The Sisters of Charity of New York will celebrate a very important milestone this year, the bicentennial of their establishment on Aug. 13, 1817. The sisters also have sponsored and served in some impressive institutions over the years in the health care, education and child care fields.
For the most part, the ministries they conduct today are not as large as in the past, but that doesn’t mean the sisters see their history as a relic of time gone by.
“The work of the future is to nurture charity and justice in the people we journey with,” said Sister Jane Iannucelli, S.C., who has served as the president of the religious congregation for six years.
As I spoke with Sister Jane in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, she was anticipating the first bicentennial event, an invitation-only Vespers to take place on the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 8, in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
Before then, Sister Jane planned to travel to Quiche, Guatemala, where the Sisters of Charity have a mission with local roots. One sister has professed first vows, two more are entering the novitiate and another young woman is beginning her postulancy. She said the religious women and others there are encouraged to participate in the bicentennial celebrations as part of the Sisters of Charity of New York family. Ceremonies will be streamed through a link on the sisters’ website, www.scny.org.
Along with well-known sponsored ministries such as the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, the New York Foundling and the Sisters of Charity Housing Development Corp., to name a few, Sister Jane said the sisters in New York also work in smaller apostolates as volunteers in safe houses for human trafficking victims, English as a Second Language (ESL) tutors and visitors to the sick.
“They may seem simple, but they make a profound difference in people’s lives,” Sister Jane said.
The Sisters of Charity of New York now number just under 250 sisters, along with an additional 120 associates who share the Charity mission.
Speaking about the sisters’ approach to their service with others, Sister Jane uses words like presence and relationship to describe how they do their part to help heal a world and a city that is in many ways “fractured.”
The latest issue of Vision, the sisters’ magazine, includes an account of the religious congregation’s foundation written by Sister Regina Bechtle, S.C., who is the charism resource director. It was just three sisters who were sent from Maryland and Philadelphia to New York by then-Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton at the request of New York Bishop John Connolly who asked her for sisters to staff an orphanage. They arrived in New York on Aug. 20, one week after leaving Emmitsburg, Md. The Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum operated at Prince and Mott streets near St. Patrick’s (Old) Cathedral, which was then close to the city’s northernmost boundary, according to another article from the same issue of Vision.
And so began what is now 200 years of service and ministry to the people of the Archdiocese of New York. “The Sisters of Charity, the Church of New York and the City of New York all grew up together,” Sister Jane said.
She was careful to note that she does not view the sisters’ bicentennial history as a past-tense story that is solely a review. “Yes, we remember, we celebrate. We also have a strength and a grace to move into the future where God is calling us to be,” said Sister Jane, who is in her 59th year as a Sister of Charity.
She was clear that the sisters do not see themselves as the sole agents of their work, and have been reliant on God’s providence from the very beginning.
“That’s been true from the first day, we’ve always had colleagues who did it with us,” Sister Jane said. “That’s an important part of who we are.”