As we celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week March 8-14, we are reminded of how American Catholic Sisters are integral parts of our communities and our Church—generously serving, leading and praying in communities and ministries across the country.
Religious life is alive and thriving today within the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Congregation, where:
310 members serve in 26 U.S. dioceses, with the majority (254) serving the Archdiocese of Cincinnati;
Sisters are ministering in 15 states and three foreign countries;
Sisters continue to serve in education, health care, pastoral/spiritual care, social work, congregational service and through the ministry of prayer.
What does the future hold for religious congregations?
New membership continues to bring new life and joy. Last summer, Sister Tracy Kemme and Sister Andrea Koverman professed first vows with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Other “Sisters-in-training,” are following their footsteps, including Sister Annie Klapheke, an apostolic novice, and three women participating in the affiliate program while they live and minister with Sisters of Charity in Anthony, New Mexico.
On a national scale, there are 1,200 women in formation in religious orders across the U.S. A recent report has revealed that the number of Catholic Sisters today mirrors the number of Sisters in the nation 100 years ago – during a time when religious congregations were forming many of the schools, hospitals and social service centers that serve our communities today.
The report, Understanding U.S. Catholic Sisters Today, explores the life of U.S. Catholic Sisters, challenges stereotypes, and identifies 10 key themes for understanding Sisters today. The report was produced through Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), with support from SC Ministry Foundation.
Launched alongside the report is the website www.WeAreSisters.net, designed to encourage engagement with Sisters, support for Sisters, and exploration of life as a Sister.
There have never been enough and never will be enough Catholic Sisters to meet the needs of this world. The Understanding U.S. Catholic Sisters Today report and the WeAreSisters.net website are part of a larger effort to recruit and retain new members who will become young leaders, carrying congregations and service to the Church into future generations.
Join the Celebration
We invite you to become part of the hopeful and inspirational story of Catholic Sisters today. Here are some suggestions for celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week:
Regardless of your religion or the location of your neighborhood, chances are very likely that your life has been influenced in some way through the ministries of Catholic Sisters. Why? Because Catholic Sisters throughout history have been dedicated in their service to all persons – regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or economic status. Many of our nation’s hospitals, schools and social service agencies would not exist today if it were not for the courage of faith-filled women who founded them over 100 years ago.
A Legacy of Caring for the Oppressed
The rich history and heritage of the Sister of Charity of Cincinnati contains many inspiring stories of innovative, courageous and deeply compassionate Sisters. One of those Sisters is now in the process of becoming a Saint. Sister Blandina Segale left Cincinnati in 1872 to brave the Santa Fe Trail. As a young woman in her twenties, her experiences grew from teaching children in small adobe schoolhouses across Colorado and New Mexico, to caring for the sick and the dying that others had rejected, to defending the rights of the regions’ Native Americans and Mexicans. When Sister Blandina returned to Cincinnati, she and her sister Justina Segale, also a Sister of Charity, co-founded Santa Maria Institute in 1897 to care for the poor and needy Italian immigrants in the inner-city.
A Nation of Immigrants – Past and Present
Today, the work of Sister Blandina and Sister Justina continues through the assistance that Santa Maria Community Services provides to immigrant families in Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhoods. Many of our Sisters continue to devote their ministry to immigrant families, including Sister Margarita Brewer, who has assisted numerous immigrants and English language learners in Cincinnati and beyond. As a native of Panama, Sister Margarita personally understands the challenges of immigrant families. Through her work with the English Language Learning Foundation, more than $55,000 in scholarships have been awarded to ensure that students from immigrant families have opportunities to achieve their dreams through higher education. SC Ministry Foundation was pleased to be one of the sponsors of the 2016 event that recognized these deserving students.
These young adults will have the opportunity to contribute to our neighborhoods and our region much like the experience of our ancestors from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Africa, and many other areas around the world.
As young professionals, they will have the opportunity to become our future entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as community volunteers, parish members and welcoming neighbors.
However, more support is needed to ensure that immigrant families are welcomed into our communities, our places of work and our places of worship.
A Nation Strengthened by Diversity
Contrary to the “sound bites” that dominate mass media, immigrants have strengthened our economy and our communities. According to reports from The Partnership for a New American Economy:
Immigrants have added approximately $3.7 trillion to housing wealth nationally. With the rising trend of baby boomers who are downsizing, immigration reform could alleviate the shortage of home buyers. [source: renewoureconomy.org]
By the year 2050, the number of Americans over age 65 is projected to double the 43 million seniors in 2012. This fact, coupled with the increased educational attainment of young Americans and decreasing birth rates will leave a significant gap in the nation’s workforce. Immigration reform could bridge this gap since most immigrants are of prime working age. [source: renewoureconomy.org]
The report, “New Americans in Cincinnati,” produced by The Partnership for a New American Economy with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, provides local data:
In 2012, immigrants in metro Cincinnati accounted for 3.5% of the population, yet held more than $1.5 billion in spending power;
Tax contributions from immigrants in 2012 totaled over $189 million in state and local tax dollars;
Immigrants represent 6.8% of the high-tech workforce, and 11.3% of all information technology workers.
