From France to Texas to points throughout the Jefferson City diocese, the 150-year history of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (CCVI) continues to echo along the paths they have traveled.
It is reflected in the generations of local Catholics who were taught by CCVI sisters and by people who continue to be served by El Puente‒Hispanic Ministry, which was founded by three CCVIs 20 years ago.
People gathered in St. Peter Church in Jefferson City Sept. 29 to observe both anniversaries.
“Our celebration is a visible witness that the Incarnate Word continues to invite and create community among the People of God in evolving and life-giving ways through the presence of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and our associates, co-ministers and friends,” stated Sister Cathy Vetter, a Jefferson City native and member of the CCVI congregation.
She welcomed the crowd and gave an introduction to the history and impact of the CCVIs and the local Hispanic-ministry community.
Many CCVIs attended the event — some having traveled from San Antonio, Texas, where the congregation was founded — and shared warm embraces and greetings as they were reunited face-to-face.
The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word was founded in 1869 by Bishop Claude Marie Dubuis of San Antonio, in direct response to the suffering brought on by the Civil War and following cholera epidemic.
He sent out a call for women to enter into that suffering by serving the sick and dying.
Beginning with three sisters from France, the congregation steadily grew as it provided comfort, solace and care to the ill.
The sisters also established schools and homes to care for and take care of orphans left in the wake.
The sisters’ exceptional abilities in healthcare eventually led them to the Midwest, arriving in St. Louis in 1889 to work in the Missouri Pacific Railroad Hospital.
Into the early 1900s, sisters began making their way west through Missouri, teaching in West Plains, Jefferson City, Taos, Macon, Kirksville and St. Patrick.
In ensuing years, the sisters’ ministries expanded to include pastoral work in parishes.
This new call to serve paved the way to the establishment of El Puente‒Hispanic Ministries.
A bridge between cultures
With the blessing of retired Bishop John R. Gaydos, El Puente was initiated by Incarnate Sisters Marianne Kramer (now deceased), Margaret Snyder and Peggy Bonnot.
Its name means “The Bridge.”
For two decades, El Puente has been a source of comfort, enrichment and service for Catholic Hispanic families in mid-Missouri.
It serves as a bridge between cultures, providing a multicultural forum with focused areas of service to the Hispanic community — including pastoral ministry, direct service, education and training and family life enrichment.
Making God’s love visible
Now as a non-profit corporation and a sponsored ministry of the CCVI congregation, El Puente‒Hispanic Ministry, in collaboration with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, currently employees three sisters and one laywoman, with many supportive volunteers and friends in ministry.
Their vision is one of community — that by embracing the dignity of every human person through compassion and collaboration, Hispanic neighbors will be made to feel welcome and thrive both in Church and society.
El Puente’s services strengthen the faith but also empower families and provide support services that dignify the whole human person.
By meeting needs for translation services, transportation services, legal assistance, counseling and immigration-issue support, El Puente truly makes God’s love visible to the world.
A multicultural celebration
The anniversary Mass, celebrated in English and Spanish by Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and Bishop Emeritus Gaydos, interwove cultural traditions through a colorful entrance procession, traditional decorations and beautiful music provided by the Spanish-language choir directed by Sister Barbara Neist of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
“The foundresses of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word believed the Gospel of Christ. And across the decades we share that same faith,” Bishop Gaydos stated in Spanish in his homily.
“Let us all join the Sisters in serving the Incarnate Word in our midst,” he said.
He called for an outright rewriting of the story of the rich man in Jesus’s parable.
“In that rewrite, we become a brother of the poor man,” said Bishop Gaydos. “We dine at the same table and care for each other out of justice and love.”
Bishop McKnight bestowed a special blessing upon the CCVI sisters, closing his blessing with a challenge to everyone present:
“Let us all join the sisters in sharing in the Incarnate Word by caring for each other out of justice and love.”
Reflecting with gratitude
After Mass, a parishioner dressed in matachine garments led the cheerful procession to nearby Selinger Hospitality Centre, where tables and food were set to continue the celebration.
Kurt Bruemmer, president of the El Puente Board of Directors, spoke to the crowd at the reception.
“We carry on the great work of the founding sisters,” he said, “with a vision of bringing the healing love of Jesus, the Incarnate Word to others, by promoting human dignity through a ministry of presence and outreach to the Hispanic community here.”
In presenting a brief history of El Puente and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Mr. Bruemmer noted the significance of cultural events this community invests in.
He shared a video of last December’s local Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration, in which matachines perform a traditional dance for the Blessed Mother.
That celebration is just one beautiful example of cultural celebration El Puente coordinates for the larger Hispanic community.
Mr. Bruemmer also presented Sr. Peggy with a certificate establishing the CCVI El Puente Education Fund.
Money from the fund will be used to support continuing education and training for El Puente’s employees.
He noted El Puente is involved in many services that require certification, such as medical interpretation for clients.
“With this fund,” he stated, “we can support our staff members as they receive the education and credentials required to continue carrying-out vital services.”
An ongoing legacy
El Puente‒Hispanic Ministry continues to minister to the estimated 3,000 Hispanic community members in Cole and Moniteau counties, more than half of whom are Catholic.
The organization continues to provide and coordinate pastoral ministries, including sacrament and quinceañera preparation, faith formation, Bible studies, Masses in Spanish, liturgical music, and a ministry of presence during times of both sorrow and celebration.
The staff also provides professional interpretation and transportation for medical and dental services, connections to resources for legal assistance, counseling services, and assisting with basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing for families.
El Puente also serves as a liaison with schools to ensure registration, parent-teacher conferences and other educational services are accessible for Hispanic community members.
El Puente also provides leadership-training experiences for liturgical ministry roles and parish leadership positions.
They help make it possible for others to participate in diocesan training sessions on leadership, liturgical life and even immigration rights issues.
Perhaps the most enduring impact of El Puente and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is their focus on making God’s love visible in the world, and their desire to live for God with a heart for others.