Baking class at Neighbor to Neighbor, downtown day facility for ladies that just could be the sister of St. Joseph’s most famous Concordia ministry. (Nicholas Sciarappa)

Concordia, Kansas — Even though the city of Concordia is positioned squarely in rural Kansas, it no a farmers’ town anymore. Farming still dram a large role, to be sure – the the solitary largest ar of Concordia’s economy – however it no the largest resource of employment now that brand-new technologies have made it possible for farmers to regulate bigger and also bigger ranches with fewer and also fewer people.

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It’s like that in many rural populations across the country. In a 2006 researcher at the Carsey Institute, a public policy think tank in ~ the college of new Hampshire wrote, “For every rural ar that depends on an farming economy, there room six much more in which manufacturing is the economic mainstay and two more in which federal or state federal government is the largest employer.”

And so, like various other rural communities, Concordia has actually transformed over the critical century. There’s less open soil and much more construction. And also instead of working for the household farm, the city’s 5,400 inhabitants now job-related for the hospital, the at sight Wal-Mart or the Alstom metal fabricating tree – those that stay, anyway. Concordia has actually not been immune to the rural mind drain, and also its population has been progressively shrinking because that decades.

One constant in Concordia, however, has been the sister of St. Joseph. They’ve remained in Concordia for an ext than 130 years and in the critical seven, they’ve redoubled your dedication come the city – the 28 or so sister still in active ministry over there creating new and innovative ministries for the people of Concordia.

Driving along the piece of U.S. Highway 81 that leads into the city, it’s hard not to an alert the sisters’ massive Nazareth motherhouse in the distance. That is tower looms above fast food restaurants and motels lining the highway, and also it appears that if the motherhouse isn’t the tallest building in Concordia, it absolutely must be one of them.


The motherhouse of the sisters of St. Joseph the Concordia is just one of the largest structures in the city of 5,400 residents. (Nicholas Sciarappa)

The five-story motherhouse was built in 1902, even though the sisters of St. Joseph came to Concordia in 1884 – back when it to be still a frontier town and the financial institution was just six years old. In 1883, the sister had developed a college in Newton, Kansas, and also their plan was to develop both a convent and also a school in Concordia. The was expected that the sisters’ teaching services would it is in in good demand in there; in the late 1800s, Concordia was booming, and it was supposed to proceed growing and the railroads and Manifest Destiny kept carrying settlers west.

“At the time we came, Concordia to be promising to be a communications and also transportations center,” claimed Sr. Marcia Allen, present president of the Sister of St. Joseph the Concordia. “And then, that course, the drought and economic bust of the 1890s adjusted everything, and all the railroads went to Salina,” – 50 miles south – “but us stayed right here anyway.”

The sister not just stayed in Concordia, they all but kept the fledgling city running.

True to their charism of loving their neighbors, the sisters of St. Joseph devoted themselves come their brand-new rural home: They opened Concordia’s first and just hospital in their initial motherhouse (the Nazareth motherhouse was built since they had actually outgrown the very first one); they began a girls academy and also staffed the downtown elementary school.

Of course, together Concordia changed, together the nature of religious life changed, so too did the sisters’ work. The second Vatican Council offered the sister the possibility to discover ministries outside of nursing and teaching, and they did. Now they don’t run any kind of schools, and in 1985 they provided up property of the hospital, which would certainly ultimately became the live independence Cloud County community Health Center.


Infographic developed by Dawn Cherie Araujo utilizing v data indigenous the U.S. Census.

The sisters remain a vital part of Concordia life, your ministries so entwined v the city’s health that in in 2012, the publisher that the Concordia record penned an open up thank friend letter come the sisters, stating that “many that the progressive projects in Concordia might not have involved fruition without the assistance of the Sisters.”

In the decades following Vatican II, the sister dove right into apostolic work, opening the Manna residence of Prayer in 1978 – a retreat center that doubles as a food bank and also temporary shelter for anyone ineligible because that other forms of help – and in the ‘80s, castle harbored and also helped some 60 refugees who had fled central America’s bloody wars, all while publicly protesting the unified States’ plan of deporting those very same refugees.

As far as Concordia City Manager Larry Uri have the right to remember, this demonstrations are the only ones Concordia’s viewed in at least 39 years, which it s okay to his larger point about the sisters’ authorized in the city: “I think, in a larger sense, the sisters are an extremely much a component of the social conscience of the community,” that said.

In 2008, after a period of discerning around their future, the sister of St. Joseph determined to take being a an excellent neighbor come the next level, proactively partnering with the city in an initiative to deal with the felt requirements of a community where 20 percent the the population lives under the poverty line. It was an interesting move, bucking the tendency of various other congregations in rural Kansas that, dealing with their own dwindling numbers, have either consolidated or left the state altogether.


In the years following Vatican II, the sister of St. Joseph dove right into apostolic occupational in Concordia, opened the Manna house of Prayer in 1978 – a retreat center that doubles together a food bank and also temporary sanctuary for anyone ineligible for other forms of assistance. (Nicholas Sciarappa)

The sister of St. Joseph’s brand-new mission began with a collection of interviews, a crash course in asset-based ar development. They met individually through representatives from every social company in Concordia they can think of: the police department, the domestic Violence association of central Kansas, the Court Appointed Special proponents for Children. Castle met with the superintendent that the Concordia Unified school District and the president of Cloud ar College.

