March 01, 2010

Where Sisters of Mercy Minister: Guyana (4)

This week, the Soup and Substance: Let’s Live Lent programme will focus on the topic of “Accepting Differences.”  The countries featured on Mercy and Justice Shall Meet DVD for this topic are Guyana and Ireland.  In coordination with this, the country featured in this week’s series on Where Sisters of Mercy Minister is Guyana.

Sisters of Mercy have ministered in Guyana for nearly 116 years as the first Sisters of Mercy Ursula Green and Antonia Chambers arrived from Sussex, England, on April 23, 1894, and were joined by a young Guianese woman, Pauline DeFreitas.  The early ministry was in education and visitation of the poor and sick in Charlestown, and 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 (then British Guiana), and a number of local women joined the order in the 1920’s.  In 1930, the community in Guyana (then British Guiana) requested permission to join the then-Union of Sisters of Mercy of the United States; they soon became part of the then-province of Scranton.  Twenty-nine Sisters of Mercy from the United States went to Guyana (then British Guiana) between 1935 and 1946 to minister.  Today, the Sisters of Mercy in Guyana are members of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, CCASA Community (Caribbean, Central America, South America Community)

A premier historian in Guyana is Mary Noel Menezes rsm.  In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy, she published a history of the ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Guyana in 1994.  A short article by her that covers the history from 1894-2000 can be found at:

Sisters of Mercy in Guyana presently minister in literacy and alternative education programmes, in health care administration and provision, in empowerment programmes for women, and meeting the personal, pastoral, and spiritual needs of the people.  Three essential Mercy institutions in Guyana are St. Joseph’s Hospital (, St. John Bosco Boys’ Orphanage (, and Mercy Wings Vocational Centre.

St. Joseph’s Hospital was opened on 15 August 1945, and provides in-treatment and out-patient care.  Some of their programmes include Remote Area Medical which provides free testing and treatment for women for cervical cancer; Wishbone Project which provides free surgical repair of cleft lip and palate defects to economically disadvantaged children and young adults; a mobile health clinic; and free testing and counseling for HIV.

St. John Bosco Boys’ Orphanage is home to over 40 boys aged between 4 and 16.  It has been in operation since 1879, and managed by Sisters of Mercy since 1902.  It recently moved into a newly built facility ( that has sitting rooms, study rooms, library facilities, and computer lab, in addition to the bedrooms, dining room and laundry room.

Mercy Wings Vocational Centre offers vocational-technical training to youth aged 15-19 who have not completed traditional school.  Areas of training include carpentry, masonry, plumbing, child care, and catering.  It has graduated over 300 people with its recently held graduation of 46 youth (, and it celebrated its tenth anniversary of existence last month (

Young adults from the United States have been involved in ministry programmes in Guyana.  Mercy Volunteer Corps has had volunteers there since 2000; these volunteers serve for two-years in various Mercy ministries (  In addition, several Mercy colleges in the United States have chosen to partner with various ministries in Guyana for immersion experiences for their students.  Some examples include St. Joseph’s College in Connecticut ( and Georgian Court University in New Jersey (

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