About Our Northeast Community
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community was officially formed July 1, 2006 uniting sisters, associates and companions from Albany, New York; Connecticut; New Hampshire; Portland, Maine; Providence, Rhode Island; and Vermont in the northeastern United States.
As a new organizational structure, the Northeast Community is able to use its human and financial resources more efficiently for the Mercy mission. These changes enable us to focus on our commitment to service, enrich our partnerships and enhance our connectedness with one another.
The Community has more than 1,100 sisters, associates and companions.
The central office for the Northeast Community is located in Cumberland, Rhode Island, however, sisters, associates and companions continue to minister where they live in the areas of education, healthcare and social and pastoral services.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Northeast Community
The Institute, with a presence in the United States and 11 other countries, realized that its resources (persons, money, and property) could be more efficiently and effectively administered for the sake of ministries if the 25 regional communities were to consider merging into geographical units. It took a number of years before the plan to become six Communities was realized.
In November 2005, after much study and consultation, the regional communities of Albany, Connecticut, Portland, New Hampshire, Providence, and Vermont, symbolically celebrated our future oneness at the Assembly of Affairs, where a Governance Plan for a new Northeast Community was unanimously approved.
In March 2006, six women, one from each of the original regional communities, were chosen to serve on the Community Leadership Team at the Chapter of Elections.
In July 2006, the president of the Institute, Sister Mary Waskowiak, came to New Hampshire, where the Assembly of Affairs had been held, and officially named us the Northeast Community and presided over a ceremony for the installation of the members of the Community Leadership Team -- Sisters Ellen Kurtz, president; Michele Aronica, vice president; Eileen Dooling; Jacqueline Marie Kieslich, Maureen McElroy and Kathleen Turley.
The second Community Leadership Team was elected at the March 2010 Assembly in Hartford, Connecticut. The five team members -- Sisters Lindora Cabral, president; Jacqueline Marie Kieslich, vice president; Donna E. Conroy, Patricia Sullivan and Kathleen Turley -- will lead the Community for four years, 2010-2014.
History of the Northeast Community's former regional communities
Albany / Sisters of Mercy
With a total of 80 cents, four Sisters of Mercy boarded the Francis Skiddy, a night boat, to Albany, New York. They departed from St. Catherine's Convent in New York City to establish a branch convent at Greenbush, New York, east of Albany, on the Hudson River.
Sisters Mary Augustine McKenna, Mary Gertrude Ledwith, Mary Vincent Sweetman, and Clare Galvin arrived at their destination on September 28, 1863. The branch convent was called Mount St. John.
Serving God's people and taking risks were not new to these sisters. All except Sister Clare Galvin had served during the Civil War at the military hospital at Beaufort, North Carolina, from July, 1862, until May, 1863.
The foundation in Greenbush became independent in 1868. This marked the beginning of what later became the Albany Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy.
When this young Community numbered only six in 1869, Bishop Conroy asked the Sisters of Mercy to establish a hospital in Albany - St. Peter's Hospital.
Serving the sick was natural to Sister Mary Paula Harris, the first superior of St. Peter's, because she had also been a volunteer at the military hospital in Beaufort tending to wounded soldiers.
As the number of sisters continued to grow, so did the hospital. The first hospital was a small three-story building on Broadway and North Ferry Street, but with a Master Expansion Plan begun in 1945, St. Peter's is presently a multi-structured medical complex on Manning Boulevard, well respected in the community for its quality health care. Providing world-class cardiac care, St. Peter's has been named a Top 100 Cardiovascular Hospital for four consecutive years.
A new motherhouse was opened in Albany in 1928. It was also at this time that the sisters' first mission was established in St. Thomas, USVI. In 1966, another mission was established in Beirut, Lebanon. It was necessary to abandon both endeavors after a short time. In 1967, however, the sisters were invited to work in the Diocese of Anchorage, Alaska, and today, four Albany Sisters of Mercy continue to serve there.
In 1958, the Albany Sisters of Mercy founded Maria College. In the Mercy tradition, its mission has been to educate for service. The college serves a greater population by offering evening and weekend courses. Maria College is first in the area to offer studies in bereavement, gerontology, and complementary therapy.
The sisters have educated countless individuals in diocesan schools since their earliest days at St. Patrick's, Watervliet, in 1872.
There are presently 146 Sisters of Mercy in the Albany Community. Catherine's charism continues through their ministries in health care, education, parish and diocesan work, social services, and spiritual direction.
