Sisters of Charity of New York
The Sisters of Charity of New York is a religious congregation of women in the Catholic Church whose primary missions are education and nursing and who are dedicated in particular to the service of the poor.
Saint Elizabeth Seton founded the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809, modeling her foundation on the Daughters of Charity founded in France by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac in the 17th century. The Sisters followed the Vincentian practice of taking temporary religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, renewing these annually (in contrast to most orders of religious women, who at some point take permanent or "perpetual" vows). This practice lasted until 1938, when the congregation adopted the more standard practice of professing lifetime vows.
In 1814, Mother Seton sent three sisters to care for orphans after receiving a request from clergy in Philadelphia. In 1817, three Sisters were sent to New York City (which was Seton's hometown) to establish an orphanage. The Sisters quickly took on the job of establishing Catholic orphanages in a city overrun with abandoned, orphaned or neglected children. Mother Seton had established one of the first Catholic elementary schools in Emmitsburg. With this background, the Sisters also began to establish or staff existing parish schools, particularly in poor and immigrant neighborhoods and set up hospitals. Some of the earliest sustained social service institutions and health care facilities in New York City were started by the sisters.
The motherhouse at Emmitsburg negotiated for affiliation with the Daughters of Charity in France. In consequence there developed a tendency to dispense with certain customs observed at Emmitsburg because these changes were required by the French superiors; for example, the sisters in charge of boys' asylums were everywhere to be withdrawn. The measure threatened at that period the very existence of the New York orphanage. The allegiance of the sisters to local Catholics in New York came in conflict with their obedience to their superiors in Emmitsburg, eventually leading to the establishment of a separate order recognized as the Sisters of Charity of New York (SCNY).
In 1846, the Sisters in New York incorporated as a separate entity from the Sisters of Charity still based in Maryland. Archbishop John Hughes' sister, Mary Angela Hughes, was by then superior of the Sisters in New York. They became the Sisters of Charity of New York. This was not unusual, in that several other groups of Sisters founded by Seton established themselves as independent diocesan entities once their communities reached maturity. The novitiate of the New York community was opened at St. James's Academy, 35 East Broadway, and later moved to the new motherhouse on an estate purchased at Mcgown's Pass, situated within the limits of the present Central Park. Here, in 1847, the Academy of Mount Saint Vincent had its foundation. In the late 1850s the sisters bought the Edwin Forrest estate called Font Hill and the Motherhouse and academy relocated to the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
In 1849 four sisters were sent from Mount Saint Vincent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Sisters of Charity of Halifax became an independent congregation in 1849. In 1890 the Sisters of Saint Martha of Antigonish evolved from the Halifax congregation as an order initially devoted to housekeeping and nursing duties at St. Francis University. In 1856, under Mother Mary Xavier Mehegan, a local community was formed of the sisters then labouring in the Diocese of Newark.
As immigrants arrived in poverty during the 19th century, the sisters became known for accepting newborns at the doorsteps of the convent. The Sisters in New York established The New York Foundling in 1849, an orphanage for abandoned children but also a place for unmarried mothers to receive care themselves and offer their children for adoption (New York immigrant communities were plagued by prostitution rings that preyed on young women, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies were a severe problem in these communities). New York Foundling continues its work today, and is noted for its work with babies and young children infected with HIV, and with severely handicapped children.
The cholera epidemic of 1849 impelled the Sisters to open St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan (closed 2010), the first Catholic hospital in New York City. St. Vincent's Hospital became the centerpiece of an extensive health care system under the Sisters' care that included St. Vincent's Hospital in Westchester (a psychiatric hospital), as well as two hospitals on Staten Island: St. Vincent's Hospital, Staten Island (closed 2006), and Bayley Seton Hospital, in addition to a network of nursing homes and other institutions.
In 1862 the sisters nursed Civil War wounded in St. Joseph’s Military Hospital, former site of Mt. St. Vincent in Central Park. The hospital closed in 1865.
The Sisters were also the key congregation in the establishment of New York's parochial school system, staffing more schools than any other single order of women. In addition to parish schools (which, in New York, typically carry children through grade 8), the sisters ran a number of high schools themselves or provided staff for high schools run by others, and they established the College of Mount Saint Vincent, which also serves as their motherhouse. St Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island was also founded by them. Beginning as a summer retreat for orphans from the Foundling Hospital and as a place for the sisters to obtain degrees under the auspices of Mount St. Vincent, it was turned into an all-girls Catholic high school in 1963. Now co-ed, it is still staffed by a number of Sisters of Charity.
In 1958 the Congregation opened the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers as a residence for Senior Sisters.
Today, the Sisters of Charity of New York is a constituent community of the Federation of Sisters of Charity in the Vincentian-Setonian Tradition, an umbrella group that brings together the various congregations that trace their roots back to Saint Elizabeth Seton, and ultimately to Saint Vincent de Paul.
The website of the Sisters of Charity of New York states the congregation's mission as follows:
"The Mission of the Sisters of Charity is to share in the ongoing mission of Jesus by responding to the signs of the times in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, by revealing the Father’s love in our lives and in our varied ministries with and for all in need, especially those living in poverty".
The congregation's traditional ministries have been in education, healthcare and child care. However, members have expanded their ministries to include parish ministries; spiritual direction and retreat opportunities; and homeless, new immigrant and women's centers. The sisters are active in ecological concerns and sponsor a number of affordable housing facilities for those in need.
- "Our History", Sisters of Charity of New York
- Barga, Michael. "The Sisters of Charity of New York", The Social Welfare History Project
- Dunphy, Mary Ambrose. "Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (New York)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 5 Jul. 2013
- Sisters of Charity of New York Timeline
- "Sisters of Charity of New York", United Hospital Fund
- Sisters of Charity of New York homepage
- "Sisters of Charity of New York, Vincentian Online Library