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A story of charity, a mission of mercy

SOUTH CAROLINA—In an effort to “wake up the world” to the faith of men and women religious, Pope Francis called for a celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life to begin Nov. 30 and close Feb. 2, 2016.

To honor the women religious who have dedicated their lives to the service of God, The Catholic Miscellany will feature articles about the orders serving in South Carolina, starting with our own Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, who will celebrate 185 years on Dec. 8.

Founded by Bishop John England, premier bishop of Charleston, the congregation’s history runs parallel to that of the diocese. The community established the first Catholic orphanage and schools; they attended soldiers from the Civil War and opened the first Catholic hospital and nursing school; and they served the poor in a multitude of ways.

Now, almost two centuries later, their work has changed, but the call to live their charism of charity remains. As Sister Mary Joseph Ritter, general superior, said: “We are the last living link with John England and we continue to minister in many ways.”

Taking a moment out of busy schedules, Sister Mary Joseph gathered with Sisters Anne Francis Campbell, Carol Wentworth and Ann Billard to talk about their community and its long history of service.

A few of the ministries in which the sisters are involved at present include adult education, faith formation, prevention of human trafficking, community outreach, prison ministry, pro-life issues, phone outreach and prayer, and senior ministry, which includes taking Communion and visiting the sick and homebound.

They provide grants to various nonprofits in South Carolina and a scholarship to Bishop England High School. They sponsor Our Lady of Mercy Outreach and Neighborhood House, both of which they founded to serve the poor.

Sister Ann is engaged in the ministry of “Transformative Aging”. She travels all over the world guiding aging members of religious congregations.

“I help them recognize there is a call, a mission and purpose throughout the aging process of their lives,” she explained.

“We’ve been prophetic witnesses from the beginning,” said Sister Ann, noting that the sisters were at the forefront of education, health care and outreach since the inception of the diocese.

“Now we see a hunger for a spiritual way of being and believe our greatest work is in front of us, as long as we trust and are faithful and have hope.”

Sister Anne Francis, using a favorite quote, said “The past is God’s; the future is God’s; the present is ours and God’s together.”

The sisters plan to actively live that present, carrying out God’s will to help change the world.

Education

One of the first missions of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy was to provide educational opportunities to young girls from poor homes and to free children of color.

Beginning with Our Lady of Mercy Academy in 1830, the sisters were key figures in the establishment of several schools in the state, including Charleston, Columbia, Sumter and Aiken. In all, they served in 26 educational institutions in South Carolina and New Jersey.

The sisters were an active presence in local schools until 2006, when they fine-tuned their focus to concentrate on parish and adult education.

The history:

1830 Sisters open Our Lady of Mercy Academy for girls on Friend Street in Charleston.
1835 Operate the first school for free children of color, which closed then reopened from 1841-48.
1899 Begin a long career serving parochial schools across the diocese, including the establishment of Bishop England High School in 1915.

Currently:

The sisters are still active in their ministry of education. Through Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach on Johns Island, they provide after-school tutoring, summer education programs, GED and ESL instruction. Neighborhood House also offers courses including computer classes.

Health care

Care of the sick and infirm was another of the original purposes of the community. In the early days, they waded through muddy streets to care for those who were ill, even during times of plague.

Their dedication to wounded and dying soldiers during the Civil War, and even after it ended, was recognized by the U.S. Congress thanks to many letters from grateful soldiers. In gratitude, the sisters received a grant to rebuild their orphanage damaged by bombing.

When health care moved from home to hospital, the sisters were at the forefront of the movement, establishing hospitals and nursing homes around the diocese.

The history:

1830 Sisters attend the sick in homes and temporary relief hospitals.
1861 Serve wounded soldiers in military hospitals throughout the Civil War.
1882 Open St. Francis Xavier Hospital in Charleston.
1900 Mother Teresa Barry dies on May 18. Her successor, Mother Loretto Quinlan, opens the first school of nursing in Charleston.

Currently:

In 1989, the sisters transferred sponsorship of the hospitals to Bon Secours Health Care System. They have returned to their roots, and now visit the sick at home and in hospitals. The sisters also provide numerous medical services to those in need through Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Center, established in 1989.

Community outreach

As yellow fever devastated the population and left many children orphans, one of the order’s first acts was to establish an orphanage. They were involved with the care of orphans until 1991.

The sisters also founded Neighborhood House in 1915 and developed programs to serve the needs of an impoverished community.

In 1929, they reached out to mission territories by creating day schools and camps in areas around the diocese.

The history:

1830 Sisters open the first orphanage in their home to a group of orphaned girls.
1867 Operate a boys’ orphanage. The girls’ and boys’ facilities merge in 1901 and run until 1965.
1915 Open Neighborhood House, which originally served immigrant populations, and then the African-American community.
1929 Begin ministry of mission schools and camps.

Currently:

The sisters maintain many ministries to the community, including prayer, plus writing and visiting prisoners. In 1994, the community joined the Sisters of Charity Federation, which includes congregations in the U.S. and Canada. Through the federation, they advocate for peace and justice and have an Non-Governmental Organization representative at the United Nations who is involved with issues such as human trafficking.

