Sister Henry Lambert: A city servant and sister of mercy
An outpouring of sentiments was shared Friday by friends of Sister Henry Lambert, a pioneer of spiritual benevolence in Williamsport.
Lambert passed away earlier in the morning at the age of 82. She leaves a legacy of feeding and clothing the needy and caring for their medical needs.
Shortly before Lambert closed her eyes, her friend Deborah Steinbacher said the two held hands.
“She was a courageous woman with a mission, who worked hard and got it done,” Steinbacher said.
In the 1970s, while distributing Meals on Wheels, the nun with the Sisters of Christian Charities noticed men and women looking hungry on the city streets.
“I thought, ‘We really ought to be doing something for those people,’ “ she said in a 2015 interview with the Sun-Gazette, a year she was nominated as finalist for “Person of the Year.”
“I can’t say enough about sister,” Steinbacher said. “She started something way back when nobody else had thought of it.”
Skilled in the kitchen, after working at Divine Providence Hospital, Lambert developed her idea into a soup kitchen ministry.
It opened on a tiny storefront along West Third Street, but the need was so mighty — and the quarters so small — that it moved to the former Rinella’s Produce building at 125 E. Willow St., where it remains today.
Lambert had more in mind for her friend.
“I asked if I could help out and she told me I would be perfect for the clinic,” Steinbacher said, adding her role expanded in the charity upon the urging of the sister. “I started to help and was put in charge of the clinic, expanding the food service to clothing and medical needs.
“She was always encouraging,” Steinbacher said. Her “heart was for the people,” and “she wanted us to care for them.”
“Sister Henry has been an inspiration to us all,” said Mary Dammer, a longtime colleague. “She has been a mentor to me for the past 12 years.”
For the past two years, Dammer said she worked by her side as a cook.
“The people she served have been praying for her since she has been in the hospital,” Dammer said.
The center she established provides food for the hungry, a medical clinic, clothing, preowned furntiure and appliances and shelter during disasters.
All ages received a dose of her grace.
“She loved to feed the kids, and they were always given an extra cookie,” said Polly Kline, a friend.
“I would feel pleased to stand before the Lord if I could do a little ‘thimble full’ of charity to give to others as she has given her whole life,” Kline said.
For the past 38 years, it’s been more than a bowl of soup and cookies handed out by St. Anthony’s Center.
Lambert led the ministry and personally fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the needy, provided medical care to the sick and sheltered families of prisoners.
“Throughout my life as a Sister of Christian Charity, Sister Henry has always been a role model for me,” said Sister Teresa Ann Jacobs
“She never let anyone or anything stand in the way of listening to God’s call to serve those in need,” Jacobs said.
That “ripple effect” has inspired other services to grow in the community through those influenced by her love for the poor.
“Throughout her life, Sister Henry was faithful to her vocation as a Sister of Christian Charity,” said Sister Mary Edward Spohrer. “She had a gift for being creatively and boldly responsive to the needs of others and she lived the works of mercy with all her strength. Sister exemplified the expressed desire of Blessed Pauline, our foundress, ‘to be consumed in works of charity.’ “
“Sister Henry had an inexpressibly great heart with nothing but love in it. We, her Sisters, are deeply grateful for her many years of selfless service,” Spohrer said.
“Very sorry to hear of the passing of Sister Henry,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said. “She was a devoted Christian and gave her life of service to the community. She will be sorely missed.”
In more recent years, difficult times arrived. Repeated flooding of the basement clinic, with sanitary waste backing up, led to a loss of insurance coverage and the eventual closure of the basement portion of the ministry.
“It broke her heart to close the clinic,” Steinbacher said.
“She is an icon,” said Sister Geralyn Haggerty, who was reached at the center, which continues the mission to feed the needy.
Feeding the poor, providing shelter, hope and caring for — as the scriptures command — “the least of those among us” was her mission in life.
For the many downtrodden in the community who needed a meal or a dose of inspiration, especially during the holidays, she was a beacon of hope, said retired Rev. John Manno.
“She was a model of Roman Catholic Sisters of Christian Charity,” Manno said, an order established at Divine Providence Hospital in the late 1940s,” he said.
“She is one of few remnants of the original sisters who are at the hospital,” Manno said.
A “staple” in the spiritual community, she worked together with various denominations, Manno said.
“She didn’t care if you were Catholic, Protestant or agnostic,” Manno said. “All were welcome in her circle.”