I was honored this week to celebrate Mass with the Sisters of Charity of New York, who have presented Saint John's Seminary with a collection of major relics as they restructure the facilities used to house their retired sisters. The Sisters of Charity of New York were founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Vincentian tradition in 1817 and has been responsible for the establishment of much of the child care, health and education ministries of the Archdiocese of New York.
Too small to be counted among the tribes of Judah, this little Bethlehem Ephratha.
Worthy of being abandoned by even a righteous man, this little Virgin Mary.
A baby born in a stable, a feedbox for his bed, this little baby Jesus.
In his infinite wisdom, God chooses the littlest, the most broken and most forgotten: the weak to confound the proud.
It is the secret of life. A secret whispered from the crib to the cross.
A secret not unknown to the daughters of Saint Elizabeth Seton: Sisters Rose White, Cecilia O'Conway and Elizabeth Boyle when 198 years ago they packed a little wooden building on Prince and Mott Streets with immigrant orphans, born of what the politicians were calling “the off-scourings of the people.” A secret known as well by Sister Irene Fitzgibbon with just five bucks in her pocket and a dream of the first foundling hospital in New York.
Before Pope Francis was even born, they and you were going to the margins to find Christ and to dry his tears, in the orphan and the child and the sick.
You began by caring for the children, then built the first hospitals, established and organized the first schools and created the Mount, both the old one and the new one where we stand, all to help the little ones, the servants, the humble, in the model of she who is most Blessed because God has looked upon her in her lowliness.
And the Saints whose relics you consign to the care of St. John's and its seminarians, have been your constant and silent companions along this great journey of charity and mercy. Those who have carefully catalogued these heavenly intercessors, tell me that among the relics is a part of the wall discovered in our lifetime (but venerated for centuries) from the house of the Virgin Mary.
Mary has prayed for you.
Peter and Paul have prayed for you.
Clare and Theresa have prayed for you.
Scholastica and Benedict have prayed for you.
Vincent and Elizabeth (both Seton and Boyle) have prayed for you.
All the Saints have prayed for you.
And now, to their prayers, we add your newest friends, the fresh-faced seminarians who will pray for you in Boston, before these self-same relics. And all those prayers will accompany you holy women, as you continue to build the kingdom of God in this latest chapter of the Sisters of Charity of New York.
What will that chapter be? Your sisters in every generation have asked the same and dreamed. But of two things you can be certain:
First, that you will know uncertainty. The same uncertainty they knew on Prince and Mott Streets and in the hundreds of houses in between. For to God belongs the plan, and to him perfect charity. We are but partakers of a small part of his greatness, and as you have learned in your long and noble history, the way of seeking to love the littlest and most needy is never a certain path.
And second, that you can remain assured of the prayers of your friends in heaven, and now the daily prayers of the seminarians in Boston, who will be inspired and sustained by your example and the heroism of your lives. For you are the daughters of Elizabeth Seton, who wrote this in the last days of her life:
Most precious Communion [with God]
all settled in one thought
how he loves and welcomes the poor and desolate. ..