Old St. James Convent gets new life as Daughters of Charity Seminary
The setting at St. James the Greater Parish in south St. Louis is seen as the perfect place for a new residence for the initial formation of Daughters of Charity.
Sister Nora Gatto, provincial councillor, said that the residence, called a seminary, is in the midst of a neighborhood and a faith-filled parish. "As we form new Daughters of Charity, this is the environment they grow best, and they will be supported in prayer," said Sister Nora, who helps oversee the seminary and formation.
The Daughters met the parishioners at Mass recently, she noted. "The parish has been most welcoming to us and promises to continue praying for vocations and our sisters resident here."
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The seminary sisters — called novices in most other communities — join the directress and two other Daughters of Charity in residing at the old St. James Convent on Tamm Avenue. The convent, vacant since 1992, previously was the residence for Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, N.Y., who taught at the parish school.
The Daughters of Charity moved in March 13 — just in time for the St. Patrick's Day festivities in the traditionally Irish neighborhood. Father John Johnson, pastor of St. James, blessed the building March 19. The seminary, formerly in Evansville, Ind., is a collaboration of two Daughters of Charity provinces — one with headquarters in Los Altos Hills, Calif., and the other in St. Louis.
The seminary sisters spend four days a week in study and one day in apostolic work. They will take classes at Aquinas Institute, get to know novices of other communities and participate in the ministries of the Daughters of Charity throughout the St. Louis area. It is close to the ministries among the poor and the provincial house. "It's a joy to be here," said Sister Margaret McDonnell, seminary directress. "The seminary sisters will be able to have a variety of experiences with other Daughters," including work at social service agencies, health care, parish ministry and education.
Sister Marie Do, one of three seminary sisters who moved in March 13, said: "I love being a Daughter because I have the community support in order to serve those who are less fortunate and vulnerable."
A native of Portland, Ore., she said she looked into various religious communities. The Daughters of Charity, with a charism of serving the poor, was a perfect fit.
Sister Elizabeth Riddell is entering religious life as an older vocation. A widow, she had a career in aerospace and wanted to serve in a "more meaningful and important way. The service to the poor was certainly a good fit for me. I was looking to express my love for God more intensely."
Sister Meg Kymes, the other seminary sister, said she wanted to live in community "with like-minded women committed to serving God and the poor in the process."
A native of south St. Louis and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, she later was a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in south St. Louis. She met the Daughters of Charity while doing volunteer work. "I saw the joy in them," Sister Meg said.
More than 650 Daughters of Charity minister in the United States. Worldwide, there are 18,000 Daughters serving in 90 countries around the globe.
Founded in 1633 by St. Louise de Marillac and St. Vincent de Paul, the Daughters of Charity were among the first communities of sisters who were not cloistered. The sisters, through their vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and their extra vow of service to the poor, continue to go where they are most needed.
Pursuing a vocation
Women pursuing a vocation with the Daughters of Charity will go through several steps before coming to the seminary (novitiate) in St. Louis.
These steps are a time of discernment and gaining an experience of community living.
Their admission to the Daughters of Charity occurs when they come to St. Louis for the seminary period, a time of reflection, prayer and learning over 18 to 22 months. The intensive formation period gives them an identity of being a Daughter of Charity, an important time for them to integrate their apostolic and prayer life.
For more information see daughtersofcharity.org or call (314) 533-4770.
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