Guided in the Spirit of Mercy

April 23, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of life, and the work of Mercy Volunteer Corps is no exception. In this extraordinary April, when we celebrate National Volunteer Month, Mercy Volunteers are more committed than ever to serving the most marginalized members of our communities. They continue to do so, some from community houses that have been deemed essential, to ensure that each person living on the margins continues to receive care and is not forgotten. During this special month of commemorating volunteers, follow along on our blog to read stories by alumni of Mercy Volunteer Corps whose lives have been forever changed through Mercy service.

By Kathleen Kelly

I am a Mercy Volunteer Corps alumna, a Mercy Associate and a support person for the Philadelphia Mercy Volunteers. I served as a Mercy volunteer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Project HOME from 2014–2015.

I attended a Mercy College, Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As fate would have it, I submitted my application to Mercy Volunteer Corps on December 12, 2013—Mercy Foundation Day. Perhaps it would serve a sign for the way Mercy would forever change the trajectory of my life. I had planned to do a year of service and then return to Pittsburgh for a master’s degree in social work. When I read the description of a volunteer at Project HOME, my mind was made up. I had always held a desire to work with those experiencing homelessness; to learn that outreach workers engaged people at the very basic level on the streets solidified my decision. I came, through my education and my year of service, to realize how Catherine McAuley’s deep desire to serve the poor resonated with me. The connection I desired between prayer and service took root.

I was introduced to street outreach in Kensington, a neighborhood associated with the opioid crisis in Philadelphia. My job was to work as a case aide with a very experienced and respected outreach case manager. She is a mentor of mine to this day. Her approach was to walk up to people and inquire about their wellbeing as if they were close friends. There was no sense of other—it was simply a person-to-person interaction. This was my initiation.

Outreach meant building relationships, not merely jumping into a problem without really knowing what that problem was or who the person was behind it. This taught me true humanity and that we are no different from those we serve. During this year of service, I saw people transform. Some moved into housing while others went back and forth between the sides of recovery and relapse—not only from substances, but from other afflictions as well.

After my year of service, I remained in Philadelphia and found myself in the field of homeless and mental health services as a housing first case manager. My outreach skills were helpful, but case management takes time to master. One must learn both to be stern and to provide a therapeutic environment—at the same time. Three years of this led to the privilege of seeing more lives transform and learning I had changed, as well.

A group photo of Mercy Volunteers sharing in the spirit of mercy.

In 2018, I made the decision to move forward in Mercy and pursue Mercy Association. It seemed like the next natural step. I became an associate in May 2019 with the unwavering support of my mentor, Marian Uba, our educational leadership and my cohort. Our unique life experiences and connections to Mercy made for thought-provoking, intentional instruction. This same year saw many transitions, as I also found myself at Project HOME once again. In a sense, I had come home.

As of now, I have returned to doing outreach. A year ago, I became the assistant program manager of the Outreach Coordination Center. To help manage the department that I originally served as a Mercy volunteer is nothing but providence. To know that I, in my own way, as well as collectively with fellow alumni, am helping to carry out Catherine McAuley’s work is a special privilege.

Service to others can be as simple as providing someone with shower facilities or warm, dry clothes. We see it as natural but may fail to know the true impact. We do not do these things for recognition or for the recipient to be thankful. We care for others simply because it is the right thing to do and it, along with God’s love, is what guides us in the spirit of Mercy.

I would especially like to thank the following ladies who ignited my passion for Mercy: Sisters of Mercy Mary Joy Haywood, Sheila Stevenson and Jenny Wilson; the late Sister Phyllis Zaworski; Angie Giuffre, Mercy associate; and Siobhan De Witt, campus minister at Carlow University.

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  1. Katie Mindling, RSM

    Kathleen, the description of service in so many areas of need is awe-inspiring. As you describe how each one of your positions seems to be unfolding under God’s providence, it reminds me of what Catherine said to Mary Anne Doyle on the Mercy Day in 1841:
    “We have ever confided largely in Divine Providence and shall continue to do so.”
    May you be richly blessed!

