Connect with Mercy

Our Home, Puerto Rico

November 16, 2017

By Sister Ana Rosa de la Cruz and Sister Ana Maria Cases

Sister Ana Rosa and Sister Ana Maria were born in Puerto Rico and ministered there for many years. Now living in Pittsburgh, they reflect on the history of Mercy presence in Puerto Rico and share some of the hardships facing their island home in the wake of two devastating hurricanes.

A photograph of the late Sister Olga Skaleski walks with a young girl by the ocean in Puerto Rico.

The late Sister Olga Skaleski walks with a young girl by the ocean in Puerto Rico.

The Sisters of Mercy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have had a very close relationship to the island of Puerto Rico since 1941, when the bishop of San Juan, Bishop James Davis, invited the sisters to staff Academia Católica, a school for grades 1-12. Academia Católica—located in Old San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico—was administered by the Capuchin priests from St. Augustine Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The sisters arrived there in August 1941 to start the new academic year in September. Shortly after, they collaborated with the priests in the religious instruction of children in La Perla, a slum built outside the city’s ancient walls. Sometime later, they also gave religious instruction to the children of army men stationed at Fort Brooke in San Juan. The sisters remained there until 1964 when the school had to close because the structure had major problems due to the disintegration caused by the weather and the proximity of the ocean.

Before the second semester of 1963-64 school year was over, Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez, then Archbishop of San Juan, had already approached the major superior, Mother Margaret Mary, to assign sisters to a school in Hato Rey, in the modern section of the city. Colegio La Merced was owned by the Mercedarian priests from Spain. Because it was a school dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy and under the direction of Mercedarian priests, Mother Margaret Mary accepted. The sisters remained there until 1971.   Read More »

Turning Plain Stuff into Gold

November 14, 2017

By Sister Anne Sekul

Sister Anne writes an icon of Mary and Jesus in her studio.

Iconography is an ancient art that is dedicated to prayer in image and color. Icons convey the presence of Christ and the saints to those who pray by gazing at them in silence. Icons are part of my cultural and prayer heritage, as my father introduced them to me when I was a child. Art is a part of who I am. It is very natural for me to express the charism of Mercy through prayer and art.

I find Mercy in many experiences I have had writing and showing icons. A homeless man would often pass by the window of my studio when I was painting the icon of St. Michael the Archangel. Every day he would knock on my window and show his approval or disapproval of the work. Always, he would linger, gazing in silence before he went his way.

An artist once visited my studio, and after I told her about iconography, she said, “Oh, I see. You are not an artist but rather an alchemist. You turn plain stuff into gold.” Icons are always about beauty and transformation. I have seen poor people, lonely people, all kinds of people seek peace and mercy in front of the icons I write. Some of them have found those things, and so have I. The icon itself, rather than the person writing it, is the mediator of God’s mercy and love, and I am privileged to do this work.

Icons by Sister Anne Sekul

Faith and Service: Reflections of a Desert Storm Veteran

November 10, 2017

By Daniel Justynski

Dan Justynski is the director of real estate portfolio for the Sisters of Mercy – Northeast Community as well as a proud alumnus of two Mercy schools.

A headshot of the author of this blog, Dan Justynski

Dan Justynski

Each year as Veterans Day approaches, I reflect on my time in the Navy and the origin of my desire to serve our country. I have known the Sisters of Mercy since I was 10 years old; they were my first educators academically as well as spiritually. I attended the Mercy-staffed St. Margaret School in East Providence, Rhode Island, and Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts. My moral compass was set through my faith and a decade of Mercy mentoring and education.

I also knew from a young age that I wanted to be a naval officer. I decided to work towards a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and was accepted into the program at the College of Holy Cross in 1983. My first memory from NROTC was October 23, 1983—the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. I realized that day that I now wore the same uniform as that of many of those 241 servicemen who, in service to our country, had been killed in the attack. My focus at college was to learn as much as possible, earn my degree and be the best officer and leader possible when I was commissioned an ensign in December 1987.

