Daughters of Charity leave their mark on Austin
By Peggy Moraczewski
During the Great Depression, Daughters of Charity Sister Philomena Feltz saw Jesus in the eyes of Austin’s poor and knew immediately what God was asking her to do. As supervisor in the dietary kitchen at Seton Infirmary, she opened the back door and started feeding people. Thus began her famous “soup line” and 60 years of service in Austin.
Inspired by the Gospel reading of the loaves and fishes, and with the assistance of other Daughters of Charity and Ladies of Charity, Sister Feltz’ “soup line” expanded to delivering groceries and clothing to needy families. Many people were touched by her ministry during the Depression, but possibly none more than teenager Matt Martinez.
Under her guidance in the Seton kitchen, young Martinez learned how to cook on a large scale. Years later, combining this skill with wife Janie’s incredible talent for cooking, the couple opened Matt’s El Rancho Restaurant in 1952. Recently, this family-owned business celebrated 62 years in Austin. Sister Feltz became a lifetime friend who attended every special family gathering and even helped name their children.
Sister Feltz was the longest serving Daughter of Charity in Austin and received many community accolades, most recently having a street named in her honor in the Mueller development of Austin. An excerpt from her obituary quotes her saying, “We were taught to see Christ in people. And, if you do that, you treat them as you would Christ.” For Sister Feltz (1910-1999), life was not about accolades, but about awareness and a willingness to help the needy.
Sister Gertrude Levy
After working for 77 years, 94-year-old Daughters of Charity Sister Gertrude Levy has no intention of retiring. As part of the Daughters of Charity’s withdrawal from Austin, Sister Levy recently relocated to Indiana.
“People sometimes ask me if I am ready to retire, and I just say no, there’s still too much to do. When it’s time for me to quit, I will die,” she said.
More than 40 years ago, Sister Levy began working in the newly created fundraising department of Seton Hospital in Austin. Knowing she needed God’s help to be successful, she prayed while addressing requests for donations. Reflecting on this practice, God answered her prayers many times over, she said.
During her first year on the job in 1972, a man approached her and said he wished to make a donation to Seton as an anniversary gift to his wife. His generosity provided more than financial support. It gave Sister Levy the needed encouragement and confidence that she was doing the right thing.
A few years later, as part of the Seton fundraising staff tasked with raising $1.5 million to build a neonatal intensive care unit, Sister Levy went to work writing personal letters to potential donors. Within months, this once considered unattainable goal was met. No other Austin charity had raised more than $1 million dollars prior to that time.
Although diminutive in stature, Sister Levy proved to be a powerhouse in fundraising. On her 80th birthday, an endowment fund was created in her honor. She considers this fund a tremendous blessing, knowing it will serve the poor of Central Texas for many generations to come.
Sister Levy currently resides in Indiana with one of her biological sisters, also a Daughter of Charity. Her plans include volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville.
Mass of Thanksgiving
A farewell Mass for the Daughters of Charity will be celebrated July 11 at 3 p.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. Bishop Joe Vásquez will celebrate Mass in thanksgiving for the Daughters of Charity who have ministered in the Diocese of Austin throughout the years. All the Daughters who served Central Texas over the years have been invited.