SoCF Cross

Progress & Promise companion book

Celebrating the History, Collaboration, and Current Ministries of Catholic Sisters in Northeast Ohio.

Progress and Promise was a traveling exhibit showcasing the heritage and presence of Northeast Ohio’s Catholic Sisters. The Progress and Promise exhibit toured parishes, universities, the Cleveland Public Library, motherhouses and nursing facilities. The initiative also produced a companion book that expanded on the history and themes of the exhibit and was disseminated to religious congregations, news media, pubic officials, Catholic colleges and other foundations. The text of the companion book is published below.

If you would like a hard copy of the book, Progress & Promise – Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio, please contact Erin McIntyre at emcintyre@socfcleveland.

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Dear Reader

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland offers this book in gratitude to the Catholic women religious who shared their stories, images, and treasured artifacts to create Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio. We hope this celebration of their contributions in our region, from 1850 to the present, will educate readers and inspire acts of service.

These pages chronicle the wonderful collaboration that led to the highly successful visit of the national exhibit, Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio in the spring of 2010. The Foundation supported the national exhibit in its early stages through grants to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and sparked the effort to bring the exhibit to Northeast Ohio.

The collaboration sprang from the immediate and enthusiastic support from the area’s religious orders, their ministries, and those who support their services. Members of the civic community were also eager to show gratitude for the sisters’ impact on Northeast Ohio.

Notre Dame College and the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland were among the earliest supporters and participated on the local committee charged with a spectrum of tasks, including the creation of Progress & Promise. Along with museum expertise, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage provided exceptional hospitality and an opportunity to share inspiring stories of women of different faiths.

Women & Spirit infused the sisters and their lay “co-ministers” with renewed energy to serve others in innovative and collaborative ways. Our deepest thanks extends to Lynn Berner, our foundation’s Program Of cer for Religious Communities, for her leadership in directing this publication. We hope this book will keep that energy owing for years to come.

Geoffrey Mearns                      

Chair Board of Directors

Susanna H. Krey



“As I toured Women & Spirit, I felt the sisters walking with me and I was overwhelmed with the power of the message of love and healing, the risk taking and sacrifices, along with the vision and creativity that led to far reaching ministries.”

Sister Miriam Erb, CSA




This publication is a project of the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. This initiative began in 2001 as a result of our founders’ – the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine’s – longstanding commitment to support ministries of women religious. It promotes collaboration among women religious and builds awareness of their impact. We hope this book is used by others to achieve both of these goals.

We are grateful for the nancial support provided by Notre Dame College and the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland to make Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio into a traveling exhibit. The enthusiastic help and encouragement of Sister Carol Ziegler, SND, and Pat Harding, archivist, both at Notre Dame College, and Sister Maureen Grady, OSU, during the creation of Progress & Promise is greatly appreciated.

Thank you to the many sisters who graciously provided information, agreed to interviews, and took time to contribute photos for the exhibit and the book. While the book began with exhibit stories, it soon expanded, as more ministries and interesting stories came to light. We deeply apologize for those times when we could not include all the ministries on a particular topic and for any other errors or omissions. Our appreciation also extends to the orders’ archivists and communications staff for their support and assistance.

Our gratitude also goes to artistic designer, Diane Adams, and researcher and writer, Donna Nickel, for the hundreds of hours they put into this project. Diane’s eye for beauty and Donna’s ear for a great story – along with their passion for the subject – made this pictorial compilation possible. Most of all, the design team surely joins me and the Foundation in thanking the sisters of Northeast Ohio for their inspired works of service over the past 161 years. We look forward to a wonderful future for women religious and those who work with them and follow their lead.

Lynn Berner
Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Funding for Progress & Promise at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage was provided by:


  • Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland
  • John Carroll University
  • Congregation of St. Joseph
  • Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine
  • Sisters of Notre Dame
  • Sisters of the Humility of Mary
  • Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland
  • Dominican Sisters of Peace
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis
  •  Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity
  • Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament
  • Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown
  • Discalced Carmelite Nuns
  • Little Sisters of the Poor
  • Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati
  • Sisters of the Holy Spirit
  • Benedictine Sisters of the Byzantine Church
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Mark



Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio was unveiled at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio, as part of Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America, a three-year traveling exhibit sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with the Cincinnati Museum Center. Conceived by Bob Weis Design Island with design and production by Seruto & Company, Women & Spirit reveals the mystery behind a group of innovative women who helped change the shape of the nation’s social and cultural landscape.

Rare artifacts, poignant photographs, compelling video, and rst-person accounts tell the stories of pioneering women who established schools, hospitals, and other enduring institutions and continue to work for peace and justice. Word and image are printed directly on curved maple plywood, evoking the sisters’ grace and continuous movement, with exposed nails connecting the panels, symbolizing grit and raw determination. Space is made available for sisters in host cities to create a local exhibit, telling their story through artifacts and images.


Debuting in Cincinnati in 2009, Women & Spirit appeared in Dallas, Texas; the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; Cleveland, Ohio; Ellis Island in New York; Dubuque, Iowa; South Bend, Indiana; and Los Angeles and Sacramento, California through 2012. In September 2009, the Honorable Marcy Kaptur of Ohio introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives honoring the historic contributions of Catholic women religious and supporting the goals of Women & Spirit. It passed by unanimous vote. The American Catholic Historical Association presented the first annual “Service to Catholic Studies Award” to LCWR for its sponsorship of Women & Spirit. In 2011, LCWR produced a 56-minute documentary, Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America. Narrated by news analyst and author Cokie Roberts, the DVD includes a study guide, a digital exhibit, and videos from the exhibit.


“Why did we do this? We were following the imperative: go and tell the good news. We believe that the story of Catholic sisters is good news…

We, as Catholic sisters were weary of being characterized as a flying nun or as the nun on a cocktail napkin. we wanted to describe ourselves; we wanted to tell the good news.”

– Sister Helen Garvey, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary



The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Though the sisters of Northeast Ohio were enthusiastic about bringing Women & Spirit to Cleveland, they had to convince LCWR that this region had an extraordinary story to tell and could provide a viable venue.

LCWR was reluctant to bring the exhibit to another Ohio city because it had already been in Cincinnati. “But the local committee knew the community, and they never gave up,” said Sister Helen Garvey, BVM, project coordinator for the exhibit. “We violated all of our polices, but it was the right decision.”

An Exhibit About Nuns at a Jewish Museum?

Judi Feniger, executive director at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, embraced the idea of hosting Women & Spirit, but said it was a mixed sell for the museum’s board. “Some got it right away, it connected for them,” she said. “Others questioned the focus on Catholicism when there were so many other topics out there.”

The museum board came to agree that Women & Spirit affirmed the museum’s mission – to build bridges of appreciation, tolerance, and understanding with those of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. It also complemented the museum’s Jewish immigrant exhibit: An American Story. Though certainly different, the common thread in the two stories – women in leadership roles, driven by shared values – is remarkable.

While at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, over 19,600 people experienced Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America, making it one of the museum’s best attended exhibits.



The Docent Connection

With large audiences expected, the Maltz Museum invited members of the Catholic community, including women religious, to share docent responsibilities. Often, Catholic and Jewish docents worked together. One Jewish docent said she was intimidated at first because she didn’t want to offend anyone, but she quickly became comfortable with both the sisters and the material. Though Catholic sisters were a mystery to most of the Jewish docents, the sisters were impressed by their willingness to learn. “They made our stories their stories,” said Sister Mary Ann Spangler, a Sister of the Humility of Mary. “They studied and shared the stories with the same enthusiasm I would have had.”

In some cases, a lasting bond formed between the docents of different faiths. When a Jewish docent was diagnosed with cancer toward the end of the exhibit’s run, she received cards and well wishes from the sisters she met through Women & Spirit. “Here I am, a Jewish woman, on the Sisters of Notre Dame prayer line,” she said.

Has a Woman with Spirit
Inspired You?
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage provided index cards to give
Women & Spirit visitors the opportunity to honor and thank women who served as role models or made a difference in their lives. Hundreds of these handwritten cards were posted on the transition wall, paying tribute to women of all backgrounds.

“We preach:

if you walk out with anything, it’s that we’re all more alike than different.”

