In October 1829, four Sisters of Charity from Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Maryland foundation arrived in Cincinnati to open an orphan asylum and school for girls. By mid-century, 13 sisters were caring for and educating more than 300 young women. In 1852 and with the support of Archbishop John B. Purcell, seven of these sisters, under the leadership of Sister Margaret George, formed the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati as a diocesan congregation. The sisters immediately expanded their work, taking charge of St. Joseph’s Orphanage and founding St. John’s (later Good Samaritan) Hospital. Eventually they conducted a number of parochial schools in Cincinnati and throughout the Diocese.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the community immediately sent sisters to nurse the sick and the wounded. They cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers for the duration of the war. When Sister Anthony O’Connell returned from her war-time duties to resume her work at Good Samaritan Hospital, she recognized the need to care for unwed mothers and their babies. Her efforts led to the foundation of St. Joseph’s Home, a facility that continues to care for those with special needs.
In 1865, the sisters opened St. Vincent’s, a hospital and orphan asylum in Santa Fe. As the only hospital in the New Mexico Territory, St. Vincent’s served the local population and laborers from mining and railroad camps, and it eventually expanded to include a tuberculosis sanitarium. Soon, additional sisters ministered in Trinidad, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado, as well as in Albuquerque and San Miguel, New Mexico, where they opened schools, provided social services and operated several additional hospitals.
By the late 19th century, Archbishop William H. Elder asked the Sisters of Charity to provide services to a growing number of Italian immigrants arriving in Cincinnati. In response, Sisters Blandina and Justina Segale established Santa Maria, a multi-faceted social service center that served every description of the poor and needy. They, and the many workers and volunteers who joined them, built a tradition of service that continues today.
In the early 20th century, most Sisters of Charity were educators, teaching in parish schools in Ohio and Michigan. Others administered and taught in high schools, academies, orphanages, Latin schools, special education schools and schools of nursing. In 1915, they began ministering at St. Rita School for the Deaf. In 1920, they founded the College of Mount St. Joseph (now Mount St. Joseph University), and in 1927, they opened Seton as a diocesan high school.
In 1928, the sisters began to operate a hospital and orphan asylum in Wuchang, China, 600 miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai. Soon Chinese women joined the community. During World War II, the American sisters were interned in Shanghai while the Chinese sisters continued their ministries. But all the sisters returned to their Mount St. Joseph motherhouse as the Communists took over the country. After the war, the sisters began to staff Villa Nazareth Orphanage in Rome, Italy, where they prepared boys to become Christian leaders in the post-war world. In the early 1960s, the Sisters of Charity opened schools and clinics in Peru in both the Altiplano and Lima. Other locations where the sisters served in parish ministry and social services include countries in Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
Beginning in the 1970s, Sister of Charity Associates joined the sisters in carrying out their mission and spirit through prayer and ministry. Membership in this program continues to grow and thrive. Another infusion of new spirit occurred in 2004, when the Sisters of Charity welcomed members of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity from Bedford, Ohio. This expanded community has been a source of richness for all.
In recent years, the community has focused on initiatives for women, children and the elderly. Eldermount Adult Day Program opened in 1985, followed by Bayley Place Retirement Community in 1990. Current ministries focus on social services, education, social justice, housing and immigration, while the Earth Connection centers on environmental issues. The sisters are also active in corporate ministries, such as responsible investments, alternative investments and grant-making. Their newest endeavor is DePaul Cristo Rey High School, a college-prep, work-study high school founded in 2009 for students with economic need.
The Sisters of Charity currently sponsor Seton High School , St. Joseph Home of Cincinnati, Bayley, Mount St. Joseph University and DePaul Cristo Rey High School.