BELMONT – If you want to know how to get something done, look to the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1869 when they first arrived in North Carolina, the sisters have accomplished many feats:
They established Catholic education in the Carolinas, starting with Sacred Heart Academy in Belmont, originally an all-girls finishing school. They founded hospitals including Mercy Hospital in Charlotte, which is still thriving today. And they created social ministries such as Holy Angels, a residential facility for the disabled; Catherine's House, a transitional home for homeless women and their children; and House of Mercy, a residence where low-income people suffering from advanced AIDS can get specialized care.
So what fuels their community?
Pictured above: Julia Jordon talks with Sister M. Matthew Snow in an undated photo. (Photos provided by the Sisters of Mercy)
THE CALL TO SERVE
Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley began the order in Ireland in 1831 with one goal: to serve the poor, the sick and the uneducated.
This call to serving others was so important that Venerable Catherine McAuley established a fourth vow for her order – one of service.
"Catherine wanted the community to be out in the world, not cloistered," says Sister Kathy Green, former president of the South Central Sisters of Mercy community based in Belmont.
"Service is at the heart of who we are," Sister Kathy says.
Sister Kathy entered the order four decades ago in Erie, Pa. She was a high school teacher for 13 years before she moved into health care, becoming vice president of mission and sponsorship for the order. She spent 10 years working in community leadership in Belmont before her term as president ended last month.
The Mercy Sisters' South Central Community is comprised of some 625 sisters, 600 associates and thousands of staff who serve in Mercy-sponsored programs and institutions. After a merger in 2008, the South Central Community became one of six communities making up the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in North, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Guam and the Philippines.
Service abroad is another hallmark of the Sisters of Mercy. Many of the sisters who served in the Catholic schools in North Carolina also taught in Guam in their earlier years. And those with medical training served overseas as well.
Sister Jill Weber is working in health care, living her fourth vow of service at Holy Angels in Belmont. Originally from New York, she attended Sacred Heart College in Belmont and "fell in love with the Sisters of Mercy," Sister Jill says. "They were down to earth and joyful. I loved their spirit."
Sister Jill entered the order in 1972 and served as a teacher for 15 years at Sacred Heart School in Salisbury. She always wanted to pursue a career in health care, so after taking time to care for her ailing mother, the community allowed her to go back to school to earn a physical therapy degree.
"I always felt called to Holy Angels," Sister Jill says. "The residents are poor in one sense because of their physical disabilities, but they are rich in love in their gifts to everyone who takes care of them."
Holy Angels was created by the Sisters of Mercy in the 1950s originally to provide day care for mill workers' children in Belmont. The residential facility now serves 75 people, aged 1 through 64, with mental and physical disabilities.
Sister Jill has also made two mission trips to Jamaica to work alongside the Missionaries of the Poor, tending to the needs of the poor there in the centers run by the brothers under the direction of Father Richard Ho Lung. Sister Jill also traveled to Haiti to help people affected by the deadly earthquakes.
Since their inception, the Sisters of Mercy have had a special place in their hearts for women and children, and one of their ministries that still carries out the original mission of their founder is the rightly named "Catherine's House."
Sister Carmelita Hagan, house manager and volunteer coordinator at Catherine's House, is from Ireland. She attended Sacred Heart College and joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1963. She has been serving at Catherine's House for 10 years.
"Our work here is the compassionate, loving care we give to the homeless women and children," Sister Carmelita says.
Women at Catherine's House can further their education, earn their GEDs, and become self-sufficient and confident providers for their children.
THE SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Besides their call to service, the Sisters of Mercy have another charism that defines them: their shared sense of community. It is a bond of faith and of sisterhood.
"Community is in our faith structure," Sister Kathy says.
They pray together at morning and evening prayer. They also attend daily Mass together and share meals either at the motherhouse or in residences for those who live off campus.
"I know that wherever we are, we are there for one another, we are there in spirit," Sister Jill says. "Community is a large part of our life. It's more than just the number of Sisters of Mercy you live with. It is the bond we have ... the love we have for one another."
The Sisters of Mercy minister in 18 states in the U.S., but they chose Belmont as the motherhouse for the South Central group. About 36 sisters now live there.
"We have a wonderful, praying community that shares all things in common," Sister Carmelita says. "Our prayer life is very important to us."
GETTING THE JOB DONE
Worldwide, the Sisters of Mercy now number 10,000 strong, continuing to fulfill the mission that Sister Catherine McAuley began more than 180 years ago.
Myra Joines, director of communications for the South Central Community, characterizes them best: "The Sisters of Mercy are out there to do what needs to be done, working in the world to get it done."
