Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
siedliska2 Frances Siedliska (circa 1867)
siedliska2 Frances Siedliska (circa 1875)

Frances Siedliska, daughter of Polish nobility, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Rome in 1875. Inspired by the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph who lived in their home at Nazareth, Frances, known in religion as Mother Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, sought to serve families through various forms of ministry.

Mother Mary’s strong desire was that the spirituality and works of her congregation would spread without any national boundaries. The congregation made its first foundation in the United States in Chicago in 1885. Ten years later, the sisters were sent to teach immigrant children in the elementary school of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Pittsburgh. To administer and manage the mushrooming ministries in America, three provincialate headquarters were formed in 1918: Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. A temporary provincialate was opened in Wesleyville, Erie, Pennsylvania in 1918 for the newly formed Saint Joseph Province, later moved to Pittsburgh. The principal house was built in 1927 and situated at what is now called Mount Nazareth Center in Ross Township, Pittsburgh.

The involvement in health care in western Pennsylvania emerged in 1929. Ohio Valley General Hospital in McKees Rocks, outside of Pittsburgh felt the impact of the Great Depression. The board of directors encountered many difficulties. Qualified and reliable personnel were limited. Management, conditions in general, and the appearance of the hospital were in need of much improvement. Mr. Frank Lanahan, president of the board persuaded the sisters to administer and operate the hospital. It would remain non-profit and non-sectarian. Three qualified sister nurses came from the Chicago province on August 15, 1930. Fewer than three months later, eight more sisters arrived: newly appointed Sister Ambrose Kryger, Superintendent of the hospital, a supervisor of a nursing unit, a chief housekeeper and her aide, an accountant, two cooks, and a laundry manager.

Through the leadership of sisters, staff, and doctors, Sister Ambrose soon reorganized the hospital, the school of nursing, the medical staff and the board of directors. Even a Ladies Aid Society was formed to support the hospital with volunteer services and fund-raising activities. By 1932, 1,530 patients had received care in the hospital, a triple increase from 500 in 1922.

A total of 126 sisters had served at Ohio Valley General Hospital from 1930 to 1985 when the Hospital Corporation of America took over the management. Sister Hilarette Gibala, anesthetist, alone remained with full time status until her retirement in 1998.

The sisters were again approached to meet a critical health care need, moving eastward to central Pennsylvania. Twenty sisters from Chicago led by Sister Isabella Jozwiak were missioned in May 1935 to rescue the financially struggling Mercy Hospital in Altoona and its school of nursing after twenty-six years of their existence. Community lore relates that the cash for the hospital’s purchase was carried on the train to Altoona by one of the youngest sisters in the group. Ownership was assumed by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth of Western Pennsylvania the following month. Imitating Mary in the holy house of Nazareth, the sisters immersed themselves in all areas of patient care—healing, cooking, cleaning, sewing, serving, and building up strong relationships with the people of the local community.

Altoona Mercy Hospital, Altoona.

Over 200 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth ministered at Mercy Hospital and in its accredited schools of nursing, radiologic technology, medical laboratory technology, and anesthesiology. The Sisters expanded the hospital campus, constructing new buildings to meet the needs of the times, never losing their focus on the families.

November 1, 1996 marked the change of ownership of the hospital to the Bon Secours Health System, Inc. of Marriottsville, Maryland. The hospital was renamed Bon Secours Holy Family Regional Health System with co-sponsorship by both congregations until May 2003. On November 1, 2004 Bon Secours Holy Family Hospital merged with the Altoona General Hospital to form the Altoona Regional Health System. Currently only one Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Sister Mary Aquinas Tolusciak, ministers there. In 2009 Sister Mary Aquinas celebrated thirty-five years of faithful and dedicated service as Administrative Assistant.

The sisters have also rendered health care and allied services according to their professional expertise in other local hospitals and homes for children (Holy Family Institute, Pittsburgh, 1900-2010), the frail elderly (St. Leonard’s Home, Inc., Hollidaysburg, 1947-2010), and the infirm (Holy Family Manor, Pittsburgh, 1966-2010). Sister Theadora Krause currently serves as a nurse practitioner ethicist at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona.

On May 1, 2007 the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in the United States of America merged their five provinces (Des Plaines [relocated from Chicago], Illinois; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Monroe, Connecticut and Grand Prairie, Texas) into one, Holy Family Province, based in Des Plaines. Their numbers at the time of the merger totaled 402.

Recognized as an international apostolic congregation, the 1455 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth world-wide serve in Italy, Poland, Australia, the Philippines, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Israel, England, France, the United States and Puerto Rico. The mission to families undertaken by the sisters is inspired by the belief that God is present in the ordinary experiences of human life. The sisters strive to change systems that erode family life and support those that empower families to fulfill their primary task. Their ministries include pre-school, elementary, secondary, higher education, religious education and services, pastoral care, social services, and health care. Thus, dedicated to the renewal of family life, the sisters pray daily for the unity, fidelity, integrity and dignity of families. They uphold the values of hospitality, simplicity, love, unity, and faithful listening.

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