and Sister Theresa Conroy (1780–1823), on mission to Philadelphia to manage Saint Joseph's Asylum, the first Catholic orphanage in the United States. The next August, Sister Bridget Farrell (1765–1847), Sister Ann Gruber (1779?–1840), and a novice, Sister Anastasia Nabbs (1788–1823), began supervision of the infirmary and domestic services at Mount Saint Mary's near Emmitsburg. In August of 1817, Sister Rose White, Sister Cecilia O'Conway, and Sister Felicitas Brady (1784–1883) launched the New York Catholic Benevolent Society, which became the New York City Orphan Asylum (later Saint Patrick's Orphan Asylum).
Reverend Simon Bruté, SS (1779–1839, later first bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, 1834–1839) first came to Mount Saint Mary's (1811). He became chaplain to the Sisters of Charity and spiritual director for Mother Seton. Bruté guided the inculturation of the Vincentian charism among the Sisters of Charity, advising Mother Seton to read and translate the lives of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac and their spiritual writings. Elected the first Mother of the new community, Elizabeth Bayley Seton remained in office until her death on Jan. 4, 1821.
Change. By 1830 the sisters had begun the care of young male orphans on an emergency basis. As a result of recurring problems, however, the council at Emmitsburg made several unsuccessful attempts to limit the age and length of time boys would be in care, but they finally concluded (1845) that the sisters would no longer have boys in their institutions. This decision paved the way for conflict between Louis-Regis Deluol, Sulpician superior general of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, and John Hughes (1797–1864), archbishop of New York. The result was the withdrawal of 30 Sisters from Emmitsburg to establish an independent congregation of diocesan right, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York.
Regis Deluol, fearing that the New York separation could set a precedent for other bishops, continued his pursuit of a union between the French Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's. These efforts were also precipitated by directives (1829 and 1845) from Sulpician major superiors in Paris that the Sulpicians in America divest themselves of any ministry not directly connected with their mission of formation and education of candidates for the priesthood. After meeting with Reverend Mariano Maller, CM (1817–1892), visitor of the Vincentian province of the United States (1846–1850), Deluol wrote in his diary on April 26, 1849 that a decision had been made to unite the Emmitsburg community with the Daughters of Charity in France in order to obtain the assistance of the Congregation of the Mission "Vincentian priests" for the Community.
In her formal request to Father Etienne, CM, on June 19, 1849, Mother Etienne Hall stated that the pending union was "the wish of the kind and venerable Superior [Deluol] who for so many years has labored at the welfare of our Community, and he it is who at this present time continues to make all the efforts in his power to bring about the union so important and so necessary for us." The earliest reference to the union with France occurs in The First Council Book, after arrangements had already been finalized: "On this day [March 25, 1850] the renewal of the Vows has taken place … The Sisters have used the same Formula which is used yearly by the Daughters of Charity throughout the world … have … consummated the Union with the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul" (§324). Almost 100 years later the Daughters of Charity of the United States convened the first meeting of the Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters, which later became the Sisters of Charity Federation in the Vincentian and Setonian Tradition.
Development of federation. The apostolic delegate to the United States, Amleto Giovanni Cardinal Cicognani (1883–1973), recommended that the spiritual daughters of Elizabeth Bayley Seton collaborate to further the cause for canonization of this convert, who was a wife, mother, widow, sole parent, foundress, and spiritual leader. Despite growing pains the Sisters of Charity continued to develop and blossom into independent new congregations in North America: New York (1846), Cincinnati (1852), Halifax (1856), Convent Station (1859), and Greensburg (1870). The conflict-ridden circumstances surrounding the initial separations from Emmitsburg were a source of pain for all involved, especially after French émigré priests belonging to the Society of Saint Sulpice (Sulpicians) of Baltimore arranged for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's to join (1850) the Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (DC) of Paris, France.
In a spirit of reconciliation, Sister Isabel Toohey, DC (1893–1979), provincial of the Eastern Province of the Daughters of Charity in the United States, visited the major superiors of the congregations that developed historically from the 1809 Emmitsburg foundation. Sister Isabel asked pardon of them for any role the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's and the Daughters of Charity at Emmitsburg may have had in contributing to strained relations among the spiritual daughters of Elizabeth Bayley Seton over the years. She invited them to meet and discuss collaborative strategies for the Seton cause for canonization.
