A meaningful goodbye

Jun 2-8. 05
VOL 124 NO. 21
A meaningful goodbye
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Daughters of Charity to withdraw service from Cathedral Parish and School.

On Nov. 23, the Daughters of Charity announced to Bishop James Moynihan, Father Joseph Champlin and John Cataldo, Superintendent of Schools, their community’s decision to withdraw from their ministries in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish. The withdrawal includes both the position of Sister Anne Marie Graham, DC, who serves as director of Emergency Services and the position of Sister Donna Smith, DC, who serves as principal of Cathedral School.

At the same time, Cathedral School will be celebrating its 90th anniversary on Saturday, June 18 at the OnCenter.

Changes in the external environment have been a major influence in the decision to withdraw the services of the Daughters of Charity from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish. Like most apostolic religious communities, the Daughters of Charities are experiencing a period of aging and diminishment. “While we believe that all of this is part of a transition time in the Roman Catholic Church, all change of this nature involves loss in order to mine the gains,” said Sister Mary Francis Martin, DC, .Provincial of the Daughters of Charity. “The loss, as we transition to a fuller involvement of all baptized members of the Church, is that religious will let go of their prominent role in church ministries. The gain is that they will still live as authentic, Gospel persons within the Church, sharing leadership and direction in a collaborative way with others. The growing mutuality of influence is a sign of the Church’s growing up to its true mission in our world. Bishop Moynihan, Monsignor Champlin and Mr. Catalado were most gracious in their acceptance and understanding of this decision. The Daughters will continue to work with them in making this a smooth transition to whatever is next for Cathedral Parish.”

Sister Donna Smith, DC, has served as principal of Cathedral School for the past three years and is the only remaining Daughter of Charity serving the school. Sister Donna transferred to Cathedral from Wilmington, Del.

“It’s been hard because I’ve been the only Daughter here, but it’s been wonderful to serve knowing that the sisters have been here before me,” said Sister Donna. “I wonder what it was like for the sisters before me.” Sister Donna is dedicated to and loves the children at the school.

“We are like one big family,” remarked Sister Donna. “The children love to come to school. This is a safe place for them to be.”

After contemplating her service at Cathedral School, Sister Donna said, “Its sad to know that this is the end. It’s hit hard.”

Sister Anne Marie Graham, DC has served at the Catholic Emergency Center since November 2003. The thing she has enjoyed the most since coming from Albany is her interaction with the people who come into the center for assistance. Sister Anne Marie interviews the clients, assisting them with their needs for food and transportation. She enjoys the one-on-one contact with the people she serves.

“It’s been painful to think about leaving the diocese,” said Sister Anne Marie. “The Daughters of Charity have served here for over 100 years. I’m grateful to all the people here. I have a great regard for the people of Syracuse.”

The Daughters of Charity first arrived in Syracuse in 1852, at the request of Father Michael Haas, to begin staffing St. Mary’s School. The sisters occupied a building on Madison Street and dedicated half of it to teaching religion to local Catholic children and used the remainder of the building to shelter orphans. Under this arrangement, 500 children of the parish received religious instruction from the sisters in Sunday school and in extra classes held during the week.

In 1915, with the appointment of Bishop John Grimes, St. Mary’s Cathedral School opened with 183 children in the first six grades with five sisters serving as faculty. In 1919, the high school opened with a registration of 32 pupils, and the faculty increased to 10 members. In June 1923, Bishop Daniel Curley presided at the first graduation exercises of Cathedral High School where 17 students graduated. The Academy functioned as a tuition free school for all children in the parish and nearby parishes without a parochial school. In addition, the sisters offered religious education classes to children attending public school.

A new home for the sisters (the present Cathedral Convent), planned by Bishop Grimes, was completed in October 1927. The altar was blessed and Monsignor James McPeak, Rector of the Cathedral, offered the first Mass in the chapel.

Difficult financial and demographic realities of the 1970s required the diocese to close the high school in 1972. Three years later, grades seven and eight were discontinued.

The sisters have responded to the needs of the local community since the opening of Cathedral School in 1971. Additionally, in 1972, a sister was formally appointed to work in parish ministry to the poor. The sister visited with the local elderly and homeless people. Throughout the history of their presence in the parish, the sisters’ outreach activities included emergency relief services, a friendship club for persons with disabilities and an extended day care program for working families.

The Daughters of Charity have also served outside the City of Syracuse in such programs as the Loaves and Fishes Program in Cortland County, the Opportunity Shop in Canastota, and a formation program for lay ministers in the Diocese of Syracuse.

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