COLUMBIA—The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine are a diocesan order based in Cleveland, Ohio. They first came to South Carolina toward the end of The Great Depression.
Sister Nancy Hendershot, vice president of mission and ministry based at Providence Hospitals, said the tale of how her congregation came to the South started with a young couple visiting California from Columbia.
The wife became critically ill while traveling and was admitted to a Catholic hospital.
While there, both Flora and James Younginer were cared for physically and ministered to spiritually by religious sisters. Mr. Younginer was so impressed by their ministry that he came home filled with a passion to open that same type hospital in Columbia.
Bishop Emmet M. Walsh approved the idea and told the Younginers that if they secured the funding, he would find the sisters.
Sister Nancy said when her congregation agreed to come to what was then a mission area, they also mortgaged their motherhouse to help raise the funds to build Providence Hospital.
“They believed it was God’s will,” she said.
The hospital opened in 1938 and the sisters of St. Augustine have been there ever since.
Sister Nancy said she has served at Providence, which has two locations, for seven years.
“When I came for board meetings, I saw the beauty of the people here and I felt called to join my sisters here,” she said.
At that time, there were three Sisters of St. Augustine in Columbia, but now Sister Nancy is the only one. She said her congregation is small, with about 60 religious, but they succeed in their ministry by working collaboratively with others.
One way they do this is through their associate program, which was initiated in 1985 and had over 50 active members in 2005. Sister Nancy said 12 of those associates are in South Carolina.
“They reflect our spirit wherever they are, in their lives and in whatever they are doing,” she said.
The order also established the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, which among other things, funded the Fatherhood Programs and continues to work with them in 12 locations across the state.
The foundation also began a Leadership Academy to form leaders of non-profit entities, Sister Nancy said.
Another group the sisters support is the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families, which aids the Fatherhood Programs through fundraising and health care assistance.
As part of their outreach to children and their education ministry, the sisters created Healthy Learners, which has centers in the Midlands, Allendale, Dillon, Georgetown and Greenwood. Sister Nancy said they partner with schools to provide glasses, dental and medical care, and counseling for children in need.
“We are always, always looking at the needs of the poor,” she said.
The congregation started out serving the poor in France. They came to America at the request of Most Rev. Amadeus Rappe, the first bishop of Cleveland, who created the diocesan order by recruiting from the Augustinian Sisters at Saint Louis Hospital in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, in 1851.
Sister Bernardine Cabaret, superior of Saint Louis Hospital, brought three other missionaries with her as Cleveland’s first public health nurses. They were soon a familiar sight in the city, and people called them angels because of their white habits, according to their Web site, www.sistersofcharityhealth.org.
In 1852, they opened Saint Joseph’s, the first public hospital in what later became part of the city of Cleveland.
GROWING AND EXPANDING
The sisters soon recognized a second calling from their hospital work and built an orphanage to care for children left behind by deceased patients.
To support it, the boys were taught tailoring and carpentry. Each week, the boys and the sisters pulled a wagon to deliver suits and cassocks for the clergy, and furniture to the West Side Market.
By 1900, the community had over 100 sisters and had established a new motherhouse in Lakewood, Ohio.
Although the sisters taught orphans from the early days, the first school with primary and secondary students did not begin until 1925.
The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine were the first to open their doors to Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, when he brought his first patient there in 1939, the Web site states.
The most significant development in health care was the establishment in 1982 of CSA Health and Human Services, a system created to strengthen each of the CSA-sponsored facilities and to ensure that the charism and philosophy of the sisters are implemented.
When the 140th anniversary of the community was celebrated, construction began for Regina Health Center, a $7.5 million innovative health care and assisted-living facility for retired religious.
Like most orders, the Sisters of St. Augustine have struggled to attract new, young members, but Sister Nancy said no matter what happens, their work will survive.
“I really believe that the ministries of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine in South Carolina will continue beyond us because they are part of God’s mission and the passion for carrying them out is shared by so many,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This is a continuing series on religious orders serving in the Diocese of Charleston.