America has its eyes on the 2020 presidential election, but a smaller — and some might say more important election — has just taken place at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
The Sisters of Charity of New York elected Sister Donna Dodge as its 25th president, guiding the holy women into the group’s third century of service.
Founded in 1817 as an offshoot of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph, the New York group has responded to the spiritual needs of their greater community — and the world — since their start. What began with one orphanage in Maryland has evolved into the opening of schools and hospitals, starting a number of social service programs, lobbying the United Nations, and even running a farm in Stanfordville.
More than 75 nuns assembled at a recent leadership meeting to not only elect new leadership, but also to discuss various needs of their convent and community.
After a five-day process that included prayer, meetings of small delegate groups and assembly members, and discussions, the president and six other leadership positions were filled through a ballot from the nominated gathering.
Joining Dodge as part of the new leadership team are Sister Dorothy Metz and Sister Dominica Rocchio as assistants to the president. Sister Sheila Brosnan, Sister Margaret Egan, Sister Margaret O’Brien and Sister Claire Regan were elected as councilors, who can serve a variety of functions such as mission representatives, institutional board members, and ministerial groups liaison.
Dodge and her fellow sisters took office July 1, yet they already have a plan.
“I always want us to respond to whatever new needs may emerge because that’s part of who we are,” Dodge said. “I have a team of people, so I’m never by myself. I want to listen to other people and respond where we can and work with the laity, because the sisters in the United States are decreasing, but our work is as important — or more important — than ever.”
One such ministry that is moving under the purview of lay people is Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates, or LEFSA. It’s a program that started with two sisters visiting a homeless shelter and forming a prayer group. LEFSA has since expanded to the point where homeless, or formerly homeless, people lead the prayers.
“They themselves were homeless,” Dodge said, “so it’s more credible than if someone was coming from a mansion.”
LEFSA shows how much of their work can be passed on to those who may not have fully dedicated their lives to their faith, but who still wish to serve in other ways.
Lay people “are very successfully taking over the institutions that we have been in,” Dodge said, “so we want to continue that and work with others to make sure that no matter if we’re here or not, the mission continues and people’s needs are met.”
With their convent nestled within the campus of The Mount, the sisters have found the students there becoming involved in missions of peace, ecology and social justice. They also co-sponsor Seton Scholars, a small group of students who receive a scholarship, earning them a chance to serve alongside the sisters in several of their ministries.
The students are “very attentive to the sisters and want to learn what we’re doing,” Dodge said, adding with a chuckle, “we do a lot of good stuff.”