November 15, 2008, will long be remembered as an historic day for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. On that fall day, 109 Vincentian Sisters of Charity transferred their vows, becoming Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The ceremony was the culmination of years of dialogue, discernment and discussion between the SCNs from Nazareth, Ky., and the VSCs from Pittsburgh, Pa. Hundreds of Sisters, Associates, and friends gathered in the Chapel in Pittsburgh to take part in the Eucharistic Celebration of the Transfer of Vows.
The day was rich in symbolism as portraits of both Mother Catherine Spalding (foundress of the SCNs) and Mother Emerentiana Handlovits (foundress of the VSCs), were carried in during the entrance procession and prominently displayed near the altar. The blessing and sprinkling of water was also quite moving. The water was from Catherine’s Spring in St. Thomas, Ky., the Well on St. Vincent Hill in Pittsburgh and St. Vincent de Paul’s place of birth in Dax, France.
Most Reverend David A. Zubik, DD, recounted the histories of both Congregations, and how each while carrying out their ministries, have always had a willingness to open their arms wide in the example of Jesus. “How broad must be the smile of Christ upon us this day, how broad must be the smile of Vincent de Paul, how broad must be the smile of Louise de Marillac, how broad must be the smile of Mother Catherine, how broad must be the smile of Mother Emerentiana, and how broad the smile will be on the faces of all those people yet to be served by you in the name of Christ and with the virtue of charity.”
Calling the name of each of the Pittsburgh Sisters, President Mary Elizabeth Miller, SCN, invited each one to recite vows as Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The mood in the chapel, described by many as “electric,” became even more palpable as Leadership gathered before the altar to welcome each new SCN with hugs and to present each Sister with a copy of the SCN Constitutions and an SCN pin.
Sisters from around the world felt connected to the celebration as they watched the service on their computers via live webcast. At Nazareth, nearly 60 Sisters gathered in St. Vincent Church to view the celebration. When the Pittsburgh Sisters took vows as SCNs, the Sisters at Nazareth stood up to renew their vows.
Western Province Vice-Provincial Brenda Gonzales, SCN, describes the November weekend as an exciting time because people were able not only to connect via the Internet but also face-to-face. Among the dozens of Sisters who traveled to Pittsburgh from around the world for the Mass, were two busloads of SCNs from Nazareth. Sisters in Pittsburgh eagerly waited outside St. Louise Convent to greet the Sisters from Kentucky, and when the buses began pulling up, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
The weekend was also an emotional time. Sister Kelly O’Mahony, one of the Pittsburgh Sisters who transferred her vows, experienced a range of emotions including excitement about the future. “Through the Sisters of Charity Federation, I’ve known of the SCNs since my initial formation in the VSC Congregation, but I never imagined that I would some day be one with them. It’s awesome to know I share in the heritage of the SCN pioneer spirit. Having met SCNs from India and Belize and to know them now as ‘my Sister’ deepens and broadens my concern for women around the world who are my Sisters in Christ. Our coming together also strengthens the bond of the world-wide Vincentian family.”
The Pittsburgh Sisters currently serve in the dioceses of Cleveland and Steubenville, Ohio; Madison, Wis.; Montgomery, Ala.; Venice, Fla.; St. Catherine, Ontario, Canada; and Greensburg and Pittsburgh, Pa. The SCNs have ministries in the United States, India, Nepal, Central America, and Africa.
Since 2001, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity had been exploring possibilities for the future with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. In 2008, the governing bodies of both Congregations unanimously voted in support of becoming one Congregation. The necessary documents were sent to Rome and a Decree of Merger was received from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Theresa Novak, President of Vincentian Collaborative Services (VCS), recently shared her thoughts about becoming an SCN with the readers of the VCS publication, Insights. “The question might be asked, ‘Why did the Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Pittsburgh make the decision to merge with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth?’ As Vincentian Sisters, our numbers were decreasing and the Sisters wanted to insure that the charism and mission of St. Vincent and St. Louise begun here in Western Pennsylvania in 1902 would continue. The important issue in the life of any Congregation is that the Mission and Charism continue into the next generations. The ministries that we do are necessary and vital to the life of people in the world and in the Church. So, today, we are Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The ministry of Vincentian Collaborative System will continue and we will maintain our name of Vincentian in the Ministry. Our Mission and purpose have not changed. Our history of serving children, the elderly and sick continues and the charism of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac lives on.”
Sister Brenda echoes Sister Theresa and says this is one of the trends in religious life today. “It is out of necessity and a calling to be better stewards of our resources,” says Sister Brenda. “We have finite resources and personnel. By joining together we focus on what is important – ministries and mission. By coming together we can do more.”