Sister Bridget Sullivan is not the retiring type

JAMES ISLAND — The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy Motherhouse  will have a new general superior June 20 as Sister Bridget Sullivan steps back into the position that she previously held for eight years beginning in 1988.

Sister Bridget is no stranger to the Diocese of Charleston. She has filled positions in the Catholic school system, the hospital system, and has worked extensively under former Bishop David Thompson.

Sister Bridget said that she made the decision to fill the superior position for the second time to use the strong administrative skills that she feels God has given to her.

“I looked at my gifts, and I looked at this community of people that I love and care for.  Although the job can be a challenge at times, I am committed to these sisters whom I love dearly,” she said.

Sister Bridget will take the reins from Sister Anne Francis Campbell, and she looks forward to the coming challenges.

“I have a totally different set of tasks ahead this time,” she said. “The first time I was superior we had hospitals, several missions, and the motherhouse needed to be renovated after it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Hugo. Things aren’t as daunting this time.”

But although the challenges are different, they still exist. Sister Bridget said that one of the biggest hurdles will be addressing the issue of new vocations for the community.

“We are down to only 23 Sisters of Charity from more than 50 back in 1988,” she said. “It has become the focus in the last couple of years to figure out a way to increase the size of the community.”

She explained that this decrease in numbers will pose another challenge that she didn’t face her first time around.

“I like to delegate,” she said. “With the fewness of numbers I will be challenged probably the most.”

She said that, for her, the call to the OLM sisters was one that she had felt since her days in Catholic schools in Charleston.

“The Daughters of Charity taught me all 12 years of my Catholic education,” Sister Bridget said. “When I answered the call on my life to serve the church, the Daughters of Charity were the people I knew. They were so diverse with social work and hospital work. I recognized the range of opportunities.”

It was those opportunities that prompted her decision to join the sisters immediately following her graduation from Bishop England High School in June of 1956.  She explained that making a lifelong commitment to the church was one that involved a huge step of faith.

“When you make the choice to minister in the church, you just know that this is something you want,” she said. It is during the three years of discernment before vows are taken that your decision is really solidified, she added.

The new general superior said that she always knew the importance of helping the poor, and that the United States with all of its wealth shouldn’t have the poverty that it does.

“All of us are God’s children, and we have a major obligation to take care of others,” she said. “We are all called to improve the lives of others, and that is what the Sisters of Charity have been about all along. They started the St. Francis Hospital on virtually nothing. We all have a God-given right to have food, clothing, and health care.”

Sister Bridget looks forward to celebrating her 48th year with the sisters in August. Another celebration that she will oversee is the 175th anniversary of the founding of the OLM Sisters of Charity this year.

“In the late fall we will have an anniversary celebration,” she said. “I have a committee working on the arrangements now. I think it is very important to get everyone involved to make them feel like they are a part.”

For Sister Mary Marcella Zwingmann, it is Sister Bridget’s qualities of leadership that influenced her decision to re-elect her into the position of general superior. Sister Zwingmann also gets great joy out of seeing one of her best students from Bishop England using her talents so effectively.

“[Sister Bridget] has been involved in so many things, and I know that she will do a wonderful job as superior,” said Sister Zwingmann. “She proved what she is capable of in the past, and she has always been such a great friend. We have chosen her at a very important point for the Sisters of Charity. I am confident she will do what has to be done.”