More than a century ago, when Central Florida was part of the Diocese of St. Augustine, several communities of religious sisters, priests and brothers arrived in Central Florida from other parts of the country and the world to minister to and serve the growing number of Catholics in the area and to bring those who had yet to find faith, closer to God.
In the years that followed, these men and women not only played an instrumental role in the establishment of many of our parishes and schools, but also in the faith formation of thousands of adults and children. Today, the Diocese of Orlando is blessed to have nearly 50 communities of religious priests, brothers and sisters, who continue to share their love of Christ and give witness to him through their daily lives.
In celebration of the Year for Consecrated Life, we present a three part series to highlight some religious communities and the impact they have made on our past and are making on our present and future. In this first installment, you will read about why the Diocese is grateful for the past contributions of the religious communities who helped establish our diocese with their mission of teaching and establishing parishes.
Sisters of Mercy
The Sisters of Mercy of Ireland have been serving the people of Florida – from Jacksonville to Miami -- since the late 1800s. Early accounts make note of their ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Daytona Beach in the 1950s. A decade later, when the space program began to take root and Central Florida’s population surged, an influx of Sisters of Mercy came to the United States to teach the children of the east coast.
The Sisters of Mercy played an integral part in the establishment of many of the diocese’s schools, including St. Peter in Deland, St. Teresa in Titusville, St. Joseph in Palm Bay, St. Mary in Rockledge, Our Saviour in Cocoa Beach, and Holy Name of Jesus, at the time in Canova Beach. They have served as principals and teachers of our Catholic schools, instilling in the children strong moral values, a thirst for knowledge and, most importantly, a deep love of Christ.
Today, the Diocese of Orlando is blessed to have five Sisters of Mercy still serving the faithful.
Sisters of St. Joseph
The Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine came to Florida in 1889 in response to the needs of thousands of unchurched and uneducated former slaves following the Civil War. Throughout the decades, they have ministered in schools, hospitals and prisons and to the poor throughout the state. In the Diocese of Orlando, the Sisters of St. Joseph were the first teachers at St. Charles Borromeo and Good Shepherd Catholic schools and Bishop Moore Catholic High School. Sister Elizabeth Marie Stoup, founder of Morning Star School, was much admired for the love and dedication she showed to the special needs children of the diocese.
In addition, in 1965, the Sisters of St. Joseph played an instrumental role in the opening and operation of Mercy Medical Center in Orlando. Today, the diocese is still blessed to have two Sisters of St. Joseph ministering in the community.
“For us, it is a deep joy to have been called to this diocese in 1866 and to be instrumental in its growth and spiritual development. Our charism has played out over the years: ‘That all may be one’ (John 17:21),” said Sister of St. Joseph Kathleen Power, Diocese of Orlando Assistant Director of Vocations.
Sisters of Christian Charity
In 1954, eight Sisters of Christian Charity of Mendham, NJ arrived in Orlando to help lay the foundation for Catholic education in the area with the opening of two new schools – All Souls Catholic School in Sanford and St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Winter Park. The Sisters of Charity taught at All Souls until 1978 and St. Margaret Mary until 1980. They also taught for a brief time at Bishop Moore Catholic High School.
La Salette Missionaries
As the Diocese of Orlando continued to flourish, more priests were needed to serve the faithful of Central Florida. Since the 1980s, the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette priests have ministered in several parishes and missions throughout the diocese. Bishop Thomas J. Grady invited the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette to provide priests for Good Shepherd Parish in Orlando. The community arrived in August, 1981 and this was the first time the La Salettes had a parish assigned to their care.
The La Salettes also serve the migrant community in Wahneta (Polk County) and as well as travelers and staff at Orlando International Airport.
“More than anything, the people — their devotion, their participation, their obvious commitment — are an extraordinary example. I find myself constantly invigorated by them,” said Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette, Fr. Norm Farland.
Aims of the Year of Consecrated Life – from the message from Pope Francis about the Year of Consecrated Life delivered on November 21, 2014
The first of these aims is to look to the past with gratitude. All our Institutes are heir to a history rich in charisms. At their origins we see the hand of God who, in his Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church.
This initial experience then matured and developed, engaging new members in new geographic and cultural contexts, and giving rise to new ways of exercising the charism, new initiatives and expressions of apostolic charity. Like the seed which becomes a tree, each Institute grew and stretched out its branches.
Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging.
(Reprinted with permission of The Florida Catholic, Feb. 6-19, 2015)