Sisters of Social Service



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History

Background

We trace our roots back to 1908 in Hungary. Rerum Novarum, the groundbreaking social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, was the inspiration for our ministry to the working poor. Sr. Margaret Slachta was a pioneer in the field of social work. She also trained women for political action. In 1920 she was elected the first woman member of the Hungarian Parliament, where she actively promoted workers’ rights, stressing the well-being of women, children and families.

Founding

Sister Margaret founded the Sisters of Social Service (SSS) in 1923. The members of the Society made the social mission of the Church the motivating thrust of their lives. They embraced Benedictine spirituality and had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. The Sisters dedicated themselves to God by vows.

Early years

During the 1920s, the SSS spread from Hungary to neighboring Rumania and Slovakia, as well as to Canada and the United States.

The Sisters provided charitable services to the poor; founded and maintained a school to train social workers; organized and led Christian women’s movements; worked on Christian formation; and served on city councils.

During World War II, under the leadership of Sr. Margaret, the Sisters made heroic efforts to resist Nazism and to save the lives of persecuted Jews. Sr. Sara Salkahazi was martyred for sheltering Jewish people.

After the war, Sr. Margaret was again elected to Parliament, and along with Cardinal Mindszenty, was part of the resistance against Communism.

SSS - U.S. District (Buffalo, NY)

Some Sisters lived and worked in Buffalo, NY, in the 1920’s. Another group of Sisters came to Buffalo from Hungary in 1947. They laid the foundation here for a permanent SSS settlement. In 1949, Sr. Margaret had to emigrate from Hungary for political reasons, and joined the Sisters in Buffalo.

Religious orders were suppressed in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe in 1950, and the Sisters were forced either to live out their call underground or to leave their countries. Sr. Margaret moved the administration of the Society to Buffalo. A year later, the SSS was established in Cuba. After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, a group of novices made their way to Buffalo. In the following decades, several more Sisters from Eastern Europe joined the U.S. District.

During the early years, the Sisters ministered to African-Americans, Hispanics, and immigrant Hungarians. Later they staffed a home for emotionally disturbed children in Syracuse, NY, and served for twelve years in Akron, OH. Sisters worked in areas of child welfare, pastoral care, and other ministries. In order to respond to the needs of Cuban immigrants, the Sisters established a house in Miami, FL. A small group of Sisters was also formed in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Eastern Europe and Cuba

During four decades of Communism in Eastern Europe, several Sisters spent time in prison because of religious persecution. In spite of the difficulties during the forty years of illegality, God continued to call young women to join our community. They entered secretly, often without the knowledge of their own families. Because of the oppression, Sisters could not live out their vocation openly, yet they spread the spirit of prayer, spirituality, and love around them by their quiet witness. Whatever secular jobs they had, they worked to alleviate suffering and to build God’s reign.

The courage and faithfulness of the Sisters kept alive the flame of our charism in Eastern Europe. They drew encouragement from Sr. Margaret's words: "The loss of old forms or structure is of no importance. What matters is that the spirit we kept alive. This will create new forms."

Since 1990, the Sisters have been able to live out their vocation freely. They serve God’s people in various ministries, according to the pressing needs of their own countries.

Federation

The Federation of the Sisters of Social Service was established in 1972. It is comprised of three autonomous branches: SSS of California, SSS of Canada, and our SSS branch, headquartered in Budapest, Hungary. Buffalo, NY is the hub of the U.S. district. Each group, while sharing common roots and charism, operates independently and has its own general government. Representatives of the three branches gather periodically to support one another in our common vision.