Immigrants are also devoted to faith, family and community. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, a growing number of Latino students are contributing to classrooms, with a 68% increase in Latino enrollment across 91 Catholic schools since 2011.
Sisters of Charity – Faithful Advocates for Justice
As a congregation, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati strongly advocate for change in our nation’s unjust immigration policies, as stated in their Public Statement on Immigration, which supports the 2003 Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States. Thirteen years have passed since the Bishops’ call for reform, and yet the message remains critical:
“Migrants and immigrants are in our parishes and in our communities. In both our countries, we see much injustice and violence against them and much suffering and despair among them because civil and church structures are still inadequate to accommodate their basic needs.
We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. The treatment of migrants challenges the consciences of elected officials, policymakers, enforcement officers, residents of border communities, and providers of legal aid and social services, many of whom share our Catholic faith.”
– Excerpt from Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Mexico and the U.S.
Sisters stand in solidarity with immigrants, and are committed to ensuring their God-given dignity. They strive to fulfill the words of Christ, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40).
Sisters advocate and pray for the women, men and children who seek asylum in our nation – a nation which was founded on the concept that all are created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
SC Ministry Foundation recognizes the contributions of all of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Catholic Sisters with other congregations, and the faithful lay people who partner with them to support the vulnerable immigrant population.
We challenge our grantees and partners across the nation to join us in daring to risk a caring response, and in advocating for our immigrant sisters and brothers in Christ.
A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center revealed that the number of U.S. Catholics who are Hispanic increased by 5% since 2007. The same study revealed that only 17% of U.S. Catholic adults are under the age of 30. These stats point to a strong case for engaging with young Hispanic Catholics to encourage religious vocations to sustain the future of the Church.
However, the areas where Hispanic families often settle in the U.S. are often the areas with the fewest resources. Catholic Extension Society launched a program in 2014 to strengthen eleven of the underserved dioceses with Catholic Sisters directly from Latin America. The U.S./Latin American Sisters Exchange program places several Sisters in each of the selected dioceses to engage with Hispanic families and develop and empower lay leadership in their local parishes. The Latin American Sisters are provided fair compensation, housing, transportation, access to their local church leadership and educational opportunities. Shortly after they arrived in the U.S., the Latin American Sisters participated in nine weeks of intensive English language and inculturation training at the Mexican-American Catholic College in San Antonio, TX.
Vocations without Borders
To provide specific training for religious vocations, Catholic Extension partnered with the National Religious Vocations Conference to provide a one-day workshop titled, Vocaciones sin Fronteras en un Mundo Cambiante / Vocations without Borders in a Changing World. The 36 Sisters from Latin America were joined by 51 additional U.S. Sisters who are also engaged in Hispanic ministry. Presentations and small-group activities were led by Sr. Elsa E. Garcia, C.D.P., who currently serves as Pastoral Associate and Social Ministries Coordinator in Midland, TX, and Sr. Raquel Ortez, SSND, a vocation team member with 15 years of prior experience with formal education in Honduras. The networking among Sisters was also valuable in sharing tools and resources. One participant shared that the workshop helped her, “to be unified in promoting vocations, to be enthusiastic and hopeful, to broaden the horizon of the reality of USA, and to discover how to share the joy of religious life.”
SC Ministry Foundation provided funding support for the vocations workshop, and has partnered with Catholic Extension since 2012 to support other national efforts in Hispanic ministry as part of the Foundation’s focus on the inclusion and integration of immigrants within communities.
Inspiring the Next Generation
As the Latin American Sisters become more acclimated to American lifestyles, they are beginning to implement the training they have received. All 36 Sisters have completed an initial inventory of the needs and opportunities for their respective communities and created a strategic plan in coordination with their parish priest and diocese.
As a result, all of the eleven dioceses have hosted vocational events for youth including retreats and day-long workshops. Young adults and children who may not have even seen a nun before are now given the opportunity to build a relationship with a Catholic Sister. In the Diocese of Des Moines, a ten-year-old girl who attended a vocations event with her family approached Sister Blanca and expressed her interest in becoming a nun. Together they posed for a photo that demonstrated the joy of the moment.
The U.S./Latin American Sisters Exchange program is a powerful example of how the work of the Gospel reaches across borders, languages and cultures to build the kingdom of God.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the values embodied within the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000. The DD Act, as it is commonly known, ensures that the nearly 5 million Americans with developmental disabilities and their families have access to services and supports that promote self-determination, independence, and inclusion in their communities. [Source: acl.gov]
SC Ministry Foundation salutes one Cincinnati organization that has successfully promoted community inclusion and fulfills a key aspect of the mission of Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, “to build loving relationships.”
