The Sisters of Mercy first arrived in Zambia in 1971 when three Irish Sisters of Mercy became missionaries in the Monze Diocese. At first, they worked as volunteers with other religious congregations, and additional Sisters of Mercy from Ireland and Newfoundland were inspired to follow in years to come. In 1982 a mission was opened by the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise in in the Diocese of Chipata. A total of 14 sisters ministered there during the 12 years of the mission. They worked in the areas of education and health care before handing the mission over to native sisters.
The Sisters of Mercy first went to Wales in 1852 when a foundation was established in Pontypool, South Wales, by sisters coming from Liverpool, England. Today, Sisters of Mercy belonging to the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy and the Sisters of Mercy of the Union of Great Britain, live and minister in Wales. Three sisters minister at St. Non’s Retreat Centre in St. David’s in the western part of Wales. This is a place of spirituality and hospitality.
The Sisters of Mercy have been ministering in the United States since 1843 when Francis Xavier Warde arrived in Pittsburgh with six companions from Carlow, Ireland, on December 21. Subsequent groups came from Ireland to New York and California by 1854, and by 1929 sixty independent foundations existed throughout the United States. Sisters of Mercy in the United States address human needs through collaborative efforts in innovative and traditional ways in education, health care, housing, and pastoral and social services. The first Mercy school in the U.S. opened in Pittsburgh in 1844. Since then, Sisters of Mercy have educated hundreds of thousands of students from pre-school to graduate level. Many minister in educational settings beyond the traditional classroom, such as in literacy programs and web-based education programs for adult students.
Sisters of Mercy from Australia went to Uganda in 2002, in association with the Jesuit Refugee Service, as part of Mercy Refugee Service under Mercy Works Inc. They ministered on the UgandanSudanese border with Sudanese refugees. Today, a Sister of Mercy belonging to the Institute of the Americas, West Midwest Community, ministers in the district of Mbarara in western Uganda. Frances Walshe rsm is the director of a counselor training institute that is part of St. Francis Family Helper Program an organization whose mission is to raise the standard of living of poor rural families through the sharing and transfer of knowledge and skills. The institute is accredited through Uganda Martyrs’ University. While based in the Mbarara district, the training institute travels to other regions to train counselors throughout Uganda and other eastern African countries and offers counseling and psychosocial services throughout the diocese of Mbarara.
In 1964, the Sisters of Mercy in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand established a house in Lapaha, Tonga. Four sisters went to Tonga. The founding sisters taught in school, worked with the villagers in raising crops and pigs, and ministered to the people in a host of ways. In 1991, a second house was opened in Kolonga. Today sisters in communities at Kolonga and Lapaha are engaged in secondary school teaching, parish work, support for women and children, prison chaplaincy and justice and development programmes.
Two Sisters of Mercy, both members of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, live and minister in Timor Leste. They minister in Aileu a three hour drive from the capital Dili and in Fohorem, a remote community of 4,500 people in the country’s southwest. Mercy Works Inc., a ministry of the Institute of Australia and Papua New Guinea which supports local and overseas relief and development activities, is involved in health, education, and community development projects in both locations. Mercy Works Inc. assisted a basic Christian community in Aileu to build a centre for women. In this centre, women participate in formal literacy, numeracy, sewing and craft classes, and they also learn cooking and health care. Another Mercy ministry there is the establishment of youth groups in 26 villages of the parish. These groups offer support to the youth and a range of activities such as sports, music, educational and discussion forums, and personal and spiritual development sessions.
Sudan is the third largest country in Africa; it had previously been the largest until 2011 when South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan. It is a country divided from east to west by mountain ranges, and has suffered from wars, internal conflicts and ethnic strife for much of its history. Cathy Solano rsm from the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea is working with the Nubia people in the Nubia Mountains near the border with South Sudan. She began this ministry in 2005 and ministers in the field of education. She served as the education co-ordinator for the Diocese of El Obeid in central Sudan for three years from 2005-2007, and after a period of time back in Australia has returned to Sudan in more recent years.
South Sudan was formed in 2011 when it gained its independence from Sudan following a referendum. It is landlocked country in northeastern Africa that has suffered internal conflict since its independence. It ranks highest among all sovereign countries on the Fragile States Index, a report that uses twelve indicators to assess a country’s risk to experience violence or collapse. At the moment, there are four Sisters of Mercy working in and for South Sudan, three of whom live there year round.