After every the interviews to be completed, Sr. Jean Rosemarynoski, the congregation’s vice president, put together a PowerPoint presentation of every the details the sisters had gleaned and invited the agencies to the motherhouse because that a functioning lunch.

“She showed that PowerPoint and how, usually everybody had actually the exact same ideas about what the town needed,” Sr. Marcia Allen said, and also thus the community Needs source Forum to be born.

Now, the social agencies and also local government officials accomplish regularly for lunch at the motherhouse, share ideas and finding means to collaborate. A sampling that the projects they’ve completed in the last six years includes expanding the windy bus system between Concordia and Salina, launching a regime to aid families discover ways the end of poverty, and also initiating the Concordia Year that Peace, in which inhabitants sign an annual civility pledge. Forum attendees are currently brainstorming ways to deal with domestic violence in Concordia.


Neighbor to Neighbor offers tasks like baking classes. (Nicholas Sciarappa)

But maybe the many notable readjust in the last few years has been the sisters’ increased visibility and also openness. In addition to the monthly neighborhood Needs resource Forum lunches, the motherhouse is now the website of a neighborhood garden, and also the indoor swimming pool is easily accessible for windy use. The sisters also put a parking lot of on the south side of the motherhouse that’s simply for the public.

“I think the sister have always maintained a supportive position in the community,” Uri said, “and before they undertook some of these various other things, lock were quietly lending a hand come the much less privileged human being in the community, however they"ve been much an ext visible about it in current years.”

Marsha Wentz, Concordia’s mayor, agrees.

“It appears to me that their philosophy has actually changed,” she said. “They’ve make the motherhouse more accessible, and there’s simply a lot the wouldn’t have actually happened when I first came to city in 1969. Ns think they desire to do much more local things like Neighbor to Neighbor.”

Neighbor come Neighbor, a downtown day facility for women, just might be the sister of St. Joseph’s most popular Concordia ministry. The center will just be five years old in May, but you can’t go almost everywhere in town without hearing around it.

One mrs who’d had a stroke and also lost the will to live, uncovered it again after coming to Neighbor to Neighbor for painting classes. An additional woman, a quadriplegic immigrant indigenous Mexico, learned to stand through a walker and to feeding herself after doing practice at Neighbor to Neighbor. Others have forged deep friendships v women they’ve met there, producing support equipment where they’d formerly had none.

Neighbor come Neighbor is the brainchild of three retired sisters of St. Joseph – Jean Befort, play McLennon and Ramona Medina. Their goal was to have actually a location where neighborhood women – of any type of background – might learn brand-new skills and simply it is in together; so they to buy an abandoned appliance shop in downtown Concordia and turned it into a communal space with a complete kitchen, an art room and an maximum ground playroom for kids.

Five days a week, the sisters space in their storefront center, prepared to welcome any kind of woman who wants to learn to darn or paint or bake, or who just needs a quiet location to research while someone looks after she children. Neighbor to Neighbor even has a resident mascot, a miniature schnauzer named Sophie – a donation as with everything rather in the center.

Ruby Genereux and her son Clark. Generaux has actually been comes to Neighbor to Neighbor due to the fact that it opened, practically five years ago. (Nicholas Sciarappa)

“We acquire donations from every the churches around, pretty often,” McLennon said during a tour of the playroom, chin a donation her household made in memory of her mother, who loved children. “The thrift shop next door, they offer us $500 a month, and that money pays because that the utilities every month, which is a big thing.”

Twice a week, the facility gets food donations from a local restaurant and also the rotating Club, which enables them come serve daily lunch.

Ruby Genereux has actually been comes to Neighbor to Neighbor because it opened. In ~ the time, she to be a solitary mother living through her daughter, much from her California hometown. Once the washer in she apartment broke, she couldn’t afford to resolve it, so someone said she take her laundry to Neighbor to Neighbor. She did, and she’s to be coming ever before since.

Genereux has since gotten married and also had two much more kids. She doesn’t need to do her laundry at Neighbor come Neighbor anymore, however she says she sticks about because that the sisters.

“I think the primary benefit of a location like this is more than likely the form of love that you get here indigenous the sisters,” she said, bouncing her 7-month-old son, Clark, on she knee while sitting in Neighbor to Neighbor’s front room. “It’s unconditional.”

Sr. Marcia Allen leads a tour at the sisters of St. Joseph Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, Kansas. (Sarah Jenkins / Courtesy of sisters of St. Joseph that Concordia)

Which, of course, is the an ideas behind everything the sisters perform – the why lock didn’t leaving Concordia in the 1890s, and also why they’ve dug in their heels currently when a the majority of other human being have opted to leaving rural America.

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“This is their home. They’ve invested a great deal,” stated Larry Uri. “They can retreat within these walls, however they don’t.”

Marsha Wentz nods in agreement.

“They’re good neighbors. They’re just an excellent neighbors.”

Global sisters Report based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter

Related: Digging into her spirituality roots: Sr. Marcia Allen by Dawn Cherie Araujo