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In 1844, seven Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul sailed from France to Alexandria at the request of Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali. They were well received and given a house in Alexandria. From there, they opened a dispensary, where they started their service.

It was not common at this time in Egypt to see sisters outside of convents, serving the community. The locals called the dispensary Saba Banat (“Seven Daughters”). As the charity work grew, the street itself came to be known by that same name.

St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633 with the help of St. Louise de Marillac. Until that point, religious vocations among women often took the form of a contemplative life in relative seclusion; the founders of the Daughters of Charity, by contrast, encouraged the sisters to work outside their convent — to serve Christ in the persons of those poor or in need, through material and spiritual works of mercy. Today, the congregation has a presence in 93 countries around the world.

The first seven Daughters of Charity in Egypt in Alexandria were doctors and nurses, including specialists in ophthalmology.

When the French Suez Canal Company was digging the canal in the middle of the 19th century, the sisters went to work in nearby hospitals to care for workers. After the completion of the canal, they continued to work in governmental hospitals in Port Said, Ismailia and many other facilities in Egypt. Currently, three sisters still work in one of the governmental hospitals in Port Said, maintaining the old tradition.

Over time, the Alexandria sisters gradually expanded their services, even opening schools in the early 20th century. Their presence peaked in 1952, the same year that witnessed a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.

In 1959, the government seized the Saba Banat dispensary as part of a wider campaign of nationalization. In 1963, the dispensary was reopened in a building attached to the school in the At Attarin neighborhood. It kept its old name, despite moving from the old street.

Nowadays, the Daughters of Charity have nine convents in Egypt, where some 50 sisters live and serve locals by running dispensaries, schools, food kitchens and programs teaching literacy and handicrafts to young girls in Upper Egypt.

The Alexandria convent, located between the school and the dispensary, currently houses five sisters, each of whom have specific responsibilities and duties.

While Sister Simone administers the convent and the dispensary, Sister Eman Fawzy manages the school. Sister Therese works as a nurse. Sister Esther teaches catechism. Sister Charlotte takes care of the finances for both the dispensary and the sisters’ nearby school.

They begin their day early: At 6 a.m., they gather for a collective prayer and meditation, followed by Mass and taking breakfast. After that, each goes to her work, nourished.

Sister Simone holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a master’s in hospital management. A native of Alexandria, she entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Charity in Lebanon in 1966. After serving in Lebanon for more than 40 years, she returned to her beloved home city, but it was not the same Alexandria she had left.

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