The first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 1897. They opened the first Convent of Mercy in Mafeking, in February 1898. Mercy has been present in that country ever since. In 1994 the Sisters of Mercy in South Africa joined the 26 Irish Mercy congregations to form the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy (Ireland) of which they are now a province. At present, Sisters of Mercy from three Mercy families live and minister in South Africa: the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy (Ireland), Sisters of Mercy of the Union of Great Britain and the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
In 1972 Sisters of Mercy from Auckland (Aotearoa New Zealand) established a house in Leulumoega, Somoa, on the north coast of the Upolo island near Apia, the capitol. Somoa’s Cardinal Pio asked them to staff the new secondary school, Paul VI College, built on land gifted by the Pope. Today, approximately 150 boys and girls attend Paul VI, and Sisters of Mercy continue to teach in and administer the school. Sisters of Mercy also teach in the local primary school - St Joan of Arc Primary and Pre-school, Leulumoega. In addition, they have established a clinic and an early childhood centre. From 1982 – 1990, the novitiate was based in Leulumoega.
Sisters of Mercy have been present in Romania since 1990 when a sister from the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas relocated to Romania and worked in an orphanage for four years. She established a RomanianAmerican Association for the Promotion of Health, Education and Human Services to help at-risk families keep their children. This association provides a variety of programmes to address poverty and presently less than 2% of the children served through this association end up in orphanages. This sister returned to the United States for health reasons. In 1992 a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Union of Great Britain began ministering in Romania and established connections with the civic and religious community in Dundee, Scotland, who support the ministry with material and spiritual resources.
Sisters of Mercy have lived and ministered in Puerto Rico since 1941. At present, two Sisters of Mercy, both of whom are native to Puerto Rico, live and minister there. Their work is mainly in education. The sisters, with the aid of donations from the Pittsburgh Mercy fund, are also able to provide clothing, medicines, clean water and food to the poor and homeless.
Mary O’Sullivan rsm (Congregation of Sisters of Mercy, Ireland) lives in the neighbourhood of the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. She ministers at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz. This Centre was established in 1992 by Cardinal Macharski in co-operation with the bishops of Europe, as well as with the representatives of Jewish organizations. Mary serves on the Education Team at the Centre and plans programmes for groups and individuals. They offer retreats, seminars, interreligious conferences, and exhibitions, and receive guests from all over the world.
The Sisters of Mercy have been present in the Philippines since 1954 when six Sisters of Mercy arrived in Tacloban City from Cork, Ireland. The sisters from this foundation became an autonomous congregation, The Religious Sisters of Mercy, Tacloban Philippines, in 1981. They have 46 members, all of whom live and minister in the Philippines. In 1957 four Sisters of Mercy from Buffalo, New York, USA, founded a convent in Mindanao. The sisters from this foundation belong to the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, NyPPaW Community.
Peru has high rates of unemployment, displacement of persons from rural to urban areas, and social inequalities. As a result of these socio-economic realities, Sisters of Mercy in Peru have chosen to focus on programmes and services predominantly directed toward women and children. Sisters of Mercy are dispersed throughout rural and urban areas of Peru and run women’s houses and medical centres. They are educators, health promoters, catechetical teachers, youth ministers, and providers of programmes in spirituality and adult faith formation. In the Women’s Houses, women of Peru come to relax, learn new skills, grow in self-esteem, develop social support networks, and receive necessary professional services.
Papua New Guinea
The Sisters of Mercy went from Australia to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1956. The first three young women from PNG were received as candidates in 1980. Traditionally the sisters have been involved in responding to the needs of the people of PNG through education, health and pastoral ministry. Mercy Works PNG The Mercy Works PNG (the development agency of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia & Papua New Guinea) projects offer skill development workshops, support groups and individual advocacy and referral services to families and individuals in need. Services covered include human rights awareness, health education, violence prevention, parenting skills, cooking, sewing, budgeting and income-generation activities.