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer
The Sisters of Mercy in North Carolina
1869 Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy found a convent in Wilmington at the request of Bishop James Gibbons. Three sisters establish the Academy of the Incarnation in Wilmington.
1880 Sisters open Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Hickory, which they sell in 1888.
1887 Sisters open forerunner of today's St. Patrick School in Charlotte.
1892 Abbot Leo Haid, OSB, of Belmont Abbey, who also served as bishop, requests the sisters' presence in Belmont. The sisters establish a boarding and day school called Sacred Heart Academy.
1900 Sisters open St. Joseph's Sanitorium in Asheville for tuberculosis patients.
1906 Mercy Hospital opens in Charlotte.
1910 Sisters open St. Leo's Junior Military School for Boys, which operates until 1962.
1913 The sisters separate from the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston and join the Sisters of Mercy, founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831.
1935 Sacred Heart Junior College in Belmont is established.
1938 St. Joseph's Sanitorium in Asheville becomes a general hospital.
1946 Three Sisters of Mercy leave Belmont for Guam, where they receive 10 women in the first year, with 10 more waiting to enter the community.
1955 Sisters begin staffing Charlotte Catholic High School.
1956 A young mother asks for the sisters' help caring for her seriously ill infant daughter. Other parents of children with disabilities ask for help, and, in response, the sisters open a home for the children that later becomes Holy Angels in Belmont.
1957 Sisters establish Sacred Heart Grade School in Belmont, which operates until 1988.
1966 Sacred Heart College becomes a senior college. It closes in 1987.
1991 House of Mercy, a residence for those living with advanced AIDS, opens in Belmont.
1992 Catherine's House, a transitional facility for women and women with children who are homeless, opens in Belmont.
1995 Mercy Hospital, known as Mercy Health Services, is sold.
1996 Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation is established with proceeds from the sale of Mercy Health Services. As of this year, the foundation has awarded about $57 million in grants supporting the work of selected tax exempt healthcare, educational and social service organizations.
1997 Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina join with Sisters of Mercy in Baltimore to form Mercy Housing Southeast that has developed 2,500 affordable homes for low-income people.
1997 Well of Mercy Retreat Center opens in Hamptonville.
1998 Sisters of Mercy sell St. Joseph Hospital to Memorial Mission Medical Center. Sisters retain ownership of Sisters of Mercy Services Corp., which oversees the operations of Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care Inc.; Mountain Health Services Inc.; Mountain Health Contracting Services Inc.; and Catherine McAuley MERCY Foundation Inc.
2008 The Sisters of Mercy, Regional Community of North Carolina, joins with the regional communities of Baltimore, Cincinnati and St. Louis to form the Sisters of Mercy – South Central Community. Based in Belmont, the new community is comprised of 18 states, Jamaica and Guam.
Who they are
The Sisters of Mercy is an international community of Roman Catholic women who dedicate their lives to God through vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service. They live a life of prayer and service, responding to the needs of people facing poverty, illness and a lack of education. They sponsor and serve in more than 200 organizations – such as schools and hospitals – that address those needs. The community was founded in 1831 by Sister Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland. There are about 10,000 Sisters of Mercy worldwide.
Inspired by the life of Jesus and by their founder, the Sisters of Mercy envision a just world for people who are poor, sick and uneducated. The Sisters of Mercy are women of faith who commit their lives to God and their resources to serve, advocate and pray for those in need around the world.
On "Mercy Day" Sept. 24, as Sisters of Mercy across the globe celebrated the founding of the first House of Mercy, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas unveiled a new logo. At the center of this new logo is a cross modeled after Sisters of Mercy's mark of membership, the Mercy cross. The "cross within a cross" design depicts how Sisters of Mercy founder Sister Catherine McAuley was inspired by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and her commitment to symbolically place herself on the cross in solidarity with those who suffer in our world. The joy and compassion of life as a Sister of Mercy is captured in the outer free-flowing cross.
Join the community
It can take up to nine years to become a perpetually professed sister of the Sisters of Mercy: two years of candidacy, one year of canonical novitiate, one year of apostolic novitiate (prayer and part-time ministry), first vow (3-6 years), and then the perpetual vow. Sisters of Mercy take four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and service to the poor, sick and uneducated.
Meet the Sisters of Mercy in their online chat room and message board during their nightly chats: At www.sistersofmercy.org, click on "Become a Sister."
n Wednesday and Thursday, 9-10 p.m. EST
n Saturday, 10-11 p.m. EST
Become a volunteer
Lay people can also get involved as volunteers with Mercy Volunteer Corps in the U.S. or abroad (www.mercyvolunteers.org), as Mercy Associates (lay spiritual partners), or as Companions in Mercy (www.companionsinmercy.org).
— Source: www.sistersofmercy.org