November 03, 2020

Mercy Charism Continues in Des Moines

Sister Karen Yarkosky, rsm (left), April Young (center), and Sister Susan Widdel, rsm, of Ankeny, Iowa (right)

The Sisters of Mercy first arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1890s. On Dec. 8, 1893, they established Mercy Hospital. Although the hospital’s beginnings were small -- it consisted of two private rooms and a five-bed ward -- the mission of Mercy Hospital grew over the years. Known today as Mercy One Des Moines Medical Center, it is the longest operating hospital in the city and one of Iowa’s leading hospitals. 

Besides providing the city with sisters who were nurses, the Sisters of Mercy also consisted of teachers and businesswomen. Those sisters staffed three parish schools: Holy Trinity, St. Peter and All Saints; Bishop Drumm Home for the Elderly, now known as Bishop Drumm Care Center; and St. Catherine’s Hall for Businesswomen.

Many sisters have come and gone from Des Moines over the past 130 years, with the last Sister of Mercy just recently moving from Des Moines to join the sisters in Omaha, Nebraska. Although the sisters are no longer physically present in the city, their influence continues today as their ministries operate as solid as ever (except for St. Catherine’s Hall that closed in 1991), thanks to the charism of their founder, Catherine McAuley, that the sisters have shared with others along the way. One such example follows.      


Sister Karen Yarkosky, rsm, met the Sisters of Mercy while living at St. Catherine’s Hall. Owned and operated by the sisters from 1906 until 1991, St. Catherine’s served mainly young women who had left their family farms to work in the city. Such was the case for young Karen. After living at St. Catherine’s for two years and getting to know the sisters while working for an insurance company, Karen chose a life of serving people. At the age of 19, she entered the Mercy religious community and has been a vowed member for 75 years.

April Young, who is in her late 30s and is director of mission integration and chaplain at Bishop Drumm Retirement Center in Johnston, first became aware of the Sisters of Mercy while working as a secretary for the Diocese of Des Moines. But it was through her current position where she worked closely with Sister Karen, as well as with Sister Jeanne Christensen, that April came to know Mercy.

“Sisters Karen and Jeanne are two incredible, faith-filled women who have nourished my spirit and ministry,” says April. “Sister Karen’s sweet tenderness and Sister Jeanne’s fighting strength both seem to encompass the Spirit of Mercy and the tender courage of Catherine McAuley. I am so grateful to have had their example as I grow in my ministry as a laywoman.”

April explains she always knew she wanted to be of service to people. “I found it easy to be with those going through tough times,” she said.  Initially planning on being a hospital chaplain, April earned her master’s degree in pastoral care.  Although she is not a Sister of Mercy, “April carries Mercy in her heart,” says Sister Jeanne, of Kansas City, Missouri, a former long-time board member of Bishop Drumm.

April Young, director of mission integration and chaplain, chats with a resident in the chapel of Bishop Drumm Retirement Center

April is an advocate for the founder of Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley. She helps spread Catherine’s charism and stories of Mercy through her words and deeds.  For instance, recently, she wanted to impress the Bishop Drumm staff on the importance of their doing tasks that years ago would have been completed by a sister. April created a photo display showing – not just telling – of this continuation. “I have a photo of the late Sister Bea Costello cleaning the chapel. Next to it is another photograph showing a layperson doing the same thing.”

The sisters’ influences are essential in the ministries for carrying on the Mercy charism, explains Sister Jeanne. “When you work alongside a partner in ministry who gets it, it energizes you,” she said.  When the time comes for a sister to walk away from her ministry, she can do so more easily, knowing she is leaving it in good hands.

After ministering at Bishop Drumm for 33 years, Sister Karen retired at 94. She left earlier this week to join her community in Omaha.  While April misses her dearly, she said, “Sister Karen will always be in the heart of Bishop Drumm thanks to her many good examples.”   

The stories of the call to Mercy of Sister Karen and April are not unique. Countless others have walked similar Mercy-filled journeys. While some have embarked on the path of vowed life, others remain as laypersons fulfilling their desire to serve people. Both are doing the Corporal Works of Mercy every day, just as Catherine had envisioned.

Messages to: Patti Kantor - Communications Manager, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas West Midwest

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