Sisters of Mercy have been ministering in Panama for over 55 years as twelve sisters from Brooklyn, New York, responded to the invitation of the Vincentian Fathers to join them in their ministry. Each of the original twelve sisters committed to living and ministering in Panama for a period of five years. Today, seven Sisters of Mercy live and minister in Panama. The initial ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Panama was to teach at St. Mary’s School in the Canal Zone, and they soon expanded to pastoral ministry with women and children in the mountain regions of Panama. From early years on, the sisters have tried to ‘walk with the people’ and learn the culture from them as well as the problems the people face.
Sisters of Mercy from Australia were first invited to Pakistan in 1979 by the Bishop of Lahore and in 1983 by the Bishop of Rawalpindi. Subsequently, after a period of discernment which included consideration of a report from two sisters who had visited Pakistan in early 1984 and who had identified obvious needs in health care and education, in May 1984 the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia (ISMA) agreed to minister in Pakistan. The Melbourne Congregation was named as the congregation responsible for administering the Pakistan Project.
Sisters of Mercy first arrived in northern Nigeria in the town of Yola (Adamawa State) in October 1969. They came from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford (Ireland). Additional sisters moved from Strabane, Co. Tyrone (Ireland) to Minna, Niger State, in 1975, and from the Armagh Diocese (Ireland) to Lagos in 1986. The ministries in which the initial Sisters of Mercy were engaged were secondary education, charismatic renewal, catechist training, work with women, visitation (home, hospital, and prison), and running a medical clinic. Today, Sisters of Mercy minister in Minna and Yola, having withdrawn from Bare in 1990 and from Lagos in 1998. The various Mercy communities formed one group in 1993 and chose to be attached to the Northern Province of the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy (Ireland) when that congregation was formed in 1994.
The Sisters of Mercy have ministered in Mexico since 1980. Initially, two sisters sisters worked with economically poor families in Rosarito, Baja California Norte, in providing food, clothing, and household items. Clare Manhart rsm continues this ministry. A major part of the ministry of Project Love, Hope, Trust is to provide for the education of kindergarten through preparatory school students by fundraising for tuition, uniforms, and school supplies. In addition, classes in computers, sewing, crafts, cooking, English, religion, and scripture are offered. Betty Campbell rsm lives in Juarez, a Mexican border city. She lives in a barrio of maquiladora workers (sweatshop factory workers) in solidarity with people who are poor and is part of a community of contemplation and political action, Tabor House.
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The Sisters of Mercy went to Lebanon in October 1995. They work mainly in Sacramental preparation in schools and parishes. One Sister is currently involved in the education of school children at a school with 1,200 students from pre-school to Grade 12. In addition, the Sisters work with the United Nations – UNIC, UNRWA, UNIFIL, UNESCO, ESCWA – on global and local issues, as well as working with refugees, supporting children with disabilities and providing pastoral support for women. St. Luke’s Home for Street Children in Kehah provides a sense of home for approximately 90 children (aged 3 – 13 years) from Beirut, who lived on the city streets. All of the children come with heart-breaking stories of abuse, oppression, and exploitation that have left deep scars on their bodies and their psyches.
Sisters of Mercy made the first foundation in Kenya in 1956. In the 1960s through the early 1980s, Sisters of Mercy established and ran health and educational facilities. Many of these institutions have been transferred to government ownership with the community or diocese retaining some sponsorship responsibilities. From the 1990s on, the Sisters of Mercy have directed much energy to ministering in city slums the development of which resulted from migration to the cities in times of drought, famine and strife. The physical conditions which millions of these displaced people face are dire, and most lack water, sanitation, roads and electricity.
A Jamaican woman—Jessie Ripoll—used her money and contributions from friends to purchase 43 acres on which she could establish ministries for the poor of Jamaica. Two other Jamaican women joined her in her endeavors, and they opened an orphanage named ‘Alpha’ in May 1880. A decade after the opening of the orphanage, the numbers of children increased such that the women needed some additional assistance. They invited the Sisters of Mercy from Bermondsey, England, to come to Jamaica to join them in their works of mercy. Four Sisters of Mercy from Bermondsey, England, arrived in Jamaica in December 1890 and a few months later Jessie and her two companions were received into the congregation.
