St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Austin’s Parish are the two key downtown Catholic parishes in Austin. They endeavor to serve their diverse, complex communities effectively and really do a great job. Their parishioners are drawn from some of the most affluent and sophisticated people of the metropolitan area, while at the same time, they must reach people living on the streets and for whom every day is an extremely difficult struggle.
I was very impressed and delighted when I opened the Austin American Statesman the other day and saw that St. Austin’s had opened a water fountain on the street in front of the parish. Father Charles Kullmann, the pastor, pointed out the reason. “The street youth were finding it harder and harder to find water and there were no public fountains in the area and fewer businesses were willing to supply water.” The city wouldn’t provide the sustenance. The faithful would. May God bless the faithful.
It was the wonderful parishioners of St. Austin’s who 13 years ago recognized a really pressing problem on the streets. Homeless women with children! I was still in office when a half a dozen younger parishioners came to me with a vision of opening some type of hostel program facing this agonizing problem. When talking to people about this I always like to stress the words and make sure that they catch what it was that I said. HOMELESS WOMEN WITH CHILDREN! The young St. Austinites had a dream of purchasing an apartment house, and helping these women to get their feet on the ground and be able to provide for their children and themselves. I cautioned these generous visionaries about the complexities of their dream. I mentioned the risks, the liability, the ongoing costs, etc., etc. Happily, they ignored my counsel and one month later purchased a 12-unit apartment house for $650,000. The Daughters of Charity and the Seton Fund made major contributions getting them off to a good start. The Diocese itself made a modest contribution of $50,000. They were underway!
St. Louise House is much more than just a roof overhead. This ministry provides counseling, job training and other aids in helping the mother and her children get on their feet. When they enter their new home it is completely furnished and when she leaves, usually in less than a year, she takes everything with her because she arrived with nothing but would be moving into an empty apartment. After she leaves, the wonderful St. Louise House volunteers step in and refurnish the empty apartment preparing for the next heroic mother with her child or children.
St. Austin’s is also one of the downtown churches that works together to provide warmth and sustenance on freezing nights to homeless men who have a desperate need for shelter. May God bless them for that.
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Let me suggest a new insight on the oft-repeated stories about the winning of the West. We all know the stories about the ranchers, the farmers, cowboys, sheep herders and endless conflicts between them. We also know that many women went West and endured the privations and dangers that went with life on the frontier. What you may not think about is the fact that Catholic nuns went West as missionaries and accomplished miracles, absolute miracles. If you want to check on how early they got out there, go open a national Catholic directory and look up different dioceses, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Helena, Montana. Throw in Reno and Salt Lake City and then look at the founding date of the schools and hospitals in those areas. It is amazing, simply amazing.
The Daughters of Charity were in Sacramento in 1808. There was hardly a good-sized city in the West that did not see a Catholic hospital set up by these heroic vowed religious. Small liberal arts colleges also sprang up. Not as many as the hospitals but enough to make a major contribution to the education of women during that difficult 19th century. Going West and settling on the frontier demanded a great deal of independent thought and actions and these sisters had it! With distance and communications problems, they could not depend on guidance or supervision from the Motherhouse.
You want an example of that? The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word came originally from France and Ireland. They set up a number of hospitals in Galveston, Houston, San Antonio and other places. But at the time the distance between San Antonio and Houston made communication virtually impossible. That is why the Sisters have two divisions in Texas. They simply could not stay in touch and so separated. Both groups are proud inheritors of the same missionary tradition.
May God bless them all.
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When I came to Austin 37 years ago, I was wonderfully surprised by the extraordinary amount of good work that goes on in our community and especially wonderful ministries sponsored under various organizations of the Catholic Church. Seton hospital had a century old tradition of helping the poor and was in a period of rapid expansion as its second century approached. We had a half dozen excellent East Austin parishes, each one of which was doing the best that it could to assist with the needs of that area. However, Seton hospital was four or five miles away and transportation was sometimes difficult.
I approached the Daughters of Charity to explore the possibility of opening a clinic in East Austin. In my medical innocence do you know what I thought a clinic probably was? I was thinking in terms of a large, clean room, thoroughly stocked with band aids and aspirin. How naïve.
On completing their study of the area, the Daughters opened what was then called “Seton East.” I have not checked recently but on average they have served approximately 35,000 people a year using the “ability to pay” method. Tens of thousands of people have had their lives made somewhat easier because the vision of St. Vincent de Paul continues after 400 years and is alive and well in East Austin. God bless St. Vincent, God bless the Daughters and God bless their clinic on Second Street.
If I had even a trace of humility somewhere in my system, I would avoid the opportunity to tell you that it is now named Seton McCarthy! Yes, I am proud but it is principally the Daughters and their co-workers of whom I am so very proud. May God bless them always.
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Sister Teresa George, D.C.
No one wants to go to the hospital unnecessarily but if you find yourself in Austin, Texas, and you want to see something really both wonderful and awesome, find your way to the campus of the Dell Children’s Medical Center. It has been constructed on the site of the old Austin airport by the Daughters of Charity and their many supporters in Central Texas. It is truly a wonderful place.
I have always been intimidated by medical issues. I am not very adept at even putting a bandaid on. When I visit this wonderful hospital, I am amazed at how it changes the lives of thousands of infants and children. I cannot imagine any one person knowing how to keep that thing running.
Well, this great hospital has an excellent leader at the helm. Sister Teresa George, D.C. , a native of Austin, is the president of the Dell Children’s Medical Center and with her leadership, her magnificent staff, together with the support of the whole Seton Family of Hospitals, Dell Children’s is a justifiable source of pride for Central Texas. Sister Teresa, or “Sister T” as she is known by her co-workers, is yet another example of that endless list of gifts that vowed religious women bring both to the internal and external life of the Church across the world. What a blessing they are, a gift to the rest of us and how thankful we should be for their generous service to the Church and the larger community.
The Daughters have been in Central Texas for well over a century and their extraordinary work continues to expand and enrich our common life. God bless the Sisters.
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Sr. Helen Brewer, D.C.
Regretfully and shamefully, the great state of Texas always lags far behind the other states when it comes to providing much needed services to the poor and the disadvantaged. Happily the federal government has assumed some responsibility in this area, and has established a program called CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). The federal government pays a large portion of the cost connected with this program, but does require the state government to participate. And that is where Texas has frequently dragged its heals. Four or five years ago, when the budget became terribly tight, one of the first items cut back drastically in the state budget was participation in CHIP. Tens of thousands of poor sick children were no longer covered because the state participation was quite low.
Into the breech steps Sr. Helen Brewer, D.C., from Seton Medical Center in Austin. Sr. Helen, with a forceful group of like-minded co-workers, managed to get the rates of participation by Texas raised considerably. Hers was a strong voice resounding in the halls of the state Capitol and that struggle went on over several years. CHIP has now been folded in to the Medicaid program, and offers more technical advantages in enabling more children to participate.
In addition to her dedication to the health needs of poor children, Sr. Helen has chaired the Board of Directors of Seton Health Care Network. She has held that position for six years! Sr. Helen is now going to get bit of a rest-if she knows how to do that…
How blessed the Church is, with tens of thousands of Religious Women accomplishing this kind of wonderful work all over the world in the fields of health care, education, social service, etc., etc. Every Catholic in the world- from the Holy Father to a 7-year-old First Communicant- should thank God for their presence among us!
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