– Judi Feniger,
executive director, Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage



The Conference of Religious Leadership (CORL), an association of superiors of various religious orders in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, welcomed the opportunity to host Women & Spirit. Sister Cecilia Liberatore, a Sister of Notre Dame, as CORL chair, appointed a local committee to ful ll the responsibilities assigned by the national exhibit planners. Though busy with building community support for the exhibit, the local committee enthusiastically embraced another opportunity generously offered by LCWR: to create an exhibit about women religious in Northeast Ohio. With the blessings and support of the sisters in the Catholic Dioceses of Cleveland and Youngstown, the local exhibit, Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio, was created and integrated into Women & Spirit during its showing at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Deadlines and Decisions

With the opening date set for Mother’s Day 2010, the local
committee didn’t have enough time for a comprehensive historical
research project, but it nonetheless recruited representatives from over 20 religious communities to compile and send artifacts, photos, and historical timelines. The local committee selected an archivist and creative team that hit the road: visiting motherhouses, schools, hospitals, and ministry sites, taking photos and interviewing sisters and people who bene t from their service. The sisters and lay co-workers were tremendously generous with their time: welcoming questions and sharing their stories, often over coffee or a meal. Visits always ended with a blessing and prayers for the success of Progress & Promise.

Out of necessity, Women & Spirit designers, Seruto & Company, gave the local committee a tight deadline, limited space, and strict design criteria to make Progress & Promise a seamless fit into the national exhibit. Sister Barbara Hagedorn, SC, who coordinated the creation of the creation of the first local exhibit for Women & Spirit in Cincinnati, advised, “be illustrative, not exhaustive.” As the weeks quickly passed, the project archivist for the Northeast Ohio exhibit uncovered the presence of nearly 100 orders that at one time served our region. The local committee had the arduous task of deciding which stories, photographs, and artifacts to include in the exhibit.

“There are different kinds working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:6



Spreading the Good News

Progress & Promise was an eye-opener for Northeast Ohioans. Some didn’t realize the long history of the area’s religious communities. Many were inspired by the breadth of the sisters’ work and their continued presence, often in neighborhoods of signi cant poverty. Others were awed by the thriving sister- founded hospitals, schools, and charities throughout the region.

Sisters themselves learned more about the collective history of their predecessors and peers, often commenting that the exhibit gave them a new appreciation for the work of other congregations. Like Women & Spirit on the national scene, Progress & Promise brought renewed energy to the sisters in the region and continues to spark reflection.

Continuing the Dialogue

As one sister remarked, when Women & Spirit ended in Cleveland, women religious in Northeast Ohio could have said “well, that was a nice exhibit.” But they didn’t. Instead, a group of sisters formed Women With Spirit…NOW and planned a convocation for the following April at Magnificat High School. Over 200 sisters attended the event, where veteran sisters reconnected with old friends and younger sisters witnessed inter-congregational collaboration for the first time. The day began with prayer and ended with the formation of action-oriented committees on issues such as immigration, education, the homeless, and presence in the neighborhoods.

Local Committee

Lynn Berner
Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Sister Maureen Grady, Ursuline Sister of Cleveland

Patricia Harding
Archivist for Notre Dame College

Sister Cheryl Keehner
Sister of Charity of St. Augustine

Sister Carol Ziegler, Sister of Notre Dame Notre Dame College

Creative Team

Diane Adams/Adams Art & Design Development & Design

Donna Nickel Research & Writing



The Traveling Exhibit

When Women & Spirit moved on to Ellis Island in August 2010, members of the local committee and congregational representatives decided that a storage facility was not the place for Progress & Promise. The exhibit was converted into a traveling exhibit, making it accessible to a broader audience. Progress & Promise will travel through Cuyahoga, Geauga, Stark, Summit, and Mahoning counties, appearing in over a dozen locations, including elder care facilities, universities, hospitals, and churches, through 2012.

Visitors to the exhibit vary: homebound residents of nursing facilities are seeing the exhibit for the first time. Students of all ages are studying the exhibit, learning about sisters’ involvement in familiar institutions and service organizations. Sisters and their co-workers often stop by to reflect on the expansive service of the faith- filled women. All are encouraged to fill out “spirit” cards, sharing their experiences with Catholic sisters and telling what they have learned from the experience.

Main Historical Panels

Standing eight feet tall, these panels use poignant quotes and descriptive text, with evocative “then” and “now” imagery, to tell the story of the sisters’ arrival and subsequent impact on Northeast Ohio in education, health care, and social service.

“What we have today is women who have the expertise and the wisdom and the age and the grace that comes with that to move forward.”

– Sister Susan Schorsten, HM, from American Catholic, October, 2010



Congregational Panels

Timeline: chronicles the arrival of congregations in our region – from the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland (1850) to the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (1997) – only a portion of the nearly 100 that served Northeast Ohio’s neighborhoods.

Congregational Brochures: created for each of the congregations
shown in the timeline. Many visitors take the brochures as keepsakes to learn about the charism, history, and accomplishments of each order.
Ministry Collage: highlights the diversity of Northeast Ohio’s sisters’ current ministries as they express the charism of their religious orders in new ways.


Historic artifacts were loaned by area congregations for the initial installation of Women & Spirit at the Maltz Museum of Jewish
Heritage. Too treasured and fragile to be used in the traveling exhibit, these artifacts are displayed in photographic form. Each of the 20 artifacts has its own story, representing the sisters’ history, talents, ingenuity, courage and compassion.


This three-sided kiosk illustrates the post-Vatican II works of local sisters, with an emphasis on respect, dignity, and presence.

“Seeing it all set before you in this display, really impresses on you the leadership, hard work, suffering and love these women contributed to bring the Gospel to this country.”

– Father Don King, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, Canton



Commitment to the Call

It was a leap of faith and an invitation from Bishop Amadeus Rappe of Cleveland that brought the first sisters to Northeast Ohio. In 1850, four Ursuline Sisters journeyed from France, arriving in Cleveland, which at the time only had one Catholic church. Other congregations followed, sending sisters from Europe to serve the growing population of Northeast Ohio.

When the sisters first settled on the shores of Lake Erie, it was not an entirely civilized society. One congregation even used a barn door as a dining table. But the frontier was rapidly disappearing as cities emerged, choked with industry and swamped with immigrants who battled language barriers and coped with illness, poverty, and other New World challenges.

Undaunted, the sisters responded by immediately establishing schools in the neighborhoods. While most of the early sisters had no specific career training, they became the area’s first teachers, nurses and social workers.

“With what feelings of gratitude towards God, with what fond hope , and at the same time with what intense anxiety we stepped ashore on this land still shrouded in darkness, this expansive field of our future labors, we cannot describe.”

– Sister Mary Ignatia, a Sister of Notre Dame, journal entry, 1874



Legacy of Mission

The sisters came to Northeast Ohio during a time of great social change and rapid industrial growth. Spanning a 14 county area, women religious served the immigrant families who farmed the region’s fertile fields and who worked in the mills and factories on the Cuyahoga River, in the Mahoning Valley foundries, on the docks of Lake Erie, and along the Ohio-Erie Canal, helping them adjust to life in their new country.

The Arrival of Northeast Ohio’s Congregations of Women Religious

Northeast Ohio has been and still is home to one of the most significant concentrations of women religious in the United States. The timeline tracks the arrival of 28 congregations in our region from 1850 to 1997. These represent a portion of the nearly 100 congregations that served Northeast Ohio’s neighborhoods.

“We are calculated risk takers.”

– Sister Joan Gallahger, CSA




Through three centuries, women religious of Northeast Ohio have remained a constant and visible presence in the neighborhoods – locally and sometimes continents away – living among the people they serve and meeting unmet needs.

“You go where the grace leads you. You let the street be your chapel. Let your love of others be your vow.”

Sister Mary Ann Flannery, SC, paraphrasing St. Vincent de Paul



Living the Now, Unfolding the Future

The number of women religious nationwide, once over 120,000 in the mid-1960s, has declined to approximately 60,000. With around 1,200 members, retired and active, the sisters of Northeast Ohio look for different ways to carry on their legacy and witness their faith. Sisters took to heart the charge of Vatican II to involve the laity in the work of the Catholic Church. With spreading poverty and the closing or merging of parishes, they engage even more with lay people and other service agencies to keep a presence in the neighborhoods.

A Glimpse at Today’s Sisters

In 2009, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland sponsored an inventory of sisters active in ministry by Sister Mary Ann Murphy, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland. This was followed by a survey completed by 164 women religious from 15 religious orders in Cuyahoga County.

  • 99% are involved in more than one ministry.
  • 80% hold a graduate degree.
  • 71% are engaged in collaborative ministries.
  • 65 – average age of respondents.

“For most of my clients, God is with them by the mere fact that ‘Sister’ is there.”

– Cuyahoga County sister, survey participant



Faces of the Future

Women entering religious life today are not coming to the convent directly from high school, nor are they applying in groups. Some are older, well-educated, and with work experience; others are recent college graduates. What remains constant is the calling from God.

