Good Shepherd Jubilee History

Where did the first sisters come from and why? More importantly, why are they still here? Would you believe it ~ a young French girl from Noirmoutier, an island off the west coast of France, was struck by the vision of a world so loved by God that it lit a fire in her sould to make His presence felt with joy in every human heart. She placed her magnificent adventure under the guidance of the Good Shepherd, who never stops seeking the lost sheep, particularly the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, those left behind by society, most who never had a chance. Her zeal, the defining character of her mission, means fire, passion, "love in action." It was the torch she passed from France in 1843 when she sent the five young sisters to bring to birth the American mission in Louisville, Kentucky. Her name? Rose Virginie Pelletier, who became ST. Mary Euphrasia. She had entered the community founded in 1641, by St. John Eudes, whose fiery missions challenged people to change their lives for the better. For sincere women who desired conversion but were economically unable to do so in those times, her provided a refuge of hope conducted by loving laywomen who eventually became the nucleus of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

It was the birth of a new idea~ a person is of more value than a whole world. Mary Euphrasia took the message to heart and was soon elected superior. Little did they know how she would revolutionize the mission, cost what it may, despite the birth pangs involved. "But why stop at France?", she thought. Her scope must be the whole world! By establishing the Generalate in 1835, she could send sisters anywhere in the world where they were needed, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, whose name she added to the community's title of Our Lady of Charity. The birthing continued, planted by the seed of God's love in Mary Euphrasia's heart, and inspired two outstanding laypeople, Madame D'Andigne and Count deNeuville to throw themselves wholeheartedly behind here flaming zeal for souls. She reached out to establish houses throughout Europe and Africa, then Asia, and Australia, South American and the United States. From Louisville, KY the sisters fanned out first to St. Louis, then Montreal, and Philadelphia.

In 1857, concerned Catholic laywomen appealed to Archbishop Hughes to also provide a Good Shepherd house in NY, but it was a determined Protestant laywoman, who was the Matron of the Tombs, a prison in New York City, who succeeded in convincing him to meet the needs of these homeless young women, many of them immigrants and unsophisticated in the ways of the city. She persuaded him that many sins would be prevented by such a house in his diocese. An English sister, Anne Clover, who had volunteered to St. Mary Euphrasia, for the American mission, was sent from Louisville to 14th Street, where the newly founded New York community began its work in 1857, with only a few mattresses and blankets, a frying pan, and a few kitchen utensils. Now known as Sister Mary Magdalen, she became the first provincial, and the New York province was born!

But not without the help of three outstanding laywomen! Their names will forever be enshrined in the annals of the community, namely Mrs. George Ripley, Miss Ella Edes and Mrs. Elizabeth McBride. The girls who needed help came in such large numbers that the first house was overcroweded in no time. In addition, many young women asked to join the community in their mission. In 1861, the Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd were founded in New York. St. Mary Euphrasia had found the Contemplatives in Angers, France to be a powerhouse of prayer to support the apostolic sisters in their zeal for souls and tehy are missioned throughout the world, also. In 1867 the Boston house was founded, then Brooklyn in 1868, then Peekskill, Albany and Troy, Newark and Morristown, NJ, Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT.

In 1902 Mother Francis Xavier responded to the request of Bishop Michael Tierney of Hartford and sent five sisters to the Sisson estate, which had been provided for them by the Bishop. When the estate reached capacity, a large 3-story structure was built in 1905, and an additional building in 1927, which eventually came to be known as Marian Hall. Hundreds of children were served here until 1958, when extensive renovations provided a more homelike atmosphere for small group living, a fully accredited junior-senior high school , and clinical services. In 1948 Euphrasia Hall provided a residence for 65 teenage girls who went out to work or school each day. In 1971 the program in Hartford closed when a bill for a reasonable rate of reimbursement for residential placement was vetoed by the Governor.

