Six Sisters of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia, arrived in Bay Ridge in the summer of 1924 to open the congregation’s first school at Our Lady of Angels parish.
Last Saturday, more than 300 Sisters of Charity and their associates, along with clergy, family and friends, marked the 90th anniversary of the Sisters’ arrival in New York with a Mass and reception at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston.
“It is a time to cherish what has been and to give thanks to God,” announced Sister Mary Louise Brink, S.C., interim advancement director for the congregation’s leadership team, who welcomed the Sisters and guests.
Sister Louise called the event an opportunity “to rejoice, to pray for guidance for the future and to move onto that future with great hope.”
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Emil A. Wcela of the Rockville Centre Diocese was the main celebrant of the noontide Mass, which was concelebrated by 11 priests.
Gracious Touch, Great Wisdom
The bishop, who was taught by the Halifax Sisters at Seton Hall H.S., Patchogue, L.I., opened the liturgy by thanking God for the “great gift that the Sisters of Charity of Halifax have been to our part of the world, especially today for New York.”
“Some of us perhaps were taught by them or they taught in our schools or they worked in parish ministries,” he said. “We’ve all come to experience their gracious touch, their great wisdom and their great love for God and His people.”
Guided by a charism of “giving joyful witness to love: the love of God, of one another, and of all persons,” the congregation traces its earliest roots to New York, where Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the first congregation of women religious in the U.S.
In 1849, four New York Sisters of Charity sailed to Halifax to start a new mission and formed an independent congregation – the Sisters of Charity-Halifax.
The Sisters returned to New York as the parochial school system began to expand, and the Sisters, likewise, developed their education ministry, opening 15 schools in New York and New Jersey between 1924 and 1964.
Starting with Our Lady of Angels, the Sisters served locally at St. Sebastian, Woodside; St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica; St. Sylvester, East New York; Our Lady Help of Christians, Midwood; Resurrection Ascension, Rego Park; Our Lady of the Cenacle, Richmond Hill; Bishop Reilly H.S., Fresh Meadows; and St. Paul’s, Brooklyn.
By 1960, the congregation’s membership peaked at 1,600 with over 300 Sisters serving in New York and New Jersey.
After the Second Vatican Council, vocations ebbed, and Sisters found new ministries in the spirit of their saintly models: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Sisters began working in parishes, prisons, shelters and schools.
Today, over 350 Halifax Sisters of Charity minister in four countries, and nearly 60 serve in New York.
Halifax Sisters of Charity Mark 90 Years in New York
Sister Catherine O'Leary, S.C.
Sister Louise Brink, S.C.
Auxiliary Bishop Emil Wcela
Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, S.C.
Sisters Judith Rollo, Barbara Toland and Dolores Sullivan
Sisters Katie Hamm and Roberta Kerins, S.C.
Muriel and Bill Fitzpatrick with their daughter Sister Margaret Fitzpatrick
A Call to Be Love
“Wherever one is, we all are,” shared Sister Katie Hamm, S.C., who sits on the congregation’s leadership team. Being a Halifax Sister of Charity for 48 years, she said, has been “an opportunity to live a call to be love.”
Sisters Judith Marie Rollo and Dolores Michael Sullivan, S.C., live their call as the last members of the congregation ministering in the Diocese of Hamilton in Bermuda.
Both previously taught at Our Lady of the Cenacle School during the 1960s. Sister Dolores also taught at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, 1977-82.
Officially, they’re retired, but they continue to tend to the sick and homebound and anyone in need.
“Even though we have white hair, we’re still going strong,” Sister Dolores Michael said.
And when the time comes to hang up their sandals, they know – as do their counterparts in the U.S., Peru and Canada – they’ve planted good seeds for the future.
More than 200 associates, including 50 in New York alone, carry on the Sisters’ charism of charity.
The bishop invited all of the Sisters present to stand for an ovation in gratitude for “all the missions you’ve accomplished, all that you’ve done, all the contributions you’ve made to the church.”
At those words, Murial Fitzpatrick, one of the first graduates of Our Lady of Angels School, and her husband, Bill, beamed with pride at their daughter, Sister Margaret Fitzpatrick, S.C., president of St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, N.Y.
Being a Halifax Sister, Sister Margaret said, has framed her whole life.
“It always reminds me of the values that are most important: love of God and service to the poor. That’s how I live my life,” she said.
Halifax Sisters continue to contribute to the Church and the world in the fields of education, social services, health care and pastoral ministry. Sisters, both active and retired, address new needs, such as human trafficking, care for immigrants, water scarcity and climate change.
The Mission Goes On
“Though the ministries have changed, the mission of making the love of God visible goes on,” said Sister Roberta Kerins, S.C., who sits on the congregation’s leadership team.
To ensure that mission continues, the congregation is giving $10,000 to each of three ministries in which Sisters serve, namely the Maura Clarke-Ita Ford Center, which provides educational opportunities for immigrants in Bushwick; Queens-based Lifeway Network which addresses human trafficking; and St. John’s Bread and Life, a soup kitchen in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Anthony Butler, executive director of Bread and Life, said he’s grateful not just for the grant but the ongoing support of 12 Halifax Sisters who volunteer part-time with the program.
“Our hope is that we will continue to listen” to the needs of the world today, Sister Roberta said, “and be able to respond with wisdom.”