They’ve pioneered a hospital in Hornell and a high school in Elmira. They’ve founded several Catholic grade schools across the Southern Tier. They’re at the forefront of social-justice efforts. They provide service to the elderly, home visitation, hospital ministry, pastoral ministry in parishes, assistance to the poor and homeless, spiritual direction, jail ministry and music ministry. The list goes on and on.
Add it all up and … well, you can’t really quantify the difference that Sisters of Mercy have made in the lives of Tier residents over a nearly 150-year period. Actually, the only math that really counts is one plus one plus one.
“Serving the poor, sick and uneducated — those three things are right in our vows,” said Sister Mary Raymond Joseph Griffin, noting that these priorities were set forth by Sister Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy.
Sister Griffin was among the participants in an open house at Elmira’s Notre Dame Convent on June 9 — exactly 150 years to the day from the Mercy Sisters’ founding in this diocese. Other open houses were held that day at St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell and the Mercy Motherhouse in Rochester.
These events were part of a yearlong sesquicentennial celebration by the Rochester congregation. Still ahead is a talk on Mercy spirituality by Sister Edna Slyck, pastoral associate at Immaculate Conception Parish in Ithaca, on Sunday, Aug. 19, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at St. Patrick Church Hall, 300 Main St., Owego. In addition, the public is invited to a Mass to close the sesquicentennial on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, with Bishop Matthew H. Clark serving as celebrant.
The Sisters of Mercy began making a vital impact in the Southern Tier not long after establishing themselves in Rochester in 1857. One significant, enduring example has been St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, founded in 1890. Mercy sisters have served in administrative roles from the hospital’s beginning, and the order continues to sponsor what is now known as St. James Mercy Health.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Sisters of Mercy established several schools in the Southern Tier. They opened Notre Dame High School in 1955, with many sisters bringing their Catholic high-school teaching expertise from Rochester to establish the coeducational institution. The convent located adjacent to the school went up in the mid-1960s, and Notre Dame proudly continues today as the Tier’s only Catholic high school. Sister Griffin, a longtime music teacher who now serves as parish visitor at St. Mary’s Southside Parish in Elmira, observed that the convent’s open house on June 9 was attended by many Notre Dame alumni “and some people who were just interested in knowing about the sisters and Notre Dame.”
Sisters of Mercy-led service programs have taken on an increased focus in recent years. For instance, Mercy sponsors Steuben County Rural Ministry in Canisteo, begun in 1980, which provides support, food and clothing to needy families. Sister Margaret Louise Snider, founding director, and her order responded to the need “just as Catherine McAuley would have,” said Sister Susan Cain, the ministry’s director since 2000 who also taught for 28 years at Notre Dame High School.
Sisters of Mercy also have been involved in the operation of Tioga County Rural Ministry since it began in 1978. In addition, they have offered specialized services through such entities as the Mercy Care Center, an adult day care in Elmira (see bottom story on page 1), as well as such individuals as Sister Arlene Semeski, who runs the kitchen at Meals on Wheels of Chemung County.
The Mercy charism has led to the formation of several lay groups of women and men, known as Mercy Associates, in several parts of the Tier. These people extend the mission of Mercy through prayer and service while maintaining an independent lifestyle.
Elsewhere in the Rochester Diocese, Sisters of Mercy-led ministries target homeless mothers and their children; medical and dental care for those without insurance; foster-home care for children with extreme challenges; activity programs for inner-city children; overseas missionary duty; and care for the elderly including priests and nuns.
Another component of this 150th-anniversary year is promotion for the beatification and canonization of Sister McAuley (1778-1841). In 1990 Sister McAuley was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II, the first step toward sainthood.
Sister McAuley founded the Mercy order in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831 as the first noncloistered order of women in Roman Catholic Church history. Her ministry to the poor, sick and uneducated included a special concern for women and children. The order spread to several parts of the world, coming to the United States in 1843 before taking root in Rochester 14 years after that.
The latest structural chapter of the local Sisters of Mercy will see the Rochester order combine with congregations from Buffalo, Erie, Pa., Pittsburgh and the Philippines in early 2008. However, congregational leaders say the many ministries in the Rochester Diocese will remain largely unchanged.
“There is not a corner of the diocese that has not been greatly blessed by the presence of the Sisters of Mercy these past 150 years. The people will, and do, tell you so,” Sister Cain said. “We Sisters of Mercy know that what we have done, and do now, are because of God’s blessing and care for us. We have a great facilitator.”