Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10
Hidden in an industrialized neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, is a niche of color with flourishing gardens, beehives, and worm farms. This earth-friendly place that defies its bleak surroundings is EarthLinks – an organization that brings hope and joy to an increasing number of chronically homeless people in Denver.
EarthLinks remains firmly planted in this struggling neighborhood, providing those who are homeless and impoverished with an opportunity to earn an income through meaningful work in a safe environment. Participants build relationships and learn new skills by contributing to EarthLinks’ line of sustainable products which include soap, cards, vases, jewelry, birdhouses and bee boxes. EarthLinks’ programs focus on the strengths of each person, while also helping them to step out of isolation and re-enter community. As one participant shared, “I am no longer a loser – I am a beekeeper.”
EarthLinks has shown that participants with a stronger connection to community report a higher self-esteem.
Since 2007, the SC Ministry Foundation has supported EarthLinks, where Sister Jacqueline “Jackie” Leech, S.C., serves on the advisory board. “The special moments at EarthLinks are when I watch the participants and staff laughing together while producing beautiful items to be sold. I hear someone’s story of being homeless and the wonderful things EarthLinks has done for them,” shared Sister Jackie.
SC Ministry Foundation recognizes EarthLinks for their efforts to spread Gospel joy while helping the homeless care for each other and care for our Earth.
“We’re living in a truly contentious time right now, but I do believe we have the capacity to find common ground if we have the right information.”
– Michael Bonfiglio, director of “From the Ashes”
One of the many challenges facing our country is our reliance on energy to keep us moving, working, operating, communicating, living. Do we fully understand where the energy comes from that illuminates a room when we flip a switch? What are the costs for this energy – not just from our wallets, but also our air, our water, our planet, our health and our jobs?
On June 15, SC Ministry Foundation hosted an advance preview screening of the National Geographic documentary, “From the Ashes,” to provide an opportunity to learn more about the coal industry and its effect on our lives. The screening was offered in partnership with one of the foundation’s grantees, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light(OhIPL), an organization which empowers a religious response to climate change by promoting energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy with communities of all faiths. Sara Ward, executive director of OhIPL, facilitated a discussion with attendees following the film.
SC Ministry Foundation offered this learning opportunity as a way of promoting the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, whose mission calls to “care for all creation,” and whose vision compels members to “live simply in a complex world.”
“From the Ashes” features coal-mining communities across the country and the compelling and often heartbreaking personal stories from residents, environmentalists, and activists, to “put a human face on the complicated issues tied to coal production, such as the future of the energy sector, the risks to people’s health and livelihood, and the environment,” as stated by the film’s director Michael Bonfiglio.
The film explained the coal industry’s impact on health, evidenced by hazardous drinking water and increased cases of asthma from polluted air. The environmental impact of surface mining displaces plants and animals and leaves the land unusable for agriculture and/or development. The burning of coal not only pollutes the air we breathe, but is the single largest contributor to the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.
As the coal industry suffered from decreased demand with the rise of natural gas use, and many coal mining jobs were replaced with technological advances, hundreds of coal mining towns and their residents felt the impact deeply, as was poignantly demonstrated in the film.
Hope for the Future
Despite the challenges surrounding the coal industry, there are alternatives and viable options for energy sources and for sustainable jobs. The film shared how organizations are taking action to help coal communities transition to renewable energy industries and create sustainable economies by producing solar panels and wind turbines.
Other groups, such as the Sierra Club, are strong advocates in the movement to end coal pollution and promote alternative energy technologies. They initiated the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy campaign, a nonpartisan initiative for local leaders to commit to leading their communities toward 100% clean renewable energy sources. Cincinnati’s Mayor John Cranley recently joined this initiative.
Director Michael Bonfiglio stated, “After making this film, I’ve concluded that the idea that we must poison our air and water and render our planet uninhabitable to have jobs in this country is a falsehood. Hopefully this film will be part of a sane and rational dialogue about how to move forward as a nation in the 21st century.”
In the discussion that followed the screening of the film, one participant remarked that “the future of energy is not an either/or decision—clean energy or jobs—but that it is possible to have both clean energy and jobs through industries creating solar, wind, and other clean energy solutions.”
It is important for all of us living in the United States – no matter our political ties or region of the country – to support the efforts to transition to clean energy. The future of our children and many generations after them depend heavily on the decisions we make at this critical time in history.
In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, On the Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis expresses, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, at the same time protecting nature.”
A key component of the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is to “care for all creation,” a message which was reaffirmed with their 2015 Chapter Direction: “Called from the beginning of our foundation as Sisters of Charity to address the needs of our world, we move intentionally and creatively toward the vulnerabilities of our Earth and our sisters and brothers.”
