By Carolyn Kesterman, Communications intern
Sisters Mary Barbara Philippart (left) and Janice Ernst (right) grew closer with novice Romina Sapinoso as they learned more about the Community’s history together.
Every year, SC Community Historian S. Judith Metz conducts a five-month weekly history class for the novices. “My goal is to help new members of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati to understand and have a deeper appreciation of the rich heritage that our members created for us through the years from the beginning,” S. Judith says. “I think it’s essential for people who are going to become a Sister to understand that and have an appreciation of it.”
With Romina Sapinoso as the only novice this year, S. Judith and Director of Novices S. Donna Steffen decided to open the class up to any other Sisters who might be interested, stressing the commitment that would be required to attend all the classes. Two responses came right away from Sisters Mary Barbara Philippart and Janice Ernst, who wanted to refresh and deepen their knowledge of their Community’s past. “It’s always a richer conversation if it isn’t focused on just one person,” S. Donna says. “We didn’t know how it would go, though. Is everyone going to want to share all their experiences and we won’t get to the content? But both put forward little comments here or there or asked questions, and it brought it all alive.”
This dynamic was greatly appreciated by S. Judith as she taught the class. “It’s really great to have Sisters that can share their personal experiences to illuminate what we’re talking about, because it makes it a lot more vibrant when people can tell how something affected an individual person.”
Romina says that the different backgrounds and points of view of her two classmates added depth to the class material and brought the values of the historical Sisters to the present day. Both Sisters have had long, fulfilling ministries, though different. After serving in Peru for 20 years, S. Mary Barbara currently interprets for Spanish speakers at the Good Samaritan Free Health Center and the Health Resource Center of Cincinnati, Inc., as well as deciphering old records for the SC Archives. S. Janice had a long teaching ministry and in her retirement has volunteered with Meals on Wheels in Pueblo, Colorado, and at DePaul Cristo Rey in Cincinnati since its opening in 2011. Their stories further illustrated the readiness of the Sisters that Romina says inspired her the most.
“I think that to me, what was really evident was availability, being available wherever they were called to respond,” Romina says. “Sometimes you get caught up in wondering how you are going to change the world, and really for them it was, ‘I’m available God. What are you asking?’”
The lessons gained were not limited to Romina, though. When Sisters Mary Barbara and Janice were novices, the Community history was not taught. Both became adamant ambassadors of the class throughout its five months. “S. Mary Barbara and I would go back to the dining room, and we would share these stories with the Sisters,” S. Janice says. Stories that were known on the surface were delved into with more depth, and names that had never been known were given light. S. Mary Barbara related some of the details of Mother Mary Blanche Davis (1851-1928), who led the Community out of financial danger after the company she had borrowed money from for the Community went bankrupt. “That was one thing that I hadn’t known about and I thought it was an example of what the Community does when it works together,” S. Mary Barbara says. “Mother accepted her responsibility very humbly, said it was her fault. And the support from the Sisters – the whole thing was beautiful to me.”
S. Janice also felt a connection to that story, feeling drawn to Mother Mary Blanche’s portrait amongst the other leaders of the Community. “I’ve walked that hall now, and her picture is one of those pictures that stands out. A young woman, yet she has a very calm look on her face. She’s a new Mother that brings life to the Community.”
Both Sisters also enjoyed being closer to the newer generation of the Community, just as inspired by Romina as she is of them. “The younger ones are showing their determination to live the spirit of the Sisters no matter the circumstances,” S. Mary Barbara says. S. Janice echoes this: “It was a joy to get to know Romina. To be in the novitiate again has been a great privilege for me.”
S. Judith Metz (second from left) and her history class take a field trip to Arnold’s Bar and Grill after learning a Community story that took place there.
The group became close, and the class flourished beyond its usual boundaries. As questions came up of whether locations were still in existence, unplanned field trips were created, one of the most memorable being a trip to Arnold’s Bar and Grill which was featured in a story about S. Anthony O’Connell (1814-1897) getting beer there in the 19th century to be used as a painkiller and antiseptic for patients at St. John’s Hospital in Cincinnati (now Good Samaritan Hospital). These trips not only added to the history lessons, but helped to grow the bonds between these friends.
After five months spent learning the Community’s history, S. Judith’s students say the class exceeded any expectations and left them with countless gifts.“It’s a humbling experience to learn the history,” Romina says. “With the more intimate details that were revealed to me in the history, I understand and appreciate what a foundation the Sisters have set throughout history. That we get to come after them is both a huge blessing and a big challenge. How do we continue this? How do we learn from what they did before and apply it to what is a different reality? Having that foundation is humbling, helpful, challenging, and inspiring. It was a great journey. You would never know all these things unless you really took the time this semester to come in and hear the stories.”