Daughters of Charity sisters prepare to move on
By Peggy Moraczewski
Everything is big in Texas, including the enduring imprint of the Daughters of Charity. By mid-summer, the last remaining Daughters serving Austin will have relocated to minister in other communities. This is part of who they are and how they abide by the principles of one of their founders, St. Vincent de Paul, who said, "You have to be ready to go wherever you are told to go, and even to request this saying, ‘I belong neither here nor there, but wherever God wants me to be.’ You are chosen to be at the disposition of Divine Providence."
The Daughters of Charity have a long history in Texas, beginning in Jefferson City where they established an elementary school in 1869. Since that time, they have served in numerous ministries, including Marywood (Home of the Holy Infancy), Caritas Clinic, Seton Cove Spirituality Center, three Seton Community Health Centers, the Catholic Center at the University of Texas and Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas.
Due to the success of their local Austin ministries, the Daughters feel confident in relinquishing responsibility to the laity, people who have worked side-by-side with them for decades. An affiliate of the Daughters of Charity, Charles Barnett, Executive Board Chair for Seton Healthcare Family, said, "The Vincentian Family has a history and tradition of heavily relying on laity. The laity, the leadership and associates at Seton, have benefited from the formation by the Daughters that has occurred at Seton. The Daughters’ charism of serving the poor and vulnerable is engrained in Seton and the Daughters’ mission will continue. Despite my confidence, it feels like members of my family are moving away and I, like so many others in Austin, will miss them."
More than a hundred Daughters of Charity have served Austin since responding positively to an invitation to establish a Catholic hospital here in 1902. With the opening of Seton Infirmary, the Daughters of Charity laid the foundation for the Seton Healthcare Family, which has grown to more than 90 clinical locations serving people across Central Texas.
The Seton name has its origins in the history of the Daughters of Charity. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is considered the founder of the Daughters in the U.S. Early in the 19th century, as a young widow with five small children, she formed a group of women to live a simple life of prayer, community and service. She is the first American to be canonized a saint.
Following the lead of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Daughters continue to uphold the vision of their early founders, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac (France, 1633), taking vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and, a fourth vow, of service to persons who are poor.
Sister Catherine Brown has been a Daughter of Charity since 2002. She spent her years in Austin ministering in case management for people with pre-diabetes and diabetes at the Seton Community Health Centers in Central Texas. Her new ministry in Macon, Ga., will be focused on helping the homeless gain access to health care.
In a farewell to Austin, she said, "I love Texas and I am grateful to God every day for my time here. I keep telling people at Seton, they may take me out of Texas but they will never take Texas out of me!"
Daughters of Charity are meant to pray together and live in community, so this move will help solidify an important element of their religious life. Although continuing to serve on the Seton Healthcare Family Board and the Seton Family of Hospitals Board, Sister Helen Brewer has relocated to St. Louis, the headquarters of the St. Louise Province of the Daughters of Charity. She served in Austin for more than 15 years and will work in social services, including at a food pantry and a thrift store.
Sister Gertrude Levy has been a Daughter of Charity since 1936 and served in Austin for the last 40 years, primarily at Seton Medical Center Austin. At 94 years old, she reflected, "I watched my grandfather visit patients in the hospital. He loved the poor." In her new assignment, she carries on this family tradition, volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville, Ind. She resides in an independent living facility with one of her biological sisters, who is also a Daughter of Charity.
The other Daughters leaving Austin include Sister "JT" (Jean Thomas) Dwyer, who will be serving in San Antonio advocating for affordable health care for very low income Texans and the needs of human trafficking victims; Sister Jean Ann Wesselman, graduate of the old Seton School of Nursing and popular volunteer at Seton Southwest Hospital, will volunteer at Providence Hospital in Waco; and Sister Sharon Groetsch, who devoted six years to ministering at Seton Medical Center Austin and the last 23 years at St. Austin Parish, will move to St. Louis, where she hopes to continue working in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and pastoral ministry at a women’s prison.
A farewell Mass for the Daughters of Charity will be July 11 at 3 p.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. Bishop Joe Vásquez will preside and all the Daughters who served our community over the years will be invited. For more information about the Daughters of Charity, visit www.daughtersofcharity.org or the U.S. Vocation website for the Daughters at www.christurgesus.com.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-story series on the Daughters of Charity in Austin. Sisters Philomena Feltz and Mary Rose McPhee will be profiled in the May issue of the Catholic Spirit.