A Place to Call Home
September 22, 2016
By Emily Reed, digital records archivist at Mercy Heritage Center
During the Year of Mercy, Mercy Heritage Center is highlighting stories of the works of mercy found in our historical collections. In our second piece, we look at the history of Mercy Home.
In 1862 five orphaned boys were taken in by the Sisters of Mercy in Brooklyn, New York. The sisters had recently built their convent there on Willoughby Avenue, and already they were needed by their community. The Sisters of Mercy could not refuse to take in the children; they lived by their charism and vow of service.
In 1865 the sisters incorporated and officially established Mercy Home to take in children orphaned by the Civil War. Over the years since then, sisters and staff at Mercy Home have cared for tens of thousands of children, including those who were orphaned; homeless due to wars or the Great Depression; abused; or immigrants with nowhere else to go. At times the agency was called “home” by over 150 children, ages 2 and up, who primarily needed foster care.
Mercy Home grew exponentially, and other caring and housing services like Angel Guardian Home and Saint Mary of the Angels were established as branches of Mercy Home to assist with the overwhelming need of love and shelter in the New York area.
As the needs of the community changed, Mercy Home’s services adapted to live out its commitment to treatment and care for children and their families. Perhaps no one recognized this need more than Sister Mary Chrysostom Gunn, who was the director of Mercy Home for over 25 years. Sister Mary Chrysostom began to notice that when children came to Mercy Home from families in crisis, the children who had developmental disabilities were not being returned to their families, nor were they being adopted. Under her guidance, Mercy Home began developing specialized programs for those with developmental disabilities so that they, too, could continue to learn and grow like their non-disabled peers.
Sister Mary Chrysostom opened the door to Mercy Home to as many children with special needs as possible. Soon the agency developed a superior reputation with parents and social workers. In 1976 Mercy Home was asked to open a group home. By 1978 they were the first agency in the community to open an Intermediate Care Facility.
Under Sister Mary Chrysostom’s direction Mercy Home successfully transitioned from its historic legacy as one large physical institution to an agency with multiple resident homes. Today Mercy Home operates 13 group homes through Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County for children and adults with developmental challenges. Mercy Home has had the honor of having one of the most highly rated therapeutic programs in the state and has been awarded numerous times for their service in child welfare.
Through its 154 years, the challenges faced and needs met by the Sisters of Mercy at Mercy Home have been numerous and diverse. But perhaps the sisters’ involvement can be simply summed up by a statement expressed by Sister Mary Chrysostom herself: “Catherine McAuley once said: ‘If it’s God’s work, it will be done!’ I think we best get on with it!”