From the time that the first five Good Shepherd sisters were missioned from Philadelphia to New York in 1857, several trends emerge as they spread throughout New York, New Jersey and New England, responding t the cry of the poor and welcoming into their homes those most deprived of hope and love. At the time of Vatican Council II tremendous changes in the world called for a corresponding change in the response of religious to the needs of the people of God. Faithful to the Council's call to subsidiarity, which emphasized a broader participation by the sisters in decision-making, many issues were resolved such as acceptance of diversity, small community living, changes in dress and lifestyle and other decisions concerning the life of the sisters, now ministering in a new age with new needs. The sisters' mission of care to women who needed help extended itself far beyond the former province-sponsored institutional services, even to the assignment of indiviual sisters to specialized ministries in the service of women. Many sisters from the NY province volunteered for the foreign missions such as South and Central America, China, Guam, the Virgina Islands, Ethiopia, where they serve today.

Lay people, who always had an important share in the development of the Good Shepherd programs, were now formally organized as the Companions of Jesus the Good Shepherd (founded in St. Mary Euphrasia's time). Later the founding of the Associates of the Good Shepherd now provides an overwhelming support to the work of the sisters, and the most recent development of the Volunteer program has literally brought new life in the present era of diminishing personnel and financial resources. Some of the Volunteers serve in South American at the present time. Actually lay people were outstanding from the beginning, and in many cases the work was initiated by them or the bishop. In New York thy had been the prime movers in obtaining the siters in the first place, even to putting them up in their own homes until the convent was ready, and collecting money to provide for them and the girls until they became self-supporting. Laypeople provided either the estates, as the beautiful Collier Estate in Wickatunk, NJ or the funds to purchase land or the buildings to establish the Good Shepherd mission in their area. In Hartford, the bishop gave his own property, the Sisson Estate, to the sisters.

In the mid 1960's the trend of deinstitutionalizatioin took place across the country, causing a shift in the ministerial response of the sisters, and a dynamic broadening of their ministries. The focus is no longer on the individual alone but on the person see in the context of her family situation. Unjust systems also wreak havoc with young lives, and advocacy for change in these is also seen as an appropriate ministry for a Good Shepherd sister seeking social justice for people in need.

As we approach the beginning of the 21st century, the ministerial response of the sisters is characterized by collaboration and teamwork with other religious groups, priests, laypersons, and others. The sisters serve as parish ministers, family workers in both rural and urban settings, pastoral counselors, hospital chaplains, and alcohol abuse counselors. In our time they are responding to the needs of battered women, also. Child abuse in a particular concern in our times.

Depite the fact that vocations seem to be diminishing in North America, Europe, and Australia, they seem to be on the increase on the continents of South America, Asia and Africa. Until recently the demands of ministry in the New York province shared priority with the need to care for the elderly and the ill, a situationbeing faced by most religious communities today. However, by means of careful planning and the creativity of the sisters, the mission and ministry of the community is foremose in priority at the present time, while the financial burden of caring for the present elderly and those of the future will continue to be a major consideration of our times.

One hundred and fifty years ago the sisters started with nothing ~ no money, no programs, no houses for those they wanted to help and only a handful of sisters. Yet from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th century the communnity expanded tremendously in every way and helped thousands of girls and women to grow in self-esteem and to find new meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Can we fail to recognize the fact that a major constant in this mind-boggling growth was the incredible assistance of loving laypeople who were inspired by the Good Shepherd to reach out to the needy members of His flock? Today the sisters look forward with great expectatioins to the lay fold of our day whose zeal got the sisters going in the past and continues to do so today. Side by side they work together in programs for the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the immigrant. "As one traces the hand of the Good Shepherd guiding this province for nearly 150 years, despite incredible odds, there is no reason to think that His presence will not be with us, and those we serve, in the years to come," declared our Mother General from Ecuador some years ago. It is the ardent prayer of the sisters that the Good Shepherd will send them such loving supporters as He did in the past, that together they may be life-bearers to and with the poor of our world. Their time and their talents operate now in this noble venture as Associates of the Good Shepherd, Companions of the Good Shepherd, Volunteers, staff, loyal supporters, treasured friends. In them the sisters see their hope for the future. From them may come the future Sisters of the Good Shepherd, just as they did in the past. Then we can look forward to another century and a half of magnificent growth to match the accomplishment that we are celebrating today.


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