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Chapter 12 — Sisters of Charity

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Sr Mary Augustine and her companion, Sr Mary Catherine, returned to Dublin in August 1815, and Dr Murray appointed Sr Mary Augustine as the Superior of the new Community. The Sisters made the usual three vows of religion – chastity, poverty and obedience – and an additional fourth vow to devote their lives to the service of the poor. The following year, Dr Troy canonically established the new Institute under the title of ‘Pious Congregation of Sisters of Charity’.


Soon after its establishment, the Sisters began their visitation of the poor, and found that the Rules of the Constitution of the Society of Jesus which they had chosen to follow were not suited to the type of apostolic life of their new Institute. A new Constitution was drafted by Sr Mary Augustine, with the assistance of a Jesuit Priest, and was submitted to Rome for approval in 1824. The Rules and Constitution were deliberated on in Rome during the pontificates of Leo XII and Pius VIII, but it was not until after the accession of Pope Gregory XVI that they were finally approved in 1833.


The original documents remained unchanged until 1917, when the Constitution was revised and modified in line with the new Code of Canon Law. The next revision took place in 1971, in accordance with the wish of Vatican Council II, and an Interim Revised Constitution was approved by Rome and put to the General Chapter of the Congregation in 1977. The Congregation felt that another draft was necessary, as they considered that the new Interim Constitution did not reflect the early Ignatian spirituality. A Congregational Committee was formed, and a new Constitution was drafted using the original 1833 Constitution and key parts from the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. As the new Constitution was drawn from the original document, a second contemporary document was drawn up to encompass the teachings of the Vatican II Council and this was entitled ‘The Complementary Code to the Constitutions.’1 The new Constitution was circulated to the members of the Congregation in 1980 and, over the next three years, it was revised and edited and prepared for submission to the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome in April 1984. It was approved in August 1985.


In 1995, it was recognised by the General Chapter that the Complementary Code needed updating and, after a wide-ranging consultation process throughout the Congregation, a new Complementary Document was produced in 2001. The Sisters used the Jesuits’ document ‘Complementary Norms’ to assist them in the production of this document.


Today, the Religious Sisters of Charity have around 150 communities in six regions and two provinces, spanning four continents. They continue the work of their founder, Mary Aikenhead, in three ministries: education, healthcare and pastoral/social. The Sisters of Charity in Australia are a distinct Congregation since 1842 with their own Congregational leader.

Governance of the Congregation


The Congregation is centrally governed by a council known as the General Chapter, which is the supreme law-making body in the Institute and is based in Dublin. This is headed up by an elected congregational leader with the assistance of her council. A congregational meeting is held every six years to elect a leader and council, and to deal with the affairs of the Congregation. An important duty of the congregational leader is to make Visitation to all of the Sisters in their various residences and ministries every six years. She may delegate this task to one of her council.


There are three regions and two Provinces headed up by a Provincial/Regional Leader who, with her team, provide the link between the local communities and the central government. She is appointed by the congregational leader, who consults with the Sisters in the region/province to find the most suitable person. The leader must visit all of the Sisters in their residences and ministries ordinarily every two years, except in the year when this is done by the congregational leader or one of her assistants.


The Sisters live in the local community to which they are assigned, and a leader is appointed by the provincial/regional leader, following consultation with Sisters in the community and subject to the approval of the congregational leader with her council. The community leader is appointed for three years, and may be reappointed for a second or third term in exceptional circumstances only.


The congregational leader, with the consent of her council, has the power to remove the local superior from office for a grave reason.


Chapter 4 Section 232 gives an insight into the type of person that should be considered for the role of community leader: 3. Care should be taken that whoever is appointed to the office of superior be a person of great virtue, edification, self abnegation and one whose obedience and humility are well proved. She ought to be discreet, suitable for governing and experienced both in practical and spiritual things. She should know how to mingle firmness with kindness at the proper times and have patience and endurance in bearing the responsibilities of her office. Finally, she should be one in whom the higher superiors can confide and to whom they can with security communicate their authority. For the greater this delegated authority will be, the better with the houses be governed and the works of the house promoted for greater divine glory. The community leader must also appoint a ministress and bursar to assist her.


She must give the rules which relate to her office to each Sister, and take care that no one interferes in the business of another.


The ministress acts in the absence of the community leader and also makes provision for the material things needed for the community. The bursar administers the property and funds of the house and keeps an account of income and expenditure.



In the past, the Sisters of Charity recruited two types of Sisters: superior degree Sisters and second degree Sisters. Second Degree Sisters who entered the Congregation were confined to ‘domestic employment suitable to their vocation’. They were required to be ‘content with the occupations of Martha’ and interiorly to ‘esteem all as being superior to themselves, and, with religious simplicity and modesty, to give each one exteriorly the honour and reverence which her station requires’.


The Rules of the Religious Sisters of Charity provided as follows in relation to second degree Sisters: 10. Finally, let them remember, that as the peculiar office of those in the superior degree is to promote the end of this Congregation, by instructing the poor, visiting the sick etc. etc. so their own peculiar office, is to employ themselves in whatever lowly of humble occupations may be allotted to them; persuading themselves that by aiding the Congregation in these offices, in order that the other members may, with less interruption attend to their own peculiar duties, they serve the same Master of all, our Lord Jesus Christ; since they do so for love and reverence of the Divine Majesty. With as much humility and charity as possible, let them be ready to perform with great exactness the office assigned to them. Thus they will not only receive the reward of their own fatigue and labour, but likewise become partakers in all the good works which God, to the praise and glory of His holy Name, may vouchsafe to effect by the ministry of the whole Congregation, and in all the Indulgences and spiritual favours which the Apostolic See has graciously deigned to grant for its members, for the advantage of their souls. ... 20. When any one admitted into this Congregation has received one degree, she must not seek to be advanced to another. Let her endeavour to acquire perfection in her own; employing herself wholly in the service and for the glory of God, and leaving the care of all other things to the Superior, who holds the place of Jesus Christ our Lord.


Today, the Congregation Manual states that each Sister and each local community must take responsibility for encouraging vocations and, in each part of the Congregation, there is a formation team, whose members are the Provincial/regional leader and the Sisters who are appointed to direct the formation of candidates, postulants, novices and the members, both in temporary and perpetual profession.

  1. Complementary document.
  2. This is a pseudonym.