This Spring, in recognition of Earth Day, SC Ministry Foundation invited three Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters CJ Willie, Marge Kloos, and Barbara Busch to share how they are fulfilling the call to environmental stewardship. Staff from 20 nonprofit organizations joined in the conversation to learn how to adopt “green” practices, reduce energy costs, and inspire their community to do the same.
The Legacy of the Solar Nun
Sister CJ spoke from her varied experiences as the program director for EarthConnection, a member of environmental committees for both the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph University, and a board member for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light (OhIPL). Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC co-founded Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007 as the statewide affiliate of the national organization. Before her passing in July 2016, Sister Paula had spent 45 years of her life advocating for renewable energy, earning her the recognition as the “solar nun.” Sister CJ shared how OhIPL is continuing Sister Paula’s mission by partnering with energy assessment experts to help faith-based nonprofits obtain low-cost energy audits and implementation plans to reduce energy costs. She included information about financing options that are available to support energy conservation projects, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding mechanism.
Moving “Off the Grid”
As the co-founder and executive director of Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), Sister Barbara discussed how WIN is providing energy-efficient home renovations, and developing plans to utilize solar and geothermal energy in newly-constructed affordable homes. For many years, Working in Neighborhoods has been providing energy-efficient renovations for low-income homeowners, which includes Energy Star rated furnaces, water heaters and appliances, insulation and replacement windows, as well environmental remediation to manage issues with lead or asbestos. In addition, WIN builds new homes with the same principals of energy efficiency and sustainability. WIN’s latest project will create a “Net-Zero” Urban Village in South Cumminsville, one of Cincinnati’s oldest, predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Within a targeted area, WIN will build 25 net-zero or near net-zero energy usage homes using energy efficient design and green energy technology such as geothermal and/or solar. WIN’s goal is to move low-income residents out of costly, inefficient and often unhealthy rental properties into affordable, sustainable homeownership. Within the same targeted area, 25 current homeowners will receive weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades. Sister Barb shared, “We think we can help those in poverty… we’re not going to increase their money, but we can increase their ability to use their money differently.”
Living the Mission
Sister Marge’s background in environmental studies and global travel experiences have prepared her for the responsibility of coordinating environmental initiatives on the Sisters of Charity properties, through her role as an executive councilor with the Sisters of Charity Leadership Council. She shared how Pope Francis’ call to “integral ecology” led the Sisters to consider “what we were doing with our own properties to protect our ‘non-human neighbors’.” Sister Marge shared that when we utilize any energy, we “have to look at the ecological cost as well as the economic cost. As long as I can remember, Sister Paula has been encouraging us to do this.” She described how the Sisters of Charity are on the leading edge of the renewable energy efforts in the Greater Cincinnati area through geothermal, solar, and other energy-efficient initiatives in order to transform their properties into “ecological models of sustainability.” One example Sister Marge cited was their effort to switch 10,500 lightbulbs in the Motherhouse to LED lighting. This has resulted in an estimated cost savings of $62,000 a year. Beyond the Motherhouse, the Sisters have installed geothermal HVAC technology for two of the Sister’s residences and solar technology for six of the residences. The combined impact of these renewable energy solutions is anticipated to reduce carbon emissions at the equivalent of 120,000 miles driven by a passenger vehicle in one year, or 54,000 pounds of coal burned each year.
Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation.
At a time when most of their peers are focused on climbing a career ladder or advancing their education, five young women and men from around the world have chosen to live in Cincinnati in a lifestyle challenged by poverty as they devote a year of their lives in service for others. They share a home in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood, share modest meals and utilize public transportation. They serve in full-time positions and earn only a small stipend for living expenses. They are a uniquely special group of young professionals called the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati.
The Vincentian Volunteer program was created by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Cincinnati in 2012 to expand the Society’s mission of “neighbors helping neighbors.” The program engages young adults in 11 months of full-time service to neighbors in need, while living in intentional community with each other and growing in faith. Though similar programs such as AmeriCorps exist across the country, at the time the Cincinnati Vincentian Volunteer program began it was the only faith-based, residential service opportunity available in the area.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society has served Cincinnati-area neighbors in need for nearly 150 years, and is the largest provider of emergency assistance services that prevent homelessness. The need is great, since approximately one in three Cincinnati residents fall below the federal poverty line, according the 2015 Ohio Development Agency’s Poverty Report. In 2014, 69% of homeless families in Cincinnati were turned away from shelters, largely due to lack of capacity. As requests for services became monumental, the additional assistance from the Vincentian Volunteers has helped to meet the increased demand.
The SC Ministry Foundation has supported the Vincentian Volunteer program since its inception in 2012. Several Sisters of Charity serve as volunteers, including Sister Mary Ann Humbert, as spiritual advisor and advisory committee member, Sister Christine Rody, as pharmacy volunteer and board member, and Sister Nancy Bramlage, as an advisory committee member.
