GEORGETOWN/GLOVERVILLE—The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul are an international community of over 19,000 women in more than 90 countries.
They are located throughout the United States and have two communities in South Carolina.
“We serve in small towns, large cities, rural areas, third world countries — wherever you find persons who are poor and marginalized you will find the Daughters of Charity,” their Web site states.
In the South
The Daughters first came to South Carolina in 1951 to serve at Bishop England High School, which was on peninsula Charleston at the time.
Sister Susan Pugh said four sisters came at the request of Bishop John J. Russell, who said the school urgently needed women religious to teach so priests assigned there could be liberated for “sorely-needed parish work.”
These women joined the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, who were already working at the school, Sister Susan said.
The Daughters of Charity remained at Bishop England until 1992. During those years, they lived in community at St. Louise de Marillac house, first located at 16 Mill St., and then transferred to an antebellum mansion at 43 Legare St.
Our Lady of the Valley
In 1977, the congregation expanded its presence in South Carolina, sending three sisters to Our Lady of the Valley parish in Gloverville.
Two of those women, Sisters Mary Jean Doyle and Mary Sheehan, remain there today and run Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Center and its numerous outreach programs.
As the sisters became familiar with the needs of area residents, they initiated other ministries, such as ACTS in Aiken County, the Lower Savannah Council of Governments Medical Assistance Program, and Vincentian Marian Youth. They also served at Aquinas High School in Augusta, Ga., Sister Susan said.
Through the Catholic Center, Sisters Mary Jean and Mary operate a number of programs, including one to help Aiken County residents earn their GED.
When the Daughters of Charity left Bishop England, they found themselves serving another community farther along the coast in Georgetown.
Sister Susan, who serves as parish life facilitator at St. Cyprian Church, said they fill a variety of roles in the community, which has a large Hispanic population. Sister Dorothy Folmer is coordinator of outreach services, Sister Maria Mendoza is director of youth ministry, and Sister Josephine Murphy is parish associate.
They operate a soup kitchen and clothes closet, and oversee other groups’ ministries, such as Birthright, a CARETeam for AIDS, and Hispanic outreach.
In the soup kitchen, Sister Dorothy has a kind word for everyone. At 86, they all refer to her as mother as she passes out candy and takes requests for what people want or need, Sister Susan said.
Like many congregations, the Daughters of Charity are searching for ways to do more with less people.
To that end, Sister Susan said they are combining four of their provinces: Albany, N.Y., Evansville, Ind., St. Louis, Mo., and Emmitsburg, Md.
She said it is a more efficient way to focus on their charism, allowing those who were confined to administrative duties to move into outreach.
St. Vincent de Paul was born to a family of French peasant farmers in 1581. He founded the Daughters of Charity 376 years ago with the assistance of Louise de Marillac.
St. Louise was also born in France, in 1591, but was raised among the aristocracy. She attended the royal monastery of Poissy near Paris, where her aunt was a Dominican nun.
Before God led her to a religious vocation, Louise was married and had a son.
She met St. Vincent after becoming a widow and the two formed a friendship, which led to the creation of a religious order in 1633 to care for the poor.
St. Vincent and St. Louise died in the same year, and the Daughters of Charity will venerate their lives this year, on the 350th anniversary of their deaths.