Editor’s Note: This is a continuing series on religious orders serving in the Diocese of Charleston.
The Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius are a national congregation of women religious who serve in six different states.
They have been in South Carolina since 1946, when they were invited by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh and diocesan leaders to spread the Gospel through education.
The sisters have worked at a number of schools across the state. Most notably, they have served Blessed Sacrament, Nativity, and Bishop England in Charleston, and Divine Redeemer in Hanahan, said Sister Pamela Smith, director of the diocesan office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation.
Their latest challenge was to help found St. Gregory the Great School in Bluffton, which opened in 2007.
In the beginning
Father Matthew Jankola (1872-1916) emigrated from Slovakia to America during a time of ethnic cleansing when Hungarians attempted to eradicate the Slovak heritage, language and culture.
During this time in the late 1800s, the majority of Slovaks were Catholic who held tight to their language and customs. This was hard to do, though, because the clergy were educated in seminaries through the Magyar tongue, and priests had to conform to state imposed restrictions in their parishes, according to www.slovakia.org.
More and more people fled the country, and in 1884, American immigration records show an influx of 15,000 Slovaks.
Father Jankola was one of those immigrants. He established the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in 1909 as a religious congregation of teachers whose first purpose was to promote and preserve Slovak faith and culture.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius lived in the ninth century. They were two of seven children from an influential family in Thessalonica, Greece.
In their 20s, the brothers served as Slavic-speaking teachers and missionaries, and St. Cyril developed what is now known as the Cyrillic alphabet.
They devoted themselves to spreading the word of God, and in the course of their many accomplishments, also became founders of Slovak culture.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius wrote down Slovak translations of the Scriptures and of liturgical and catechetical books, and used the vernacular in the liturgy and sacred functions. They were proclaimed co-patrons of Europe along with St. Benedict by Pope John Paul II.
Where in the world
Today the motherhouse is located in Danville, Pa., in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and lists just over 100 sisters.
Sister Pam said they serve in Connecticut, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Texas and South Carolina, which has seven sisters split between schools in Charleston and Bluffton.
They are Sisters Pam, Canice Adams, Mary Anne Nemec, Marilyn Pitonak, Agnes Marie Winter, Judy Therese Holler and Jacqueline Ziobro.
Based on the four areas of evangelization, education, elder care and ecumenism, the congregation has remained true to its initial charism, Sister Pam said.
The charism is listed on their Web site, www.sscm.org, and states in part: “We, the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, live out our call and charism by witnessing to, proclaiming, and building God’s kingdom.”
Sister Pam said they fulfill their call through service in the United State and have only once worked outside the country. After the fall of communism in Slovakia, one of the sisters who was bilingual spent time there to help with the transition.
Fulfilling their mission
When the congregation was first founded, the sisters worked primarily with immigrants from Slovakia and other areas. As a result, they were based in coal mining towns, steel towns and farming areas, Sister Pam said.
Time has passed and most of those working towns have disappeared. But the mission to educate and care for those most in need remains.
“I hope that we will continue to be able to educate children and take care of the elderly and flourish wherever God plants us,” said Sister Canice Adams, principal of St. Gregory the Great.
The order will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Sept. 12, although the official date of their founding is Sept. 11, Sister Canice said.
She said they are planning an event at the motherhouse and have invited people from parishes and schools across the country where the women have taught. All of the sisters will attend, along with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Harrisburg, she said.