By Sharon Abercrombie,
Staff writer Catholic Voice, Oakland, CA
The Holy Family Sisters began in 1872 when Elizabeth Armer of San Francisco and Father John Joseph Prendergast founded the community to serve the poor and needy. This charism of helping women, children and poor families has remained steadfast while the Sisters have updated their ministry with new programs and projects to address social ills that continue to affect the impoverished.
Today their outreach includes grief counseling, hospital chaplaincy, religious education, childcare, parish administration, canon law, social work, personal growth and spiritual direction, and prison ministry. Both the Holy Family Sisters and their associates (lay women who affiliate with the Sisters, assisting in their ministries through prayer and volunteerism) work in 10 states, including California, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
One of their earliest ministries was providing affordable day care facilities for the children of working families. When the 1906 earthquake devastated San Francisco and destroyed their day-care sites, they pitched tents in Golden Gate Park so they could continue their work.
Recently they received a grant from the City of San Francisco to offer services to homeless children at their Holy Family Day Home. The Holy Family Sisters also operate St. Vincent’s Day Home in Oakland.
In the 1930s the Sisters developed a series of popular catechisms for use with their students. Twenty years later, two of the Sisters wrote a series of catechism books, “On Our Way,” incorporating some of teaching methods the Sisters had pioneered. The texts were used for religious education nationwide.
Several years ago, the community sponsored affordable housing for low-income families in Fremont and in recent months they have been sponsoring educational talks and workshops to educate the Bay Area community about victims of human trafficking.
As the community ages and more Sisters retire, the community’s work continues in other ways, said Sister Michaela O’Connor, the community archivist. They provide financial resources to charitable ministries and serve on the boards of their day homes.
There are always ways to serve, she pointed out. “The Church needs lots of stuff done.”