Daughters of Charity in the Archdiocese of Belgrade (1920-2005)
I Basic information about the Congregation of Daughters of Charity
- a) The Congregation of the Daughters of Charity was founded in Paris, France on 29 November 1633. Its founders are St. Vincent de Paul (who founded the Congregation of the Mission– the Lazarites) and St. Louise de Marillac.
- b) Congregation of the Daughters of Charity was confirmed by the Archbishop of Paris Cardinal De Retz on 18 January 1655, and it was approved by Pope Clement IX on 5 June 1668.
- c) The Congregation was established to provide supporting living care and assistance to the sick and the poor, then care and assistance to patients in hospitals, and soon the sisters took over the work with prisoners on rowing ships, wounded soldiers, neglected children – foundlings, the refugees etc. Firstly, they worked together with rich noblewomen, and later they worked independently. Plain country girls, who were spiritually and professionally raised by St. Louise de Marillac and St. Vincent, were joining the Congregation. Soon, they were wanted to work in hospitals and teach poor girls. They lived and worked humbly and simply, in the evangelical spirit of love for Christ and the poor.
Today, the Congregation of Daughters of Charity is spread all over the world. Its way of working has changed, but the spirit of evangelical service of love, humility and simplicity has remained the same. In 2002, the congregation had 22.763 members, divided into 78 provinces.
II Daughters of Charity in Belgrade
The Yugoslavian province of Daughters of Charity was founded in 1919, headquartered in Ljubljana. Their superiors were addressed by the doctors and the owners of sanatorium in Vračar, Belgrade. One of them, Doctor Zdravković, met the Sisters who nursed the wounded on the Salonika front and that is why he wanted them to look after the patients at his sanatorium. The superiors were convinced that this is an ideal area for the Sisters to work in and in August 1920 they sent nine sisters to Belgrade, who immediately began to work here. Doctors and patients were satisfied and then the second plea was sent to the management of Daughters of Charity in Ljubljana, regarding nurses who would work at the State Hospital. Dr. Milivoje Kostić advocated particularly for this, and he received permission both from the government and the Orthodox Church – an official approval for receiving the Catholic nuns to work in the State Hospital. Thus, on 15 March 1928, 25 nurses came to Belgrade who were immediately deployed to various departments of the State Hospital. Their work and life contributed a lot to the fact that Orthodox believers began to respect the Catholic Church and freed themselves from the distrust of Catholics.
The provincial administration of Yugoslavian province of the Daughters of Charity was placed in Čukarica from October 1954 to August 1991 and from 27 November 1954 there was a seminary, i.e. the novitiate, where 200 nurses of Yugoslavian province were brought up. A lot of sisters finished nursing school in Belgrade, i.e. Zemun, and some of them got higher education. Unfortunately, the tree of goodness of St. Vincent and St. Louise was not rooted well in this city as we were not joined by any girls from Belgrade. Other congregations share the same experience.
Now, there are only sixteen sisters in Belgrade, of whom the oldest is over ninety years old. Each of them is still working according to their capabilities and this includes helping the patients in vicinity, leading catechesis in the parish, assisting in church and providing a variety of assistance to people who come to them on a daily basis, although now in a smaller number because there is no longer food aid. However, modest help by donating clothes is still provided, which good people want to give out through us.
Sisters with doctor professors on the supplementary nursing courses
III The work of the sisters in the territory of Belgrade
- a) Work with children
At the express request of the then Apostolic Nuncio in Belgrade, Msgr. Ermengildo Pellegrinetti, sisters opened a kindergarten in Ičkova Street in Čukarica for the children of working Catholics and Orthodox believers. To this end, they bought the property with a small house and on 23 June 1930 the kindergarten started to work. In the beginning, there were about thirty children. There were a considerable number of Catholic workers who lived in difficult conditions in this area. That is why they opened a youth shelter for the poor boys– The Home of Saint Vincent, on 15 March 1932. The kindergarten and the Youth shelter operated until World War II. No one knows when the Home of St. Vincent completely stopped with its primary activity, but a charity center for many of the poor remained, although in a modified form.
- b) Hospitals
Sisters worked in Belgrade hospitals, sanatoriums, outpatient clinics and clinics from August 1920 to 1996. Their number grew to hundreds, especially since 1948. After 1970, the number of sisters decreased, mainly due to their age, somewhat due to a small number of novices, and somewhat due to the fact that they were able to work in health care institutions in Slovenia again. From 1992 to 1993, a fair number of older sisters left Belgrade. New houses were opened in Kosovo and in Albania, and the last sister, sister Maria Baš retired in 1996. There were about nine hundred sisters who worked in the health care institutions in Belgrade in the period from 1920 to 1996. Only God knows how much good they did to the patients.
- c) Pastoral work
At first, Sisters did not work in pastoral care, but they brought many people closer to God by their example and their work. They were both in the parish of Christ the King, and mostly in the parish of St. Cyril and Methodius, where they have lived ever since its founding in 1929, and where they still live and work. Since the fifties of the last century, they gave the catechism lessons in the parish, took care of the chapel in Rakovica, took part in singing in the church of Christ the King, they were coming to Mass at the church of St. Peter (sisters from Dedinje) for years, took care of the first small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph in Karaburma etc.
- d) Charitable Activities
The sisters took care of the poorest people the whole time. They were the first to begin with house calls (1932), and that was particularly evident in difficult years after 1990. In these last years they have given out tons of food. In addition, 15 to 30 homeless and unemployed people obtain a cooked meal from them on a daily basis.
Relations with the Orthodox Church
The first sisters initially encountered mistrust of the healthcare staff that feared for their jobs, while the sick soon accepted the sisters and respected them for their selfless work. The sisters made no distinction between the rich and poor, and it was self-evident that they do not discriminate in religion either. For them, all people are God’s children. And so, other associates became friends with the sisters and congratulated them their holy days, and the sisters did the same for the holy days of the Orthodox Church. This tradition has lived on until today.
Belgrade Theological Seminary is now located across our house. The management, the students and professors always have a nice relationship with the sisters.
Ninety-four sisters, who worked and lived here, died in Belgrade after fulfilling their lives with work and prayer for their neighbor. They are waiting for the resurrection at Topčider cemetery. Sixteen of us, who are left, are trying to bear witness with our presence that God is love, that He loves all people, especially the little ones, the sick, the helpless, lonely etc.
- Goretti Pavlišič
8 Bore Markovića Street