VINCENTIAN SISTERS OF CHARITY, CLEVELAND, 1928
QUEEN OF HEAVEN
The congregation of Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Bedford, Ohio, was established in September 1928 by Bishop Joseph Schrembs of the Diocese of Cleveland for the needs of a large Slovak population in the area. He applied to the Vincentian Sisters in Pittsburgh but permission had to be granted from the Congregation in Szatmar, Rumania, to which the Pittsburgh community was still attached. Permission was granted and five sisters left Pittsburgh for Bedford, Ohio. The Vincentian Sisters of Charity trace their origins to Empress Caroline of Austria who adapted the original rule of St. Vincent de Paul in founding the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul on September 15, 1835. It was this foundation in Austria from which the sisters in Szatmar, Rumania, came and migrated to America where five sisters established the Vincentian Sisters of Charity in 1902 in Pittsburgh to minister to Slovak immigrants.
Mary, Queen of Heaven,
a wooden carving
The Bishop of Cleveland, Joseph Schrembs, offered the sisters an estate on the outskirts of Cleveland with the provision that they establish a novitiate there and teach in his growing Slovak parishes. The first two women to enter the community as postulants came on September 15, 1928 and were joined by another on October 28. From 1929 to 1939 the Pittsburgh community supported and nurtured its Bedford extension until the latter became an autonomous community in 1939. The membership had grown to 65 sisters in ten years. Mother Mary John Berchmans Fialko was appointed the first General Superior in 1939, a position which she held until her death in 1959.
In 1935, when there was a sufficient number of sisters who had received their teaching training, the first two schools were opened. Although the primary purpose of the community was to minister to Slovak immigrants, the commitment to elementary education extended to non-Slovak parishes in the suburbs as the Diocese expanded. By the 1960s, the Vincentian Sisters operated a total of eighteen elementary schools in the Cleveland and Youngstown dioceses. They can recall providing food for struggling families and teaching young immigrant mothers how to shop. Although their primary mission was elementary education, particularly in immigrant parishes in Cleveland, the Vincentian Sisters also entered the fields of nursing and care for the elderly since the early days of the congregation's founding. Sisters also administered and taught in parish schools of religion, and worked in domestic services at Borromeo Seminary, the Bishop's Residence, and the Cathedral Rectory until the late 1970s. The Vincentian Sisters owned and operated Lumen Cordium High School for Girls from 1963 to 1987 at which time the building was retro-fitted as an assisted living facility for the elderly still operated by the community. Several sisters have served as nurses in Catholic hospitals and one municipal hospital in the Cleveland area. They staff Villa Sancta Anna, a nursing home in Beachwood, Ohio. One nurse is assisting in the organization of a home health care program which is parish-based in Pineville, Kentucky. Another sister in Pineville teaches in the adult literacy program. These missions took place in the 1970s and early 80s. More recently, the teaching mission of the Vincentian Sisters includes one associate professor and one assistant professor in two Cleveland Catholic colleges. One of these teachers is also a free-lance writer. In addition to parish ministries, some congregation members are responding to the expressed need of many laity for retreats and spiritual direction. The community's property is particularly conducive for this ministry since it has a small retreat house and a small prayer room, known as a poustinia.