Of the many religious and volunteer organizations in Northeast Philadelphia, one both spiritual and charitable group stands out among the others: Sisters of the Holy Redeemer.
This organization is made up of 20 sisters who live in a facility built on 90 acres of land. This facility includes a library, church, historic rooms, study rooms for religious classes and other halls that host events. The land also provides room for the Holy Redeemer Village, a residential housing area for the elderly that started in 1981.
There are many animals that make the building’s backyard their home. There are chickens, ducks, roosters, two goats and a dog. None of the animals are kept for food purposes, but the chickens do provide eggs for the sisters.
The sisters’ ages range from 30 to 80, and they partake in many charity efforts in their community and elsewhere.
The sisters begin their daily routine with Mass at six in the morning every weekday. They then go their separate ways to work on different projects that are sponsored by the Holy Redeemer. They come together again for dinner, which sometimes includes sisters from different convents. Sometimes these different convents come together and pray together as a community.
The founder of the Holy Redeemer, Mother Alphonse Maria Eppinger was born in France in September 1814.
“She was very sickly as a child, and felt a call toward religious life that many others didn’t feel. [She] ended up starting her own congregation,” said Jacqueline Young, the Director of Redeemer Ministry Corps. “It grew into three congregations who call Mother Alphonse Maria their foundress.”
The first group of sisters of the Holy Redeemer came to America in March 1924 and started their mission in Baltimore. In November 1928, the sisters in Northeast Philadelphia were the third group to arrive to arrive to the United States. Their mother house is in Germany.
“The sisters were requested to come to America by the Xavarian School of Brothers in Baltimore. [They] were then requested to serve at Villanova [College],” Young said. “More of them came over and branched out to different ministries in New York and Massachusetts, but eventually decided to settle in the Philadelphia area.”
The sisters began their volunteer work by doing homecare visits. They were asked to provide services as nurses for the staff and families of the Drueding family, who owned a leather-tanning factory in North Philadelphia.
“In the ‘30s they built Saint Joseph Manor to respond to the needs of the elderly. That was their first assisted living home,” Young said.
The sisters of the Holy Redeemer then bought more property in the area that they could farm to feed the residents as well as the sisters. It eventually provided space for the sisters’ facility in Northeast Philadelphia.
The sisters now primarily focus on health care and social services themselves. They have built and currently run the Holy Redeemer Health System, which is a nonprofit hospital that helps people who are unable to afford health care. Their system provides services that help with cancer, cardiovascular problems, maternity care, rehabilitation and other medical maladies both short-term and long-term.
The sisters are involved in many different ventures, such as the Redeemer Valley Garden project.
“Part of the charism of the sisters is the idea of reverence for creation, and caring for God’s earth, including the people on earth. Sister Anna wanted to get back into that, so she started working on Redeemer Valley Garden. She gets people in the community involved and has children come from Catholic schools to learn about planting seeds and healthy eating and staying active,” Young said.
One sister started a frame shop in the building’s lower level. This shop eventually led to her opening up an art gallery, last year. The proceeds are used to benefit Drueding Center, which was founded in 1987 and gives classes for women off the street that teach them to become self-sufficient and provide a home for their families. Many of these women return to volunteer as mentors for women who entered after them.
The Sisters also run food banks in Northeast Philadelphia, and created the Redeemer Ministry Corps, which is a long-term volunteer program. The food bank is usually joined by recent college graduates who are looking to do a year of community service before starting graduate school or working full time. They live together, eat together and pray together in one of the sisters’ ministries.
This program allows volunteers from other faiths to participate, but they must be open to praying in community.
On March 19th of this year, the sisters will mark the 90th anniversary of their original arrival to America, and will also celebrate the 200th birthday of Mother Alphonse Maria in September.
On the overall mission of the sisters in Northeast, Young said, “Their mission is being a healing presence to somebody else, and that has never changed.”
– Photos, story and video by Sergei Blair and Hend Salah