Sister Mary Kelley Rush, SND 

Second year novice in July 2011


Teacher at Julie Billiart School, Lyndhurst; bachelor’s degree in social work/ corrections, master’s degree in education with licensure in special education; worked as an intervention specialist in public schools for 10 years; collegiate athlete

Journey to Sisterhood:

In her early 30’s, Sister Mary Kelley connected with the Sisters of Notre Dame when she volunteered to work with homeless children at Blessing House. “Although there was an uncertainty about how to respond to my calling, the re in my heart that burns for Jesus became the light that showed me the way.”

 Sister Mary Knuckles, OSST
Professed second year vows in 2011.


Teacher at St. Rocco School, Cleveland; bachelor’s degree in education; grew up on a farm in Antwerp, Ohio.

Journey to Sisterhood:

Sister Mary was a junior in college when she began her search for a teaching order that was not too far from her family. She found the Trinitarians by filling out an interest survey on At 22 years old, she was the youngest member, but said, “it felt right.”


“We stand on the shoulders
of women who have been there serving on the front lines.”

– Sister Susan Durkin, OSU



Faces of the Future

Sister Erin Zubal, OSU

Professing final vows in January 2012


Peace and Justice teacher at Beaumont School; bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work; worked as social worker at the Cuyahoga County Jail.

Journey to Sisterhood:

While a student at Ursuline High School, Sister Erin met Cleveland Ursulines when she volunteered at the Youngstown Ursuline Sisters’ HIV/AIDS ministry. It was their strong faith and prayer life, “which leads them to action on behalf of the poor and marginalized of our world” that attracted her to the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland.

Lay Associates

Men and women associates (married and single) enjoy a special relationship with the sisters in their congregation. As spiritual companions and partners in service with the sisters, they live the congregation’s charism in their own lives. Two of the many lay associates of Northeast Ohio share their stories:

Marilou Hitt

Member of the Association Jeanne Jugan (Little Sisters of the Poor) since 2006 Background: Development Director for Little Sisters of the Poor

Journey to Associate:

After volunteering with the Little Sisters of the Poor for several years, Marilou went through the yearlong process of becoming an associate. She often keeps vigil with the sisters when a resident is near death. “It’s a higher level than a volunteer; it’s a commitment.”

Vanessa Griffin Campbell

Associate member of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and the National Black Sisters’ Conference. Background: Director of the Office of Ministry to African American Catholics, Diocese of Cleveland.

Journey to Associate:
Sister Rosella Holloman, CSA, one of only three African American sisters in the Cleveland Diocese, “kept nudging” Vanessa to become a Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine associate. “I finally made the time. It’s been a wonderful addition to my life; my prayer life has been enhanced and has increased by volumes.”

I am proud to be carrying on the legacy of good women committed to the world and to the church.

I can do this. I want to do this.”

– Sister Erin Zubal, OSU



Opportunity Through Education

Within weeks of their 1850 arrival, the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland opened an academy for 300 students. Other congregations soon followed, establishing and staffing parochial and secondary schools, colleges, and nursing schools. Today, the sisters also provide childcare, special needs education, tutoring, and life skills training.

Incarnate Word Academy, first kindergarten graduation class, 1936. In 2010 the school celebrated 75 years of teaching children to “learn, love and serve” from its campus at the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Parma Heights.



Nurturing the Student

Catholic schools have long been the heart and soul of private, urban education.
Parishes in the cities formed schools with sisters as teachers to educate the children of European immigrants. Today, these schools serve mostly African American and Latino students, many non-Catholic. Even in troubled neighborhoods, these schools have a track record for
student achievement and a safe and caring environment.

Villa Montessori Center, Cleveland

In 1995, Sister Marie Veres and Sister Annette Solma, both Sisters of the Humility of Mary, moved to Slavic Village to open a preschool and kindergarten for inner city children. Today, in an area plagued with foreclosures and high unemployment, Villa Montessori Center remains a beacon of hope for families. “We provide discipline, safety, and consistency in the lives of children who live very transient lives,” said Sister Annette, business manager and teacher of the school’s multi-cultured Catholic-Christian environment.

“They show love to us and they teach us about love.”

– Beth Thomas, aunt of a Villa Montessori student



Millcreek Children’s Center, Youngstown

Sister Jerome Corcoran, an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown, never intended to work in child care, but in 1976 when the city of Youngstown asked her to serve as executive director of a new pre- school in the heart of the city, she agreed to do it for a few years. Now 95 years old, Sister Jerome is still at the helm of Millcreek Children’s Center, a non-denominational preschool serving low income families. “Our graduates go into kindergarten prepared and ready to succeed because they are not at a disadvantage: they know everything they need to know,” said Sister Jerome.

St. Rocco School, Cleveland

St. Rocco School has changed dramatically since Italian immigrants
built the school in 1927 with bricks left over from construction jobs. A voucher school success story, over
90 percent of St. Rocco students live below the poverty level and 40 percent are non-Catholics. Families
in the west side neighborhood turn to St. Rocco School and the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity who staff the school for a foundation in their often unstable lives.

Archbishop Lyke School

A melting pot of a dozen small parish schools, Archbishop Lyke School is the only Catholic school serving grades K-8 in southeast Cleveland. In 1993, St. Henry and St. Timothy schools consolidated to form Archbishop Lyke School. “We’ve built on the history that was here, but it was a new beginning,” said Sister Brigetta Waldron, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, and director of the school. Located on two campuses, the school is staffed by the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, Sisters of Notre Dame, and an Adrian Dominican Sister.

“We show the students that this school cares about them. They are safe here and we want them to learn.”

– Sister Judith Wulk, OOST



A Place Where Children Bloom

In 1954, the Sisters of Notre Dame responded to an unmet need in greater Cleveland by opening Julie Billiart. Located in a quiet, wooded setting in Lyndhurst, the alternative, K-8 school educates children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome, attention de cit disorder, and those who need a slower paced curriculum. A Catholic school, faith is taught every day at an ability level appropriate for each individual’s needs. First Holy Communions are small and intimate, without large crowds.

Sister Agnesmarie LoPorto, a Sister of Notre Dame, president of Julie Billiart, believes the school gives hope to parents of children who would be left behind in a traditional school. “They tell me that Julie Billiart has changed their child’s and their family’s lives. Our goal is self-suf cient, productive individuals who are witnesses to the Gospel.”

“Often Children say that this is the first time they have friends. they know everyone here has a problem, so they are not singled out here.
the children are accepted for who they are in a nurturing, comfortable and peaceful environment.”

– Sister Agnesmarie LoPorto, SND



Urban Community School, Cleveland

When established in the mid-1800s, the parish schools of St. Patrick and St. Malachi were strongholds in the Irish Catholic neighborhood on Cleveland’s near west side. By the 1960s, the schools were experiencing low enrollment. The Ursuline Sisters saw that the children were not learning, so they partnered with the two schools, concerned teachers, and community activists to establish Urban Community School in 1968.

The school’s curriculum is non-graded, and each child’s progress is measured by individual set goals. An ecumenical school in the Catholic tradition, Urban Community School is independent, with people of all faiths serving on the board along with the sisters. With over 450 students in preschool through grade eight, the school’s population reflects the diversity in the neighborhood.

Metro Catholic School, Cleveland

When several Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Cleveland merged to form Metro Catholic in 1988, skeptics said that it would fail. Known as “The Miracle on 54th Street,” the school is directed by Sister Anne Mary Maline, a Sister of Notre Dame, and presently has 20 women religious from three different orders working there. It is the area’s only Catholic primary school with special resource rooms for children with learning differences.

We decided that the answer was changing the school, not the kids.”

– Sister Maureen Doyle, OSU, director of Urban Community School


Magnificat High School, Rocky River

Since the Sisters of the Humility of Mary founded Magnificat High School in Rocky River in 1955, generations of young women have grown academically and spiritually under the guidance of the 100-plus Sisters of the Humility of Mary who served at the school.

Each year, the entire freshman class takes part in a retreat to the sisters’ motherhouse in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, where the young women learn the history of the order and come to understand the roots of Magnificat High School. Students are encouraged to participate in spiritual growth activities offered through the Campus Ministry department, including service, immersion experiences, and retreats, and to live Mary’s Magnificat in the world.

Erin McIntyre, Magnificat Class of ’98

Erin joined Magnificat’s Campus Ministry department after graduating from the University of Dayton and spent seven years there developing service and immersion programs. In 2009, she left her alma mater and spent one year as the Interim Director of International Partners in Mission’s Latin American & Caribbean Office, located in El Salvador. The organization works on behalf of women and children to build sustainable relationships that promote justice and safeguard the dignity of all people.

Young women weave a growing faith into their academic and character development at eight sister-sponsored high schools in Northeast Ohio. Three high schools educate both women and men, some in partnership with religious brothers.



“I was influenced by their dedication and commitment to what is right, good, and just. The speakers not only speak about justice and try to influence others, they do it.”

-Erin McIntyre


Leading the Way

At a time when higher education was either unavailable or limited for women, the sisters of Northeast Ohio led the way by establishing Ursuline College and Notre Dame College. In the early days, the colleges taught teachers who went on to serve in the area’s parochial schools, later adding nursing programs to staff the sister-founded hospitals. The colleges meet the evolving needs of their students with mission-centered and value-oriented education.

Ursuline College, Pepper Pike

Values, Voice, Vision

When the Ursuline Sisters established Ursuline College for Women in 1871, it was the first women’s college in Ohio and one of the first in the nation. Enrollment was open to the public, to all races and religions who qualified scholastically. Men were admitted starting in 1966, but the college remains women-focused with around 90 percent of its 1,400 students female.

Notre Dame College, South Euclid

Changing the World One Student at a Time

The Sisters of Notre Dame founded Notre Dame College in 1922 as a Catholic, four-year liberal arts institution for women. At the time, there were nine faculty members, with a student population of 13 women and 11 novices. In 2001, Notre Dame College admitted men, paving the way for continuous growth of the college through the addition of both new programs and athletics. Since then, enrollment has risen to almost 2,000 students.


Beyond the Classroom

Legacy Project, Cleveland

To mark their congregation’s sesquicentennial, the Sisters of Notre Dame established the Legacy Project. Since 2000, tutors help adults work toward their GED (General Equivalency Diploma), bringing hope and education to people who are improving their lives and their families’ futures. Fittingly, the center is housed in a renovated building on Ansel Road, once used by the sisters as their provincial center before they moved to Chardon. “This is the best thing that ever happened to me,” one client said, after jumping several grade levels in reading. “I can express myself better. I can put my ideas on paper without being ashamed, and that gives me a sense of freedom. It’s beautiful.”

Ursuline Institute of Learning, Pepper Pike & Cleveland

Started in 2003, the Ursuline Institute of Learning has blossomed into a flexible program serving the educational needs of kindergartners through adults. The city’s immigrants often come to the sisters for mentoring in cultural integration and help with language skills. The Ursuline Sisters tutor with help from associates, former teachers, and college students. “If we can’t help, I call the Sisters of Notre Dame Skills Lab to see if they have anyone who can teach a particular subject. The networking and collaboration is amazing,” said Sister Susan Mary Rathbun, OSU, Director of the Ursuline Institute of Learning.

“We were there
to build their self-esteem and see their worth.”

–Sister Kathleen Kilbane, CSJ, founded Seeds of Literacy, a provider of adult literacy programs



Hope Through Healing

Before organized health care existed, Catholic sisters offered hope in a time of industrial accidents and outbreaks of disease. Dressed in owing habits and armed with rudimentary medical knowledge, these health care pioneers were familiar figures in the neighborhoods. They became known as “angels” as they cared for the sick and suffering in their own homes. Immigrants and transient railroad workers knew they could rely on the sisters for care. Many sister-founded hospitals still serve our communities today as part of Ohio’s largest health care systems.

“Charity towards the poor is ever to be the motto of the hospital.”

– Bishop Rappe, at the dedication of St. Vincent Charity Hospital, 1865



Leading With Innovation and Compassion

Saint Ann Hospital, Cleveland

Saint Ann Hospital began with an act of charity toward a pregnant widow on a cold winter night in 1873 and the desire of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine to reach out to unwed mothers, their infants, and abandoned babies. Spanning its 100 years of service to women and children, Saint Ann Hospital evolved into a beloved institution where 131,000 babies were born.

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Cleveland

Founded in 1865 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, St. Vincent Charity Hospital was the first permanent Catholic hospital in Northeast Ohio. Following the lead of their first superior, Mother Ursula, the sisters gave their pillows to furnish the hospital while they
slept on straw. Staffed by eight sisters, the hospital’s first patient
was a Civil War veteran. Still in downtown Cleveland, St. Vincent
Charity Medical Center is devoted to healing for all, regardless of ability to pay. “We are determined to be of service to people, and that determination removes barriers,” said Sister Judith Ann Karam, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, president and CEO of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

Caring Through Philanthropy

When they sold Saint Ann Hospital in 1973, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine used the assets from the sale to establish the nation’s first health care conversion foundation. Since then, more than a half dozen health care conversion foundations have formed in Northeast Ohio alone, reinvesting millions in nonprofits to improve health and reduce poverty. The Sisters of Charity Foundations of Cleveland and Canton are two of these foundations.

With the goal of providing compassionate, faith-based care, Northeast Ohio sisters opened and operated hospitals, established nursing schools, and pioneered new technologies. They continue to be there in times of need, especially for those who might not have access to service elsewhere.


Over a Century of Care

Humility of Mary Health Partners, Youngstown

Sisters of the Humility of Mary, called the “blue nuns” because of the color of their habits, were known for caring for the sick in their native France. Arriving in Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1864, they went into the homes of farmers to protect children from contagious disease and cared for injured railroad workers in a small clinic at their motherhouse. In 1879, the sisters built St. Joseph Infirmary, the first Catholic hospital in the Mahoning Valley. They remain steadfast in improving the health of this region at St. Elizabeth’s Health Center in Youngstown, St. Elizabeth’s Health Center in Boardman, and St. Joseph’s Health Center in Warren.

Marymount Hospital, Garfield Heights

Founded in 1949 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, Marymount Hospital is a full-service community hospital serving southern and southeastern Cuyahoga County. The sisters built the hospital on 55 acres of swamp land to serve the needs of the growing Polish immigrant community. Marymount Hospital is now a Catholic regional hospital in the Cleveland Clinic Health System.

“This is Catholic health care in a nutshell: We were prudent enough to change with the times,but strong enough to stay true to the mission.”

– Sister Catherine Britton, SSJ-TOSF



Open Doors

Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin, CSA

As the registrar at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, Sister Ignatia Gavin, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, wanted to help patients suffering from alcoholism. Seeing them not as persons of weak character, but in need of medical attention, she admitted patients under the diagnosis of “gastritis” to avoid disapproval from nursing supervisors.

In 1939, Sister Ignatia partnered with Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to open the first ward for alcoholics in the country at St. Thomas Hospital. With the support of her congregation, she helped spread the AA philosophy. In 1952 she opened Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Hospital in Cleveland, a place where alcoholics could get counseling, group therapy, and treatment for the disease.

When patients left the hospital, Sister Ignatia would give them a Sacred Heart badge and extract a promise that they would come back to her to return it face-to-face before drinking again. This is the origin of the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition
of handing out chips or coins for various lengths of sobriety.

Ursuline Piazza HIV/AIDS Services, Cleveland

To people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, Sister Susan Zion, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, is a trusted friend and the go-to person for counseling, social services, transportation, and education. Sister Susan directs Ursuline Piazza and Jennifer Corlett, Ph.D., also an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, provides licensed clinical counseling. Since 2007, the program has helped hundreds of HIV-positive people remain compliant with their care regimens.

Located in St. Augustine Manor, a long-term care residence of Catholic Charities of Cleveland, Ursuline Piazza helps not only residents, but former residents, family members, care givers, and health care providers. Sister Susan is a consistent presence, with people often calling her just to talk. “There’s no judgment about how someone contracted the virus, no judgment about sexuality,” one client said. “We are told we are worthwhile people—there is nowhere else that we get that.”

“My rules are not from the government or from the social service perspective — I abide by one rule: Love one another. That’s what frees me up to do what I do.”

– Sister Susan Zion, OSU



Comforting the Aging

The spirit of the founding sisters guides today’s sister-sponsored health care facilities. While health care has advanced and changed significantly, the sisters remain true to the original intent of Catholic health care – providing quality care that responds to the whole person with compassion and dignity.

Sister Mary Assumpta Zabas, CSSp

Jennings Center for Older Adults, Garfield Heights

Sister Mary Assumpta Zabas, a Sister of the Holy Spirit, teaches caregivers across the region an inter- faith, spiritual approach to dying. Her dedication to the elderly and their families is shared by all Sisters of the Holy Spirit who, for almost 65 years, have cared for the aged at Jennings Center for Older Adults in Gar eld Heights.

Under Sister Mary Assumpta’s leadership, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit operate a small business selling cookies baked in the convent’s kitchen. Profits from the sale of the popular treats go toward building an endowment to support Jennings Center residents with limited means.

“Because of our mother being here,our religion has come to mean more to our family.”