 

ID program helps Neighborhood House target service needs

CHARLESTON—Neighborhood House was chosen to participate in a pilot program that will enable them to keep track of all their clients and the services they use.

Nikki Grimball, director of the peninsula outreach, said the program provides photo identification with a bar code on the back for every client that comes in the door. The client then presents the bar code ID for every service he uses, whether it’s financial assistance, the soup kitchen, clothes closet or even the porch library.

“It shows where the greatest needs are, the most services used, plus areas where we need to outsource,” Grimball said.

The primary purpose is to compile data into an easily accessible format that can be used to apply for funding and grants, said Chloe Garrison, with Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, the parent organization for Neighborhood House.

The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy founded Neighborhood House in 1915. For a while, it operated under the diocesan office of social ministry, but in 2005 it returned to the sponsorship of Our Lady of Mercy.

Garrison said the main outreach on Johns Island is part of the Charity Tracker system, but does not use the identification cards. Neighborhood House joined the bar code pilot program in October to help them keep track of more than 20 services available to those in need. The outreach aids a variety of clientele, from homeless people to workers eating at the soup kitchen to make ends meet. Grimball said they average 120 clients a day for hot lunches.

They also offer education courses for those trying to get ahead, and various enrichment classes for children and senior citizens.

Garrison said more than 280 clients have received bar code IDs so far and the intake process is ongoing.

In addition to helping the outreach keep track of their numbers, Grimball said it also benefits the clients by providing photo identification, which can be difficult for them to obtain. He explained that receiving a picture ID usually requires a person to have a fixed address, and most of the population at Neighborhood House are transients, moving from place to place as their finances dictate.

Another plus is being able to link to other social service agencies with Charity Tracker. That way, if a client needs to be referred elsewhere, the agency will only have to scan the bar code ID and have instant access to all the information.

“We’re trying to make it so their lives are a little less on the edge,” Grimball said.

 

Bishop's calendar for December 2014

The following is Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone’s calendar for December:


Dec. 2—9:30 a.m., Secretariat meeting, Charleston; 12:05 p.m., Mass, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston
Dec. 3—11 a.m., Mass and luncheon, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, Charleston
Dec. 5—10 a.m., Mass, Canterbury House, Charleston
Dec. 7—11 a.m., Mass, St. John Church, North Charleston
Dec. 8—11:30 a.m., Mass and luncheon, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy Motherhouse; 5:30 p.m., Mass, St. Mary of the Annunciation Church, Charleston
Dec. 10—12:05 p.m., Mass, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston
Dec. 11—10:30 a.m., Priest Personnel Board meeting, Charleston
Dec. 12—10 a.m., Food Basket Mass, Bishop England High School, Daniel Island
Dec. 13—Noon; Black Catholic Heritage celebration, St. Anthony Church, Florence
Dec. 14—11:15 a.m., Mass, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston; 4 p.m., Diocesan Volunteer Christmas party, Charleston
Dec. 19—3 p.m., Diocesan Employee Christmas party, Charleston
Dec. 24—Mass, FCI, Bennettsville; 11:30 p.m., Mass, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston
Dec. 30—Bishop Guglielmone’s birthday

 

First same-sex couple married in Charleston

Kristin Anderson and Kayla Bennett exchanged vows today outside the Charleston County Courthouse, becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in South Carolina.

They were among about 11 other couples to receive marriage licenses from Judge Irvin Condon's office by noon of Nov. 19, including the very first one of the morning to Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, who sued in federal court for the right to marry.

Even as licenses were issued, the state moved to halt the proceedings.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson immediately filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a stay on gay marriages in the state until the high court can issue a ruling.

Also, because of continued legal proceedings, other courts are holding off on marriage licenses.

Berkeley County Court will issue licenses after noon on Thursday, the date set by Federal Appeals Judge Richard Gergel, who ruled on Nov. 12 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional but also granted a stay until Nov. 20.

The Charleston court began issuing marriage licenses ahead of that date based on two other rulings that came down on Nov. 18. In the first, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to put Judge Gergel's order on hold. The second came from U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, who ruled in Columbia that South Carolina must recognize gay marriages from other states.

Together, the rulings have led some attorneys to state that same-sex marriage licenses may be issued unless the Supreme Court intervenes, while others urge caution pending a final decision.

A quick decision from the high court was requested by Wilson. Until that time, Greenville County Probate Court said it will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to news reports, Probate Judge Deborah Faulkner said as long as the case remains in the courts, there is a legal impediment preventing gay marriages.

The issue has some people questioning whether or not their churches will be required to allow same-sex marriages.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said court decisions have no bearing on the Catholic Church.

"Our Catholic faith upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction," the bishop said in a statement. "Regardless of any civil court ruling, the Catholic Church teaches and will continue to teach that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman which bonds them for life. This teaching is not a judgment about persons who experience same-sex attraction, but a statement about how the Church has always understood the nature of marriage itself.”

 

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