By Mindy Gordon, Director, Archives and Museum

In the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of New York, photographs illustrate the Christmas festivities held in the schools and hospitals where the Sisters ministered. Holiday events abounded: at schools, students performed in Christmas tableaux and in choirs; at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Manhattan, patients received gifts and holiday meal fare. The annual holiday employee party featured entertainment by the many talented staff. Christmas at each location was a unique and joyous event for all ages! During this season of joy, the generosity and spiritual warmth offered by the Sisters, continues to bring a glorious light to Christmas.

St. Paul School, Brooklyn

Student choir performs at the lighting of Christmas tree; Sr. Teresita Regina Austin, Principal (back row, center), St. Paul School, Brooklyn, 1963. The school choir received first honors for performing in the Catholic Youth Organization’s (CYO) Festival in Brooklyn in 1958.

St. Paul School opened in 1846 and though a parochial school was closely linked with the St. Paul Orphan Asylum. Classes were held in the basement of St. Paul Church at Court and Congress Streets until the school building at Warren Street was built in 1887. The three-story brick structure could accommodate one thousand students. Sr. Mary Constantia Hull supervised and developed a parochial school, orphanage, an industrial school for older orphans and an academy in the parish. In June 1964, the Sisters of Charity of New York withdrew from St. Paul’s, after 126 years of service to the parish; the school closed in 1980.

Seton Hospital, Bronx

Creche, Seton Hospital Chapel, Spuyten Duyvil, Bronx, ca. 1935

Seton Hospital for Consumptives open in 1894 to treat tuberculosis patients who could not otherwise afford treatment. The first annual report for 1896 noted that 154 patients had been treated, half without charge. The Nazareth Branch opened in 1903 to treat women and children patients. Between 1911 and 1938, more than one thousand veterans of WWI were treated. Important progress in lung surgery during WWII was facilitated at the Hospital. Seton Hospital closed in 1955.

St. Joseph Academy, Manhattan

Elementary school children surround the manger during Nativity play, St. Joseph Academy, Manhattan, 1949.

St. Joseph’s Academy begun by the Sisters of Charity of New York in 1856, was located on 6th Avenue near Barrow Street, and later moved to West 4th Street, relocating to Grove Street in 1866 and in 1895, to Waverly Place, Manhattan. In 1941, the Academy was housed in the 20 Washington Square building purchased by the Congregation. The school closed in 1974.

Academy of Mount Saint Vincent, Tuxedo Park

Students present Nativity play, Academy of Mount Saint Vincent, Tuxedo Park, 1962

The Academy of Mount Saint Vincent at McGown’s Pass was regarded as one of the pioneer institutions in the East for the education of Catholic girls. In 1851, the Academy received its charter from the New York State Legislature. When the Sisters were asked to vacate the McGown’s Pass for the planned development of Central Park, they purchased the 55-acre estate Font Hill-On-Hudson and constructed new accommodations for the Academy and the boarding students. 

As an outgrowth of a ‘fifth year’ year of study offered by the Academy, in 1910, the school received a charter from the State Education Department of New York to recognize ‘The College of Mount Saint Vincent.’ As the College student population increased, the need for separate quarters for the Academy’s faculty, students, and activities, was addressed. To provide a new location for the school, Archbishop Spellman deeded an estate in Tuxedo Park, N.Y.

For 30 years, the Academy thrived in this location until a decline in enrollment led to the closure of the school in 1972. 

Holy Name Day Nursery, Manhattan

Children gathered by manger in music room singing Christmas holiday songs, Holy Name Day Nursey, Manhattan, 1951

Holy Name Day Nursery opened in 1922 to care for pre-school children whose mothers were working outside of the home. Sr. Rose Evarista Rafferty, former principal of St. Ignatius School, and Sr. Rose Evarista Rafferty, former superior and principal of St. John the Evangelist directed the school’s initial years. The parents of each child were interviewed prior to admission and home visits accomplished, if needed. The Nursery was open from 7:30am until 5:30pm six days weekly. The Parish subsidized the fee of 25 cents for 10 hours of care and lunch. After WWII when Mothers were able to care for their children on Saturday, the Nursery was closed on that day.

St. Vincent’s Hospital, Manhattan

The Hospital had many milestones, including treating survivors of the Titanic tragedy in 1911, treating the impoverished and homeless, patients during the AIDS crisis of the late 20th Century, and establishing a unique Community Medicine Department to meet with homebound patients. The Hospital closed in 2010.

All employees and patients celebrated Christmas at the hospital.

“The memories I have are gatherings of all kinds during the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The doctors were generous in feasting their department staff. There were parties where administrators served food and gave out presents to staff and song fests among student nurses in the auditorium. As freshman we used some familiar songs and changed the words to Jingle Bells and other familiar tunes so that nursing terms and medical jargon that we were learning was inserted! I sang each Christmas at Penn Station in uniform with friends during commuter time.” – Sr. Karen Helfenstein, St. Vincent’s School of Nursing, 1966; Senior Vice President for Mission, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 1990-2000