  2. Cathleen Cahill, RSM

    From one Cathleen to another Kathleen, thank you for sharing your beautiful journey. You are an inspiration. Catherine McAuley is smiling. Peace and God’s blessings.

  3. Jackie Moreau

    Sharing our stories shows the Spirit at work in today’s world.

    We bless each other through our life lived in faith.

    Sr Jackie

  4. Sister Carren Herring

    You make Mercy proud. Your story is inspiring. Thank you

  5. Kathi Scully

    You go girl !!! #MakingMercyReal…in real time, in real ways…with real heart. Very glad you are one of us, as we share ourselves, in turn, with a suffering world.

    Kudos. Truly.

    Kathi Scully

    Local Coordinator
    Mercy Association, Pittsburgh
    Carlow College (now University), 1975

  6. Kathi Scully

    You go girl!!! #MakingMercyReal…in real time…in real ways…with real heart. Very glad you are one of us, as we, in turn, share the Mercy of God with a suffering world.

    Kudos, truly, for all that you do and, more importantly, for all that you are.

    Kathi Scully

    Local Coordinator
    Mercy Association, Pittsburgh
    Carlow College (now university), 1975

  7. Celeste Marie Nuttman, RSM

    Kathleen, It was wonderful to hear your Spirit guided story and to see your spirit responsiveness. The interplay is dynamic and so gifting to so many. Thank you!

  8. Carol Mucha

    Isn’t it amazing how God guides our Lives? And I am glad you were open to listening to God that led you to our Mercy Family. Blessings be yours as you continue in Mercy fashion!

  9. Jeannine Burch

    Kathleen, thank you for sharing your beautiful story. You are truly an inspiration! May our gracious God continue to bless you as you continue to bless others in Mercy.

    Jeannine Burch
    Mercy Associate
    West Mississippi Gulf Coast

  10. Kay Schwenzer, RSM

    Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing your journey of mercy to so many in need of caring. So good that for the journey is included association with our Institute of Mercy!

  11. Kathy Wade, Mercy Associate

    I am another Kathleen who has found being a Mercy Associate is like coming home again to Mercy. Your journey is inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Michele Schroeck,RSM

    Kathleen, Thanks for carrying on the legacy of Mercy that you were rooted in through your Mercy education. Your MVC experience intensified and deepened your commitment and your work continues the legacy of Catherine McAuley.

  13. Dorothy Thum

    Thank you for sharing your story and your journey of helping others. I see Catherine’s passion for the poor and God in what you do. Prayers and blessings.

  14. Suzanne Thompson

    Thanks, Kathleen! Surely a blessing to be on the Project HOME team with you!
    Suzanne Thompson, RSM

  15. Joyce Nixon


    Thank you very much for sharing your story of sharing God’s mercy. Yes, mercy is what is expected of all of us through the examples of Christ.

  16. Rita Valade RSM

    Thank you for taking the time to share your reflections. I used to work in Baltimore at Health Care for the Homeless…so I understand your passion for those who are homeless. No doubt your ministry has had many joys and sorrows, but I can tell from your smile in the picture, that you are in the “right place” for you. Thank you for your ministry.

  17. Sheila Stevenson RSM

    What a journey in Mercy you have been on, Kathleen. You are a blessing to all. I am grateful to share the journey with you. May God continue to bless your wonderful compassionate heart of Mercy. Thanks for sharing your story with all!

  18. Marian Uba

    Kathleen, you are such a gifted young woman of Mercy and a gift to us all. Your journey is an inspiration and will continue to be so. Love and prayers to you always! – Marian

  19. Sister Patricia Foley

    Kathleen, your story is so beautiful and a true reflection of mercy in our world which is so needed especially today. May God,s peace, mercy and love multiply in you each day.

  20. Siobhan K. De Witt

    It is a blessing to share the charism of Mercy with those who are open to the promptings of The Spirit. Kathleen, you have a heart of service.