By Sister Caryn Crook
Vocations Minister, Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities
“Rooted in the Gospel we are sisters to all, serving with reverence, justice and compassion.” The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities have expressed this mission statement in many ways since the congregation’s beginnings in Philadelphia in 1855. While the ways that we live and minister have adapted to the changing needs of the world and the Church over the past 162 years, our mission has remained strong.
The three courageous immigrant women who formed this congregation had little idea what would be accomplished when they said yes to God’s call. They began by providing lodging and food to immigrant women who were settling in the neighborhood. As more women took vows and joined the congregation, we expanded our ministries and established hospitals and schools, and assisted the Franciscan Friars in supporting German immigrants in Syracuse, NY. From these three courageous women would come six congregations of women religious, hospitals, schools, orphanages, nursing homes, retreat centers, and ministries to the poor and marginalized. Our ministries would reach far beyond central New York to other states, and Puerto Rico, Kenya, and Peru. Thousands of women entered religious life as sisters in this community; one, Mother Marianne Cope, was canonized a saint.
Today, we continue to help those who are poor find lodging, food, clothing and healthcare. We address the spiritual needs of people as chaplains in hospitals, long term care facilities, detention centers, and homes for the dying and as spiritual directors in parishes. Education also remains an important ministry for the congregation and our sisters are principals, teachers, and assistants as well as school social workers. Many sisters minister in a parish setting as Pastoral Associates, and in Faith Formation and parish outreach.
Among the social justice issues that we address are human trafficking, immigration and care for creation. We use social media to educate ourselves, supporters, policymakers and the general public about human trafficking, to help people recognize the signs that someone is being trafficked and to identify resource centers for victims. We monitor human trafficking-related state and federal legislation and issue calls to action when appropriate.
Part of our care for creation work involves addressing food insecurity — the lack of reliable access to regular sources of affordable, nutritious food. Sister Anne McNulty, of Syracuse, is the coordinator of an urban garden on the site of a former residential housing complex. Last summer, in collaboration with the Brady Faith Center, the farm provided healthy food for those in need living on Syracuse’s south side.
Our sisters continue to support those who come to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Sisters Beth Niederpruem and Mary Reichelderfer, both of Buffalo, work with Vive, which provides lodging, food, clothing, counseling, and legal assistance to individuals and families seeking asylum in the U.S. and Canada. Sister Suzanne Susany, of Pittsburgh, is an immigration attorney, working to ensure that newcomers to our nation have access to due process of law.
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities continue to seek women who want to grow in relationship with God, serve God’s people, and continue our mission. When sisters trust in God and pool their spiritual, mental, physical, and financial resources, much can be accomplished. Learn more about joining us at www.sosf.org.
This year’s National Catholic Sisters Week takes place March 8–14. “Created to honor women religious, it is a series of events that instruct, enlighten, and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women,” according to nationalcatholicsistersweek.org. National Catholic Sisters Week is supported by a $3.3 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, is headquartered at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., and is held in conjunction with National Women’s History Month.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet will offer a look at their community and a NCSW event in an upcoming issue of the Sun.