Charity, Sisters of
Charity, Sisters Of, Called Also Daughters Of Christian Charity
(Saeurs or Filles de la Charite), or, from their dress, GRAY SISTERS (Saeurs grises), a community of women in the Roman Catholic Church for nursing the poor and the sick, founded in 1629 at Chatillon, in France, by Vincent de Paul, aided by Madame Louise de Marillac le Gras. The rule which Vincent gave to his community was confirmed by the pope in 1668, whereupon the community spread so rapidly that by 1685 two hundred and twenty-four houses were established. Until the end of the eighteenth century they remained almost entirely confined to France, where their labors were interrupted by the Revolution. After a few years they were permitted to take them up again, and in 1807 they were placed under the protection of the mother of Napoleon. Since that time they have enjoyed the patronage of all French governments. In 1827 they nursed in France 1145,000 sick persons and 120,000 children, which number has since considerably increased. Since 1815 they have rapidly established themselves in all states in which monastic orders are not forbidden. Several states, as Prussia and Baden, which exclude most of the monastic orders, have made an exception in favor of the Sisters of Charity. Since 1848 they have been admitted into all the German states except Saxony. In all Germany they had, in 1858, establishments in 194 places, with about 2000 members. Spain promised to admit them in the Concordat of 1851. They established themselves in Portugal in 1857, but were there, as also in Brazil, severely attacked by the Liberal party, and mobbed by the populace. Large numbers. of them were called to Russia by the government of Alexander II, and they have penetrated even into Denmark and Sweden. In Turkey they conduct several largely-attended schools. They are also found in many of the missions of Asia, Africa, and Australia, and in several of the states of Central and South America. In the United States they were established in 1809 by Elizabeth Seton (a pervert from Protestantism), with a distinct rule, which is still followed in the dioceses of New York, Brooklyn, Newark, and Halifax. The houses in the other dioceses have abandoned Mrs. Seton's rule, and have united with the French order. In 1852 there were 38 houses under the charge of the sisters in different parts of the United States, and the number of sisters was 420. This number has since considerably increased. In the diocese of New York alone there are now about 250 sisters, having under their care, besides the parish schools in the city of New York, a hospital, a male and female asylum, and an industrial school. Their mother-house is at Fonthill, on the Hudson River, near Yonkers.
Numerous other communities of women have been established on the same plan, and on nearly the same rule. The most important among them is the congregation of St. Carolus Borromaeus, so called because they chose Borromeo as their patron. Their mother-house is at Nancy, France; and in 1845 they counted 70 houses, with about 700 members. Another was founded in 1808 in Westphalia, by baron Droste zu Vischering, who became afterwards archbishop of Cologne. It counted, in 1858, 41 establishments, with about 200 sisters. The United States have also a number of similar institutions, as Sisters of Charity of Montreal, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of our Lady of Mercy, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin, Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, most of which have been founded during the present century.
No monastic institution has spread since the beginning of the present century with equal rapidity, and the increase is still going on in nearly every part of the world. In 1862, the number of establishments, as far as known, was 1064; namely, 947 in Europe, 80 in America, 17 in Asia, 17 in Africa, and 3 in Australia and Oceanica (P. Karl vom heil. Aloys, Statis. Jahrbuch der Kirche, Ratisbon, 1862). The number of members of the French order was estimated at 13,000, and that of all the Sisters of Charity at 28,000.
"Conscious that celibacy alone excites little admiration in modern times, Rome has sought, by her 'Sisters of Charity' and by her educational orders, to give her female aristocracy better claims on the gratitude of mankind. In England and America the female orders have attracted many to the Church of Rome, and softened many antipathies. The association of unmarried females for such purposes will ever have an attraction for romantic minds; yet the wellworked Protestant congregations in our cities send out more such sisters of charity and educators of the young than any of the sisterhoods of Rome. 'Without any bond but the law of love, and 'without observation,' because without the dress and separation of Rome's 'Sisters of Charity,' thousands now do the part of Priscilla or Dorcas, yet take part in all home duties and enjoyments, unconscious that they are better than others, or that they have attained a higher perfection than their fathers and mothers" (Lewis, Bible, Missal, and Breviary, 1:124). See also Fehr, Geschichte der Mönchsorden, 2:328 sq.; Eremites, Der Orden der barmherzigen Schwestern (Schaffhausen, 1844); Methodist Quarterly Review, Jan. 1849, art. 5.