I met my ship, USS Seattle, in Norfolk, Virginia, in September 1988. To me, the ship was huge and very intimidating. During four years of NROTC training, I had spent all of 30 days at sea, and now I was walking onto a Fast Combat Support Ship as the boiler’s officer, leading a division of 50 men. It was a time of great internal stress, anxiety over my worthiness and fear of failure.

Ensuring Safe Travels across Oceans

I had a lot to learn and little time to do it, but I was surrounded by officers who taught me how to run a division and become a surface warfare officer. We deployed soon after. I put my personal life on hold and said goodbye to my fiancé Gayle in Rhode Island, leaving her to graduate from college and plan a wedding without me. As this was an era before email and cell phones, we communicated through long letters during the deployment.   Read More »

“I Want to Show Joy”—My Journey to Become a Sister of Mercy

November 6, 2017

By Sister Colleen O’Toole

On July 22, the Sisters of Mercy came together in celebration and prayer as Sister Colleen O’Toole professed first vows as a Sister of Mercy in the chapel at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. She currently ministers as a kindergarten aide in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sister Colleen reflects here on her journey to Mercy.

What first attracted you to the Sisters of Mercy?

Sister Colleen O’Toole prepares to profess her first vows on July 22 in Erie.

When I was a Mercy Volunteer in Detroit, I worked at Mercy Education Project where I was a GED math teacher for women, and I helped in the after-school program. There were several sisters who also worked there. I didn’t live with any sisters, but they were very supportive of the volunteers and took us out and showed us around. I was very attracted to how authentic the sisters were in their relationships with each other and with the people they served.

In what ways have you grown?

As I have deepened my commitment to Mercy, I find myself becoming more authentic, more honest to my inner self. A friend once told me that “what is attractive to you about other people is what you desire for yourself,” and I think that’s certainly true for me!

Describe what you like most about being a Sister of Mercy?

I love the other sisters; getting to know such a diverse, joyful group of women has been a gift. I love the opportunities to gather with them. … I am constantly grateful to be in such a kind community.

What were your thoughts as you professed first vows?

As I walked down the aisle I saw so many sisters I knew, and I thought of all the times I’ve spent with them and remembered, when I first entered, how it was a chapel full of strangers. It was a very strong moment of community for me. 
 Read More »

«Quiero demostrar mi alegría» – Mi camino para ser una Hermana de la Misericordia

November 6, 2017

Por la Hermana Colleen O’Toole

El 22 de julio, las Hermanas de la Misericordia se congregaron en celebración y oración al hacer la Hermana Colleen O’Toole su profesión de primeros votos como Hermana de la Misericordia en la capilla de la Universidad Mercyhurst en Erie, Pennsylvania. Actualmente ella sirve como asistenta de jardín de infancia en Cincinnati, Ohio. La Hermana Colleen reflexiona aquí sobre su camino a la Misericordia.

¿Qué la atrajo primero a las Hermanas de la Misericordia?

La Hermana Colleen O’Toole se prepara para profesar sus primeros votos el 22 de julio en Erie.

Cuando fui Voluntaria de la Misericordia en Detroit, trabajé en el Proyecto de Educación de la Misericordia como maestra de matemáticas para mujeres en el programa de obtención del diploma de nivel secundario y también ayudé en el programa para niños después de clases. Había varias hermanas que también trabajaban allí. No vivía con ellas, pero ellas nos apoyaban mucho a voluntarios y voluntarias – nos sacaban y nos enseñaban el área. Me gustaba la autenticidad de las hermanas en sus relaciones con unas y otras, y con las personas que servían.

¿En qué maneras ha crecido?

Al profundizar mi compromiso a la Misericordia, siento que he sido más auténtica, más honesta conmigo misma. Un amigo me dijo una vez que «lo que te atrae en otras personas es lo que deseas para ti», y ¡creo que es cierto en mi caso!

Describa lo que le gusta más de ser una Hermana de la Misericordia.

Me encantan las otras hermanas; el conocer a un grupo de mujeres tan diversas y alegres ha sido un don. Me encantan las oportunidades de reunirme con ellas…estoy constantemente agradecida de estar en una comunidad tan amable.

¿Qué pensaba mientras profesaba los primeros votos?

