December 31, 2021 marks the 175th anniversary of the beginnings of the Sisters of Charity of New York. It’s when “the first election of community superiors was held in the chapel of the Prince Street asylum.” (Walsh 1, 137). Sister Elizabeth Boyle was chosen as Mother General; Sr. Mary Angela Hughes, Assistant Mother; Sr. Williamanna Hickey, Treasurer; and Sr. Mary Jerome Ely, Procuratrix. “The first recorded Council meeting was held on January 3, 1847, at the Prince Street asylum.” (Walsh 1, 137)
The following service is from Belonging, Sister Mary McCormick’s 2008 book of prayers.
Against All Odds
December 31, 1846
Stand firm, then, and keep the traditions that were taught you.
As we recall the anniversary of the “official” beginnings of the New York Sisters of Charity on December 31, 1846, let us ask Christ, the “mystery of God,” to be with us in our time of prayer:
Author of Life, we ponder the mysterious ways your providence is found on every page of our ever-unfolding story. Against all odds you have brought us to the “now” of this story. Help us to decipher the messages you have scribbled on its margins, remind us to pay attention to the parts you have underlined. Give us the courage to wait for and believe that the next chapter, the next line, the next word, will reveal to us what we are meant to become.
Mother Elizabeth Boyle wrote:
We seldom hear anything about our dear valley home. How often have I brooded over gone-bye days spent there, days of sweet poverty and hard labor.
And Sister Marjorie Walsh recounts our beginnings:
And thus on New Year’s morning of 1847 Sister Elizabeth found herself no longer merely the Superior of St. Patrick’s Asylum, but the Mother of the Sisters of Charity of New York. …Together [with her Councilors] she faced the uncertainties of the future. That same New Year’s morning the New York Tribune published a disheartening account of the arrival of more than eight hundred immigrants within the week. In one way or another many of them would soon be indebted to the Sisters of Charity, never dreaming that these kindly, serene women were nearly as poor as themselves. They had no motherhouse, no novitiate, and no money to buy or to build. But they had faith in God – and at least one of their number, whom they now called Mother,
had lived through such days before.
Within the next few weeks several candidates asked to be admitted.
In the Lord I take refuge.
How can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to the mountains;
Barricade yourself in Suburbia,
And do not let the pollution of the
City rabble contaminate you?”
I reject your advice, and I repeat:
“In the Lord I take refuge.”
Let me tell you what I mean by these words:
I mean risking the pain, the blame, the shame
That comes from involvement,
And believing that God somehow sustains me-
helps me to struggle in the dark and trust
that light will overtake the darkness;
helps me to sense (God’s) presence in the
interchange of people who need each other.
In God I take refuge – the God who
meets me in the ghettos and gardens of the world
and says to me:
“You and I must build a bridge.”
Rose Agnes MacCauley, SC
Take the word of God as it comes today, or in the Sunday reading,
or from an experience when your own life began anew.
As we ponder the early stages of the New York Sisters of Charity,
begun in the agony of separation, misunderstanding, and loss, what
inspires us, gives us hope that against all odds we too may write the
new story of charity?
The charity of Christ moves us as we
Remember the thirty-three women of charity who chose to remain
in New York, and all those for whom they cared;
Offer a blessing for all who have made painful beginnings and have
brought them to fruitful conclusions;
Celebrate the courage of our Sisters, Associates and colleagues who continue the ministry of
charity and service that are the cornerstones of our tradition;
Ask for an increase of confidence in the never-failing Providence
which has always guided our comings and goings and for the
courage to say: Amen. Let it be!
Lessons from 1861 Route 17
The incompatibility of then and now!
the renovating urge to save the past,
to save the semblance of history’s prestige,
succumbs to passing wind and heat and freeze.
There is time for living with the pastured past
There is time for trusting new designs
There is time for grappling with the growing
There is time for living in new signs.
Eileen T. Kelly, SC