From Upheaval to Hope, Being Mercy for the Storm-Ravaged People of Texas

March 3, 2021

By Sister María Luisa Vera, president, Mercy Ministries of Laredo

“This is your life, joys and sorrow mingled, one succeeding the other.”
Letter from Catherine McAuley to Frances Warde, May 28, 1841

Staff at Mercy Ministries of Laredo, Texas standing outside to serve those in need.

The week of the February storms was a challenging one for our two ministries in Laredo, Texas.  Temperatures dropped to ranges between 17º F and 35º F. This type of weather event had not occurred in South Texas since 1989, and the electrical grid was quickly overwhelmed, plunging millions of Texans into darkness, with no heat and often no running water. All of this as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on. But this story has a surprise ending.

Casa de Misericordia, a domestic violence shelter, was without power, telephone service, internet and water; fortunately, the shelter was not full at the time. We lost some of the contents of the refrigerator and freezer, but coworkers and neighbors brought in water and food to keep us going. Our coworkers were amazing, working double shifts and doing whatever needed to be done to keep clients and each other safe! Some had similar issues and challenges in their own homes—losing power and water—but never failed to show up on schedule.

Calls came in at all hours of the day and night from people needing help and a warm place to stay. It is always important to remind callers that Casa de Misericordia is a domestic violence shelter, not an emergency shelter, but in situations such as these, we stopped to ask ourselves, “What would Catherine do?” As of this writing, there were six families in the shelter, and power and water had been restored.

At Mercy Clinic, located on another campus in South Laredo, the only problem was low water pressure. This forced us to cancel dental services and eventually close the clinic for 48 hours, but the nurse practitioner followed up with patients by telephone, renewing or refilling prescriptions and making sure they had food. This is especially important for patients with diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

Of great concern to us is the possibility of another surge of COVID infections due to the close quarters people have been forced into to keep warm, as families with power and water take in others who need shelter. At the time of the storms, the number of COVID-19 positive cases was just beginning to go down after two months of being overwhelmingly high.

And then, in the midst of all of this upheaval, a most unexpected thing happened.

We received word from the Laredo Health Department on a Friday afternoon that they were allocating to Mercy Clinic 100 doses of COVID vaccine for use within three days. We called the vaccination team and prepared to open our doors the next morning for vaccinations. Friday evening, Sister Rosemary Welsh and I gave out donated food and blankets. One man gave us money, saying, “I knew the Sisters of Mercy would know what to do.” The temperature dropped again to 25º, but the day of the vaccination clinic promised to be in the 40s and sunny. We were ready! 

That morning was cold but the energy was high, and the spirit of Mercy was palpable as Mercy Clinic – Laredo coworkers reported for duty at 8 a.m. We held a brief orientation and workers receive their assignments for the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The team consisted of 30 staff members, two volunteers and one contract security guard. There were screeners, fillers, vaccinators, runners, observers for adverse reactions and safe exits, and data recorders who had to report data within 24 hours of vaccine administration.

A total of 96 vaccines were administered that day, with the last few doses administered early Monday morning. Some patients took the bus, some walked, others had friends or neighbors bring them, but they got to the clinic for their appointments.

Staff of Mercy Ministries of Laredo, Texas administering curbside vaccines

“It was a real team effort” said Issa Arredondo, a registered nurse and Mercy associate. She added, “The patients were so appreciative.” Fernandina Martinez, director of clinic operations, said, “The spirit of cooperation from everyone was truly the spirit of Mercy.”

There is much in these days to stop and reflect upon as we ask ourselves if we have been faithful to our mission, the mission of the Mercy Health System: “As the Sisters of Mercy before us, we bring to life the healing ministry of Jesus, with compassionate care and exceptional service.” 

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  1. Rebecca Quintero

    I feel so blessed to be a part of Mercy. I give thanks to God for this two wonderful ministries and for Sister María Luisa Vera and Sister Rosemary Welsh; they are our daily mentors and examples of what Mercy is really about!!

  2. Donna Conroy

    Thank you, Maria Luisa, for this report and story about Laredo! I have been praying for you and Rosie specially during this time, as well as for your friends and co-workers! Mercy in Laredo is a wonderful place and loving spirit.

  3. Kristen

    Thank you sisters for all you do!

  4. Katie Mindling

    Thank you for sharing this story and bringing us even closer to the realities of your day today Mercy ministry. In our oneness, we unite with you in every possible way and thank you for highlighting the joy that is found even amidst terrible suffering.

  5. Jean Roche

    Beloved MariaLuisa, Your account brought tears to my eyes and deepest gratitude that you and I , among countless others, have been called to participate in the healing mission of Jesus and are heirs to the legacy of our foundress Catherine McAuley. How graced we have been, you and I, to have participated together long ago in a Jesuit sponsored spiritual leadership program in Denver, Colorado along with 56 others from all over the world!Your gifts of leadership and a passion for mercy and justice were evident back then and it is no surprise that you have excelled in ministry to the poor and disenfranchisedThough separated by distance, we remain united in heart and Spirit to “bring tenderness in all things” and healing to the poor and disenfranchised.

  6. Sr. Mary Cabrini Taitano

    What a blessing you all are to the people of Laredo! The spirit of Catherine is palpable and the Mercy of God is alive in all you do!

  7. Carren Herring

    I’m so proud of you and all your team

  8. Denise Bennett, Mercy Associate

    Thank you Sr. Maria for your ministry of Mercy in action in such difficult conditions. Thank you also for sharing this story of team work and cooperation. It is evident that the Sisters of Mercy of Laredo are well respected and continue to live and model the charism of Catherine in saving lives. God bless you all!