Mientras caminaba por el pasillo, vi a tantas hermanas que conocía, y pensé en los momentos que he pasado con ellas y recordé, cuando empecé, que era una capilla llena de desconocidas. Fue un momento muy fuerte de comunidad para mí. 
 Read More »

Discovering Their Potential: Helping Ensure a Bright Future for Young Men and Boys in Jamaica

November 2, 2017

By Karel Lucander

Sister Susan shows these two young apprentices how to properly wrap meat in the butcher shop of St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute.

Born and raised on the snowy banks of Copper Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Sister Susan Frazer now ministers in the balmy breezes of Jamaica. Jamaica’s laid-back rhythm allows her to juggle three ministries simultaneously with her positive attitude and robust sense of humor.

For 42 years, Sister Susan has directed the Alpha Institute in Kingston and the St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute (formerly Home for Boys), about 60 miles away in Mandeville. Both ministries serve boys and young men.

“The day-to-day operations are not mine. A good leader has to step away and let [people] do their jobs, not micromanage,” Sister Susan said. “Those sisters who were in charge of me in my earlier years allowed me to see a dream and go toward it. You can only bring people to their potential by giving them their head and allowing them to do things their way, not your way.”

A Closer Look at Alpha Institute

The Sisters of Mercy founded the Alpha Institute 137 years ago as a residential school for boys, but three years ago it transitioned into a day school for 15- to 19-year-olds. Here some 110 inner-city kids turn applied skills into paying jobs, including woodworking, printing, landscaping and barbering. The boys also supplement their education in math and reading.

But the star here is Alpha’s music program. What began as a fife and drum corps moved to brass and percussion and eventually became a famed training ground for renowned trombonists and trumpeters who are now successfully working as professional musicians in Europe. Alpha’s broadcasting program, with a fully equipped radio studio, allows students to prepare for careers as on-air talent or sound system and production engineers at   Read More »

Victor Walks Again!

October 27, 2017

By Sister Eva Lallo

Casa Corazón de la Misericordia, a ministry sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, is an orphanage for children and teens living with HIV/AIDS in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

When Victor came to Casa Corazón, his legs were malformed. The doctors said that at birth he had a stroke which affected his legs, possibly due to the fact that he was born with HIV.

As he grew he tried to walk and even run, always on his toes. Eventually it became so difficult that he had to hang on to things in order to walk or even stand without falling. He valiantly tried to keep up with the other kids at Casa Corazón, but eventually he became confined to a wheelchair, where it seemed he would spend the rest of his life.

We finally found a surgeon wiling to perform the special surgery that would straighten Victor’s legs so that he could walk freely and upright. Thanks to an anonymous donor, we were able to pay for the operation.

We are so happy to say that Victor is out of his wheelchair, walking tentatively, his legs straight and feet firmly planted on the floor.

We here at Casa—Sisters of Mercy, staff and the other kids—are Victor’s only family. His mom and dad are gone, and we are not aware of any extended family. But Victor is a fighter! Having lived thus far through the stress of being HIV positive, he is now determined to walk again.

His next challenge is to run and to play football, the favorite sport in Honduras, with the other kids at Casa Corazón. (Here in the United States we call the sport soccer!)

Learn more about Casa Corazón.

¡Víctor camina de nuevo!

October 27, 2017

Por la Hermana Eva Lallo

La Casa Corazón de la Misericordia, un ministerio patrocinado por las Hermanas de la Misericordia, es un orfanato para niños, niñas y adolescentes que viven con VIH / SIDA en San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Cuando Víctor llegó a la Casa Corazón, sus piernas estaban malformadas. Los médicos dijeron que al nacer sufrió un derrame cerebral que afectó sus piernas, posiblemente debido al hecho de que nació con el VIH.

Mientras crecía intentó caminar e incluso correr, siempre de puntillas. Eventualmente se hizo tan difícil que tuvo que aferrarse a las cosas para caminar o incluso pararse sin caer. Intentó valientemente estar a la altura de los otros niños de la Casa Corazón, pero finalmente se quedó postrado en una silla de ruedas, donde parecía que pasaría el resto de su vida.

