Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
History of the SCNs
For over two hundred years, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) have dedicated their lives to education, health care, and social work. With an emphasis on simplicity, humility, and charity, SCNs live out the motto Caritas Christi Urget Nos –The Love of Christ Impels Us.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were founded in 1812. Mother Catherine Spalding, along with Bishop John Baptist David, are honored together and remembered as co-founders of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
In 1812, in the newly-formed diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, Bishop Benedict Flaget was overwhelmed by the responsibility of providing religious education for the children of Catholic families who had migrated to Kentucky from Maryland after the Revolutionary War. In response to this need, Father John Baptist David called for young women willing to devote their lives to the service of the Church. From among a group of six women that responded to the call, Catherine Spalding, originally from Maryland, was elected first superior of the Congregation. For 45 years, Mother Catherine guided the young Congregation, ever mindful of striving to respond to the needs of the time.
In 1814, the Sisters opened a one-room school at St. Thomas Farm, near Bardstown. The first Kentucky home for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, a log house, along with the church are still standing at St. Thomas. In 1822, the Sisters moved to Nazareth and built a new school. Within a decade, the school known as Nazareth Academy could accommodate one hundred boarders at its new location over three miles north of Bardstown, the site of the present Motherhouse.
In Louisville, Kentucky, Mother Catherine opened Presentation Academy in 1831, the first Catholic school in the city. In 1832, classes were interrupted by the cholera epidemic when the Sisters volunteered to nurse victims and care for the orphaned. When the epidemic subsided, the Sisters opened St. Vincent Orphanage and St. Joseph Infirmary, firsts among their institutions of social service and health care. By the middle of the 20th century, members of the Congregation were engaged in two colleges, more than 30 high schools, and over a 100 elementary schools. Countless children were given homes in six orphanages, and thousands of patients received care in 12 hospitals. Six nurses’ training schools extended the SCN service.
Over the centuries, SCNs have earned a reputation for a readiness to respond and willingness to take risks. During the Civil War, the Sisters nursed wounded and dying soldiers on both sides in military hospitals in Kentucky. During the Civil Rights movement, our Sisters were recognized for their work in trying to bring equality to all. SCNs have cared for patients with cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, influenza, and the victims of natural disasters including floods, hurricanes, and a tsunami.
In the 1980s, the Sisters were among the few organizations reaching out to those with the HIV/AIDS infection at a time when little was known about the illness. SCNs were the first in Kentucky to open up their nursing home to AIDS patients — changing the law to make it possible. Since 1986, Nazareth Home has offered long-term care for persons with AIDS and support for their families. In 1993, four SCNs served on the founding board of directors for the first non-profit in Kentucky serving women and children with AIDS, the House of Ruth.
Long before many organizations were “going global” and embracing diversity, SCNs were doing just that. Ministries beyond the United States began to take root in the 1940s. Currently, in addition to ministry in the United States, SCNs live and minister in India, Nepal, Belize, and Botswana. In each of these countries SCNs are working in health care, education, social work, and advocacy.
Our roots in India date back to 1947, when six Sisters left Nazareth bound for Mokama in order to open up a hospital as well as a clinic to treat people with leprosy. Today, in addition to hospitals and outpatient clinics, SCNs across India are working in schools, offering adult education, encouraging community development, overseeing programs for those with disabilities, and helping to empower and educate women and families. Groundbreaking programs in cottage industry, microfinance, and the prevention of domestic violence are underway. Among the programs receiving recognition is an SCN ministry geared toward rescuing women from prostitution including the creation of safe housing for their children in order to break the cycle of victimization.
In 1975, Sisters began outreach to those living in Belize, Central America. SCNs have been involved in Parish ministries and retreats, lay leadership training for Church ministry, physical therapy training, adult literacy programs and social services in cities and rural villages. Through collaboration with other organizations, SCN family members are also building homes for persons or people living in poverty, working in health clinics in rural areas, and creating new educational programs.
In 1979, SCNs began ministries in Nepal. There are SCNs working in schools, caring for those who have physical or cognitive challenges, and overseeing adult literacy classes and training in marketable skills and cottage industries. Countless families have improved their lives through SCN empowerment programs and human rights education. Our Sisters have ministered in Nepal during tumultuous times, including civil unrest.
Though globally minded since the 1940s, in 1995, the Mission Statement of the SCNs formally proclaimed the international nature of the Congregation and ministry in a multicultural world. The Sisters and Associates commit themselves to work for justice in solidarity with oppressed peoples, especially the economically poor and women and to care for the earth.
In 2000, SCNs began ministry in Botswana, Africa. Botswana is believed to have one of the highest known rates of the HIV/AIDS infection in the world. An estimated 1 out of every 3 people are currently living with the disease. SCNs are involved in health care, education, providing pastoral and social services for those infected and affected by AIDS; daycare for those children most in need, including those orphaned by AIDS; and overseeing a very active youth ministry. In 2010, the Sisters celebrated 10 years of ministry in Botswana and were part of the opening of a groundbreaking facility, a hospice, the first of its kind in the area. Our Sisters have been involved in immensely needed and life-giving ministries in Jwaneng, Lobatse, Kanye, Nthantlhe, and Metsimotlhabe. In 2003, discussions began with the Vincentian Sisters of Charity (VSCs) located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, regarding the possibility of a merger of the VSCs into the SCN Congregation. In that same year, for the first time, a Sister from the Eastern Province was elected President of the SCN Congregation, a testament to the mission of the Congregation, to be “an international congregation in a multicultural world.” Shalini D’Souza, SCN, a native of Bombay, India took office September 1, 2003.
In November of 2008, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania formally merged into the SCN Congregation. Now, as one Congregation, ministries expanded as the number of Sisters and Associates and the diversity of outreach programs increased. The pioneer Sisters of Pittsburgh, with Mother Emerentiana Handlovits, their appointed superior, came to the United States in 1902 from Szatmar, Austria-Hungary, at the request of Rev. Adalbert Kazincy, a priest from St. Michael Parish in Braddock, Pennsylvania. These five Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, subsequently known as the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, were dedicated to the work of God in teaching and ministering to the sick. Their primary mission was to work among the vast number of Slovak immigrants in the area. The membership and ministries of the Congregation quickly grew from teaching children in the parochial schools of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the founding of Vincentian High School to establishing hospitals, long-term healthcare facilities, and a child development center. Eventually their ministries expanded throughout the United States, including work among impoverished Black Americans in Alabama, then, into parts of Canada and later into Talara Alta, Peru.
As the SCNs begin their third century of ministry, the Motherhouse and central offices of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are still located on the same property the Congregation moved to in 1822. The SCN family has grown to include Associates, SCN volunteers, employees, friends, donors, and people around the world working in ministry. Ever mindful of the SCN mission statement, SCN Family members around the world are committed “…to work for justice in solidarity with oppressed peoples, especially the economically poor and women, and to care for the earth. We risk our lives and resources, both personally and corporately, as we engage in diverse ministries in carrying out this mission.”