Category Archives: Social Work

National Catholic Sisters Week – Sister Christina Keethers

Sister Christina Keethers (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

Sister Christina Keethers (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

In honor of National Catholic Sisters’ week we continue our series highlighting the work of individual Daughters of Charity. The text below comes from an article that appeared in the St. Louis Globe Democrat in April, 1983.

“Looking for Christ in Street People”

It is hard to pull the wool over the aging but clear eyes of Sister Christina Keethers, D.C.

When an elderly woman living alone in a cluttered apartment in Soulard joyfully tells her the sunny fantasy that she had a job offer in California the sister knows better. She knows better when the drunks come to the hall at St. Vincent’s Church for a free meal and try to fake sobriety. She’s heard all the stories, the hard luck tales, and con jobs. The sister knows the score.

For many of the poor, elderly and sick living in the Soulard and La Salle Park area on the city’s Near South Side, Sister Christina’s soft voice carries the clout of authority.

At the age of 82, the sister can walk a much younger man to shame. She has the slightly stooped gait and all the resiliency of a sherpa. For the last 20 years Sister Christina, one of St. Vincent’s street sisters, has worked with the hardest of the hard luck cases. She has helped the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the sick and crippled, the despondent, and always, always the impoverished. She has stared with unflinching eyes at the unseemly; by her own choice she prefers to walk on the dark side of the street.

As might be expected, the sister doesn’t like to talk about herself. She would much prefer attention be focused on “all the others” in her order, who have followed their founder’s directives, often at great risk to their lives.

In an age when it’s wise to look the other way, not to stick your neck out, not to get involved, she follows a decidedly different beat.

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National Catholic Sisters Week – Sister Mary Stella Simpson

Sr. Mary Stella Simpson (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

Sr. Mary Stella Simpson (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

In 1967, at the request of the American Nurses Association, Sr. Mary Stella Simpson moved to Mound Bayou, an African-American community in Mississippi. As a nurse-midwife, her ministry was providing care and education to young mothers. Her work was part of a comprehensive health center which served a 500 square-mile area. While in Mound Bayou, she wrote letters to her community describing her experiences. These letters were collected and published as a book titled Sister Stella’s Babies. The stories below come from that book.

I went to visit an expectant mother who lives in Duncan today … she is the mother of 12, all at home. They live in three small rooms. The children were all in school except the baby – a two-year-old. The house was cold. One gas heater in the middle room made very little heat. I was cold as I talked to the mother, and I had on boots and my all weather coat … The baby was whining, trying to cry. I picked her up and it was like holding a frozen fish. The poor little darling had on a dress – period. So I had to go get something to keep her warm. How can a country as rich as ours have so much poverty? I keep asking myself that question day after day. I could see daylight in places right through the roof and could see anything I chose through the holes in the walls.

Thursday, April 4: I saw an 11-month-old baby who was almost dead from starvation at the clinic yesterday. I have seen pictures of these little starved ones from India and Viet Name but the actual face-to-face encounter is really an experience.

Sunday, October 5: Tonight it is pouring rain, and the lightning is quite lively … There are a few home visits to make tomorrow, so I’ll have to get out my boots, raincoat and other mud gear again. Good old Mississippi! Rain and all, I love her magnolias and her poor.

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National Catholic Sisters Week – Sister Mary Bernadette Szymczak

The week of March 8-14 is National Catholic Sisters Week. This week’s post will highlight the work of Daughters of Charity past and present. Today’s post first appeared in March 2013. Images are used with permission of the Provincial Archives.

Sister Mary Bernadette Szymczak

Sister Mary Bernadette Szymczak

Sister Bernadette Szymczak mural

Mural created in memory of Sister Mary Bernadette Szymczak in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn (Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In September 1971, Sister Mary Bernadette Szymczak was one of five Daughters of Charity who arrived in Brooklyn to work in St. John the Baptist Parish in conjunction with the Vincentian Fathers. At St. John’s, Sr. Mary Bernadette was coordinator of the parish Thrift Shop and Food Pantry, working with neighborhood volunteers to distribute food and clothing to the many needy who come every day. As assistant coordinator of the soup kitchen she managed the preparation of meals, working with the volunteers and serving the 350 to 400 poor, many of them homeless who come daily to be fed. She was also involved in parish life as a Eucharistic minister, CCD teacher, moderator of the Ladies’ Sodality, home visitor, and held flea markets to raise money for the parish. Through all these works she became a well-known figure as an advocate for the poor.

Her obituary appeared in the New York Times. It read, in part:

“ … When the Sisters first came to Brooklyn at the request of the Vincentian priests who ran St. John’s parish, there seemed little need for a soup kitchen. Then came the governmental cutbacks to the poor of 1981, and as the need for food began to soar, Sister Bernadette, who had already established a thrift shop and an adult education program, started the soup kitchen, initially serving 15 or so meals a day. Over the next decade and a half, as the slender woman in the plain blue habit grew frail in her work, she became a neighborhood heroine …”

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