Venerable Catherine McAuley followed in the footsteps of her father James (d. 1783) who reached out to the poor of Dublin and also catechised neighbourhood children in the Catholic faith. Catherine had the opportunity to expand her ministry when she was bequeathed the estate of William and Catherine Callaghan, with whom she lived for nearly twenty years from 1803 until 1822. She used the inheritance, which in today’s currency was worth around €3,000,000, to provide education and protection for servant girls and to care for poor women and children. She established the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin on 12 December 1831 and stated the principal aims of the Congregation were to educate poor girls, to lodge and maintain poor young women who are in danger...and to visit the sick and poor.
Jenny (Sinead) Browne rsm is a Sister of Mercy belonging to the Irish Congregation’s Southern Province. Since 2001 Jenny ministers in India as the Irish co-ordinator of HOPE Foundation. This organization works with street and slum children and their families in Calcutta, India. In a city of over 13 million people, Calcutta is home to 250,000 street children between the ages of 3 and 12; approximately 100,000 of these children have no form of shelter. The goal of Hope Foundation is to provide the support and skills for these children and their families to build a better future free of poverty. HOPE is holistic in its approach as it has projects in education, vocational training, health care, drug rehabilitation, child protection, and other areas.
Honduras is the third poorest country in the western hemisphere. It has extraordinarily unequal distribution of income, as well as high unemployment. In 1959, Sisters of Mercy from Providence Rhode Island (USA) and Belize (Central America) established the first foundation in Honduras, located in La Ceiba. Today there are four Sisters of Mercy who live and minister in Honduras.
Srs Ursula Green and Antonia Chambers arrived from England, on April 23, 1894 where they were joined by a young Guianese woman, Pauline DeFreitas. The Sister’s early ministry was in education and visitation of the poor and sick in Charlestown. The first Mercy school in Guyana (then British Guiana), St. Joseph’s High School, was opened in 1897. Between 1910 and 1930, more sisters came from the British Isles and the sisters moved to interior areas of Guyana. A number of local women joined the congregation in the 1920’s. In 1930 the Sisters of Mercy in Guyana joined the Union of Sisters of Mercy of the United States. Today they are members of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, CCASA Community.
Guernsey is a small island (about 50 square miles) in the English Channel off of the coast of Normandy. It is a British Crown Dependency. Sisters of Mercy have ministered in Guernsey since 1868 when a foundation was established on Cordier Hill by sisters coming from Brighton, England. The sisters established a primary school within that same year. In 1890, sisters from Guernsey established a convent in Alnwick in northern England.
The Sisters of Mercy first came to Guam in November 1946 when Mary Inez Underwood, Mary Louise Wiensenforth, and Mary Annette McBennett arrived from Belmont, North Carolina (USA). The first group of postulants entered the Sisters of Mercy in December of that year. The early ministries of the Sisters of Mercy in Guam were in the provision of Catholic education. Today there are 32 Sisters of Mercy living in Guam, all of whom belong to the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, South Central Community. They co-sponsor four Catholic schools in Guam (Academy of Our Lady of Guam, Bishop Baumgartner Memorial School, Saint Anthony Catholic School, and Santa Barbara Catholic School) and two nurseries and kindergartens (Infant of Prague Nursery and Kindergarten and Mercy Heights Nursery and Kindergarten).
Sisters of Mercy beyond Ethiopia impacting the life in Ethiopia Since 2009 the Western Province of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, Ireland, is involved in a collaborative programme with an Irish organisation Vita, through which the two organisations are trying to alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency in Chencha, Ethiopia.
Two foundations were established in England during Catherine McAuley’s lifetime—Bermondsey in 1839 and Birmingham in 1841. Sisters of Mercy continue to minister in those locations and run heritage centres. Congregations in England include Great Britain Federation of Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Mercy of the Union of Great Britain, Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (Great Britain), the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy (Ireland) and the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and PNG. Sisters of Mercy live and minister in approximately 127 locations throughout England.
Sisters of Mercy have been present in Chile since 1965. In 1961, Pope John XXIII requested that religious orders and dioceses in the United States and Canada voluntarily send 10% of their membership to Latin American countries. The Mercy community in Rochester, NY, responded to this request by selecting four sisters to study Spanish and be missioned to Chile. The first sisters to go to Chile ministered alongside the Columbian Fathers in a very large urban poor parish in Santiago. The Sisters of Mercy continue to minister in Santiago, the capital of Chile. In addition, they minister in Copiapo (521 miles/839 kilometers north of Santiago), Rungue (39 miles/63 kilometers northwest of Santiago), and Viña del Mar (74 miles/120 kilometers northwest of Santiago).
