After being a daily presence in Austin’s health care community for 112 years, the Daughters of Charity will leave town in a year, the Catholic religious community said Friday in a memo to employees of the Seton Healthcare Family.
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul founded the Seton Infirmary, which was dedicated in 1902. Today, the Seton system is the largest health care operator in the Austin area, with 14 affiliated hospitals, a nursing home and three clinics that serve the needy. The nuns’ departure, anticipated in fall 2014, is historic, officials said.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Belinda Davis, a spokeswoman for the Daughters in St. Louis. “It’s the end of 112 years of the Daughters being visible — whether in the hospitals, clinics or parishes.”
The Seton Healthcare Family will remain Catholic-owned, by St. Louis-based Ascension Health, and several Daughters will continue to have a role on Seton’s governing board, though none will live in Austin, Davis said.
The nuns are leaving because their numbers are dwindling and they are needed elsewhere.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Davis said.
The Daughters planned the departure for several years. The nuns will continue their mission of serving the needy at a location still to be determined, possibly to work on immigration or human trafficking issues, Davis said.
Just six of the the Daughters remain in Austin. Originally seven had come to the town of 22,258 on the banks of the Colorado at the turn of the last century, according to the Daughters and Seton.
“The Daughters’ presence will be deeply missed, but Seton will continue to carry out its mission as a ministry of the Catholic Church,” said Jesús Garza, president and CEO of the Seton Healthcare Family.
The departure is bittersweet for the sisters, Davis said, but announcing it now gives them time to say goodbye.
The memo sent by the Austin Daughters of Charity to Seton employees says, in part, “Being able to entrust the ministries of the Seton Healthcare Family to well-prepared lay and community leadership affirms the Daughters’ confidence in the direction and sustainability of the work in Austin. This decision means that the Daughters believe Seton has the resources to continue its ministry into the future.”
Seton’s deep ties to the Daughters is celebrated on its website and in other written materials. Until recently, the chairwoman of Seton’s board of trustees was a Daughter, Sister Helen Brewer. She will remain on the board but will no longer live in Austin, officials said.
The Daughters of Charity were founded in Paris in 1633 by Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. The order traces its founding in the United States to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in 1809, in Emmitsburg, Md.
A group of Daughters agreed to come to Austin to open a hospital at the turn of the 20th century, and the original infirmary became what is now known as Seton Medical Center Austin. The Daughters also went to other cities to establish hospitals that eventually grew into the Daughters of Charity National Health System, according to Ascension Health’s website.
In 1999, that health system, along with the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System, created Ascension Health.
Ascension Health governs the hospitals and other facilities sponsored by the two systems and is today the largest non-profit health system in the United States.