Reflect on Our History

Mother Frances Warde
Mother Frances Xavier Warde

The Sisters of Mercy were founded on December 12, 1831, in Dublin by the Venerable Catherine McAuley to care for people who are poor, sick and uneducated, especially women and girls. From the first House of Mercy on Lower Baggot Street, the Sisters of Mercy grew rapidly, establishing convents throughout Ireland and England within 10 years. It was in one of these convents, St. Leo’s in Carlow, Ireland, where begins the story of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

On December 21, 1843, Mother Frances Xavier Warde and six other Sisters of Mercy from Carlow arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the invitation of Bishop Michael O’Connor—marking the founding of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Accompanying Frances were Sister Josephine Cullen, Sister Elizabeth Strange, Sister Aloysia Strange, Sister Philomena Reid, Sister Agatha (Margaret) O’Brien and Sister Veronica McDarby. Together, the “Seven Sisters” opened schools and established Mercy Hospital, the first hospital in Pittsburgh and the first Mercy-sponsored hospital in the world.

|  WATCH: Going West on the Journey  | LISTEN: Narration of Mother Frances Warde's Journey from Chicago to Pittsburgh

Over the next 41 years, Frances established Mercy numerous convents and ministries across the United States, from Illinois to Maine—more than any other Sister of Mercy. From these foundations, the Sisters of Mercy operated schools and hospitals; tended to people who were poor, orphans and immigrants; founded universities; and cared for wounded soldiers on the field of battle.

Frances died on September 17, 1884, in Mount St. Mary Convent in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is laid to rest there in St. Joseph Cemetery. A year after her death, Omaha Bishop James O’Connor, the brother of Michael O’Connor, visited St. Leo’s Convent in Carlow, from which the original seven sisters left for the United States, and remarked: “When I look around this room and think that these holy women once occupied it, I feel that I am visiting the shrine of saints.”

The Mercy charism that Frances brought to this continent 175 years ago lives today in ministries throughout the United States, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Guam and the Philippines. “It is a glorious thing to be a Sister of Mercy,” Frances famously remarked. Indeed it is.

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