By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His mercy and love endures forever,” said congregation leader for the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine (CSA), Sister Miriam Erb, on the occasion of the order’s sesquicentennial anniversary celebration at St. Joseph Church on Aug. 30. The Old Testament quote adequately described the feelings of the sisters and their supporters who gathered together to give thanks for the countless times God has intervened for them through the years, allowing them to be instruments of his mercy and love.
In the homily, the celebrant, Bishop Robert J. Baker, thanked the sisters for making God’s love present and visible through their religious community’s ministerial work. “If we love one another, God dwells in us and his love is brought to perfection in us,”(John 4:12) said the bishop. “The community of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine has not only known that message of the scriptures, but they have personally put flesh into those words so that other people can know the message concretely in knowing them.”
The healthcare ministry of the sisters began in 1851 when two Augustinian sisters and two novices agreed to leave France and come to Cleveland, Ohio, to open St. Joseph Hospital, the first public hospital in the city at the request of Cleveland Bishop Amadeus Rapp.
In addition to their great accomplishments in Ohio throughout the years, the sisters have had a strong and growing presence in Columbia since 1938, when they first mortgaged their motherhouse in Ohio and came to South Carolina to build Providence Hospital. The area hospital has grown enormously in size and reputation due to the dedication of the sisters and those who supported their efforts. Combined with their newer hospital in northeast Columbia, the sisters today treat more than 130,000 patients annually. Their CSA Health System not only includes the two Columbia hospitals but two others in Ohio. In addition, they also oversee related medical services.
“The past 150 years have been filled with many courageous “firsts by the sisters,” said Stephen Purves, president and CEO of Sisters of Charity Providence Hospitals, mentioning their history of good works included not only the opening community hospitals but also orphanages, schools and a home for unmarried mothers. In this year that the sisters celebrated their 150th anniversary, they were able to regain full ownership of their two Columbia hospitals this summer, demonstrating their continued efforts to improve and expand their services.
During the Mass of Celebration, individuals representing Providence Hospital, Providence Hospitals Auxiliary, CSA Foundation of South Carolina, and Healthy Learners presented their gifts to the sisters in appreciation for their work. A seedling tree representing the “roots of the CSA hospitals, was given by George Younginer, the son of founders, Mr. And Mrs. James Younginer, who gave part of the initial down payment for the parcel of land bought in 1938. Dr. Charlie Devlin, chief of the medical staff of Providence Hospitals, gave a glass heart symbolizing the sisters’ dedication to ministering to the broken hearts.
Another touching gift, a statue of Jesus and the children, came from representatives of Healthy Learners who were accompanied by Keshia Craft, a second-grader at A.C. Moore Elementary who benefited firsthand from the organization’s dental program.
“This celebration gives us an opportunity to share with people in Columbia who have shared with us in our ministry and welcomed us in 1938 and continue to do so today,” said Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA.
James McLawhorn Jr., president and CEO of the Columbia Urban League, was glad to be part of the celebration. He has personally worked with the sisters in a mutual effort to reconnect fathers with their children. “I have been with the Urban League for 20 years, and I have no doubt that the sisters are apart of an anointed calling. They went in an area others were reluctant to go and had to engage in a spiritual battle for lifting up the kingdom of God.”