Posts Tagged ‘Sisters of Charity’

A rich New Yorker becomes the nation’s first saint

December 24, 2011

Born into a prominent Episcopalian family at 8 State Street in 1774, Elizabeth Ann Bayley had lots of material comforts.

Yet she was a spiritual child, and very aware of the city’s impoverished.

She brought food to the poor and visited the sick, continuing to do so after she married and moved to Wall Street.

“The poverty and destitution of New York worried the sensitive girl, who, with her sister-in-law, daily journeyed to homes where help was needed, and where they came to be known as the Protestant sisters of charity,” explains a 1931 New York Times article.

In 1802, she sailed to Italy, where she was introduced to Catholicism—and where her businessman husband, William Seton, died.

Back in New York and struggling financially with five children, she found solace in the church—converting to Catholicism in 1805 at the city’s only Catholic church at the time, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street.

“The last 16 years of her life was given over to good works,” said the Times.

She founded the Sisters of Charity, opening the first Catholic schools and orphanages in the U.S. in New York, Philadelphia, and Maryland.

She died of tuberculosis at 46 in 1821. Pope Paul IV canonized her in 1975—the first U.S.-born saint.

Though her remains are entombed in a shrine in Maryland, a shrine in her name exists at 7 State Street (above), next door to her childhood home.

St. Vincent’s Hospital’s humble beginning

August 16, 2010

We know how the story of St. Vincent’s ends, but few of the recent media reports on the hospital’s demise focused on its auspicious start.

That was in 1849, when four nuns from the newly formed Sisters of Charity rented a building at bucolic West 13th Street and Seventh Avenue and brought in 30 beds to treat sick New Yorkers.

After outgrowing those quarters in 1856, they moved to a former orphanage at country-like 11th Street and Seventh Avenue. [New York Public Library illustration, right]

The Sisters admitted patients regardless of religion—and ability to pay. The finest doctors from Bellevue also worked there. And true to the Sisters of Charity name, St. Vincent’s had a soup kitchen.

“But there is one unique form of charity, begun nine years ago, that distinguishes St. Vincent’s from all the other hospitals in the city. It is the feeding of a large number of tramps and other destitute persons,” reports an 1892 New York Times article.

“At morning, noon, and night may be seen gathered in the basement area of the Eleventh Street building a crowd of persons in all stages of poverty and uncleanliness. They are waiting for their turn to be admitted to a narrow hall in the basement to get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread.”

[Left, a Library of Congress photo of St. Vincent’s in the 1970s, before the 1980s-era ER replaced the two buildings closest to Seventh  Avenue and 11th Street]