Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Zita's Home for Friendless Women

Founded at 158 East 24th Street, New York, by Ellen O'Keefe (Mother Zita) in 1890. Born in County Limerick, Ireland, Miss O'Keefe emigrated to New York in 1864. She selected nursing as a career, and during her two years' training at the city hospital, Blackwell's Island, first conceived the idea which was to give a direction to her life. Moved with pity for the unfortunate women with whom she there came in contact and whose previous records were so fatal an obstacle to their securing employment, she determined to found a home where they could find shelter and an opportunity to reform their lives. With her personal savings she started single-handed the home in 24th Street, but was later joined by two friends (Mary Finnegan and Katherine Dunne). Every woman who sought admission was received without formal application and regardless of her religious views or previous character. This charitable work had from the first the approval of ecclesiastical authorities, and as it became more widely known the greatly increased number of applicants necessitat6ed its transference to larger quarters.

Miss O'Keefe had always treasured the thought of forming a regular community for the perpetuation of her work and to make reparation to Our Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament. Archbishop (Cardinal) Farley approved her institute in September, 1903, under the title of the "Sisters of Reparation of the Congregation of Mary". Miss O'Keefe was named superioress of the congregation under the title of Mother Zita, Katherine Dunne (Sister Mary Magdalen) taking the habit on her death-bed. A postulant of one year and a novitiate of two years had to be served; perpetual vows were made after five years. In 1906 Mother Zita visited her native land and returned with six novices, bringing the number of members to fifteen by 1912. In 1907 a branch house was opened at East 79th Street. A sister always slept near the door, since it was a rule of the community that no one was to be refused admission at any hour, day or night; the observance of this rule frequently rendered it necessary to the sisters to give up their own beds to their humble guests. The women were kept as long as they desire to stay; if able-bodied they had to help in the laundry or at sewing, the sole support of the home; if ill, they were cared for or sent to the hospital. Catholic inmates were required to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, but this was the sole distinction between the inmates of the different religions. The sisters also visited the poor in the hospitals, and supplied free meals to men out of employment. The number of women accommodated each night was from 100 to 125; the meals supplied to men out of work averaged daily 65.