Historical Perspective. The historic first meeting of the Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters, held at Emmitsburg, Maryland, from Oct. 28 to 29, 1947, proposed: "to strengthen the bond of union among the member congregations and to work together in advancing the cause of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton." John Michael McNamara (1878–1960), auxiliary bishop of Baltimore (1928–1948) and Washington, D.C. (1948–1960), served as moderator and invited attendees to work together "through a unity of charity in the spirit of Christ." A zealous supporter of the Seton cause, McNamara presided during future sessions as long as his health permitted.
Beginning with the third meeting of the conference, when possible, the vice-postulators for the cause, who were Vincentian priests (Congregation of the Mission), also participated in the meetings: Reverend Salvator M. Burgio, CM (vice-postulator, 1939–1959); Reverend John P. McGowan, CM (vice-postulator, 1959–1968); and Reverend Sylvester A. Taggart, CM (vice-postulator, 1968–1975). The vice-postulators, appointed by the postulator general of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, updated members about reported miracles and issues regarding the Seton cause.
Purpose. The Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters functioned (1947–1965) with minimal organizational structure until it became the Federation of the Daughters of Blessed (later Saint) Elizabeth Ann Seton (1965). This change responded to the directive of Vatican II (Perfectae Caritatis, §22) that congregations possessing the same general spirit and origin should form a federation for mutual support and development. Members shortened the name of the organization to The Elizabeth Seton Federation (1990), which remained its legal title when incorporated in the state of New York (1995). They adopted the following purposes and a new name, the Sisters of Charity Federation in the Vincentian and Setonian Tradition (1996):
To support the commitment of its members to the mission of Charity expressed through the diversity of their specific congregational charisms.
To foster ongoing study and reflection on the Tradition of Charity.
To facilitate collaboration in projects related to ministry and other areas of common concern.
To foster ongoing study and reflection on the charism and Tradition of Charity in its seventeenth-century origin and in its flowering in many congregations founded in North America.
Until 1975 the federation focused almost exclusively on promoting the Cause of Elizabeth Bayley Seton for sainthood. Many of these projects were publicized by the Mother Seton Guild, an organ of the Postulation, which helped to spread devotion to Elizabeth Bayley Seton and raise funds to advance the cause.
Cause. The Seton cause was introduced in Rome in 1940. Blessed John XXIII declared Mother Seton venerable on Dec. 18, 1959, and also presided at her beatification on March 17, 1963. Pope Paul VI canonized her as Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton on Sept. 14 during the Holy Year of 1975 and the International Year of the Woman. The Holy See accepted three miracles through her intercession: the cures of Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer, DC (1872–1942), of Saint Louis, of cancer; a young child, Ann Theresa O'Neill (b. 1948), of Baltimore, from acute lymphatic leukemia; and Carl Kalin (1902–1976), of New York, from a rare form of encephalitis. Exhumed prior to the beatification, the remains of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton repose in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Pope Paul VI announced Elizabeth Seton's canonization on Dec. 12, 1974. At that time, Sister Hildegarde Marie Mahoney, SC, major superior of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth (1971–1979) and chair of the Federation of Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton, remarked that "Elizabeth Seton now belongs to all people. Her life speaks to all those who seek sincerely to follow God's Will—in whatever faith; to all who have known human love of husband, wife, family and friends—and the inevitable suffering that is part of that love." Sister Katherine O'Toole, SC (1935–1990), then superior general of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax (1972–1980), reflected on Elizabeth's final admonition to her sisters, "Be children of the Church," with the comment: "When there are so many questions and such confusion … the words are a timely reminder of the solidarity that is needed among all of us … religious, priests and lay people … who are involved in the ongoing process of redemption."
In planning for the event, federation members, keenly conscious of the needs of the starving people of the world, desired that the canonization festivities be marked by simplicity. Among the gifts the federation presented to Pope Paul VI on this occasion was a contribution of $200,000 to a World Hunger Fund, drawn on the Bank of New York with which Elizabeth's husband William Magee Seton (1768–1803) and his father William Seton (1746–1798) had been associated, and a calligraphy manuscript of Saint John's Gospel. Sister Hildegarde Marie had the honor of being a lector at the liturgy of canonization, the first woman to ever read at a papal Eucharistic celebration. Lectors representing the various stages of the life of Elizabeth Bayley Seton read the general intercessions. International media covered the event and U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, in accordance with Senate Joint Resolution 125, designated Sunday, Sept. 14, 1975, as National Saint Elizabeth Seton Day, and he called for such memorials and other observances as are appropriate to the occasion. She was the first person born in the United States to be canonized a saint.
