March 30, 2012

Daughters of Charity, Sisters of St. Francis to receive special Spirit of Service awards

By John Shaughnessy

It will be a moment of humility and appreciation.

It will be a moment when two religious sisters accept a special award in recognition of all the women in their communities who have worked through the years to care for the sick and the poor at the two Catholic hospitals in Indianapolis that their orders started.

On April 26, the archdiocese will present Spirit of Service Community Awards to the Daughters of Charity, the founding order of St. Vincent Health, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, the founding order of Franciscan St. Francis Health.

The awards will be made during the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis, an event that benefits the work of Catholic Charities Indianapolis to help people in need.

“I was pleasantly surprised and very pleased when I received the call about the award,” says Daughter of Charity Sister Catherine Kelly.

“But like any good Daughter of Charity, it’s a little humbling because what we do in our ministries, it’s just our life. It’s our life breath. It’s our tradition to be Christ for the poor. But it’s always nice to be appreciated. And it’s nice when people are aware that we are present in the archdiocese, and we still go about doing what we have for 131 years.”

Sister Catherine sees the award as a special tribute to all the Daughters of Charity who have followed in the footsteps of the four religious sisters who came from Emmitsburg, Md., in 1881 to establish a Catholic hospital in Indianapolis.

“They had $34.77 in their pockets. That’s the amount they used to start St. Vincent Health,” says Sister Catherine, vice president for mission integration at St. Vincent Health St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“They came with a real commitment and a passion for care of the poor. They grew our ministry. We don’t have as many sisters as we’ve had at some times, but over the years the sisters have influenced our lay leaders to embrace our mission and core values, and to believe in our Catholic identity. In receiving this award, it shows that even though we are small in numbers, our spirit is still mighty.”

That same spirit has guided the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in their commitment to Franciscan St. Francis Health.

In 1909, two sisters from St. Francis Convent in Lafayette, Ind., traveled to Beech Grove by horse-drawn buggy to talk about starting a hospital there. In 1914, St. Francis Hospital was opened. The Beech Grove site was recently consolidated with the newer Franciscan St. Francis Health hospital in Indianapolis.

“We’ve been in the archdiocese for almost 100 years,” says St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration Sister M. Angela Mellady, provincial of the order. “The sisters who came before us left a great legacy for us to try to follow. What incredible faith they had.”

The story of that faith traces back to the order’s beginning in Germany when it was founded by Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel in 1863, says Sister Angela.

“She had great trust in Divine Providence,” she says. “When she would receive a request from a diocese or bishop, she would pray upon it and then send the sisters.”

Today, the order stays true to the spirit of St. Francis, the power of prayer and the example of combining a life of contemplation with a life of performing works of mercy, Sister Angela says. She views the Spirit of Service Community Award as a tribute to that approach to life.

“It’s a great honor,” she says. “Our thoughts go to the many sisters and co-workers who have gone before us in the Indianapolis area to provide services to all those who come to our doors.” †


Related: Spirit of Service winners are committed to helping those in need

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