The sponsored ministries for the Albany Sisters of Mercy are:
- St. Peter's Hospital, Albany - a member of Catholic Health East, which administers to several local components, including: Our Lady of Mercy Life Center, Community Hospice, Villa Mary Immaculate, SPARC (St. Peter's Addiction Recovery Center), Mercy Cares for Kids
- Maria College, Albany - a two-year co-educational college offering day, evening, and weekend degree programs
- McAuley Residence, Albany - a 40-bed assisted living facility
- Circles of Mercy, Rensselaer - a program in the City of Rensselaer for the underserved, especially women and women with children
Connecticut / Sisters of Mercy
There was neither a convent nor a school to greet Mother Frances Xavier Warde and the eight Sisters of Mercy who traveled by stagecoach from Providence, Rhode Island, to Hartford, Connecticut, May 11, 1852. Yet, within a day, they opened an orphanage at St. Mary's Parish, New Haven and, within a week, a school in the basement of St. Patrick Church, Hartford.
Despite dangerous times, due to strong anti-Catholicism from the Know-Nothing society, the sisters went about their work, establishing a presence that continues to have a profound impact on the people of Connecticut, particularly by their social services, healthcare, education and pastoral ministries.
These Sisters of Mercy were not only the first community of religious women in Connecticut but also the only one for more than 20 years.
The year 1872 is considered a milestone date for the Connecticut area Sisters of Mercy, since it is when Hartford and Providence became separate dioceses and sisters were free to choose to belong to only one of the separated dioceses. Of the 140 Sisters in 1872, 70 remained with the Hartford Community and established a motherhouse in Hartford. 1872 is also a milestone date because two more Sisters of Mercy foundations in Connecticut were made directly by the Mercy community in Ennis, Ireland. The Ennis Sisters established a motherhouse in Middletown and a mission in Meriden. Four years later, in 1876, the Meriden mission became an independent Sisters of Mercy community with its own motherhouse.
By 1911, the sisters had expanded their ministries to every corner of Connecticut, founding five institutions and starting 24 parish schools. That year they united the three communities of Hartford, Meriden and Middletown into one Mercy congregation and chose the Hartford motherhouse as their center.
Numbering more than 700 members in 1912, these sisters were the largest Mercy congregation in the United States.
The sisters opened 18 elementary schools, four junior and senior high schools, two catechetical centers and Saint Joseph College. Two of these are still sponsored ministries.
In 1997, the Connecticut area sisters repositioned their healthcare system to offer better services. Their four separate ministries located on the West Hartford campus - Saint Mary Home, Mercyknoll, The McAuley Center, and Mercy Community Homecare became divisions of Mercy Community Health System and part of the Catholic Health East system.
The sisters also launched two ministries with other religious congregations: the Communities' Law Center, providing legal advocacy to low income people; and the Collaborative Center for Justice, modeling collaborative leadership in justice work.
In 2008 there were 172 Mercy Sisters and 105 Mercy Associates in the Connecticut area who continued ministries in social services, healthcare, parish or diocesan work, spiritual direction, retreat work, education.
The major institutions founded and sponsored by the Connecticut area Sisters of Mercy are:
- Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Milford, a secondary academy for girls
- Mercy Center, Madison, a spirituality and retreat center
- Mercy Ecology Institute, Madison, a center for teaching reverence for the earth
- Mercy Housing and Shelter Inc., Hartford, a ministry that serves, educates and empowers people who are homeless
- Saint Joseph College, West Hartford - a four-year bachelor and graduate degrees
Through the years, several Connecticut area sisters established missions or ministered with other sisters in Belize, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. The Guatemalan and Haitian missionary works continue.
New Hampshire / Sisters of Mercy
On July 16, 1858, Frances Warde and four other Sisters of Mercy arrived in Manchester from Providence, Rhode Island, a foundation she had made in 1851, in response to the invitation of Rev. William McDonald, pastor of St. Anne Parish. Their convent, at 435 Union Street, was built by the Catholics of Manchester on the slogan, "A Dime a Brick." Before coming to Manchester, Frances Warde had established 11 houses in the East and Midwest. From the Union Street convent she made foundations within New Hampshire as well as in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, and Vermont. She always returned to Manchester, and she died there in 1884. Frances Warde is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery near Manchester, and Sisters of Mercy from all over the United States come to visit her grave.
Ministry with poor, sick, and uneducated persons has always been the priority for Sisters of Mercy. When Frances and her small band of sisters arrived in Manchester in 1858, they began immediately to instruct the children, the mill workers, and others in the city. They opened a free school for the younger girls of Manchester and in the same year founded Mount St. Mary Academy in the northern wing of the convent. Mount St. Mary Academy continues to this day, now on Elm Street in Manchester.
To respond to the needs of sick and aging persons as well as children, the sisters opened the Sacred Heart Hospital, homes for elderly men and women, an orphanage, and a maternity hospital and infant asylum in Manchester.
