History of the
Sisters Of Charity
Modelled after the now world-renowned Daughters of Charity, the Sisters of Charity was started by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton at Maryland, in 1809. She was a follower of Saint Vincent De Paul who had co-founded the Daughters of Charity, and also helped spearhead it. He believed that Christian women should take a vow of consecration and use their lives to help those in need. Elizabeth Ann Seton also believed in this ideal and thereby with a total of 5 members she started the first ever voluntary catholic
congregation in the United States. She wanted the group to be named as the Daughters of Charity, U.S.A, however the political scenario of the 19th century and rising tensions between France and United States did not allow her to do so. So, she chose the moniker of Sisters of Charity and started hiring young Catholic Women to help set up orphanages, kitchens, and hospitals.
5 years after founding the Sisters of Charity, the next thing she wanted to do was to spread it across the United State. Her first choice was of course her hometown of New York, and also Philadelphia. The Sisters engaged in working in orphanages in both these cities and due to the nature of their compassion and dedication,
their name spread within no time, and they were able to open independent orphanages in both these cities under the name of Sisters of Charity.
At this point there would arise some contentions with the French clergy in charge of Daughters of Charity. Although Elizabeth Ann Seton had taken up the name of Sisters of Charity, they were consecrated under the Daughters of Charity and followed the guidance and rules laid down by Saint Vincent De Paul, and thus were answerable to that order. The Daughters of Charity primarily requested that all the Sisters be removed from boys’ homes, however this was not possible in the New York chapters as the Sisters there were tied in with local Catholic agencies. And if they did abandon the orphanage which they had set up, it would easily fall apart. These contentions remained, and the New York chapter was renamed ‘Sisters of Charity of New York.’
This trend would become a more common theme within the Sisters of Charity as they spread over the United States for the rest of the 19th century. This was actually inevitable owing to the size and the cultural variations of the country. One of the major socio-political upheavals during this era came in the form of refugees, and the various
plagues they brought along like increased poverty, crimes, prostitution, etc. The Sisters of Charity would play a major part in the betterment of society during these hard times with one of their most notable acts being the setting up of the ‘New York Founding’. Established in 1869, it was built as an orphanage but also actively included a place for unmarried mothers to take care of their children and also give them up for adoption if they felt the need to. The rise in the number of unmarried mothers who were not earning at all and thereby giving rise to the number of orphans was one of the major problems of this time and the Sisters sought to right this wrong.
Over the next century the Sisters of Charity would become a significant force of goodwill in the United States setting up the first Catholic hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital, along with a number of orphanages, nursing homes, and other institutions. The motherhouse was shifted from Maryland to New York and in Queens a home for senior
Sisters was also founded. Since the setting up of Daughters of Charity in other countries had become common although not all of them adhered to the original codes of Saint Vincent de Paul, a Vincentian Order was set up under which all the various Sisters of Charity organization of the United States belong under the umbrella of Federation of Sisters. The Sisters of Charity still remain to be one of the largest voluntary Catholic communities in the United States performing top notch social work in various cities and communities primarily regarding orphans and socially rejected women.