Grateful to Be in Milot: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Grateful. That is the word that best describes how we Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace feel about the CRUDEM Foundation’s invitation to join the mission at Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot.

In 2008, as a way to honor the 125th Anniversary of our order, we were looking to start a new ministry in a country of need. Dr. David Butler, a physician from Holy Name Medical Center, with a long history as a volunteer at Hôpital Sacré Coeur, heard of our search and let us know that the CRUDEM Foundation was seeking a presence of Sisters in Milot. One thing led to the next, and by the Fall of 2009 Sisters Ann Crawley, CSJP and Maureen Boggins, CSJP, both from the United Kingdom, and Sister Marilee Murphy, CSJP from the USA began their ministries at the mission.

Our charismatic founder, Margaret Anna Cusack, would also be pleased and grateful for our presence in Milot. Throughout her life, she had a special love for the poor—particularly for women and children—a passion she likely inherited from her father who was a surgeon committed to work among the poor. She saw the blatant injustices in land ownership in Ireland, in lack of education for the poor, in the harshness of the Poor Law system and determined to do something to help. Born in Dublin to an Anglican family in 1929, in her adult years Margaret Anna was drawn to religious life and initially entered an Anglican religious community.

That choice however, did not lead to serving the poor as she desired, so Margaret Anna turned to Roman Catholicism and eventually entered the Poor Clare Sisters in Ireland. Gifted as a researcher and author, she wrote and published spiritual works, biographies of Saints, and histories of Ireland and became well known as the “Nun of Kenmare”, and as a symbol of liberation throughout Ireland. However, still not satisfied that she was serving the poor as desired she left the Poor Clare community and in January 1884 in Nottingham, England founded our Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Mother Clare had by now become increasingly concerned about the plight of young women forced to emigrate to the United States without skills or education.

Later in 1884, she made the journey to America with the intention of helping immigrant women coming into this country. Her writing had already given her contacts here and she lost no time in discerning the immediate needs and finding ways to respond. A large hotel on the Hudson directly across from upper Manhattan was soon acquired and became a residence where poor working women, most of them immigrants and all of them separated from their places of origin, could go for rest. A smaller house in Jersey City served as an orphanage and work with blind people soon followed.

In the early 1890’s, two sisters traveled west at the request of a Bishop to bring health care to Bellingham, Washington, a ministry that eventually resulted in St. Joseph Hospital, the first of several hospitals to be established by the Sisters in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Meanwhile in England, work in Grimsby, a rough fishing port in Lincolnshire, and in the newly industrialized city of Nottingham included home nursing among the poor families, education of poor children and an orphanage. In 1918 Sister St John was awarded the George Cross by the King in recognition of her wartime work in London. Back in the States, the Phelps Manor in Teaneck, New Jersey was purchased in 1923 as a site for Holy Name Hospital and included a School of Nursing. Later St. Luke’s Hospital in North Carolina and St. James in Newark, NJ were bought and administered by the Sisters.

The impact of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s was profound for all religious orders. At its conclusion in 1965, change was in the air. Vatican II urged religious to read the signs of the times, to look where people were in need.

Sisters became involved in ministries to serve the poor in urban areas, to advocate for equal rights for people of color, to work side by side with lay men and women in parishes, to work for peace and to eliminate nuclear weapons.

They went to school to become theologians, psychologists, social workers, lawyers and professionals in other areas. In the 80’s several of our Sisters went to war torn countries such as El Salvador and here at home joined the effort to provide sanctuary to refugees. They began ministries for the homeless, for abused women, and within prisons. Today, in addition to these works which still continue, our Sisters are now increasing efforts to stop trafficking, to reform immigration, to advocate for climate change and care of the earth.
Our Sisters and Associates clearly appreciate and support our relatively new presence in Haiti. It is a ministry that is a natural fit with who we are and an expression of our charism of peace through justice. We are grateful to Sisters Ann and Maureen for continuing to live among and serve the people of Milot, and we remain confident that the spirit of Margaret Anna Cusack joyfully looks on with pride and encouragement.

You can learn more about the fine works and tradition of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace by visiting their Web site: