New York News

Sisters of Charity of New York Will No Longer Accept New Members

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S.-born saint, formed the Sisters of Charity in 1809 in Maryland. She sent three sisters to New York City in 1817 to establish orphanages. (Photo: Franciscan Media)

WASHINGTON — The Sisters of Charity of New York announced on April 27 that they will no longer accept new members to their congregation. 

A news release from the congregation said the decision was “not an easy one” and was made “after a long and prayerful discernment process” just before their general assembly. At the annual gathering, delegates voted unanimously on April 13 to accept this recommendation from the congregation’s executive council. 

The public announcement about this change stressed that the congregation “will continue to promote vocations and redirect inquiries” to other congregations or to the Religious Formation Conference, a national Catholic organization serving women’s and men’s religious institutes. 

The congregation’s executive council also asked delegates to affirm that they would “continue to live our mission to the fullest while acknowledging that we are on a path to completion.” 

The announcement said the sisters will “continue to grow in love” and “continue to deepen our relationships with each other, with our associates, and with our ministry partners. We will continue to deepen our relationship with our God.” 

It noted that after more than 200 years of service to the Church, the Sisters of Charity of New York “will continue to pass the torch of charity.” 

“This is not the end of our ministries,” the statement stressed, saying the sisters’ mission would continue through their associates and partners, “expanding what it means to live the charism of charity into the future.”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S.-born saint, formed the Sisters of Charity in 1809 in Maryland. She sent three sisters to New York City in 1817 to establish orphanages. 

Currently, there are 154 Sisters of Charity of New York based on the main campus of the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale — a college the sisters founded and continue to sponsor. 

These sisters currently sponsor the Barbara Ford Peacebuilding Center in Guatemala, which offers spiritual, social, and educational programs to individuals, families, and community groups. 

They are involved in a Bronx program called POTS-Part Of The Solution that provides food, clothes, medical care, free legal services, and pastoral counseling to those in need, and they sponsor the Sisters of Charity Housing and Development Corporation, which develops affordable and supportive housing programs in Manhattan, Staten Island, and Nanuet. 

Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the episcopal delegate for religious in the Diocese of Brooklyn, told The Tablet that many congregations of sisters in the U.S. are “discerning their future viability due to smaller numbers, an aging population of sisters, and the personnel needed for particular ministries, especially formation of newer members.” 

Sister Maryann, who is also president of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious, has been involved in many facets of welcoming new members to religious life and assisting those in formation ministry. 

She said she had not spoken directly with the Sisters of Charity of New York since this development, but she said that the congregation likely understood “that they cannot sustain the needs of forming new members here in the United States.” 

She added that the congregation’s “growing formation community in Guatemala, where they have served for many years,” may have a stronger possibility for new members. 

A statement emailed to The Tablet from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States, indicated the challenge faced by the Sisters of Charity and other congregations. 

“In the 1950s and early 1960s, high numbers of women entered communities of Catholic sisters across the country. We are now at a time when many of those women have died or are nearing the end of their lives, thus the numbers of Catholic sisters in the United States and in many other parts of the world are dramatically decreasing,” the group said. 

The umbrella organization of women religious noted that the increase in the median age of sisters has led “several communities to the realization that young women are unlikely to seek membership with them.” 

It also said many communities have felt that it wouldn’t be just to welcome younger women where they would primarily be with people in the last stage of life. 

The LCWR statement said, “Women are still drawn to religious life, though not in the high numbers of earlier decades. Today, Catholic sisters still assist women with their discernment of religious life and often introduce them to communities where these young women will find more companionship with others nearer to their age and will have a stronger future ahead of them.” 

Several comments just below the announcement by the Sisters of Charity of New York posted on its website thanked the sisters for their ministry over the years and said they were sad about this development but also that they believed the sisters were acting with courage and grace. 

Sister Gemma Simmonds, a sister of the Congregation of Jesus and director of the Religious Life Institute in Cambridge, England, wrote that she was “praying with and for you, dear sisters, and honoring your courage at this moment and all that you have so generously given to the church and to the service of God’s people over more than 200 years.”