– told to Sister Marilee Heuer, Congregation of the Divine Spirit, by a member of a resident’s family at the House of Loreto, Canton

With 17 sister-sponsored
senior care ministries in the Dioceses of Cleveland and Youngstown, quality care and friendship in later years can be found close to home.

  • Antonine Sisters’ Adult Day Care, North Jackson
  • The Assumption Village, North Lima
  • Francesca Residence, Akron
  • Holy Family Home and Hospice, Parma
  • The House of Loreto, Canton
  • Humility House, Austintown
  • Jennings Center for Older Adults, Garfield Heights
  • Light of Hearts Villa, Bedford
  • Mount Alverna Village, Parma
  • Mount St. Joseph, Cleveland
  • Regina Health Center, Richfield
  • St. Joseph Care Center, Louisville
  • St. Mary of the Woods, Avon
  • Saints Mary and Joseph Home, Warrensville Heights
  • The Village at Marymount, Garfield Heights
  • The Village at St. Edward, Fairlawn
  • Villa Maria Teresa, Hubbard



Saints Mary and Joseph Home, Warrensville Heights

Promising to “never let anyone die alone,” the Little Sisters of the Poor served elderly men and women of greater Cleveland since 1870. The sisters follow the example of their foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan, and live with the people they serve at Saints Mary and Joseph Home. The Little Sisters provide a loving homelike atmosphere where their residents can live out their days in peace and comfort.

Begging baskets in hand, the Little Sisters of the Poor were familiar figures in the neighborhoods for many years as they sought donations to make ends meet. To this day, two Little Sisters go to businesses and markets around the Cleveland area in a van, seeking food, commodities, and monetary assistance.

Holy Family Home and Hospice, Parma

Holy Family Home in Parma has cared for the terminally ill since it was established by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne New York in 1956. When the founding sisters retired, sisters from other congregations became an integral part of Holy Family’s pastoral program. Beginning in 2005, Holy Family Hospice offers physical, emotional, and spiritual care to people on their end-of-life journey and supports the family and friends after the passing of a loved one.

“At the deathbed vigils, the sisters sing the “Regina Coeli” (Latin for ‘Queen of Heaven’) and it is so peaceful, it’s like the angels are singing along with them. A lot of people are afraid of death, but here, it is so joyful.”

– Marilou Hitt, member of Association of Jeanne Jugan, Little Sisters of the Poor

Sister Carole DeCrane,
a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, visited “Mac” who was hospitalized
after suffering a heart attack at his wife’s funeral. She listened as the grieving man poured his heart out. Sister Carole treasures what the man told her as he was leaving the hospital:
“You know, when you came in here, you didn’t come in with platitudes and tell me everything is going to be fine, and ‘don’t cry.’ You came in here and you walked with me down into the valley of shadows and you stayed with me in that valley. And then together, we’re beginning to walk
up the mountain to where there is light and healing.”

– Sister Carole DeCrane, CSA, Hospital Chaplain, St. John Medical Center, Westlake, from In Their Words, The History of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, an Authentic Films Production, 2009



Encouragement for the Neighbor

In their early days in Northeast Ohio, women religious greatly in uenced the area’s emerging structure of social services. Later, they opened their convent doors to shelter the poor and the orphaned and nourish the hungry. They re-purposed convents and renovated neglected buildings for neighborhood services, tutoring centers, and residences for people in need of a home. Sisters continue to fund, sponsor, and staff programs in our communities, giving encouragement and guidance on the path to a better life. As visible leaders, women religious inspire others to become involved in their ministries.

When there was nowhere else to go, mothers without money or support turned to the sisters to care for their children. For over 150 years, the sisters also have provided a haven to orphaned or abandoned children, becoming ‘mothers’ to thousands in Northeast Ohio.


In 1856, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine cared for their first orphans. In 1925, they merged orphanages in Cleveland and Louisville to create Parmadale Children’s Village, the nation’s first cottage-plan group home for dependent children. Today, Parmadale is part of Cleveland Catholic Charities, serving teenagers with severe behavioral health needs.

Leonora Hall Residence, Akron

The Daughters of Divine Charity established Leonora Hall Residence in 1946 to provide a “home away from home” for women in need of a safe place to live. Under the guidance of Leonora Hall’s executive director, Sister Antoinette Luin, FDC, the women live in an integrated family setting, finding strength and companionship. Meals and special occasions are shared with the residents of Francesca Residence, the sisters’ facility for the well elderly. “One resident told us that this is her home even though her mother lives about a half-mile away,” said Sister Mary Coffelt, FDC.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

– Matthew 25:35



A Place to Call Home

Joseph’s Home, Cleveland

A dream of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, Joseph’s Home provides homeless men a warm, caring, and supportive environment while they recover from surgery or illness. Serving over 400 men since opening in 2000, it is the first and only residence of its kind in Northeast Ohio.

Men receive medical attention, meals, and transportation, along with emotional support, as they work toward goals such as housing, education, employment and sobriety. “Here, they find people who understand their homeless situation, will listen to their story, and help them regain their sense of self,” said Sister Sandy LoPorto, a Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, the staff nurse. “I feel so happy for them when they come back and tell us what they’ve accomplished.”

Beatitude House, Youngstown

Since the early 1990s, Beatitude House has provided stable housing, support, and education for more than 500 homeless women and their children. Founded by Sister Margaret Scheetz, an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown, Beatitude House sets families up in fully furnished apartments for a period of up to two years while mothers work on their educational goals. Several Ursuline sisters live with the families, guiding and encouraging them as they break the cycle of poverty and violence and build lives of stability and hope.

Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., Akron

Started by Sister Loretta Raff, a Sister of the Humility of Mary, in 1987, Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. (HMHI) has grown to 10 sites covering a five county region. While living in a home environment, low income seniors and single parents in transition can find hope, independence, and self-worth. At Opportunity House in Garfield Heights, young men with diagnosed disabilities who have aged out of foster care also find a home. Opened in 2010, Opportunity House is the only program for these men in Cuyahoga County. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary provide leadership, funding, supplies, and living expenses for HMHI clients in times of crisis.



Women and Children

Women’s Re-Entry Network, Cleveland

From her work in prison ministry, Sister Beverly Anne LoGrasso, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, knew the dismal situation women faced when released from jail. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Sister Beverly Anne spent 15 years volunteering and working for Women’s Re-Entry Network (WREN), a program of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries. WREN helps women leaving the prison system rebuild their lives through an integrated network of counseling, education, peer support, and other services. Along with Sister Libby Schaefer, a Dominican Sister of Peace, and Sister Donna Hawk, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Sister Beverly Anne formed

Friends of WREN, recruiting lay women and other sisters to provide additional supplies. Friends of WREN invited judges from local courts to share a meal with the women and learn about the reality of re-entry.

Providence House, Cleveland

Sister Hope Greener, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph, listened when social workers said that parents could not focus on self-improvement while trying to care for young children. In 1981, she founded Providence House, Ohio’s first licensed crisis nursery for children newborn through six years old, in need of temporary shelter and care when their families are coping with situations such as homelessness and domestic abuse.

Since its humble beginnings in a little house with room for only two cribs, Providence House has provided a safe haven, and other social services, for over 6,000 children until they can be reunited with their families.

Blessing House, Lorain

Established in 2005 by Sister Mary Berigan, a Sister of Notre Dame, Blessing House provides short-term care 24/7 for children when their parents or caregivers need immediate help – a welcome alternative to foster care. In the cheerful, five- bedroom home, staff and volunteers provide a loving environment filled with typical childhood experiences, even making sure the “tooth fairy” finds the children.

“Today, I have a lot of hard work that lies ahead of me. I welcome it, as I welcome each new day. I have a whole new outlook on life as well as a new belief in myself and what I’m capable of.”

– From The Present, a poem written by a client of WREN, included in Shadows of Home, Women’s Re-Entry Network Writers Share Their Views from Behind and Beyond Bars, 2006



Food For the Body and Soul

Good Samaritan Hunger Center, Kent

Starting a variety of social services in Portage County, Sister Jordan Haddad, a Dominican Sister of Peace, was well known for providing basic needs to the poor. At the Good Samaritan Hunger Center in the 1980’s, Sister Jordan directed volunteers in serving thousands of meals to people in the Akron area. She organized the first Salvation Army Christian Kettle campaign in Portage County and the Center of Hope in Ravenna, to provide hot meals and food. Nearing retirement in the late 1990s, she established the Kent Hot Lunch program and worked with other churches to open the County Clothing Center in Ravenna.

Women’s Outreach Center, Cleveland

Women’s Outreach Center, an extension of River’s Edge, a ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph, provides a welcoming place for women in transition to grow in self- esteem and learn life skills. Six religious orders send staff or volunteers to this ministry, founded in 2004. Using a holistic approach, the sisters teach healthy cooking and nutrition, communication skills, art therapy, and relaxation techniques. The women make lap quilts for hospice patients, blankets for infants in foster care, and hats and scarves for

inner city students.

“Giving back to the community has helped the women believe in themselves.”

– Sister Felicia Petruziello, CSJ



The Spirit of Collaboration

With roots in Europe, the congregations of Northeast Ohio have their own heritage and traditions. Though their missions vary, they are united by the shared commitment to serve those in need. Making the most of available resources, congregations have historically collaborated to strengthen and broaden their outreach.

Collaboration has become even more common, prudent, and important as fewer sisters try to meet increased needs. Sisters cross congregation lines — working together and pooling their resources, talents, finances, knowledge and networking skills — for maximum impact and mutual support.

In the 1940s, the Dominican Sisters of Akron hosted sisters from other congregations at Our Lady of the Elms for “educational institutes” that centered around day-long discussion groups. Forty-six sisters attended the first session which featured a sister who was a faculty member at Sisters’ College. A Community Orchestra was organized and the musicians entertained at gatherings for several years.



St. John College

Formerly Sisters’ College

When St. John College opened in Cleveland in 1928, it was
one of the few Diocesan colleges in the nation. Originally known as
Sisters’ College, the school trained teachers, mostly women religious,
to staff the nourishing parochial schools, later expanding its mission to preparing nurses for Catholic hospitals.

Each of the 28 religious orders who attended the college was represented by a member of that order on the faculty. Lay students were welcome so long as they were willing to be placed in a Diocesan school after graduation. In the early 1970s, enrollment dropped as demand for teachers decreased. Ultimately, the nursing program, which accounted for the majority of the school’s undergraduates, was moved to Ursuline College, and the remainder of school closed in June 1975.

Dorothy Day House, Youngstown

With financial support from the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown and the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, the Dorothy Day House in Youngstown opened its doors in 2009 to the growing number of people who are poor, unemployed, or underemployed. The house offers hospitality – meals, showers, a beautiful garden, and a safe place to relax – along with a warm welcome and respect for everyone who walks through the door. Volunteers from the community work alongside the guests in food preparation, home improvements and gardening. Sister Ann McManamon, a Sister of

the Humility of Mary, is the in-residence coordinator.
In the spirit of the Catholic Worker Movement, participants emphasize the call to peaceful resistance to injustice and obligation to witness the Gospel call. Weekly vespers and monthly roundtable discussions affirm the commitment of the Dorothy Day House community.

“It was a very pleasant experience being in classes with all the other Sisters and eating lunch together. We learned a lot from each other and compared notes on how we did things in our congregations.”

– Sister Anna Margaret Gilbride, OSU, St. John College, Class of 1956



Regina Health Center

Many congregations but one community

In 1980, area religious communities and the Diocese of Cleveland recognized the growing need to care for their aging religious. With collaborative planning, they decided to join together to provide high quality health care for their members in a God-centered environment.

With fewer sisters living at their motherhouse in Richfield, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine offered their home to meet this need. Opened in 1993, Regina Health Center provides a full range of geriatric services and pastoral care to women and men religious, Diocesan priests, and lay people. It was the first facility of its kind in the United States.

“I really feel for the other sisters when they have to leave their motherhouses,” said Sister Xavier Gorman, CSA, a resident and volunteer. “I always go out of my way to let them know that the CSA’s are here for them and that it’s their house too.” Rev. Dominic Mondzelewski, OSB, a retired Benedictine High School principal
enjoys the interaction. “After living in a monastery with 35 men, I’m used to being in a community so
it’s a good fit for me.”

Light of Hearts Villa, Bedford

A community connection for seniors

Light of Hearts Villa has been an independent and assisted living residence since 1989 when the Vincentian Sisters of Charity re-purposed Lumen Cordium High School (Latin for ‘light of hearts’). Since 2001, Light of Hearts Villa, a collaboration of the Sisters of Charity Health System and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, has been a good neighbor to the elderly in the community – providing emergency food assistance, transportation to doctor’s appointments, and other services to homebound seniors – many of whom have few resources. “We try to provide the little things for them that make an immediate difference,” said Sister Regina Kusnir, SC.

“At Regina, we are taking care of holy men and holy women. I believe we truly are on holy ground.”

– Janet Cinadr, RN, MSN, Director of Nursing, Regina Health Center



Collaborative Initiative to End
Human Trafficking
Many gifts, one spirit
In 2007, women religious from seven religious communities and
several professional women joined together to create the Collaborative
Initiative to End Human Trafficking. The collaborative promotes awareness and supports policies that prevent this modern day form of slavery. It also connects services on behalf of the trafficked persons.

With many trained nurses and teachers in their congregations, the sisters use their knowledge and experience to teach others how to recognize and report human trafficking. In 2010-2011, members of the collaborative (or their trainees) gave over 180 presentations on human trafficking to first responders, hospital personnel, social workers, and students and faculty at high schools and colleges. In four years, the collaboration has grown to 15 religious orders that support the effort either financially or through volunteers, representing the Dioceses of Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo, and Steubenville.

Region VI Coalition for Responsible Investment

Money Talks…Ours is Speaking for Justice

Members of the Region VI Coalition for Responsible Investment (CRI), including six Northeast Ohio congregations, use their power as shareholders in corporations to address problems of social justice. The CRI is a member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of over 300 institutional investors representing diverse religious backgrounds. “We do this because corporations have placed money before the people and because we, as faith-filled people of many different religions working together, have a voice,” said Sister Ruth Kuhn, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, coordinator of CRI’s office in Cincinnati.

Since it was established in 1981, the CRI has held corporations accountable with regard to a variety of issues including mountaintop-removal mining, women’s rights, fair trade, and violence in the media.

“As Jesus cared for all, especially the most vulnerable, we are called to do no less in the face of these horrific crimes.”

– Sister Anne Victory, a Sister of the Humility of Mary, education coordinator, Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking



Presence Living in the Community

Sister Corita Ambro, CSJ

St. Augustine Hunger Center

Sister Corita Ambro, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph, has served homeless and vulnerable people in the Tremont area for over 30 years. From St. Augustine Hunger Center, she provides meals and emergency assistance to over 300 people daily. Known as “Momma,” Sister Corita helps the men of the Hunger Center run a catering business, offering them a purpose and a way to gain acceptance in the changing neighborhood.

Sister Corita is also a dedicated advocate for members of the city’s deaf community who call St. Augustine Church their spiritual home. She helps organize weekly Masses for the hearing impaired, a deaf choir, dinners, and other social activities to build relationships and faith.

“I want people to learn to love them and accept them as I do.”
Sister Corita Ambro, CSJ



Providing a Haven

Sister Sheila Marie Tobbe, OSU

Thea Bowman Center, Cleveland

Sheila Marie Tobbe, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, has developed a neighborhood hub – providing hot meals, a food pantry, literacy and computer training, relationship guidance, yoga, art classes, and spiritual support – for families at the Thea Bowman Center in the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood. The Center provides a safe haven from the violence and drugs that threaten many of the inner city neighborhoods.

Sister Catherine Walsh, CSA

Catholic Worker of Akron

Sister Catherine Walsh, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, is co-founder of the Catholic Worker of Akron. She lives with Hispanic families at Casa Maria Jose, a restored house of hospitality. An immigrant herself, Sister Catherine has empathy for people who come to this country seeking a better life. She offers support and guidance as they work toward self-sufficiency.

“I don’t ask if or what kind of documents somebody has. All I know is that they are human beings who need our services, our care, and our company. That’s enough for me.”

– Sister Catherine Walsh, CSA, addressing the Catholic Consortium of Stark County, 2001



Embracing Community

Sisters of The Blessed Sacrament, Cleveland

Guided by the spirit of their founder, Katherine Drexel, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament came to Cleveland in 1922 to serve at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament on Cleveland’s east side, the first African American parish in the Diocese. The sisters held Catholic faith instruction for women converts and opened Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School. When Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament merged with St. Adalbert Church in the early 1960s, the sisters served the combined parish. “The church and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament gave people the freedom to be comfortable in their own parish community at a time when they weren’t always welcomed at other churches,” said Sister Rosella Holloman, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, who attended Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in the 1940s.

Sister Celine Nohra, as
St. Maron Church, Youngstown
Sister Celine Nohra, an Antonine Sister, is director of faith formation at St. Maron Church in Youngstown, where many members are Lebanese or of Lebanese descent. Raised in Lebanon herself, Sister Celine also teaches Arabic to parishioners and participates in a sister choir at the church, singing songs in English, Arabic, and Syriac (related to Aramaic, Jesus’ language.) “We’re trying to expose people to the language, traditions, and beautiful melodies of their heritage,” Sister Celine said.