In the tradition of their foundress Catherine McAuley, who started the first "House of Mercy" in Dublin, Ireland, they were concerned about the safety and welfare of women working in the mills and elsewhere in Manchester, and opened the House of St. Martha at 434 Union Street, Manchester, as a residence for working women.
For continuing education, they started Our Lady of Grace Vocational School, Sacred Heart School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart Hospital School of X-Ray Technology in Manchester, as well as Mount Saint Mary College in Hooksett, and later Castle College in Windham, New Hampshire and Marian Court College in Swampscott, Massachusetts, which is still in operation. From the late nineteenth into the twentieth century, they were called upon to open or staff schools in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, South Carolina and California. For many years, sisters served in Colombia, South America, as part of the Diocese of Manchester Mission, and also in Central America and Tanzania, Africa.
Today's New Hampshire Sisters of Mercy continue to respond to those most in need. They may be found in the schools, parishes, and hospitals; with people in need of food, shelter, and support. They established the Warde Health Center in Windham, a licensed long-term care and assisted living facility. The members minister in eight states - Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Florida, Rhode Island, and Vermont - in addition to New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
Sisters give religious instruction, staff elementary schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and work in adult education programs, giving English and citizenship classes to immigrant women. They are in parish ministry, pastoral ministry and prison ministry, in healthcare, and in social services among young persons, elderly persons, and those in need of special care. Retired members continue to take part in the works of the community through their prayer.
Portland / Sisters of Mercy
The story of the Sisters of Portland, Maine, began when Mother Frances Xavier Warde, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in New Hampshire, responded to a request from David W. Bacon, bishop of the Portland Diocese: "Do you think you could divide your little community so as to take the Bangor mission in May? The parish schools number about 400 children." She answered by sending six sisters, under the direction of Mother Mary Gonzaga O'Brien, the foundress of the Maine Mercys, in August, 1865. From Bangor, the ministry of the sisters spread to other locations throughout the state.
In May, 1872, Mother Frances again responded to a request from the bishop for sisters to take charge of an orphanage in Portland. On May 31, Mother M. Gonzaga and companions arrived in Portland.
The following year, 12 sisters answered a request to staff the parish schools in Portland. Eventually the sisters worked in 41 parishes throughout the state.
In 1878, at the request of Bishop James A. Healy, they began to work among the people of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation, a ministry which continues today.
When the new Diocese of Manchester was created in 1883, Portland became the site for the motherhouse of the Maine Mercys and St. Joseph's Academy, a private boarding school for girls.
Responding to the influenza epidemic in 1918, the Sisters of Mercy were called to administer and staff Queen's Hospital in Portland in partnership with the diocese. As healthcare needs increased, a larger hospital, Mercy Hospital, was built on State Street, and the diocese entrusted it to the sisters in 1943.
Today, Mercy Hospital, a private, not-for-profit community hospital, licensed for 230 beds and serving 11,000 inpatients and 170,600 outpatients, is a member of Catholic Health East. One of its primary care initiatives is the Portland Community Free Clinic, which began in 1993, and offers quality primary care in a welcoming environment to the working poor.
Today, the Portland area's additional sponsored ministries include:
- St. Joseph's College of Maine, chartered in 1915, is the only Catholic college in Maine. Initially established as a liberal arts college for women, it became co-educational in 1970, and because of a need for more space moved from Portland to Standish on Lake Sebago, where over 900 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program. Through its Distance Education Program, one of the largest in the country, St. Joseph's enrolls approximately 4,000 students residing in 50 states and 20 foreign countries.
- Founded in 1969, Catherine McAuley High School is a college preparatory school for young women, continuing the academic excellence of its predecessors, St. Elizabeth's, St. Joseph's and King's Academies, and Cathedral High School. The high school helps each of the 300 students to develop her potential and become a woman of mercy - well educated, self-disciplined, enriched by diversity, able to lead, and willing to serve others.
- McAuley Residence, founded in 1988 and now part of Mercy Health System of Mine, provides transitional housing, life skills, counseling and supportive services for women and single mothers. Hospitality and respect for the dignity of each person are key ingredients as residents.
- Since 1968, community members have also worked in Mangrove Cay and North Andros, Bahamas, serving through education, health, social and pastoral ministries.
Providence / Sisters of Mercy
On March 11, 1851, Mother Frances Warde and four sisters arrived in Providence, Rhode Island, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fearing the wrath of the city's anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, the small group, dressed in lay clothing, entered Providence at night. Moving into a small house, later named St. Xavier's in honor of Mother Frances, the small band established the first permanent convent in New England by celebrating Mass there on March 12, 1851.