  9. Denise Bennett, Mercy Associate

    Thank you so much,Sister, for sharing this account of Mercy in action. No doubt you are well respected in your community and you continue to model the spirit of Catherine’s charism in responding to the needs of the people of Laredo and in savings lives. God bless you!

  10. Sister Pat Oliver

    Your reflection is so much “mercy”. The story brought back memories of my brief time in Loredo with you and Rosemary. Blessings and prayers.

  11. Rita Valade, RSM

    Maria Louisa… thank you for your ministry in Laredo…and reading about the ways Mercy was committed, professional and flexible enough to respond to the needs of people NOW.

  12. Ann McGovern

    Thank you for this update. I wondered how you were doing in the midst of so many hardships, between the virus, the weather, the challenges experienced by so many. Truly the spirit of Mercy rose to the challenge!

  13. Diane Koorie

    Thank you, Maria Luisa, and to Rosie too, for sharing this experience of joys and sorrows. It inspires and challenges! Prayers for and with you all, for God’s grace, mercy, and peace to continue to be with all of you.

  14. Doris Gottemoeller, RSM

    So great to get an update on your ministries, especially in this challenging time! Thanks loads, lots of love and prayers.

  15. Mary Sheehan

    Maria Luisa,

    What a wonderful gift to all of us! Doing what you and Rosemary are doing in Laredo and sharing it with us. For those of us on the sidelines of this kind of Mercy sharing, thank you.

    S. Mary Sheehan

  16. Sr.Cathleen Cahill

    Thank you, Maria Luisa and Rosemary. Your merciful response inspires us and makes us so happy to be part of Mercy.

  17. Jane Schur

    Oh Sister Marie Luisa!
    Thank you so much for sharing this ministry in the midst of the recent cold spell with us. Your decision to “do what Catherine would do” made me so grateful for your spirit and I can see how you are a gift to the people of Loredo and to us in Mercy!

    I thank God for you and all you serve in Loredo.

  18. Mary Trainer

    Maria Luisa, thank you for shouting out the direness of the situation and the ways God’s energy and tenderness reached out though you and all who minister in Laredo. We keep you all in our grateful prayer. Mary

  19. Ana Laura Garza

    To see their smiles and appreciative expressions in our patient’s face when they received the vaccine was so exciting! The Mercy energy at the clinic on that cold day was so high that it was not even felt. Thank you to Sister Maria Luisa and Sister Rose Mary for obtaining the vaccine for our pt.’s.

  20. Mary Daly RSM

    Thank you both and all your co-workers for being Mercy!

  21. Frances Repka

    Thank you, Maria Luisa and Rosie for this tremendous work of Mercy.
    God’s continued blessing on you and your team of compassionate souls assisting our sisters and brothers who have so little, even when the team itself struggles to have sufficiency.

  22. Sr. Claudette Schiratti

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful ministry of Mercy with us.

  23. Michele Schroeck

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank God for your merciful response. May you continue to receive the support you need to reach out to those marginalized by this Covid crisis.

  24. Sharon Schmitz

    Maria Luisa and Rosie,
    You are such models of Jesus and Catherine to the wonderful people in your area. And, too, you are models for us. Thanks so much. And may you stay healthy and joyfilled in all that you do.
    Blessings in abundance,

  25. Shirley Murphy

    Thanks so much Maria Luisa and Rosemary, for your continued ministry and
    dedication to answer the “call” in so many ways, along with co-workers, during the cold days of weather. Your spirit of Mercy and attention to immediate needs
    is inspiring. Your leadership is well-known and felt by the many families who
    came for comfort, shelter, food, and know they would be cared for. Be assured of our continued prayers and support.

  26. Kathy Wade, Mercy Associate

    Thank you for this wonderful account of Mercy in action in Laredo. We’ve been praying for you and hoping for relief in the form of vaccines. What a blessing.

  27. Mary Ellen Twist, RSM

    Maria Louisa, thank you so much for sharing your experience.
    Prayer for continued miracles for your ministries. Blessings for you and Rosemary.

  28. Richard Mary Burke

    Mary Lou and Rosie, you make me so proud to call you both “my sisters and my friends!”
    God has blessed us by your lives, sacrifices and leadership.
    Much love and blessings!

  29. Shirley Agnew

    Thank you so, so much Maria. You are such a gift from God to the people you serve. So inspiring for me to read your story. Made my day.

  30. Mary Ellen Brody

    Thank you Maria Luisa and Rosie and staff. You do a wonderful job not only in your ministry on the front lines with those in need, but in keeping so many others informed. The extent of your work is immeasurable. Gracias!

  31. Eileen Pazmino

    Thank you, Maria Luisa, that truly is MERCY in so many ways. I am grateful for your reflection.

  32. Donna Marie Coward, RSM

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful account of Mercy reaching out to so many and of the gift of the vaccine. Prayers for all of your staff and all whom you share.

  33. Rita Parks

    Thanks to you and Rosie, together with your wonderful staff and volunteers, those who are receivers of mercy have truly experienced the reality of “what Catherine would do.”

  34. Margaret Downing

    Thank you so much for sharing this–lived and written with such Heart! My love to both of you.

  35. Diane Clyne,rsm

    Maria Luisa and Rosie and all your colleagues! Many thanks for being and sharing with us your Mercy! We are all grateful for you.

  36. Sheila Harrington,RSM

    Thank you for sharing with all of us your compassionate ministry in a time of great crisis for your people. Gracias por tu misericorida.