GLOVERVILLE—For nearly 40 years, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul have been a beacon of hope for residents of the Horse Creek Valley region of Aiken County.
Working out of Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Center, they provide a wide range of assistance to residents of the area, which has long been one of the poorest in the state. Each week dozens of people flock to the food pantry, GED classes, and popular activities for seniors. Other programs aid residents with utility bills and other needs, and help them navigate the often-confusing maze of applying for food stamps and other benefits.
Sometime in early 2017, however, their work will come to an end.
Their community, based in St. Louis, Mo., will send the three sisters who currently live and work in Gloverville to another assignment, and people wonder who will take over their ministry.
Sister Catherine Marie Lowe, director since 2012, says the work has become almost too much for the three of them. Sister Patricia Nee and Sister Joan Ann Barrett help her with the programs.
“We are getting older and there are some health concerns,” she said. “Our community can’t provide the additional sisters we need to help us, and I can no longer do everything I’m being asked to do. We can’t keep up the pace and there is a lot of work to be done here.”
The sisters learned they would be leaving in May. Since then, Sister Catherine Marie has been exploring options to keep the ministry going without disruption. She is talking with churches and social service agencies in the region about ways to keep the center staffed, and has also spoken with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone about finding a new community of sisters to take over.
Our Lady of the Valley center was founded in 1939 by Msgr. George L. Smith as a ministry to the poor in the valley, where people have struggled since the Great Depression. The 18-mile stretch of small towns was once home to a string of textile mills, but unemployment and poverty have grown worse in recent years as all of the mills shut down one by one, the last in 2006.
The outreach was originally called the Horse Creek Valley Handicraft and Welfare Center and was the first social service agency in the region. Women religious have run things since the beginning. It was first staffed by Sisters of Christian Doctrine, who taught kindergarten for area children, cared for the sick in their homes, and started service programs and recreational programs for children. They were followed by Franciscan sisters, who served from 1969-74.
The Daughters of Charity arrived in 1977, and under their care the outreach has grown remarkably.
The center operates out of one main wooden building and four other structures on the property adjacent to Our Lady of the Valley Church. Five days a week, workers from the Aiken County Council on Aging host activities for senior citizens, ranging from health screenings and exercise sessions to movies.
A dedicated group of staff members and volunteers runs the food pantry on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays more than 40 people study for their GED in two classrooms on the property.
“We’ve seen the most increased need for the GED, and we’re serving students of all ages, from teenagers to those in their 40s,” Sister Catherine Marie said. “It’s been wonderful to see the impact we have. Many of the younger students gain different perspectives on the importance of education when they see how hard the older students work.”
People may apply for emergency assistance three days a week, and on Saturdays senior citizens receive food from the Brown Bag program.
Sister Catherine Marie oversees the daily operations, and the other two sisters help where they are needed.
Under her leadership, the property has also undergone a facelift. The sisters’ convent house was completely renovated, classroom buildings were expanded, and plans are underway to construct a permanent building to house the food pantry and classrooms, where people learn about health, nutrition and cooking. In recent years, the center has also received help from other churches and community organizations.
The sisters don’t know exactly when they will leave Gloverville, but it will likely be in the spring or early summer of 2017. In the meantime, the hungry and the needy will continue to receive the help they need, and Sister Catherine Marie will continue to search for new workers to help the poor.
“I need to find somebody new and I need to find them fast,” she said. “It’s like we’re making the right move at the wrong time, because we’ve recently made so many changes and expanded our connection with the community. But it’s time to go. I’ve enjoyed my time down here and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but this is the right move.”
Top photo, Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Daughters of Charity Sister Catherine Marie Lowe, who has served as director of Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Center since 2012, works with Ernest Settler, a social worker from Aiken who volunteers at the center.