Since their beginning, the core mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet has been to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.
While Nazareth Home opened 150 years ago to serve the needs of aging and infirm sisters, its mission quickly expanded to include the broader community, including immigrants who were hired to work on the property, and later counted laypeople among its residents.
Over the years, Nazareth Living Center in south St. Louis County has grown into a modernized community with independent senior living apartment homes, long-term nursing care, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing and rehabilitation services, serving both the sisters and laypeople. There are more than 300 residents, including about 100 Sisters of St. Joseph.
Sister Suzanne Wesley, a Nazareth board member who entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1962, remembers visiting with the older sisters at Nazareth. “We either did manual labor or we would visit with the sisters that were out here, either with them in their rooms or doing activities with them,” recalled Sister Suzanne, who served more than 50 years in health care, including as CEO of Cardinal Ritter Senior Services until her retirement in 2017.
In 1869, more than three decades after the first Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in St. Louis, the community purchased 57 acres, located about five miles away from the sisters’ community in Carondelet, to serve as a place to care for older sisters. Three years later, in 1872, a seven-room yellow farmhouse on the property became home to the first Nazareth residents.
While the sisters were caring for their own, they never forgot about the dear neighbor. The first sisters, who emigrated from France, welcomed other immigrants as the first employees. They were hired on their ability to do their job, regardless of race, color or culture.
Among those employees were two Belgian brothers, Omer and Desiré Everaert, who with their family came to St. Louis in the early 1900s. The person who had sponsored the family defrauded them, leaving them with nothing. The Everaerts sought the help of the local Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi on Telegraph Road, and the pastor sent them to the sisters. Omar and Desiré worked for the sisters for more than 50 years, tending to the property.
The early occupants of the yellow farmhouse were novices who had not yet been sent out on mission. They spent their time working on the farm, weeding, watering and gathering fresh corn shucks for bedding. Because money was scarce, gardening was a necessity. For years, the land yielded fruits and vegetables, including from a large orchard of apple trees.
In 1880, a brick structure was built to accommodate more than 50 residents. The yellow farmhouse was repurposed as a school for the children of neighboring farmers. Over the next century, the property continued to change to meet the needs of the community at the time. By 1992, the first lay residents were welcomed. In 2009, Nazareth entered into a ministry partnership with Benedictine Health System to continue to provide for the needs of residents.
Prayer was always the primary ministry of the sisters living at Nazareth, said Sister Kathleen Karbowski, who entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1962. A longtime elementary school teacher and principal, Sister Kathleen recalled how the sisters missioned at Nazareth would be matched with a convent of sisters elsewhere, so they could pray for them in their ministries.
“I was in Indianapolis for a long time, and my job when I would visit St. Louis would be to bring that sister gifts on Christmas and her birthday, and something for St. Joseph’s Day,” she said. “Every time I would come, it would be to visit that sister at Nazareth and to tell her what needs we wanted her to pray for us.”
Sister Kathleen was a community life coordinator at Nazareth for almost two decades. In that role, she would send letters of welcome to a new sister arriving at Nazareth. “I would point out, you’re coming to Nazareth Living Center,” she emphasized. “We tried to make sure that the sisters understood that your life here is still very meaningful, and your ministry is prayer and presence.”
Sister Margaret Schulz, who also entered in 1962, said the witness of the Nazareth community shows that the sisters continue their mission to care for the dear neighbor. “I am who I am today because of the loving support of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and my friends and family,” she said. “It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone.”