Prior to Vatican II, sisters were found in parishes mostly as teachers in parochial schools. With roles greatly expanding, sisters serve parishes wherever they are needed. As directors of religious education or pastoral associates, they take on a variety of tasks, from preparing families for baptisms to setting up the church as a shelter for homeless families.

Sister Joan Franklin, OP, serves as administrator at St. Patrick Church, in Leetonia, a rural community in Columbiana County. She performs all day-to-day functions at the parish, with the exception of conferring sacraments.

Sister Elisa Bonano, OSF, directed faith formation at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain. Sister Catherine McConnell, HM, serves as pastoral assistant at the church that serves the county’s large Hispanic population.



Guiding the Spirit

In a fast paced and material society, sisters see that people need spiritual support today as much as they needed teachers and nurses in the past. Many sisters offer spiritual direction to individuals, retreat programs at their motherhouses, or just a quiet place to pray.

A view of Lake Erie from Centering Space, Lakewood. In 2003 the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, in collaboration with the laity and soon joined by the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, opened Centering Space on the grounds of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine’s former motherhouse, offering a place for prayer and discernment to anyone seeking a deeper connection with God.

Contemplative Orders: A Life of Prayer and Adoration

Four congregations in Northeast Ohio – Poor Clare Colettine Nuns, Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration – Cleveland, Discalced Carmelite Nuns, Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration – Canton – choose to live a cloistered life. Ministering through prayer and adoration, these contemplative sisters offer intercession for the Church and all people of the world. “We do this for our brothers and sisters who cannot do this. People often write and tell us what it means to them to know we are praying for them. It’s a source of comfort and hope,” said Mother Dolores Warner, a Poor Clare Colettine Nun.

“I’d like to think that everything else I do – in education and social services- is also done as part of spiritual formation. It’s all a part of extending the goodness of God to others.”
– Sister Dorothy Fuchs, SND, pastoral associate, St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Canton



Respect, Responding With Action

Sister Henrietta Gorris, CSA

Famicos Foundation

In 1966, flames and violence from week-long riots destroyed Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. Many fled, but Sister Henrietta Gorris, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, stayed. Known as the “Angel of Hough,” she helped rebuild the neighborhood, urging, “Don’t move, improve.” Her mission lives on through the Famicos Foundation she started in 1969. Providing affordable housing and social services in many neighborhoods, Famicos Foundation has grown from a faith-based volunteer organization to one of the city’s oldest community development cooperations.

“If one desires to help the poor, one has to be in their midst – readily available – a resident, not just a visitor.”

– Sister Henrietta Gorris, CSA



Promoting Peace

Sister Brigid Griffin, CSJ

Community Leader and Activist

Sister Brigid Griffin, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph, served as coordinator for the Bishop’s Committee on Desegregation. With dialogues and peaceful gatherings, she helped Cleveland schools accomplish the 1976 court- ordered desegregation without the violent protests seen in other cities.

Sister Donna Wilhelm

InterAct Cleveland

As executive director of InterReligious Partners in Action of Greater Cleveland (InterAct Cleveland) Sister Donna Wilhelm, a Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, provided leadership to increase volunteers and support for Cleveland’s Homeless Stand Down, a mid-winter event that provides guests with food, clothing, health screenings, massages, haircuts and, most of all, dignity. The 20th annual Homeless Stand Down was staffed by 660 volunteers representing over 85 groups and served over 1,200 people facing the challenges of poverty and homelessness. “It provides a place for people of diverse religions to express the value of compassion together,” said Sister Donna.

Dignity in Work

Heartbeats & Esperanza Threads, Cleveland

Sister Margaret Cessna, and Sister Josie Chrosniak, Sisters of the Humility of Mary, founded Heartbeats in 1991. Based on the principles of fair trade, Heartbeats sold items made by women and women’s agencies in the United States and co-ops and families in developing world countries. “It helped them realize that they could, in fact, support a family with their skills, and not depend on charity,” said Sister Josie. “They get the sense that what they are doing is worthwhile, while the person who purchases the item feels like they are making a difference.”

Esperanza Threads, founded by Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, is a clothing manufacturer where low-income men and women receive sewing training. A small group of women operate the co- operative where everyone has an equal vote and a just wage.

“I have no doubt that Sister Brigid Griffin’s organizing and advocacy saved lives during Cleveland’s school desegregation.”

– Leonard M. Calabrese, President, Catholic Community Connection




Catholic Schools for Peace And Justice

Sister Kathleen Ryan, a Sister of Notre Dame, leads Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice (CSPJ), where students increase their awareness and action on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and respect for the disabled, elderly, and each other. A network of 21 Catholic high schools and three Catholic colleges, CSPJ helps students collaboratively plan and participate in workshops, fundraising events, special Masses, and peaceful demonstrations.

In 2006, CSPJ organized Wheels for Justice, a bicycle ride from Cleveland to Columbus that culminated in a rally with 300 other students, to end the death penalty in Ohio. The 30 student and teacher bike riders prayed the Stations of the Cross at various points along the way, rain or shine.

In the Midst of Grief, They Stood Against the Death Penalty

The 1995 murder of one of their own prompted the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland – long opponents of capital punishment – to take a corporate stance against the death penalty. Sister Joanne Marie Mascha, OSU, was walking in woods bordering the motherhouse in Pepper Pike when she was murdered by a mentally disturbed neighbor. While prosecutors sought the death penalty, the sisters initiated a massive letter writing campaign requesting that the death penalty be eliminated as a sentencing option for their sister’s killer. The young man is currently serving a life sentence. After Sister Joanne’s murder, the Ursulines initiated Women Watch, an annual event held in April to commemorate women and children who were victims of violence in Cuyahoga County within the past year.

A familiar face on Capitol Hill, Sister Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ, worked for over 25 years as a lobbyist for NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby. In 2008, Sister Catherine delivered the benediction at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.



Preserving the Earth

Sisters make a concerted effort to be stewards of the earth in every aspect of their lives. Never ones to waste, the sisters recycle and make efforts to conserve energy in their homes and facilities. Throughout the region, sisters are practicing organic gardening and replacing vehicles with gas-efficient models. Many congregations also promote planet-saving measures both locally and in developing countries.

Sister Patricia Marie Sigler, OP

Crown Point Ecology Center, Akron

In 1989, Sister Patricia Marie Sigler, a Dominican Sister of Peace, envisioned creating Crown Point Ecology Center on 130 acres in the Cuyahoga Valley. The ministry supports the region’s oldest Community Supported Agriculture program, provides hands-on education, and hosts organic plant sales. Crown Point has donated more than 265,000 pounds of produce to the Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank since 1997.

Sister Barbara Einloth, SC

Recycling at St. Mary Catholic Church, Hudson

At St. Mary Church in Hudson, Sister Barbara Einloth, a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, recycles paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, tin, and even food waste – “anything the worms can eat” – for compost used at a local raspberry farm. The pastoral associate is often found standing at the dumpsters after church picnics and sh fries, sorting through trash for recyclables. “We’re responsible for the earth and we’re not free to destroy it because it’s easier,” said Sister Barbara.

Water For Life

Sisters of Notre Dame, Chardon

The Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon adopted Water for Life as a living corporate stance. Through prayer, planning, and communal and personal action, the congregation is committed to local and global efforts to restore and protect water. Many sisters fast from Coca-Cola products in support of their missionaries in India, where farmers lost precious ground water and suffered soil contamination due to over-drilling by the company.

“We are continually striving to promote awareness of the interconnectivity of all life.”

– Sister Mariellen Phelps, OP



Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND

Ministry to the Incarcerated and Detained, Cleveland

In 1997, Sister Rita Mary Harwood, a Sister of Notre Dame, developed the Ministry to the Incarcerated for the Diocese of Cleveland, giving hope to thousands of prisoners in an eight county area. Leading over 250 volunteers, Sister Rita Mary provides prisoners with personal supplies, friendship, and connections to family members – creating a lifeline to the outside world.

Sister Rita Mary expanded this ministry to reach out to immigrants without proper documents who are detained in the prison system. With steady diplomacy, she obtained permission to have one priest and four volunteers offer weekly visits to these men and women. Volunteers also contact the family members of people who are detained or deported, offering assistance with their most basic needs.

