COLUMBIA—A group of four Sisters of St. John the Baptist recently arrived in the Midlands to begin a new era of ministry in the Diocese of Charleston.
They came to South Carolina in the late summer at the invitation of Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. Their residence is a home they have named the St. Alfonso Maria Fusco Convent in honor of their order’s founder, an Italian priest who was canonized in October 2016.
In 1878, St. Alfonso founded the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, also known as the Baptistines, as a way to educate and help children in a war-torn region of southern Italy. The order spread throughout Italy and Europe and eventually came to the United States in 1906. Today, Baptistine Sisters are in 18 countries, working in education, health care and pastoral ministry.
Sister Angelita Vazzano has been in the order for 54 years. A native of Manhattan, she has done pastoral work, served as a teacher, residential director and dean of students at a Catholic girls’ school, and taught in Chile for three years. In Columbia, she is working with several different programs run by Catholic Charities, including Clean of Heart, which provides laundry services for the homeless. Sister Angelita is also doing prison ministry at Manning Reentry/Work Release Center and hopes to begin working with inmates at the Camille Graham Correctional Institution for Women soon.
Sister Mary Cecile Swanton is currently serving as pastoral associate at St. Joseph Church. A native of Staten Island, she took her vows with the sisters 52 years ago and worked for many years teaching English and religion in elementary and high schools. She also served as director of formation and was the provincial superior for the congregation.
Sister Vitalina Chimari is originally from Zambia and joined the order 37 years ago. She worked in New Jersey and New York as a counselor and teacher before coming to Columbia, where she now is a guidance counselor at St. Peter and St. Martin de Porres schools.
Sister Lucita Bacat is a native of the Philippines who has been in the congregation for 27 years. She taught in elementary and high schools and also served as a high school principal for eight years in New York. Sister Lucita is now teaching seventh grade religion classes and math at Cardinal Newman School.
The four have been overwhelmed by the Southern hospitality that has come their way.
“Everybody has been extremely welcoming, whether they are Catholic or non-Catholic, whether they are people we’re working with or just those we meet on the street,” Sister Mary Cecile said. “Many have told us they are very thankful to see sisters working in the Midlands.”
Photo, Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Four Sisters of St. John the Baptist are now serving in Columbia. They are (left to right) Sister Vitalina Chimari, Sister Mary Cecile Swanton, Sister Angelita Vazzano and Sister Lucita Bacat.