Visitation of the poor began and St. Xavier's Academy for girls was opened. In a few months, the academy moved to a larger building where an orphanage for girls was also established. Joined by 15 other women, the sisters soon came under attack by the Know-Nothings. The violence reached a climax in 1855, when posters appeared announcing an attack on St. Xavier's the night of March 22. The bishop and the mayor of Providence sought to head off a confrontation. Their efforts were rewarded when 400 men came to the sisters' aid.
Sisters began by serving the entire Providence Diocese, which, in the 1850s, included part of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Responding to requests from bishops across the nation, the community also sent sisters to Arkansas, New York, New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee as well as Canada. In 1931, the Belize community of the Sisters of Mercy became part of the Providence community. In 1959, members of both communities established the first foundation in Honduras. Today the Belize and Honduras communities have become part of the emerging CCASA Community.
Since the community's founding, education has been a priority. Sponsored educational institutions include Salve Regina University, a liberal arts university in Newport, Rhode Island; St. Mary Academy - Bay View, a girls' school from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade located in Riverside, Rhode Island; and Mercymount Day School, a co-ed elementary school in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
Service to the sick and those often ignored by society continues as a priority. Mount St. Rita Health Care Centre in Cumberland, Rhode Island, provides care for the ill and aged. Other Mercy ministries include the following: McAuley House, a soup kitchen; McAuley Village, a transitional housing facility for women and children that offers social and educational assistance; and McAuley Community House, a housing facility that helps residents with living skills. Hospitality and spiritual programs are offered at the Providence area retreat houses: Mercy Lodge in Cumberland and Ridge Edge at Watch Hill in Westerly. Members of the Mercy community in Providence serve in parishes, local and elsewhere. Members have undertaken the ministry of prayer or provided pastoral services to prisoners in Rhode Island.
The focus of the Sisters of Mercy in Providence during its history has been and continues to be a commitment to assist those in need, especially women and children.
Vermont / Sisters of Mercy
In a blinding snow storm in Toledo, Ohio, a Sister of Mercy named Frances Warde braved the storm on foot and attended Mass at a parish church early in the morning where the celebrant was a missionary, a French nobleman priest named Louis DeGoesbriand. So impressed was the priest with this plucky sister's strength and persistence that when he became bishop of the new Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, he wrote to Sister Frances Warde in Manchester, New Hampshire, and asked if she would send some of her sisters to Burlington.
In 1874, four Sisters of Mercy from Manchester arrived in Burlington to staff St. Mary's Cathedral School. In 1878, the sisters opened a boarding school - St. Patrick's Academy - which, in 1886, became Mount St. Mary's Academy and the site of the current motherhouse. In 1899, the sisters opened their first mission in Montpelier. Subsequent missions were established in Barre, White River Junction, and Middlebury, Vermont.
In the Burlington area, the sisters founded Mater Christi School, and staffed Cathedral Grammar School, Christ the King School, Cathedral High School, Rice Memorial High School, and Sancta Maria Home for the Aged. In 1925, Trinity College was founded and remained open until 2001. In 1957, Camp Marycrest was founded and served young girls until 1992.
The sisters began sponsoring women's retreats in 1959, and a ministry of hospitality was begun in 1981 to serve women with relatives hospitalized for long term care. Between 1982 and 2001, the Institute for Spiritual Development, Lumen Christ Retreat House, and Mercy Connections were founded as sponsored ministries. The Warde Robe Thrift Shop, begun in 1998, served the poor of Burlington until 2008.
The current sponsored ministries of the Sisters of Mercy in Vermont include:
- Mater Christi School - serving students pre-kindergarten through eighth grade; teaching core values of compassion, service, personal and educational excellence, concern for human dignity, global responsibility, spiritual growth, and collaboration
- Institute for Spiritual Development - offering services and programs for people of all faiths to explore and deepen their spiritual life
- Lumen Christi Retreat House - providing guided, directed and other retreats to focus on spirituality and personal development
- Mercy Connections - providing an education and transition center for women in poverty, a women's mentoring program for newly released offenders leaving prison, and a women's small business program
- Mercy Hospitality - offering rooms to women with relatives who are hospitalized for long-term care.
Two non-sponsored ministries, McAuley Square and Joseph's House, were begun in collaboration with the Sisters of Mercy and other religious or non-profit organizations.
The Sisters of Mercy of Vermont have served in over 50 cities and towns in Vermont and continue to minister in schools, colleges, hospitals, parishes, prisons, spiritual and retreat centers, peace and justice work, immigration support, and diocesan and public service agencies throughout Vermont and across the Institute.
Members of the Vermont Area have served in Saipan, Taiwan, and Peru; Arizona, Alabama, California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. Vermont sisters are currently serving in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Ireland.