Federation focus. After their successful collaboration on the cause for canonization, the federation focused on joint projects related to charism, formation, and mission. Member congregations explored the triadic base of renewal recommended by Vatican II—the Gospel, the signs of the times, and the original spirit of the founders—and came to a new awareness of and appreciation for their shared heritage and stewardship responsibility for the Vincentian and Setonian charism expressed through the Tradition of Charity (Cf., Perfectae Caritatis, §1–2).
Charism. Members focused on the Seton legacy of education as a springboard for exploring collaborative possibilities through annual conferences of Setonian colleges (1967). The federation also used special anniversaries to promote Seton celebrations in conjunction with the bicentennial year of the birth of Elizabeth Ann Seton (1974), and the bicentennial of the United States (1976).
Among its earliest intercongregational projects were a newsletter, observances of the feast of Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton, special gatherings at professional meetings, and the publication of reports related to social justice advocacy and local ministries among persons oppressed by poverty. Members assisted the Mother Seton Guild with public relations and promotion of the Seton cause (1969) and served as docents at the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg. Members also launched drives to seek approval for a Seton stamp from the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee of the United States Postal Service (1977). Representatives gathered informally as Charity Connections to share reflections and to write occasional essays on the charism, later published (1988) in booklet format, Living the Charity Charism.
The federation has also undertaken some major publication projects. Sister Hildegarde Marie Mahoney, SC (New Jersey), was commissioned in 1991 to prepare a manuscript on the history of the Federation, but failing eyesight necessitated her withdrawal from the project. Sister Geraldine Anthony, SC (Halifax), completed A Vision of Service (1997), which was published during the fiftieth anniversary of the federation.
In order to make the writings of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton more available, the federation appointed (1996) Sister Regina Bechtle, SC (New York), and Sister Judith Metz, SC (Cincinnati), as co-editors for the publication of the corpus of the Seton papers found in numerous archives in the United States and Canada. Ellin M. Kelly, Ph.D., transcribed these documents and served as the manuscript editor along with federation representatives who comprised an advisory committee for the three volume work, Collected Writings/Elizabeth Bayley Seton (Hyde Park, N.Y. 2000).
Federation members desired to forge links with other groups in the Vincentian Family and appointed (1969) Sister Mathilde Comstock, DC, (1901–1997) and later (1984) Sister Rosemary Fleming, SC (Greensburg), as the official representatives of the group to serve on the national board of the Ladies of Charity of the United States. The Ladies of Charity, begun in Paris (1634), developed from the first foundation by Vincent de Paul at Châtillon-les-Dombes, France (1617). Louise de Marillac was actively involved with the Ladies of Charity from which the Daughters of Charity developed. Over time an awareness of the extended Vincentian Family evolved along with the federation's desire to strengthen intercongregational networking and collaboration. Sister Theresa Capria, SC (New York), represented the federation at the 1998 General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission in Rome.
Formation. The mistresses of initial formation were the first group invited to convene through the federation (1966). This led to the ongoing discussion about formation practices and sponsorship of formation programs (1985), The Roots Program (1986), Roots on-the-Road (1987), Roots Revisited, and a final vow retreat (1989). Later the Sisters of Charity of New York and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth established a joint novitiate (1990), which became (1992) a collaborative novitiate with the additional involvement of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, the New York and Boston Provinces of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, and later other federation members. An annual gathering of formators evolved (1989) into the Company of Charity Formation Personnel (CCFP), which affiliated (1992) with the federation as a formal subgroup.
During the annual meetings of the federation, members considered strategies to make their shared charism more effective in the modern world, especially in the areas of social justice, spirituality, and renewal programs (1974). One result was the initiation (1988) of Charity: A Shared Vision, an ongoing formation program. A later outcome was the first of several scholarly symposia to explore the historical and theological relevance of The Seton Legacy (1992). The Vincentian Studies Institute collaborated with the federation and published the proceedings of the symposia and annotated listings, by repository, of the writings of Elizabeth Bayley Seton in The Vincentian Heritage.
Mission. Federation members committed themselves to seeking effective strategies for human development, to promoting investment in minority enterprises, and to making corporate responses to social justice issues as early as 1973. Subsequently, members sought ways to study unmet human needs and resources (1979) with the goal of coordinating and networking among already existing ministries which respond to neighbors in need (1987). In order to be more effective advocates on peace and justice issues, the Federation gained recognition as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the United Nations in 1997. Sister Maria Elena Dio, SC (Halifax), was the first representative of the Federation to the Department of Public Information at the United Nations.
