A Mercy Kindness, Etched in Memory

November 8, 2019

By Boreta Singleton, Mercy Associate

I am an African-American “cradle Catholic.” Although my history within the Catholic Church as a woman of African descent has been complicated and at times painful, I know that I am “home” when I am present at liturgical celebrations, sitting with a spiritual directee at my parish or a retreat house, and in my own ministry as a Catholic educator and administrator for the past 35 years.

I have sometimes felt challenged by the reality that Catholic institutions do not always recognize the gifts and talents of the ethnically and racially diverse people among them. I have always attended Catholic schools, from grade 1 to graduate school. Those institutions are made up of mostly white Catholics. It has been difficult to be recognized as an equal—one who is not only just as Catholic as my white counterparts but also one who possesses  similar gifts of  ministerial leadership. Although I have known the Sisters of Mercy for almost my entire life, I did not attend their schools. However, I  feel as though my first encounter with a Sister of Mercy points  directly to their charism as expressed through the words of Catherine McAuley in her Familiar Instructions: “Let charity be our badge of honor … so that it may truly be said, there is in us but one heart and one soul in God.”

Boreta, front row in purple, with other members of Ignatian Schola, a New York-based group that sings for Jesuit celebrations
Boreta, front row in purple, with other members of Ignatian Schola, a New York-based group that sings for Jesuit celebrations

My grandmother was hospitalized in the what is now the Mercy Catholic Medical Center (then Misericordia Hospital) in Philadelphia when I was in first grade. In the 1960s, children were not permitted to visit patients in their rooms. My mother left me in the waiting area, promising to return in a few minutes. Shortly after she left, I began to cry. I was more upset about not being able to see my grandmother than about being left alone. In seconds, there was a Sister of Mercy in her white habit and cape at my side. She asked me why I was crying, and dried my tears with her handkerchief. She asked my grandmother’s name and disappeared, promising to return. She did so almost immediately and said to me, “You must be very quiet. I am going to cover you with my cape and we will go up to see your grandmother. You can give her a kiss and hug, and then we will have to come back downstairs, okay?” I was thrilled just to see her! Sister let me stay for about 5 minutes, then assured my mother that she would sit with me and not to worry about rushing to get me. My grandmother died the next day, and that beautiful memory of sister’s charity is etched in my memory. Sister saw a need and responded. Isn’t that what the Gospels call us to do?

Over the years, I have been blessed to have friends in the Sisters of Mercy as well as Mercy Associate friends and have served as a co-facilitator of the Institute’s Anti-Racism Transformation Team. I said yes to this opportunity because I know that the sisters take seriously the ongoing call of Christ to eradicate racism within ourselves and our institutions. In my preparation for this work in 2017, I felt the need to know more about the life of Catherine McAuley and her ministry in the Church. I was so inspired by her life story and the works of Mercy that she began that I decided to become a Mercy Associate in 2018. The ministries that Catherine began and those that continue with the presence of the Sisters of Mercy, their Companions and Associates help me to feel “at home” in the Church, for Catherine listened and responded to the Spirit. She was not afraid to reach out to those who are often excluded, just as Jesus did.

The sisters’ commitment to “reading the signs of the times” makes me feel, in the words of a familiar song, that “We shall overcome some day.” We will overcome because the works of the Mercy Sisters, Companions and Associates are building the Kingdom of God!

Boreta Singleton is a Mercy Associate and director of faculty formation at St. Peter’s Prep High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is a spiritual director and loves to sing so much that she belongs to three groups: her parish choir (St. Francis Xavier, Manhattan), The Ignatian Schola, a New York-based group that sings for Jesuit celebrations, and Choral Chameleon, a semi-professional New York City-based chorus. She lives in the Bronx.

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  1. Jeanne O’Rourke

    What a beautiful lady you are dear Boreta! Thank you for your witness and touching story. You are a Woman if God and a Woman of Mercy. Thank you.

  2. Virginia Fifield

    Thank you for your touching reflection that speaks to truth.

  3. Catherine Walsh

    What a beautiful story! Thank you, Boreta, for sharing it!

  4. Natalie Rossi

    thank you for sharing your story. We are blessed to have you among us.

  5. Jackie Moreau

    Boreta how wonderful to read your reflection! I learned a little more about you. Miss our team meetings and opportunity to work together.

  6. S. Patty Cook, RSM

    What a touching sharing and I rejoiced to read it, dear Boreta.

    Thank you for the Merciful ministry that you are engaged with, and for the witness to Catherine in your attitude/words.


  7. Karen Scheer

    Thank you Boreta for your beautiful reflection. The Sisters of Mercy have been gifted with your presence and commitment to do justice!

  8. Karen Scheer

    What a beautiful reflection Boreta! Thank you. I am grateful for your presence and your commitment to do justice with all in Mercy.

  9. Mary E. Hunt

    Thank you for reminding that what we do to children stays with them their whole lives. I appreciate your reflection and take your experience to heart.

  10. Sue LaVoie, Companion in Mercy

    What a lovely story to read first thing on Saturday morning. I’m left seeing how important it is to recognize the tears of others … and to see what we might do about it.

  11. Eileen O'Connor

    Thank you for sharing this most inspiring story, and Welcome to Mercy!

  12. Ellen Turner,rsm

    I was so touched by this article, and I loved the story of the Sister who knew her way around the rules. She knew what was really important.
    Thank you.

  13. Carol Mackey

    Boreta, thank you for this beautiful reflection. Such a precious moment in the life of a child in need of tender love, and just the right woman at the right time, to give it. I have loved the Sisters of Mercy since I was in Kindergarten! And I loved hearing another part of your story. Hope to see you soon.

  14. Anna Marie Saltzman, RSM

    I am so glad that you are one with us, Boreta. Thank you for remaining faithful amidst the ongoing challenges.

  15. Sr. Joan Sherry RSM

    What a beautiful story and what an example you are to others. – and to me. Thanks for the inspiration. I will remember what you said and who you are.

  16. Jack Mattimore, SJ

    Thank you for the beautiful story, Boreta. The Sisters of Mercy taught me in grade school in South Buffalo. The Jesuits have been teaching me since then and I am grateful for all that these good women and men have given me.

  17. Tracy Horton

    What a great and encouraging story.

  18. Beverly Palumbo, RSM

    Thanks so much, Boreta, for. your words, your service, your going beyond the imperfect to create a better situation. You, dear are a treasure. God bless….