“In the end, to stand with those who are frightened, alone, or in danger; to educate,
to speak with and for, and to pray –
this is the message of the Gospel and the work of the Church.”
– Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND



Welcoming the Stranger

Sister Mary Frances Harrington, CSJ

Lost Boys of Sudan

Sister Mary Frances Harrington, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joesph, became a mother to 26 young men who fled civil war in their homeland, only to face poverty, unemployment, and loneliness in a new country. Sister Mary Frances has been a mentor, advocate, and friend to Cleveland’s “Lost Boys of Sudan.” They call her “Malaik” – the Dinka word for angel.

Sister Karen Bernhardt, HM

Bringing the Ministry to the Fields

Sister Karen Bernhardt, a Sister of the Humility of Mary, as national coordinator of Catholic Migrant Farmworkers Network (CMFN), brings a pastoral presence to the lives of thousands of migrant and seasonal farmworkers who have deep faith but little connection with the Church.

Sister Karen trains migrant workers to lead youth groups, arranges opportunities for sacraments, and encourages local parishes and communities to reach out in friendship and support. CMFN also builds awareness of issues facing immigrants, such as human trafficking.

“There is such hope in the midst of terrible conditions that it has helped me grow my faith.”

– Sister Karen Bernhardt, HM



Beyond Borders

Through global missions, sisters of Northeast Ohio are often the face of God for people existing in poverty-stricken and oppressed countries. Sisters working in these ministries live among their neighbors – sometimes in dangerous conditions. They bring hope through health care, education, social services,
and by spreading the good news of the Gospel.


Sisters of Notre Dame

Sister Dolores Mikula is one of three Sisters of Notre Dame living and ministering in Jinotega, Nicaragua. Traveling over rough mountainous terrain – with some places only
accessible by foot, horse, or mule – the sisters serve 25 mission locations in Sangre de Cristo parish. Sister Dolores works with children and teens of the barrio, providing alternative, safe activities such as vacation bible school, movie nights, and field trips to build a sense of community. She also trains catechists, conducts spiritual retreats, and provides leadership training.


Sisters of the Humility of Mary

In 2010, Sister Judy Dohner, a Sister of the Humility of Mary, was working at a small clinic in the mountains of Fondwa, Haiti, when a major earthquake hit, killing a novice of the Sisters of St. Antoine and a boy she was caring for in the orphanage. Despite a head injury and broken rib, Sister Judy, a nurse, trekked to St. Damien Hospital in Port-au-Prince where she spent 15-18 hour days in the emergency room helping the injured. Sister Judy remains in Haiti helping the people rebuild their lives after the disaster.

“We look forward to encountering and sharing the Goodness of God wherever God calls.”

– Sister Dolores Mikula, SND, in a blog about her ministry in Nicaragua



Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU

Martyred on December 2, 1980 in El Salvador

Sister Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, was committed to serving the people of El Salvador. Beginning in 1974, she lived among the people, teaching them how to read and write, and showing women how to nourish their children. She trained lay leaders for the church and distributed supplies. When civil war broke out in 1977, Sister Dorothy decided to stay in the country to helo refugees.

On December 2, 1980, Sister Dorothy, lay missioner Jean Donovan, and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, were abducted from the La Libertad airport. They were raped and murdered by members of the El Salvador national guard. Their bodies were found the next day in a shallow grave alongside the road.
Today, Sister Dorothy’s grave in All Soul’s Cemetery in Chardon is a place of pilgrimage. Her martyrdom has been a catalyst for many groups of diverse people to unite and advocate for social justice at local, national and international levels.

“I could not leave Salvador, especially now… I am committed to the persecuted Church here.”

– Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU



Music, Arts & Media

Since their arrival, artistic sisters have used their talents to express their faith, some selling their creations – from lace to digital photographs – to support their communities and ministries. Others use art and music to prompt reflection or make a statement about issues such as social justice or ecology.

In 1981, Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare Nun from Canton launched the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in a small studio on the grounds of the monastery she founded in Irondale, Alabama. Today, EWTN broadcasts Catholic family and religious programming 24/7, reaching 148 million homes in 144 countries.

Sister Juanita Shealey, a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph, gave the sign-on/sign-off meditation on local television stations for 25 years. She currently hosts God’s Saving Word, a Cleveland radio call-in program heard every weekend on WERE 1490 AM.

Today’s women religious use blogs, podcasts and Facebook to express themselves, inform and spark interactive dialogue, but sisters of Northeast Ohio have long used media as a method to spread the “good news.”



Treasures of Time

Called to Lead

Behind the ministries is a small group of women who, as congregational leaders, focus internally on the needs of the group. Through prayer and discussion, sisters choose leaders who listen to each member, serve as the voice of the community, and make difficult decisions. Ministries to the most vulnerable of God’s people usually do not pay the bills, yet courageous leadership has allowed sisters to express the charism in a multitude of ways.

Though related by community and prayer instead of blood, sisters view their congregations as family and are well-versed in the history and stories of foundresses and sisters who have gone before them. Like family heirlooms, the artifacts presented on the following pages are treasured links to the sisters’ heritage.






Women Religious Serving Northeast Ohio Since 1850

  • Adorers of the Precious Blood
  • Adrian Dominican Sisters
  • Antonine Sisters
  • Benedictine Sisters of Erie
  • Benedictine Sisters of the Byzantine Church
  • Byzantine Nuns of St. Clare
  • Children of Mary
  • Christ the Bridegroom Community (Burton)
  • Congregation of Divine Providence (Melbourne, KY)
  • Congregation of the Divine Spirit (Erie, PA)
  • Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
  • Daughters of Divine Charity
  • Daughters of St. Paul
  • Daughters of the Divine Redeemer
  • Daughters of the Heart of Mary (Ladies of the Sacred Heart)
  • Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi (Lacon, IL)
  • Discalced Carmelite Nuns
  • Dominican Sisters (Caldwell, NJ)
  • Dominican Sisters
  • Congregation of St. Rose of Lima (Hawthorne, NY)
  • Franciscan Sisters of Chicago (Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda)
  • Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King (Kansas City, MO)
  • Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity (Manitowoc, WI)
  • Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (La Crosse, WI)
  • Glenmary Sisters (Owensboro, KY)
  • Little Sisters of the Poor
  • Mercedarian Sisters of the Most Blessed Sacrament (TX)
  • Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart (Baltimore, MD)
  • Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity
  • Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
  • Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
  • Order of the Most Holy Trinity (Baltimore, MD)
  • Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters (Huntington, IN)
  • Pious Disciples of the Divine Master
  • Poor Clare Colettine Nuns
  • Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration (Canton, Cleveland)
  • Religious of the Eucharist
  • Religious Teachers Filippini
  • Sacred Heart Sisters
  • School Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis (TX)
  • Sisters of Bon Secours
  • Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati
  • Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (KY)
  • Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill (PA)
  • Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine
  • Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross (KY)
  • Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Sisters of Notre Dame
  • Sisters of Providence (Holyoke, MA)
  • Sisters of Social Service (Buffalo, NY)
  • Sisters of St. Agnes (Fond du Lac, WI)
  • Sisters of St. Basil the Great (Uniontown, PA)
  • Sisters of St. Benedict
  • Sisters of St. Casmir (Chicago, IL)
  • Sisters of St. Dominic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Dominican Sisters of Peace)
  • Sisters of St. Felice of Cantalice (Felician Sisters, MI, PA, IL)
  • Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate (Joliet, IL)
  • Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale (PA; Neumann Communities)
  • Sisters of St. Francis Adoration (IN)
  • Sisters of St. Francis
  • Sisters of St. Francis St. George (Alton, IL)
  • Sisters of St. Francis Providence of God (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Sisters of St. Francis Order (Syracuse, NY; Communities)
  • Sisters of St. Francis
  • Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of Perpetual (Sylvania)
  • Sisters of St. Joseph (Congregation of St. Joseph)
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis
  • Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker (Walton, KY)
  • Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Sisters of the Congregation de Notre-Dame (Staten Island, NY)
  • Sisters of the Divine Redeemer (Elizabeth, PA)
  • Sisters of the Good Shepherd
  • Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (Des Plaines, IL)
  • Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary
  • Sisters of the Holy Spirit Sisters of the Humility of Mary
  • Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament
  • Sisters of the Living Word (IL; Sisters of Christian Charity)
  • Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity
  • Sisters of the Precious Blood (Dayton)
  • Sisters of the Resurrection (Chicago, IL)
  • Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (PA)
  • Social Mission Sisters of Hungary
  • Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland
  • Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown
  • Vincentian Sisters of Charity (Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati)

    Compiled by Patricia Harding, Archivist for Notre Dame College (2009; rev. 2011)

In addition to the congregations highlighted in Progress & Promise, dozens more have served the region since 1850. While time and space did not permit their inclusion, we would like to recognize these orders and acknowledge that other communities may have been missed. Sources include directories, parish histories, congregational histories, regional histories, and Catholic encyclopedias.