THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF SAINT AUGUSTINE
Bishop Rappe, eagerly awaiting the Sisters' arrival, had written in the spring, "Come, my children, I have now prepared a place for you. On it is good spring water and good fresh air." The house on the eight acres, though, was still occupied on October 10, 1851 when the Sisters came to Cleveland. However, the Ursuline Nuns, who had come to the city frorr Boulogne just the year before, received them as guests and provided religious training for the postulants. Within two weeks, Sister Bernardine and Sister Francoise began living with individual families so that they could better visit the sick and poor in their homes. Cleveland's first public health nurses were soon a familiar sight in the city, and people called them "angels" because of their white habits.
By March, 1852, the Sisters were able to move into their small, two-story frame house ii the fresh air of the country, Ohio City. In August, they opened Saint Joseph's on the same site, the first public hospital in what later became part of the city of Cleveland. The encounter with the hardships of a pioneer land, an unfamiliar language, a historically severe winter, and failing health were perhaps the reasons why Sisters Bernardine and Francoise obtained permission to return to France in September, 1852.
Bishop Rappe then turned to Sister Ursula Bissonette, an Ursuline novice, for assistance in continuing the work he had begun, which had already attracted two more young women. Sister Ursula made her profession as a Sister of Charity in the chapel of the Ursuline convent on October 21, 1852—adding a fourth vow to devote herself to works of charity—and in the afternoon became, at age 35, the superior of the new American community.
By 1856, a number of considerations forced the closing of Saint Joseph Hospital, and the entire building was used by the orphans until Saint Vincent Orphanage was completed in 1859.
Later, additional room was again needed for the orphans and 100 boys and several Sisters moved to Saint Louis Orphanage, Louisville, Ohio. The original convent continued to house a few patients and the elderly remaining from the hospital until the present Saint Vincent Charity Hospital was opened in 1865. "Charity towards the poor," said Bishop Rappe at the dedication, "was ever to be the motto of the hospital." To continue this charitable service, Charity Hospital added a school of nursing. On a cold winter's night in 1873, a widow about to deliver a child was taken in and the Sisters began Saint Ann Hospital and Infant Home, first near Charity Hospital and later on Woodland Avenue.
Though by the turn of the century, Sister Saint Joseph, the last of the pioneer Sisters, had died, she had lived long enough to see a community of over one hundred Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine established in a new Motherhouse in Lakewood, Ohio. From this center, the expansion of the works of health, education, and welfare in Cleveland and other areas continued.
Prior to the opening of Saint Thomas Hospital, made possible by the financial contributions of the people of the area, Akron was the largest city in the country without a Sisters' hospital. In addition to directing and staffing the hospital and nursing school in 1928, the willingness of the Sisters in 1939 to respond to a new need caused St. Thomas to be the first general hospital to open its doors to Doctor Bob Smith, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, when he brought his first patient.
Although the education of orphans had been undertaken from the early days and was under the supervision of the diocesan superintendent of schools, other elementary and high school education was not begun until 1922 when Bishop Joseph Schrembs formally requested the Sisters to prepare themselves to staff schools.
Established to organize the charitable services of the diocese on a sound financial basis, the Catholic Charities Corporation freed the Sisters from the constant struggle of trying to raise sufficient funds while caring for the sick and unfortunate. One of the first acts of Catholic Charities in 1925 was to re-locate all the orphans cared for by the Sisters at Saint Vincent and at Saint Louis Orphanages on 180 acres which became known as Parmadale, the nation's first cottage-plan home for dependent children.
The years surrounding the centennial of the Community witnessed the expansion of Charity and Saint Thomas Hospitals; the building of Timken-Mercy Hospital Canton; the development of a new Saint Ann Hospital separate from De Paul Infant Home. In addition Sisters continued on the faculty of Saint John College; engaged in Confraternity of Christian Doctrine work in parishes and missions; and cared for pre-school children at Saint Edward Home, across from Parmadale. The growing needs of the Community were met by purchase of 350 acres in Richfield for a new Motherhouse, completed in 1957, to train the young sisters and care for the retired.
Pope John XXIII in opening the Second Vatican Council in the fall of 1962 called the whole Church to renew itself in, order "to be found increasingly faithful to the gospel of Christ," The Sisters of Charity, like all religious communities, revitalized themselves by returning to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration of its founders, making necessary adjustments in their living and service, adapting to the conditions of the times. Sisters today find new ways of serving the sick including various types of nursing and patient education, pastoral care, social service as well as other administrative and staff positions in health care. Recognizing the mutuality between the Sisters and lay people who share the CSA charism of charity, an Associate program was initiated in 1985.
In 1982 CSA Health and Human Services was created to strengthen each of the CSA-sponsored health facilities. But the rapidly changing health care environment, especially in the northeastern Ohio area, caused the CSA Health System to engage in a series of strategic planning efforts which culminated in a decision to seek a partner in order to strengthen Catholic health care. Many efforts were made to first seek a Catholic partner and then one who would support Catholic values. Ultimately, in 1996, the hospitals of the CSA Health System became 50-50 partners with Columbia-HCA, an investor owned company. The ethical and religious values of Catholic health care and the spirit and philosophy of CSA continued to be carried out in the partnerships. As a result of the funds received from Columbia-HCA for 50% of the hospitals, three new Sisters of Charity Foundations have been established in the Cleveland, Canton and Columbia, SC areas. This exciting new ministry enables CSA to continue to address unmet human needs. The St. Ann foundation continues its mission in conjunction with the Sisters of Charity Cleveland Foundation.
As the 140th Anniversary of the Community was celebrated, construction for Regina Health Center, a 7.5 million dollar innovative health care and assisted-living facility for retired religious, was completed. Renovating the existing motherhouse building provided an 81-bed skilled and intermediate care nursing unit and a 73-bed assisted living unit with a full range of geriatric services for retired female and male religious. A unique aspect of this project is the collaboration with other religious communities and diocesan officials in the assessment and planning for this intercommunity residence.
In spite of the difficulties and struggles, responsible and creative stewardship of Community resources, increased collaboration with others in ministry, and an expanded world vision have been the hallmarks of these past four decades. The Sisters of Charity, extending their charism of charity, continue to consciously plan for the future, setting goals with compassion toward the needs of people and a mature faith in the providence of the Lord.
Sr. Mary Denis Maher, CSA
SURELY I CAN do this for God. I am free. No earthly tie binds me. Yes, I will go to America and care for the little Indians" reasoned 24-year old Mademoiselle Louise Brulois, a postulant in the Augustinian Sisters at Saint Louis Hospital, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. No matter that Cleveland, Ohio, in 1851 was nearly as devoid of Indians to convert as it was full of immigrants with ship fever and forgotten orphans to be cared for.
The Most Reverend Amadeus Rappe, first Bishop of Cleveland, long aware of the need for establishing a hospital staffed by Sisters, had tried unsuccessfully in his native France to obtain Sisters. Finally directed to Sister Bernardine Cabaret, superior of Saint Louis Hospital, he found her an enthusiastic volunteer. Though the Sisters at the hospital were reluctant to let her go, they responded to Sister Bernardine's spirit of sacrifice and unanimously remittec the remainder of her term as superior. Having earlier secured the assistance of Sister Francoise Guillement, she had now convinced Louise Brulois and another postulant, 20 year-old Cornelie Muselet, to join in the missionary venture.