Organizational structure. The canonization in 1975 marked the achievement of the federation's founding purpose. After again revising the statutes and bylaws (1976), the federation adopted a new purpose: "to bring together in love and friendship the various congregations that are inspired by the charism of their common foundress, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton; and thus be enabled to discover more fully the life and mission of a Sister of Charity today."
The bylaws were amended (1982) to allow for two categories of membership: full membership for those with common origin in the Emmitsburg foundation and associate membership for those that derive their spirit and inspiration from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. These were later modified (1985, 1988) to allow equality of status among members and to admit congregations within the Tradition of Charity that do not have a direct connection to Elizabeth Seton.
The federation continued updating and refining its structure and restated (1991) its purpose as follows: To bring together "in love and friendship" congregations that trace their roots to Emmitsburg; have a Seton connection and share her spirit; or share the spirit of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac through adaptation of the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity. The American Sisters of Charity inculturated the Vincentian charism in North America by modifying the seventeenth-century French rule of Louise and Vincent to suit the needs of the nineteenth-century Church in the United States. The Setonian tradition developed from the Vincentian tradition.
In 1996 the Sisters of Charity Federation in the Vincentian and Setonian tradition adopted a new name and clarified that congregations must meet one of two key criteria for membership: trace their characteristic spirit and charism to the Tradition of Charity of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and Elizabeth Ann Seton; and trace the influence of the Vincentian Rule (Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity ) in their documents and in their lifestyle.
The Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception (1979) and Les Religieuses de Nôtre Dame du Sacré-Coeur (1986), both of Canada, were the first additional communities to seek admission as associate members. In 1988 the associate status was deleted in favor of full membership and the following congregations were admitted: Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Pittsburgh (1989); Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Bedford (1990); Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (1991); Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy of Charleston (1994); and Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (1995).
Membership. Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (DC) of the United States (Official Catholic Directory #60) was founded in 1633 in Paris by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a lay confraternity to serve Jesus Christ in persons who are poor and marginalized. Today in the United States this society of apostolic life traces its roots to the 1809 foundation by Elizabeth Bayley Seton under the direction of the French Sulpicians of Baltimore. After receiving orders for the Sulpicians to return to their principal work of conducting seminaries, Deluol accelerated strategies to unite the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's with the Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of Paris, France. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York (1846) and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati (1852) developed directly from the Emmitsburg foundation. The Daughters of Charity of the United States was one of six congregations that were founded (1947) by the Sisters of Charity Federation in the Vincentian and Setonian tradition.
Sisters of Charity (SC) of New York. It (Official Catholic Directory #0650) originated in the 1809 foundation by Elizabeth Bayley Seton and began (1817) in New York City as a mission from Emmitsburg to educate and care for children and perform other works of charity. It became autonomous (1846) under the sponsorship of Bishop John Hughes of New York (1797–1864) with Mother Elizabeth Boyle (1788–1861) as the first superior (1846–1849). She had been formed by Mother Seton in the Emmitsburg community and in a letter dated Oct. 25, 1820, Mother Seton referred to Elizabeth Boyle as "dearest old partner of my cares and bearer of my burdens." This congregation is rooted in the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America, which it modified to allow for the care of male orphans. This congregation later assisted in establishing the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of Halifax, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, and the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. This institute of diocesan right was a founding member of the Sisters of Charity Federation.
Sisters of Charity (SC) of Cincinnati. It (Official Catholic Directory #0440) originated in the 1809 foundation by Elizabeth Bayley Seton and began (1829) in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a mission from Emmitsburg. It became an independent institute (1852) under Archbishop John Baptist Purcell (1800–1883). Mother Margaret Cecilia Farrell George (1787–1868) was the first superior (1853–1859). She had also been a prominent member of the Emmitsburg community. Mother Seton wrote her a prophetic letter dated May 28, 1819, in which she told Margaret George: "You have so much to do for our Lord." The Cincinnati community retained the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America but added the care of male orphans. This congregation assisted with the establishment of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. It became a pontifical institute (1927) and was a founding member of the Sisters of Charity Federation.
