Who We Are
Who we are: yesterday, today
Our story as Sisters of Mercy and what is now South Central is an extraordinary one. Generous, spiritual, disciplined and frequently placing themselves in perilous situations, the sisters of the 19th century often were invited into areas by bishops to establish schools. Once the sisters arrived, however, they responded to other needs they encountered, such as sickness and poverty.
Caring for the sick and wounded
Abraham Lincoln requested this painting of a Sister of Mercy in 1863. This 1908 reproduction by John Hauser hangs in McAuley Convent in Cincinnati.
The Sisters of Mercy founded small hospitals to care for the sick in sanitary environments, which were rare especially among people forced to live in poverty. In those days, few if any women, headed hospitals, which meant the sisters, were pioneers in every sense. Without regard for their own well-being, they served as nurses during epidemics of yellow fever, cholera, typhoid and smallpox.
During the Civil War, sisters nursed the wounded—both Union and Confederate—on the battlefield. Sister Mary Colette O’Connor was superintendent of Douglas Military Hospital in Washington, D.C. and was buried with the honorary title of major in the U.S. Army. Other sisters served on steamboat hospitals, and when the Spanish-America War erupted, they nursed those soldiers as well.
Into the mid-20th century
The Sisters of Mercy educated thousands of children and young adults in the mid- to late 20th century.
Into the 1960s, the Sisters of Mercy continued their ministries in schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services. They also expanded their groundbreaking roles as hospital superintendents and CEOs, principals, and presidents of Mercy colleges for women.
After Vatican II in the mid-1960s, the sisters broadened their ministries to include social concerns such as shelters for homeless women and children. Responding to the needs of the changing times brought a new focus for the tradition of mercy set forth by founder Catherine McAuley a century earlier.
Although forbidden by church officials to participate in civil rights protests in many parts of the South during the 1960s, in at least one instance, Sisters of Mercy opened a school to protestors and offered them food and a place to sleep.
The spirit of Mercy
The spirit of compassion, determination and spirituality exhibited by the Sisters of Mercy since their earliest days endures today. They may no longer travel by covered wagon or care for the sick by candlelight, but they respond to the needs of our contemporary times and carry the love of Jesus and the spirit of Mercy into places where it’s needed most. Those needs constantly are evolving and changing, as are the Sisters of Mercy.