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Sisters of the Good Shepherd: 85 years of ‘zeal’ in San Francisco

07 4.27.17_Mrs. Kennedy and Sisters in late 1960's copy PAGEPhilanthropist Rose Kennedy is pictured in an undated photo from the 1960s with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in San Francisco. (Courtesy photos)

 

07 4.27.17_GoodShepherdSisters2 HALF PAGEToday, there are six Good Shepherd Sisters in residence in San Francisco. Top from left, Sister Anna Tram Nyugen, RGS; Sister Liz Schille, RGS; Sister Danielle Fung, RGS. Bottom, Sister Jean Marie Fernandez, RGS; Sister Marguerite Bartling; RGS; Sister Anne Kelley, RGS.

 

April 27, 2017
Christina Gray

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, an international order with a legacy of offering healing support to women and girls who have been abused or exploited, is celebrating 85 years in San Francisco this year.

A Mass of celebration will be held on May 7, Good Shepherd Sunday, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Agnes Church in San Francisco.

Sister Jean Marie Fernandez, RGS, is one of four sisters in residence at the order’s San Francisco hilltop convent in the city’s Portola neighborhood. She told Catholic San Francisco about her community’s charism and fourth vow of “zeal” on April 20 during a tour of the massive downtown homeless shelter where she works as a case manager for St. Vincent de Paul.

The operation is the largest shelter in Northern California, feeding and housing more than 300 homeless men and women every day.

“Wherever we go, we want to bring that shepherding presence of Jesus,” she said from inside her office that provides a watchful view of 70 or more souls in the shelter’s drop-in center. Many of the guests sleep upright in folding chairs. “We look for the lost, the ones that nobody wants. We seek them out and when we find them we rejoice, as a shepherd would.”

Standing in solidarity with others is what defines being a Good Shepherd Sister. “Their journey is my journey,” she said. “I can only give to them if I understand God’s mercy in my own life. If I do not see my own wounds, I cannot reach out.”

Sister Jean said that she could probably speak for all of the sisters in stating that she owes her salvation to those who have “countless times shown me the face of God.”

The order was founded in 1835 in France by St. Mary Euphrasia at a time when girls and women in trouble had no rights or resources for help. Some girls abandoned by their families or orphaned turned to prostitution to survive. 

Earlier in that same troubled 17th century, St. John Eudes, a missionary
 traveling through France witnessed the moral distress and exploitation of women and established a refuge for those who wanted to change their lives. He entrusted the women to some sisters and gave them a fourth vow of “zeal” for the salvation of souls.

Today the order includes communities of sisters in 73 countries who live both apostolic and contemplative lifestyles with zeal.

The first Good Shepherd Sisters arrived in San Francisco in 1932 to build a new school for girls involved in the juvenile court system or in social service agencies in Northern California.

Until 1977 when public funding dwindled and federal standards for juvenile standards changed, University Mound School served more than 5,000 teenaged girls. The Sisters closed the school and looked toward other ways to serve vulnerable young women in need of safety and services.

One of these ways was Good Shepherd Gracenter, a originally built in 1961 as transitional housing cottage for young graduates of the school who had nowhere to go. In 1987 recovery services for women without resources became the focus for the sisters and Gracenter opened as a 13-bed, licensed recovery residence.

The program, led by Good Shepherd Sister Marguerite Bartling, offers a path to successful recovery and community reintegration by addressing the major barriers faced by many substance abusers – the lack of a safe home, spirituality, education and social skills.

“It is a humbling privilege to accompany women in their life’s journey and I am gifted each day with God’s faithful love,” she said.

Good Shepherd Sisters Liz Schille, Anne Kelley and Anna Tram Nguyen joined the order 51, 49 and 15 years ago respectively, all serving Gracenter.

“I look at those girls and realized they are just like me – two arms, two leg, two eyes,” said Sister Anne. “The only way I was different was the home that I grew up in and the opportunities I had.”

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