September 13 was a special day at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. As part of their celebration of the 40th anniversary of the canonization of Mother Seton, Seton Heritage Ministries hosted a gathering of sisters from the congregations of the Charity Federation. There were tours of the Shrine, its museum, and the historic houses in which Mother Seton and her Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s lived in the early 1800s. In addition, the Provincial Archives, along with our fellow Federation archives, arranged a special display of copies of the Federation congregations’ Rules, nineteenth-century documents that defined the religious characteristics and activities of their early sisters.
Some of these Rules clearly trace back to a single source: a manuscript copy of St. Vincent de Paul’s Regulations for the Daughters of Charity, the community he began in Paris in 1633. In August of 1811, Bishop Benedict Flaget brought the volume to Emmitsburg where it was adapted by Rev. John Dubois, founder of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Then, with the approval of Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore and Rev. John Tessier, the new “American Rule” (Image 1) was presented to and accepted by Elizabeth Ann Seton and her community on 17 January 1812. In brief, this new Rule was clearly crafted for women religious working in the New World.
The Provincial Archives is privileged to have among its Rare Books the copy of the Vincentian Rule brought over by Bishop Flaget as well as the original American Rule accepted by Mother Seton. We shared those precious links to Setonian and Vincentian heritage with other Federation archivists who graciously brought their own copies of their Rules for the display. In addition to Emmitsburg’s , on exhibit were original copies of the Rules of the Sisters of Charity of New York (Image 2); the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, New Jersey (Image 3); and a scan of the first page of the Rules for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, KY (Image 4). In this blog, we share those images along with others from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati (Image 5) and the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Charleston, S.C. (Image 6).
By comparing and contrasting the various Rules, one finds that the links among the Charity congregations are as rich as threads in a tapestry. For example, Bishop Flaget, then prelate of neighboring Bardstown, KY, brought to Catherine Spaulding’s congregation in Nazareth a copy of the same Rule accepted by Elizabeth Ann Seton’s community; Mother Spaulding, however, chose to adapt theirs slightly differently– and in definitely more “American” English. Showing yet another link is a page from the manuscript of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati’s Rule which bears the language of the approvals of both Archbishop Carroll and Rev. Tessier given to the Seton document in 1812. Finally, the Rule for the South Carolina Sisters shows a link to Emmitsburg via Bishop John England of Charleston, who had procured a copy and proposed it for the congregation of Sisters which he started in 1829.
Our thanks to the archivists of the Sisters of Charity of New York, Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth for granting permission to share images from their Rules. Thanks to Sr. Noreen Neary, archivist of the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, for assisting with the Rules display at the National Shrine.