People with disabilities make up the largest minority in the U.S., though they are often left out of community life and go unseen by the greater society. In particular, people with developmental disabilities are often segregated into separate programs and housing where their social connections are limited to paid staff, family members, and other people with developmental disabilities. Over the years, this has led to social isolation, feelings of loneliness and stress, and greater risk of becoming victims of crime, experiencing poverty, and unemployment.
Recognizing the Potential of All
Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati has been working to build better lives for people with developmental disabilities since 1993. Starfire’s mission is to change the condition of social isolation that people face by connecting people with developmental disabilities to others who share their common interests and passions through community building. “It is really important for anyone to be connected with the community, especially people with disabilities,” shared Jason Harris, a Starfire board member and 2013 graduate of Mount St. Joseph University. “People with disabilities have the same wants and needs as everyone else, feelings of accomplishment, relationships and family.”
With the support of SC Ministry Foundation, Starfire established the “Community Connectors” program to serve the needs of each individual, rather than provide programming in a group setting. Starfire assists each participant in accomplishing their personal goals and connects them to a network of people without disabilities who share common interests, hobbies, or community activities.
Starfire’s Community Connectors program has led to life changing results for its members. Participants have expanded their social networks and 75% have maintained those relationships. In addition, 75% of the participants have attained a valued social role through community involvement or employment. Participants are experiencing respect and making contributions to their community. Those who have supported the participants and developed relationships have benefited as well.
A Sense of Belonging
One Starfire member who has benefitted is Zak, whose path to employment faced many challenges over several months. The dedication of his mother and support of Starfire staff eventually led to a position at Dunham Recreation Center in his neighborhood. “They gave me my paycheck, I opened it up, and I had a grin on my face,” recalls Zak, almost a year after he started working at Dunham. “It’s a neat place to work. It changed my life.”
Another Starfire member, Beth, decided to participate in Zumba exercise classes in her neighborhood recreation center, rather than classes designated for people with disabilities. Ongoing encouragement from her family and Starfire staff helped Beth to form relationships with her classmates. Beth later found a way to help others through her new connections and organized a Zumba fundraiser for Children’s Hospital.
Josh, an avid sports fan, found a way to connect with other sports fans as a concessions volunteer at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Since he started working, Josh has become a very popular among many of the Xavier students and has formed strong friendships with his co-workers. Josh shared, “Building friendships is something good.”
Starfire Council is helping many people to realize and celebrate the many abilities people have – rather than focus on the disability. The theme for the 2016 Developmental Disabilities Month is “Side by Side” – to highlight the many ways in which people with and without developmental disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities.
The Community Connectors program through Starfire Council is an excellent example of how funding from SC Ministry Foundation is contributing toward the goal of stronger, healthier, more diverse and more inclusive communities.
For complete stories on the featured Starfire members:
On a sunny but cool Saturday morning in late February, volunteers gathered at a small construction site on a narrow street in West Price Hill to receive instructions from Natalie, the Habitat for Humanity site manager. Before the construction work would commence for the day, a special ceremony was planned to kick-off the official beginning of the project which would become a new home for a family of five. Soon others joined the gathering – family and friends of the family who would soon call this structure their home.
Just a few months ago Sajah and Earl Woods learned that they and their three children had been accepted as a partner family with Habitat for Humanity. “I have been just so happy and excited about this whole process,” shared Sajah. “But when we drove up today and saw all the people that were here just for us – I felt overwhelmed.”
Building Houses, Building Hope
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati (HFHGC) is a non-profit Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate substandard housing by building, renovating and repairing homes in partnership with low-income families. The cost savings from volunteer labor and generous donations allow Habitat homes to be sold to partner families at no profit and financed with no-interest loans. Homeowners are required to invest 500 hours of “sweat-equity” labor, and complete classes in finances and home maintenance.
This is the seventh home that SC Ministry Foundation has supported through Habitat for Humanity. All six of the families from previous builds continue to maintain and reside in their homes.
Mission Moments that Last a Lifetime
The kick-off ceremony included prayers to ask for God’s blessing over the home’s construction, the safety of the workers, and the Woods family. After the ceremony, Sajah’s mother shared that she had been taught by Sisters of Charity throughout her years of education. Now the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati were present in the family’s lives again, through the support from SC Ministry Foundation.
Family and friends of the Woods family pose with John Barrett, President/CEO of Western & Southern Financial Group
This Habitat for Humanity project will be completed in time for the family to enjoy summer in their new home.
Volunteers receive instructions from Habitat site manager, Natalie.
All those present for the ceremony were invited to sign one of the boards that will be built into the home. Two of the funders of the project were represented by John Barrett from Western & Southern Financial Group, and Amelia Riedel, representing SC Ministry Foundation.
One of the children signs his name on a board that will become part of his new home.
The youngest member of the family received some help from her grandma to sign her name.