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Catholic Sisters in New York

1944 teaching picture

This year on its 100th anniversary, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York will receive the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award at the SOAR! Awards Dinner in New York.

For our dinner journal, Catholic Charities shared how Catholic Sisters set the groundwork for the agency’s work in the New York metropolitan area and remain at its core. 

Well before the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York’s formal establishment in 1917, religious men and women were organizing to meet the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers—especially immigrant children; some in difficult family and social circumstances.

Sister Irene, a Sister of Charity, and children at New York Foundling, 1888.

The Sisters of Charity began their mission in New York in 1869 with $5 and an abandoned building, after receiving a baby left on the doorstep of their Greenwich Village brownstone. The New York Foundling grew from this beginning, and by 1910, over 27,000 children had been cared for by the Sisters. What began with a $5 contribution is now helping over 13,000 people, annually, in multiple programs throughout the New York metropolitan area and in Puerto Rico. In 1878, Blauvelt Dominican Sister, Mother Mary Ann Sammo founded Saint Dominic’s as a home for abandoned immigrant children. Today, professional care and compassion continues to be provided to a diverse population of about 2,000 children, adolescents, adults, and families in need throughout the Bronx and the lower Hudson Valley, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. In 1909, the same Dominicans established The Lavelle School for the Blind as a multicultural, educational institution for the blind, visually impaired, and those with other disabilities. The first began their ministry to underserved children, youth, and families in New York City in 1857, eventually incorporating the residential care they offered to troubled young women in 1947 in the form of Good Shepherd Services. Today, Good Shepherd Services offers a wide range of neighborhood-based youth development, educational, vocational, and family support services.

The Dominican Sisters of Sparkill have a rich history of providing residential care to the most vulnerable New Yorkers, from founding Dowling Gardens in 1966, which provides affordable service-enriched care to men and women 65 and over, to the establishment of New Hope Manor in 1970—New York State’s first all-female residential substance-abuse treatment center. In 1958, the Little Sisters of the Assumption began their Family Health Service, delivering a holistic model of human service support to the poorest families in East Harlem, with a goal of overall health and wellness. Today, this service includes home visits, onsite social services, and support groups. In 1923, the Daughters of Divine Charity established St. Mary’s Residence on the Upper East Side to provide a temporary home for young women and students pursuing education and employment. The residence continues to welcome women to East 72nd Street, today.

More recently, in 1982, a Sister of Charity joined forces with a Jesuit priest with the simple of goal of making soup for the hungry, thereby POTS (Part of The Solution) was born. Since then, it has grown into an award-winning, multi-service agency in the Bronx, meeting a vast range of basic needs of those it serves—from food pantry services, to a legal services clinic.

Space prohibits mentioning each and every charitable ministry begun and carried out by the communities of women and men religious in the New York metropolitan area. To quote John’s gospel: “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Through their vision, service, and resources—both human and financial, women and men religious have been at the center and formed the backbone of the competent and caring work of providing help and creating hope through the federation of Catholic Charities agencies in New York. Today, twenty-five different religious orders sponsor almost half of the Catholic Charities affiliated agencies.

In 2017, as Catholic Charities marks a 100-year legacy of service, and launches the next century of providing help and creating hope for New Yorkers in need—non-Catholics and Catholics alike— we mark and honor the dedication of religious men and women in serving the poor and vulnerable for more than a century. We will draw on their legacy of sacrifice, innovation, collaboration, competence, and caring in strengthening Catholic Charities’ commitment to building the fabric of a just and compassionate New York in the 21st Century.

When you give to SOAR!, you’re saying “Thank you” to aging religious for a lifetime of service — and helping their congregations continue to support their ministries to those in need. 

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