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Incarnate Word Sisters to establish space in St. Louis City for novitiate, community living

A former banquet hall will become a new space for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, a home for the community's novitiate and a place to promote intergenerational and intercultural living.

The sisters, based in San Antonio, purchased the 5,600-square-foot building in the Tower Grove South neighborhood of south St. Louis earlier this spring. Sisters Cathy Vetter and Helena Monahan, along with a novice, Miriam Bannon, will be the first residents. The house is undergoing renovations and is expected to be completed by spring.

The site will house the community's novitiate program. The sisters are part of the Intercommunity Novitiate in St. Louis, which brings together men and women religious of different congregations as a support for novices in formation. A pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park, Sister Cathy is the local novice director. The sisters hope at least two more women who are in the pre-novice program in San Antonio will move here by next summer.

About two dozen Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word minister in the St. Louis area and elsewhere in Missouri and Illinois. Among their ministries, the sisters sponsor the Incarnate Word Foundation and Incarnate Word Academy.

In addition to supporting a novitiate here, the sisters want to make the building a place where intercultural and intergenerational community living thrives, said Sister Cathy. The space will include eight bedrooms for the sisters and overnight guests, a common area for neighborhood gatherings and a community garden, the latter a nod to the sisters' care for the earth.

Sister Cathy said effort recognizes the multicultural richness of the country and a growing segment of young people in the Church who are coming here from other countries. As a congregation "we talk about embracing that diversity," Sister Cathy said.

The sisters chose the location in south St. Louis because of its international diversity. Sister Cathy, who lives near St. Pius V Church, just a few minutes from the new building, noted she has become close to a variety of people in her neighborhood, including immigrants and young people.

"I've found that young couples are wanting to be in relationship," she said. "So we gather for prayer sometimes, we gather for meals, to play together. They just drop in. There's a young couple in their 20s and on a Sunday afternoon they'll just knock on the door and drop in to just visit. I believe it's the gift of our incarnational spirituality that attracts them and it's the desire for community and we support that."

In the process of rezoning the space to allow for multi-family use, the sisters are going door to door to meet their neighbors and seek support for the project.

"We want this to be a place of hospitality," said Sister Helena, a project manager with the Incarnate Word Foundation. "Most of the people are very happy that we're going to be here and the space will be well used. It will be a community center in a different kind of way." 

Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in St. Louis

The sisters first came to St. Louis in 1914 to teach at the former Blessed Sacrament School on North Kingshighway in north St. Louis. The Sisters also served at St. Sebastian School and St. Dismas School (now Rose Philippine Duchesne).

In 1933, the sisters worked with the archdiocese in staffing the Josephine Heitkamp Hospital on Grand and Lafayette. The ministry eventually became Incarnate Word Hospital, which remained at its central city location until it merged with Deaconess Hospital and was sold in 1997.

Part of the sale proceeds of Incarnate Word Hospital formed thebase upon which Incarnate Word Foundation was established. The purpose of the foundation, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is to continue the mission of the sisters in the St. Louis area.

In 1932, the sisters founded Incarnate Word Academy, an all-girls private Catholic high school in north St. Louis County.

Today, about two dozen sisters minister in the St. Louis area and elsewhere in Missouri and Illinois. In Jefferson City, Mo., the sisters provide outreach to the Hispanic community through its El Puente ministry. 

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