“The cry of the children is a loud one which will be heard sooner or later. If we hear it now and answer with ready hearts there is every hope for them.”
Experiencing Divine Compassion as she sought deepening spirituality to cope with deep suffering and multiple tragedies in her life as child, wife and mother, in 1870 Mary Caroline Dannat Starr’s own heart opened wide to the “cry of the children” living on the streets of NYC. With Monsignor Thomas Preston supporting her spiritual journey, she gathered family and friends to respond to the needs of abandoned, neglected and abused girls and their families. The founding mission of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion began in 1870, when Mary Starr created the Association for Befriending Children and opened the House of the Holy Family in lower Manhattan—a residence with outreach services providing education and employment preparation in a home like environment where compassion and empowerment, healing and love provided hundreds of young girls and their families support to heal and grow, and move on into independent and productive lives.
In 1886, the Sisters of the Divine Compassion religious institute was founded to support and continue the Mission of Compassion into the future. During the early 1900s, as the congregation grew, in addition to the founding mission, the sisters continued to expand the Divine Compassion mission and responded to the needs of the growing Catholic population, founding and staffing Catholic schools and parishes in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and other northern counties throughout the NY Archdiocese. Good Counsel Elementary and High School, as well as Good Counsel College/the College of White Plains (which merged with Pace in 1977), were developed on the Sisters White Plains property after the House of Nazareth was closed. In 1927 the original House of the Holy Family was moved from Manhattan to the Huntington Estate in the Bronx, to provide a safe environment for the sisters and the young girls in their care. This building also offered residence space for sisters administering and teaching in local parish elementary schools in the Bronx, and is now Preston High School.
In the 1940s and 1950s large groups of women entered religious communities in the US and the RDCs lived and worked throughout the Archdiocese in ever increasing numbers, opening, administering and staffing parish schools, and providing education and pastoral ministries to the adults and families throughout the archdiocese of NY.
During the 1960s, the RDCs embraced the spirit and mandates of Vatican II and opened their hearts and homes to expand their mission into social service, parish ministry, immigration, health care, counseling, and bereavement services, offering spirituality programs and new opportunities for lay women and men to once again become involved and committed to our mission and community as Associates and Companions of the Divine Compassion.
Sisters were involved in “Summer in the City” in Harlem and lived and worked with homeless women and families throughout NYC. Sisters moved to Louisiana to work with African American families living in segregation and poverty and to Tennessee to work with poor uninsured children and families in hospice ministry. High school students and young adults were engaged in ministry with the Appalachian poor in Kentucky, and with Sisters ministry with Mexican Migrant families in Orange county NY. Sisters moved into social work and hospital ministry, pastoral care and parish ministry, as administrators and counselors in Archdiocesan Substance Abuse Prevention programs, and Hospice ministry in underserved areas of NYC, and always focused on the original mission: to be the compassionate presence of God to those most in need.
As the number of sisters declined after Vatican II, the RDCs continued to expand their mission with five new sponsored ministries: the Divine Compassion Spirituality Center, the RDC Counseling Center, Mustard Seed Migrant Ministry, Preston Center of Compassion, and the Center of Compassion in rural Dover, NY. Other sisters, associates and companions serve throughout the NY tri-state area. Sisters connected and collaborated with communities of sisters to respond to people living in dire poverty Haiti and Trinidad, in El Salvador, Mexico and Vietnam. RDCs are involved with religious women globally to support programs to end human trafficking, to provide empowerment services to women, children and families devastated by violence and war, poverty and natural disasters, areas which include Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Africa and wherever needs for compassion erupt and Divine Compassion connections can be made.