The Vincentian Volunteer program engages a range of 4-6 participants each year. The current 2016-2017 cohort includes a diverse group of five members (pictured at top, from left): Mary Ellen Ostrowski from Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Olafare “Fare” Olagbaju from Lekki, Nigeria; Sarah Spech from Willoughby Hills, Ohio; René Betance from Chihuahua, Mexico; and Molly Gibbons from Margate, New Jersey.
Giving More than Medicine
A variety of reasons may influence a young adult to choose to give a year of their life to service. Mary Ellen’s decision to become a Vincentian Volunteer was tied to her career goal to become a physician’s assistant. Her position as a patient advocate for St. Vincent de Paul’s charitable pharmacy has provided Mary Ellen valuable experience with patient interactions. The charitable pharmacy provides low-income individuals access to prescription medications free of charge, due to donations from pharmaceutical companies, doctor offices and nursing homes, and donated service from volunteer pharmacists and pharmacy students. Before any prescriptions are filled, Mary Ellen and other patient advocates meet with each patient confidentially to document the cost of their medications in addition to other living expenses that exceed the patient’s income.
Sometimes a patient needs more than medication. Mary Ellen shared a poignant story about a woman who had recently lost her spouse and then was diagnosed with cancer. Mary Ellen could tell the woman was struggling on many levels. “I asked her if she would like me to pray with her, and she agreed,” shared Mary Ellen. “We prayed for strength and peace, and shared a hug.” Experiences such as this, Mary Ellen shared, “provide a different lens for me to see and better understand the struggles of underserved populations.”
One of the unexpected benefits of Mary Ellen’s experience has been the friendship developed with her co-worker, Sister Christine Rody, SC. Mary Ellen has had friends who have chosen religious vocations so the idea of working closely with a Catholic sister was not strange to her. “It has been fun to see how our friendship has grown,” Mary Ellen said, reflecting on her relationship with Sister Christine. “It was surprising for me to learn of her experiences, especially when she ministered in El Salvador. She has done some crazy, awesome things by making a radical, counter-cultural choice.”
During the nearly 60 years through which Sister Christine has been a Catholic Sister, she has been a math teacher, ministered in violence-afflicted El Salvador, earned her license in canon law, and became a member of two religious congregations. Sister Christine became a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati in 2004 when her previous congregation, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity from Bedford, Ohio, assimilated into the Cincinnati congregation. “When our two congregations were discerning our options, we realized that the spirit and the charism of our communities had a connection,” she shared, referring to the model of St. Vincent de Paul in caring for the poor, and how that model was later adopted by St. Elizabeth Seton when she founded the Sisters of Charity. “St. Elizabeth Seton ‘American-ized’ the Vincentian charism.”
Sister Christine shared how the Vincentian Volunteers are continuing to live out this model. “Their generosity of spirit and willingness to live in poverty and in solidarity with the poor is remarkable. Most people their age are focused on their career and/or finding a life partner. These volunteers are so spiritually-minded at an early age.”
The additional assistance the Vincentian Volunteer program provides has allowed St. Vincent de Paul to effectively serve more neighbors in need, specifically reporting a 135% annual increase in individuals served. As the emergency needs of more neighbors are met, evictions are avoided and homelessness is prevented.
A Year of Service, Impact for a Lifetime
The program has also proven to be beneficial professionally, developmentally and spiritually for the participants, with 100% of the program’s alumni reporting that they secured employment or advanced education opportunities following completion of the program. Two of the volunteers have become full-time employees of St. Vincent de Paul after their service, and all of the program’s alumni remain actively engaged with St. Vincent de Paul and/or with other nonprofits.
Charissa Qiu, a member of the first Vincentian Volunteer cohort, currently works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Mount St. Joseph University alongside Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, who will retire from her role as Director of Mission and Ministry at the end of June. (See related article) When reflecting on her experience, Charissa shared, “It made me question what it truly means to love one’s neighbor. It sharpened who I am and who I want to be in the world.”
Sister Nancy, who serves on the advisory committee for the Vincentian Volunteer program, shared how the St. Vincent de Paul Society reflects the mission of the Sisters of Charity and the spirit of St. Elizabeth Seton. “St. Elizabeth ministered to everyone, whether they were rich or poor,” she explained. “The Vincentian charism recognizes the dignity of all people. The Vincentian Volunteer program is a concrete expression of that charism.”
The Vincentian Volunteer program has played a vital role in building the capacity for the St. Vincent de Paul Society to meet the needs of the neighbors they serve. But perhaps its greater role is in laying the foundation for passionate, committed Vincentians who will continue to serve their neighbors in the spirit of St. Louise de Marrilac and St. Vincent de Paul, as well as St. Elizabeth Seton for many years to come.
Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation.
When Pope Francis declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy, he wrote,“The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel.”
Since 1990, the staff at Bayley have been dedicated to the wellbeing of community members experiencing various stages of the aging process. Located on rolling hills across from the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse campus in Delhi Township, Bayley’s retirement community is home to more than three hundred residents with needs ranging from independent or assisted living, to skilled nursing or memory support care. In addition, hundreds of local senior adults participate in Bayley’s adult day program and fitness club. As a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Bayley is committed to providing compassion and quality of life to all those they serve.
What led to the establishment of SC Ministry Foundation more than twenty years ago? Two Sisters of Charity share their insights below, beginning with Sister Judith Metz, SC, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Historian, who shares the history of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and their mission that paved the way for the foundation.
“St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity here in the United States in 1809 and she was really carrying on the charism of charity that had been founded by St. Vincent de Paul. Within just a couple of years after her death, in 1829, the Sisters were invited to come to Cincinnati to start a girls school and a girls orphanage here. We started with seven sisters and very quickly began to grow and as more sisters came we were able to take on more missions or ministries,” shared Sister Judith.
“From the very beginning our constitution always said the sisters should always be able to respond to whatever the requests were, whatever the needs of society were. St. Vincent de Paul at one point told the sisters back in France, “go where you are needed, do what needs to be done.” And that’s been our way of responding to the various requests that we have received,” she added.
“The main work of the community has historically been in health care and education. But we were always involved in other types of work as well. We sponsored a number of hospitals, we also had a number of orphanages, boarding academies, and then as we moved into the 20th century we began to have a series of foreign missions,” Sister Judith explained.
The legacy that the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati had forged in health care ultimately led to the creation of SC Ministry Foundation.
In 1979 all Sister of Charity sponsored health care institutions were brought together in the Sisters of Charity Health Care Systems under the leadership of Sister Grace Marie Hiltz, SC. This became one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States until it joined with other systems to form Catholic Health Initiative in the 1990s.
Sister Grace Marie had ministered as a nurse and later served as administrator of St Mary-Corwin Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado and Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She served on many boards of trustees and chaired the Catholic Health Association and Ohio Hospital Association Boards. She earned the title “Amazing Grace” through her involvement in many civic as well as health care endeavors.
The Sisters of Charity as well as the broader community suffered a tremendous loss with the untimely death of Sister Grace Marie in 1985. But the legacy of “Amazing Grace” continued to grow since the proceeds of her insurance policies were used to begin the Sisters of Charity Health Care Foundation, which later became SC Ministry Foundation.
Sister Roslyn Hafertepe, SC, served as the first chairperson of the first board of directors for SC Ministry Foundation. She recently reflected on the early days of the foundation.
“I always thought the Charities responded to the call ‘Stay true to your charism. Stay true to your roots.’ And so Sisters were responding to that and identifying new ministries, new ways of serving, new people who needed to be administered to. A number of these new ministries required funding,” recalled Sister Roslyn.
“It was in that kind of environment that the concept of the foundation emerged. Because the foundation then appeared to be a vehicle that we could use to help create and encourage new thinking, and to help stabilize some of the sustaining ministries, which were equally important,” explained Sister Roslyn. “We also had a strong commitment to systemic change. Looking at not only what caused poverty, but what could we do to prevent it.”
While serving as the treasurer for the Sisters of Charity congregation, Sister Roslyn was asked to chair the first formally constructed foundation board. “But there were so many important people that helped make this implementation plan a reality. I think particularly of Celestia Koebel, who was president of the Sisters of Charity Health Care Systems at the time,” recalled Sister Roslyn. “Maryanna Coyle was on congregational leadership at the time and she always brought her unique dimension. And then, ultimately Maryanna became the first president of the foundation. And we all look back and see how the foundation was launched with creativity and the direction that it took.”
Sister Roslyn added, “It was an exciting time, really exciting time. There was so much change in the wind and a lot of challenges, and a lot of opportunity for creative thinking – that was the part I thought was so exciting.”
When asked if she would have advice for Sisters facing challenges today, Sister Roslyn advised them to, “Have no fear. It’s amazing to me some of the things that emerged that we never dreamed of. But it was what meant to be for us. What’s so exciting for me is I see it today in our Sisters around us – all of these creative ideas popping up. And it just gives you all kinds of energy.”
“When we think of some of the things we have embraced as a community, it’s the hand of God in it all,” Sister Roslyn added with a smile. “And we say Alleluia… I think that’s where we are in celebrating the 20 years of the success stories of our foundation. Amen.”
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: