After more than 200 years running their ministry in New York, the Sisters of Charity have announced with heavy hearts that the congregation is nearing its end. The religious community, which was founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, will no longer accept new applicants to the community, as they are now on the “path to completion.”
The primary factor behind their decision to end their American ministry is due to a lack of applicants and aging members. While in the 1960s the sisters boasted more than 1,300 nuns, their ranks have since dwindled to just 154, with the average age standing around 85 years old. Furthermore, the sisters have not received even one new member in the last 20 years.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Sister Margaret Egan explained that the decision to begin the “path to completion,” was made after much prayer and contemplation. She recalled the emotional silence that gripped the meeting room after they came to their conclusion, where their community leaders sat with a roster that contained the names of every Sister of Charity throughout the history of the community:
“We just held up that book and said, ‘They’re here with us.’ (It’s) recognition that we’ve all done what God asked us to do,” said Egan, sitting in that same meeting room days after the announcement.
Founded in 1809 by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Sisters of Charity were the first congregations of religious women to begin in the US. The sisters saw their ranks swell in the 19th century, which allowed them to open schools and hospitals, solidifying their roles as educators and caretakers.
It was around 1846 that the New York community split into a separate order. The Sisters of Charity were also able to expand their mission with communities in the Bahamas and Guatemala.
While the loss of this religious community will leave a hole in the New York area, the sisters expressed that they felt satisfied in their work. They acknowledged that they were a community that was active during a time of many “societal changes” that affected their ministry, not least of all the Second Vatican Council, which saw the sisters leave behind their habits for contemporary dress.
Sister Margaret O’Brien told the AP:
“When something like this is looming, you think, ‘What did we do wrong?’ I’m sure there were many times when we questioned all those changes that we made back in the 70s — the habit, leaving schools, going into other various ministries.”
O’Brien continued, “But when you stop and think, you recognize that each person who did any of those things was doing it in faith, trying to read the signs of the time, and do what they’re called to do. And that can’t be wrong.”
The educational efforts of the Sisters of Charity will be among the most missed aspects of their mission. In comments on a Facebook post announcing the ending of the religous community, many former students chimed in with their appreciation for all the sisters’ hard work:
I was blessed to have been taught by these amazing women both in Cathedral HS and the New York Foundling Hospital School of Nursing.
Their dedication to living & spreading the gospel will always be remembered.
I was taught by the sisters of charity at Mother Seton HS! Wonderful women! God bless you!
Thank you for years of dedication! My mom graduated from Nursing school at St. Vincent-