Finalmente encontramos un cirujano listo para realizar la cirugía especial que enderezaría las piernas de Víctor para que pudiera caminar libremente y en posición vertical. Gracias a un donante anónimo, pudimos pagar la operación.

Estamos muy contentas de decir que Víctor ya no está en su silla de ruedas, camina tímidamente, con las piernas rectas y los pies firmemente plantados en el piso.

Aquí, en la Casa, las Hermanas de la Misericordia, el personal y los otros niños somos la única familia de Víctor. Su madre y su padre se han ido, y no le conocemos ningún otro familiar. ¡Pero Víctor es un luchador! Habiendo vivido hasta ahora la tensión de ser VIH positivo, ahora está decidido a caminar de nuevo.

Su próximo desafío es correr y jugar al fútbol, ​​el deporte favorito en Honduras, con los otros niños en la Casa Corazón.

Conozca más sobre la Casa Corazón.

When a Loved One Passes

October 24, 2017

By Sister Marjorie Lupien

Sister Marjorie Lupien and Fr John Bucchino

Sister Marjorie (right) with Father John Bucchino at Blessed Sacrament Church in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Six years ago, I became a pastoral minister at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Manchester, New Hampshire. Having been a teacher for many years, I was hesitant going into parish ministry. Within the pastoral ministry role was the funeral ministry.

There are numerous funerals at Blessed Sacrament Parish for all ages, but primarily for elderly parishioners who have passed. My ministry is to meet with families for the preparation of the liturgy and to arrange for a remembrance meal after the funeral. Meeting families in the early stage of their grieving is a challenge because everyone grieves differently. There is no one way to grieve. The families take the task of choosing readings and music very seriously, making selections that fit their loved one’s life.

Memories, a Healing Tool

Near the end of our meeting, I take a few minutes and ask if the family would like to share with me memories about their loved one, a story that is not in the obituary. This is a very precious time for them and for me. They start thinking that death is not the opposite of life, but a part of life. The families want to talk and need a good listener. Sometimes when there is strain within the siblings, it disappears when they connect their cherished memories with each other. They comfort each other in their sadness. Tears become smiles and even laughter. Memories are a wonderful healing tool for grieving people who are beginning to absorb, adjust and accept their separation. Memories keeps the reality of their loved ones alive. It is an awakening of some happy thoughts.

Our pastor, Father John Bucchino, OFM, takes all the information I give him, and he ties it into the scriptures they have chosen and prepares a very spiritual and personal homily. His homily brings spiritual warmth and caring to the grieving hearts of the families.

After six years my fears of this ministry have vanished, and I view the funeral ministry as an opportunity to show compassion and kindness to families in need of comforting.

Putting Compassion First: Meet Sister Dorothy Thum

October 19, 2017

By Karel Lucander

Sister Dorothy stands outside Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, Ohio.

Sister Dorothy stands outside Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, Ohio.

“To be able to walk in the shoes of the people we serve and to be open to the needs they have for healing—that is why we’re here,” Sister Dorothy Thum says.

As senior vice president of missions and values integration for Mercy Health in Toledo, Ohio, Sister Dorothy works with the ethics and spiritual care staff and provides mission formation for members of the boards, senior leaders, directors, managers, physicians and front-line staff. She also oversees palliative care and community outreach for the region of seven hospitals.

Spirituality is Central

Mission formation is the spirituality component crucial to every facet of Mercy Health. During orientation, new employees—whether working in physicians’ offices or outpatient cancer and emergency centers—are introduced to this mission, which emphasizes the core values of excellence, human dignity, sacredness of life, service, justice, mercy and compassion.

When meeting with senior leaders, Sister Dorothy also shines a light on the works of founder Catherine McAuley and Marguerite d’Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns, whose order founded St. Vincent Medical Center, a member of Mercy Health in Toledo. “Our mission calls us to be a healing ministry for anybody who comes to us. And we have a special love for the poor and underserved, just as Jesus did, as Marguerite did and as Catherine did,” she says.

Reaching Out to the Underserved

Mercy Health operates several clinics for the underserved in Toledo. To help teach community members about healthy living, Starting Fresh is a program that offers educational sessions and provides nutritious groceries to participants. “They become a support group for each other,” Sister Dorothy says.   Read More »