Sisters of St. Joseph respond to missionary call

Boston’s missionary efforts in Latin America are often identified with the St. James Society. However, that work has been admirably supported with assistance from other religious communities. One of these is the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Boston. This is just part of their mission story.

When the St. James Society established an inner-city parish in the crowded urban slum area of Lima 50 years ago, it required a distinctive approach from the work being done in the Andes. San Ricardo, Lima’s inner-city parish, was literally a dumping ground piled high with trash. It was over that mini-mountain of refuse where thousands of the poorest of the poor in the La Victoria section of Lima, having no place else to go, built their shack-like homes. Theirs was a daily struggle for survival.

At about the same time that the society established its parish there, the Marist Sisters founded St. Richard’s Elementary School where children of the poor were given more than an education. They were given new hope. However, even more desperate needs were calling the Marists to other endeavors and St. Richard’s School was in need of staffing.

Cardinal Richard Cushing then asked the Sisters of St. Joseph for volunteers. Known for their excellence in teaching, this was not a missionary community. Yet, many of the sisters communicated their willingness to volunteer. Out of that larger number, the first selected group of missionary sisters included Sister Mary Cahill of Dorchester, Sister Michaela Cleary of Newton, Sister Rose Agnes of New Mexico, and Sister Helen Edward of Arlington. Over the next 27 years, other Sisters of St. Joseph would follow.

Far from the comforts of home, the sisters did much more than teach. Beyond excellence in teaching, they lived and worked among the poor. There was no end to their service. They provided soup kitchens where hundreds of people came each day. For a fraction of its real cost, food was picked up to be cooked at home so people could maintain a sense of honor and pride. People without means were just quietly given the food.

The sisters provided evening adult education classes and worked tirelessly with native catechists who, in turn, taught the faith to others. Indeed, after some 27 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph left more than a memory. They left a lasting legacy. Serving all with love which is their charism, the work of these former missionary sisters continues.

Sister Carlotta is a chaplain at Children’s Hospital ministering to families of many cultures and faiths. She performs an important role with the large Spanish speaking population.

In Roslindale’s Casserly House, a multi-cultural ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Nancy Braceland listens to needs expressed in the neighborhood and responds with programs designed to help that community.

After 17 years as pastoral minister at St. Mary’s in Roxbury, Sister Mary Cahill devoted another six years assisting women at the Pine Street Inn. She served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Carney Hospital and today works with the Proparvulis Club raising money to send children ages 6 to 13 to camp at Sunset Point in Hull.

It’s true what they say. Once a missionary, always a missionary.

Frank Mazzaglia is a columnist and a layman associated with the Society of St. James.