Sister Deborah Francis (left), Sister Laura Katharine (right) and the Community of St. John Baptist were formally welcomed to the parish at Solemn Evensong on Sunday, April 22, 2007. The leadership of CSJB and of the parish believes we have a unique opportunity to renew both parish life and the work of the sisters.
Anglican Religious Orders
Our parish and CSJB were founded in the wake of the catholic renewal within Anglicanism in the nineteenth century, usually called “The Oxford Movement.” From its inception, this renewal was about more than “smells and bells.” It was a renewal of Christian community, mission and service. In England it took root in working class and slum areas. In the United States it moved into newer areas of our city, like Longacre Square (known since 1904 as Times Square). One aspect of what came to be called the Anglo-catholic revival (renewal or movement) was the reestablishment in Britain of religious orders for men and women for the first time since the suppression of religious life by Henry VIII.
In the early days, some of the women’s religious communities were loosely organized and parish-based. The Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of the Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary were active at Saint Mary’s in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Later, the Saint Mary’s parochial community was received into the larger Community of St. Mary. After the death of Father Thomas McKee Brown, our founding rector, several of the sisters moved to other houses of the order around the country. When Father Joseph G. H. Barry came as rector in 1909, he stipulated that sisters would return to the parish. To this end, he invited the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, whose mother house was in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The “Holy Nats” were a large part of parish life at Saint Mary’s until their order consolidated some of their houses. The sisters left the parish in 1965.
The Community of St. John Baptist
The Community of St. John Baptist was founded in England in 1852 and came to the United States in 1874. They built their first convent in New York City, where on the Lower East Side they worked with immigrants through their Holy Cross Mission and with women from the streets through the Midnight Mission. They founded schools, convalescent hospitals, orphanages, and summer rest homes. In 1900 the Community bought land for a convent in Mendham, New Jersey, where they ran an orphanage and a school. Today the sisters continue a ministry of hospitality from Mendham, while many of the sisters go into parishes and other settings for ministry. In a real sense, the return of a religious community to the parish and the return of CSJB to a mission in Manhattan is a renewal of the heritage of both communities. And it’s happening here in Times Square. To learn more about the Community of St. John Baptist and St. Marguerite's Guesthouse visit CSJB.
The Work of the Sisters
The resident sisters will immediately become a part of the parish worshipping community. I have already had several inquiries about whether the sisters’ work will include spiritual direction. (Yes!) I have asked Sr. Laura Katherine to help me work in a new way with Saint Mary’s Guild, our parish altar guild. Sr. Deborah Francis is already helping us in the parish office and assisting during Mass as a reader and chalice bearer. The order has a special pastoral ministry to the sick and shut-in. I think I can speak for CSJB and Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees when I say we are excited by the possibilities and look forward to the unfolding of new work as our relationship unfolds.
Sr. Laura Katharine
Sr. Deborah Francis