Three Sisters of Mercy from Dublin, Ireland arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland on June 3, 1842, establishing the first convent of Mercy in the Americas. Today Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland make a commitment to alleviate injustice and to reach out in compassion and service to the poor and oppressed, especially to women. In 2001 the Mercy Centre for Ecology and Justice was established in St. John’s. This office highlights the congregation's commitment ‘to focus our resources and energy towards examining, challenging and healing injustice and oppression’ and ‘to live a spirituality flowing from a sense of the sacredness of creation.’
The Sisters of Mercy have been ministering in the Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam area since 1987 when Denise Coghlan rsm moved to Thai-Cambodia border and began her ministry with Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees displaced by the proxy war between the United States and Russia/Vietnam. This ministry was a partnership of Mercy Refugee Services and Jesuit Refugee Services. In 1990, Jesuit Refugee Services discerned a response to the Cambodian situation in which the team developed three distinct groups. One group remained with the refugees in the camps until the final refugees were repatriated; a second group began working outside the situation to advance peace and reconciliation; and the third group formed a new group inside the geographic boundaries of Cambodia.
In a 1979 Chapter, some Sisters of Mercy in Ireland engaged in a communal theological reflection process and decided to send sisters to a developing country. Brazil was chosen, and in December 1982 four sisters moved to this country. They located their ministry in an urban area of the Northeastern state of Paraiba, in the barrio of “Liberdale”. Over the next nine years, six other sisters from Ireland moved to Brazil. In these years, the sisters ministered through the local parish in the formation of seventeen Basic Christian communities. They were involved in catechesis, liturgical planning, biblical reflection, literacy promotion, political formation, and the pastoral care of children and youth.
Belize (formerly British Honduras) is a small country in Central America. It is the only Central American country with English as the language of commerce and education. Mayan people were its earliest settlers, and there are various other racial and ethnic groups who call Belize home, including among others: Garifuna, a blending of Caribbean and African; Mestizos, mixed blood of Mexicans and Yucatan Mayans; and Creoles, an intermingling of the early British settlers with African slaves. The majority of the population is Catholic, and the economy is based primarily on agriculture. There is a significant incidence of moderate to severe malnutrition, and road travel is difficult with unfinished and washed out roads.
The first Sisters of Mercy to cross from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere were Ursula Frayne rsm and her six companions who traveled from Dublin on a ship called The Elizabeth. They arrived in western Australia in 1846, took a riverboat to Perth and established a new foundation in order to meet the educational needs of the pioneering society. Sisters of Mercy minister in both urban and rural Australia. They are educators, theologians, scripture scholars, writers and publishers, researchers, archivists, historians, musicians, artists, environmentalists, ecologists, bio-ethicists, ecumenists, canon lawyers and lawyers. They minister in interfaith relations, with media and communication technologies, administrative institutions, and offer hospitality in a variety of ways.
Mercy ministry began in Argentina in 1856 when four Sisters of Mercy from Dublin arrived in Buenos Aires. Mother Mary Evangelista Fitzpatrick led the delegation. Twenty-four years later (1880), the political situation in Argentina was very volatile and the Sisters of Mercy were not safe. The twenty-four Sisters of Mercy decided they needed to move. They accepted the invitation of the bishop in Adelaide, Australia, to come to that diocese. Ten years later (1890), six Sisters of Mercy returned to Buenos Aires and refounded the ministry in Argentina.
Aotearoa New Zealand
Sisters of Mercy were the first religious sisters to come to Aotearoa New Zealand. They arrived in Auckland in 1850, ten years after the country’s foundation. The intended mission of the delegation from Carlow, Ireland, was to minister to the Maori women and children. Four Mercy congregations were founded in the period between 1850 and 1897. Those congregations joined on 12 December 2005 to form one congregation: Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa: Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. The combination of the Maori and English name of the congregation represents the congregation’s commitment to the Tangata Whenua, the people of the land.