The Sisters of Social Service looked at their past and faced their future during their annual fundraising dinner on Oct. 22. One guest speaker reviewed the history of the sisters and another spoke about the challenges the order must deal with as it moves forward.
Sister Denise Roche, GNSH, president of D'Youville College, has met and even taught some of the sisters at the Buffalo institute, which, coincidentally, was founded in 1908 the same year Margaret Slachta, a pioneer in social service and political activism, felt a call to serve the needy in God's name. In 1923, Slachta founded the Sisters of Social Service in Budapest, Hungary, with a mission to seek to hasten the reign of God by identifying the needs of society and responding to them in the most suitable ways.
"The communal lives and personal lives of these courageous women religious, who we recognize and honor here tonight, is a story of extraordinary love. It was the energy that ignited them and led them forward even in the midst of overwhelming challenges," Sister Denise said.
During World War II, the Nazi movement forced the sisters to go underground. Undeterred, they continued to reach out to women and children in need, and protected Jews from the Nazi regime.
"Can we imagine the fear that must have gripped the hearts of these heroic sisters who found resourceful ways to help the Jewish families while being under constant threat of imprisonment or death if their efforts should be discovered?" Sister Denise asked.
Not until persecution of women religious in Eastern Europe during the 1950s and Hungarian Revolution did the sisters flee their homeland to Buffalo. In order to pursue social work in the United States, the sisters needed to be properly trained and certified. As they had a convent on Linwood, they found a friend and ally in the neighboring D'Youville College.
"I've had the privilege of knowing some of them, and even taught a few of them in my introductory sociology courses," Sister Denise recalled. "As a new and very inexperienced teacher, I learned from these sisters, who were patient and kind and encouraging. I also noted how grateful they all were, but I did not realize the remarkable background that they had, and the obstacles that they had overcome. I was not aware of how deep their gratitude was for God, Who protects and provides for us all, and whose providence they has witnessed again and again."
The nine sisters who serve in Buffalo are part of one of five districts that make up the Sisters of Social service order. Others districts serve in Cuba, Romania, Slovenia and Hungary.
In her closing remarks, Sister Magdalen Kővári, assistant general moderator for the order, traveled from Budapest to announce that after 49 years, this would be the last fundraising dinner the sisters would hold. As with most religious orders, the sisters are aging and the new vocations have been dwindling.
"Eventually all works, all accomplishments, will come to an end. Everything we've built, created, established will eventually seize, fall apart, be forgotten, or will be destroyed at some point. The real reason for rejoicing is the reality that lies beyond the works, meaning the fact that while we were doing these works we allowed the kingdom of God to come and to help them. In other words, we allowed God's mercy to come and cover us in love," she said. "All things pass, but our communion, our relationships created in and through love will last forever, because God is love."
After the dinner, long-time advisory board member Evelyn McLean Brady reflected on what the sisters meant to her.
"The Sisters of Social Service are what we consider to be truly women religious in every sense of the word. We always call them resurrection sisters because their whole mission is to bring life, especially to the marginalized," she said. "It's the last dinner, but it's not the last of the Sisters of Social Service. As long as their presence is in Buffalo, people will be affected by their spirit and goodness."