Sisters of Charity (SC) of Saint Vincent de Paul. It (Official Catholic Directory #0640) was founded in 1856 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, by William Walsh, bishop of Halifax (1844–1858), with the assistance of the Sisters of Charity of New York, who had established (1849) a mission in Halifax and supplied the first sisters and officers for the new institute. Mother Basilia McCann (1811–1870), who had formerly belonged to the Emmitsburg community (1830–1847), was the first superior (1849–1855; 1855–1858). Their rule, derived from the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America and based on that of the New York institute, was modified for Canada. This congregation became a pontifical institute (1913) and was a founding member of the Sisters of Charity Federation.
Sisters of Charity (SC) of Saint Elizabeth. It (Official Catholic Directory #0590) was founded in 1859 in Newark, New Jersey, by James Roosevelt Bayley (1814–1877), bishop of Newark and a half-nephew of Elizabeth Bayley Seton. Sister Margaret George, who had lived with Mother Seton, directed the formation of the first novices, who were trained in Ohio by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York sent Sister Mary Xavier Mehegan (1825–1915, superior 1859–1915) and Sister Mary Catherine Nevin (d. 1903, mother assistant 1859–1903) to organize the new institute in New Jersey. They both later opted to join the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth when it became autonomous (1859). The institute is rooted in the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America. This congregation was a founding member of the Sisters of Charity Federation and later became a pontifical institute (1957).
Sisters of Charity (SC) of Seton Hill. At the request of Bishop Michael Domenec, CM (1816–1878), bishop of Pittsburgh, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (Official Catholic Directory #0570) was officially established (1870) as a separate congregation for the Pittsburgh diocese. Mother Regina Mattingly (1826–1883) of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati installed Mother Aloysia Lowe (1836–1889, superior 1870–1889). The first novices were trained by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Originally the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati had anticipated that their sisters who were sent to Altoona would eventually return to Ohio; gradually, most of them were recalled. In 1888, however, upon the advice of Bishop Richard Phelan (1828–1904) of Pittsburgh, Mother Aloysia and Sister Ann Regina petitioned the superiors of the Cincinnati motherhouse for permission to remain permanently with the new foundation. The permission was granted. This congregation is rooted in the rule from Cincinnati derived from the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America. It was a founding member of the Sisters of Charity Federation and later became a pontifical institute (1957).
Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception (SCIC). It (Canadian Religious Conference 119) was founded in 1854 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, by Honoria Conway (Sister Mary Vincent, 1815–1892) to care for children left orphaned after a cholera epidemic. The foundress, a novice with the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York, volunteered to go to Saint John at the urgent request of Bishop Thomas Connolly, OFM (1815–1876). Sister Ermelinda Routanne (1822–1894), who previously had belonged to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's at Emmitsburg (1842–1848?), became a founding member of this congregation (1854) and was known as Mother Mary Frances (second superioress, 1862–1865). This congregation is rooted in the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America. This congregation became a pontifical institute (1908) and joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1979.
Les Religieuses de Nôtre Dame du Sacré-Coeur (NDSC). It (Canadian Religious Conference 177) was established in 1871 as a mission at Bouctouche in New Brunswick, Canada, of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception to minister to French-speaking Acadians in order to help them preserve language, culture, and faith. Encouraged by Bishop Edward Alfred LeBlanc (1870–1935), Suzanne Cyr (Soeur Marie Anne, 1850–1941), an Acadian, and 52 other Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception formed (1924) an independent congregation. This congregation is rooted in the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America and was founded as a pontifical institute. It joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1986.
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCN). It (Official Catholic Directory #0500) was established 1812 in Nazareth, Kentucky, by Reverend John Baptist David, SS (second bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky, 1832–1833), and cofounder Mother Catherine Spalding (1793–1858, superior 1813–1819; 1824–1831; 1838–1844; 1850–1856) to minister to Catholic families on the frontier. Simon Bruté, SS, made a handwritten copy of the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America for the Nazareth community. Six sisters withdrew (1851) to establish a new congregation, the Sisters of Charity of Nashville, Tennessee, which later became the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. This congregation became a pontifical institute (1911) and joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1991.
Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM). It (Official Catholic Directory #0510) was established in 1829 at Charleston, South Carolina, by Bishop John England (1786–1842) to teach young girls, instruct African-American slaves, and care for the sick and infirm. Bishop England obtained the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America. His successor Bishop Ignatius Reynolds (1798–1855), who had served previously as chaplain and second superior of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (1833–1835), modified the rule according to England's recommendations. This institute of diocesan right joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1994.
Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCL). It (Official Catholic Directory #0480) developed from a mission of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth at Nashville, Tennessee, under Bishop Pius Miles, OP (1791–1860), and initially became the Sisters of Charity of Nashville (1851). After a misunderstanding, the sisters left Nashville and went to Leavenworth at the invitation of Bishop John Baptist Miège, SJ (1815–1884), vicar apostolic of Indian Territory, Kansas, and continued to follow the same constitution under the title of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (1858). Mother Xavier Ross (1813–1895), formerly of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, was the first superior (1858–1862; 1865–1877) of the Leavenworth community. The institute received the Regulations for the Society of the Sisters of Charity of America through Bishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati. This congregation became a pontifical institute (1915) and joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1995.
Vincentian Sisters of Charity (VSC) of Pittsburgh. It (Official Catholic Directory #4160) was established 1902 in Braddock, Pennsylvania, as a foundation from the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of Satu-Mare, Romania, by Mother Emerentiana Handlovits (1869–1935, superior 1902–1935) to serve immigrant peoples from Eastern (now Central) Europe. Voted (1938) to become independent from the parent congregation in Romania and received pontifical status (1951). Traces its roots through the Sisters of Charity of Satu-Mare (1842), Vienna (1843), Zams (1823), and ultimately Strasbourg (1734). John Francis Regis Canevin (1852–1927), bishop of Pittsburgh, renamed this institute, giving it the current title since the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill were already in the same diocese. This congregation joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1989.
Vincentian Sisters of Charity (VSC) of Bedford. It (Official Catholic Directory #4170) was established in 1928 in Bedford, Ohio, by Joseph Schrembs, (1866–1945), bishop of Cleveland, to minister to Slovakian immigrants in that diocese with the intention of starting a new province from the foundation at Pittsburgh. Sister Mary John Berchmans Fialko (1898–1959) was the first superior (1933–1959). This congregation became autonomous (1939) from Pittsburgh as an institute of diocesan right and joined the Sisters of Charity Federation in 1990.
Conclusion. The Federation honors the particular history of each member congregation and their common charism rooted in the founding spirit of Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul who instructed the early servants of the poor on Nov. 24, 1658: "How consoled you will be at the hour of death for having consumed our life for the same purpose as Jesus did! It was for charity, for God, for the poor" [Marie Poole, ed., trans. et al., Vincent de Paul Correspondence, Conferences, and Documents, v. 1–8 (New York 1983–2000) 7:397]. In instructions and meditations, Elizabeth Seton reminded her companions of the significance of their name, Sisters of Charity, exhorting them to be faith-filled women of mission. "No personal inconvenience should prevent Sisters of Charity [from] doing what duty and charity require" (Council, Aug. 20, 1814). The members of the federation provide mutual support to one another in living their mission of charity in the modern world through their shared legacy of the Vincentian and Setonian tradition.
Bibliography: Excerpts from Elizabeth Bayley Seton Papers and community documents are due to the courtesy of Archives Saint Joseph's Provincial House, Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (Emmitsburg, Maryland) and the Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland. g. anthony, A Vision of Service (New York 1997). r. bechtle and j. metz, eds., Collected Writings/Elizabeth Bayley Seton v. 1 (Hyde Park, N.Y. 2000); v. 2–3 (forthcoming). p. coste, Vincent de Paul Life and Works (New York 1987). joseph dirvin, Louise de Marillac (New York 1970). a. dodin, Vincent de Paul and Charity (New York 1992). t. o. hanley, ed., The John Carroll Papers, 3 v. (Notre Dame, Ind.1976). r. p. maloney, The Way of Vincent de Paul (New York 1992). j. leonard, ed., trans., Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, 4 v. (Westminster, Md. 1939). a. m. melville, Elizabeth Bayley Seton, 1774–1821 (New York 1951). b. a. mcneil, The Vincentian Family Tree: A Genealogical Study of Institutes of Consecrated Life, Societies of Apostolic Life, Lay Associations, and Non-Catholic Religious Institutes (Chicago, Ill. 1996). m. poole, ed., trans. et al., Vincent de Paul: Correspondence, Conferences, and Documents, v. 1–8 (New York 1983–1999); v. 9–14 (forthcoming). l. sullivan, trans., Louise de Marillac Spiritual Writings (New York 1991).
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"Sisters of Charity, Federation of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sisters-charity-federation
"Sisters of Charity, Federation of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved March 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sisters-charity-federation