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Social Service Sisters: Leaders in pastoral ministry, religious education

October 1, 2015
Sister Merita Dekat, SSS

Catholic San Francisco is featuring one religious congregation from the archdiocese in each installment of this periodic column marking the Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life.

Our community, the Sisters of Social Service, came into being inspired by Pope Leo XII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (“On the Condition of Labor,”) the first of the great encyclicals calling for social justice. We were established in Los Angeles in 1926 under the leadership of Sister Frederica Horvath.

In 1939, when we began working in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Our first ministry was at Old St. Mary’s Parish in Oakland. Under the leadership of Father Charles Philips, the first sisters engaged in parish social work and pastoral ministry. They taught religious education, operated a daily soup kitchen for homeless men, conducted a neighborhood census to determine needs, and provided clothing and food pantries.

In the 1940s, we were invited to work in Vallejo and San Rafael. Our sisters worked in the branch offices of the Archdiocesan Catholic Services in each city. Sisters also did parish social work, religious education, Catholic Youth Organization in the local parishes.

Our ministry in San Francisco began with an opening Mass on Sept. 24, 1959. We have served here continuously for 56 years. During the years following 1959, our sisters have served in several agencies: CYO Program, the Laguna Honda Adult Day Health Center, Mission Health Center, Newman work, St. Anthony’s Dining Room, Visiting Nurses and Hospice, San Francisco State Child Development and St. Mary’s Hospital. Many sisters did parish social work and were parish catechetical leaders. Among the many parishes served are: Epiphany, Mission Dolores, St. Cecilia, St. Gabriel, St. Peter (San Francisco), St. Stephen, St. Paul, St. Gabriel, Good Shepherd, St. Augustine and All Souls.

Responding to the needs of our times and meeting people where they are is part of our charism. We depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide us. We wish to be imbued with the Holy Spirit always. Benedictine in spirit and contemporary in lifestyle, we share in the social mission of the church. Our ministry ranges from healing the victims of society’s problems to working toward changing the conditions that inflict this suffering through legislative advocacy and a commitment to social justice.

During these later years our associates join with us in furthering the mission and charism of the Sisters of Social Service.

In the San Francisco community today there are three Sisters of Social Service. Sister Celeste Arbuckle is the archdiocesan director of religious education and youth ministry, Sister Nodelyn Abayan works at Wu Yee Children’s Services as a mentor coach for early childhood teachers of children of low-income families. Sister Marie Lindemann, a native of San Francisco, is presently studying for her master’s degree in pastoral ministry at Santa Clara University. At this time, the San Francisco community provides housing for college students and discerning young women.

We Sisters of Social Service cherish our time working in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.


Sisters of Social Service of Los Angeles

NAME OF RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY: Sisters of Social Service of Los Angeles

WHEN AND WHERE FOUNDED: Hungary in 1908, taking form as Sisters of Social Service in 1923


ORIGINAL MINISTRIES: Parish social work, pastoral ministry, Catholic social service, religious education

CURRENT MINISTRIES: Director of archdiocesan religious education and youth education, mentor of teachers involved in early childhood development for at-risk children and families


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