Since its founding by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1809, Sisters of Charity has been prodigious in its mission to reveal the love of Christ by helping people in need. Throughout the New York region, you’ll find schools, hospitals, housing projects, shelters, soup kitchens – and even an organic community farm – founded or sponsored by the order. The Covid-19 pandemic is not the first major public crisis the sisters have responded to in the past two centuries.
“When Covid-19 appeared at our doorstep in mid-March, life as we knew it immediately changed,” says Sr. Donna Dodge, president of Sisters of Charity of New York. “We continued to respond to needs but in a new way. St. Joseph Medical Center in Yonkers stands out because of their untiring efforts to directly care for those with Covid-19. The dedicated and skilled front-line workers were amazing.”
The pandemic affected many programs. For example, Casa de Esperanza, the Sisters of Charity multi-service center, had to continue addressing the needs of its many immigrant families for food, rent, medical assistance and ESL classes, despite the closure of the schools where its services are ordinarily provided. Communication with families by phone became essential.
Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates (LEFSA) carried on its services to those living on the streets by safely distributing food, delivering prayer booklets to shelters, and reaching out to community members in apartments to ensure that they have food and other necessities. At Sisters Hill Farm, a community of volunteers stepped up to help pack farm shares and deliver them to families in need.
For the sisters, perhaps the most difficult part of the crisis has been the physical isolation from one another, especially those who are in nursing homes. “Like so many families living through this pandemic,” Sr. Dodge says, “I feel powerless in not being able to provide comfort to those with dementia or to be and pray with those sisters succumbing to the virus or dying of natural causes. We were unable to give them the send-off they so genuinely deserve after their years of dedicated service.”
Anticipating a continuing economic crisis, the Sisters of Charity are ready for the work still to come. “Since all of our ministries focus on working with those on the margins, we will continue to address the many needs that emerge,” Sr. Dodge says.
Typically, she looks for grace amid the tragedy and rancor of recent times. “I think, or at least I hope, that our world may be coming closer together and, perhaps, heading toward becoming more empathetic and understanding.” Beyond the apostolic work of the order, she says, “There is little else to do at this time except to speak out for what we believe and to continue to pray.”