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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 »

“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. 
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#MakeMercyReal through Second Chances

September 21, 2017

By Gary Loncki

Jennie Hagerty, center, director of the Mercy Center for Women, enjoys a moment with Jordan, left, and Danielle, two of the center's success stories.

Jennie Hagerty, center, director of the Mercy Center for Women, enjoys a moment with Jordan, left, and Danielle, two of the center’s success stories.

Certainly, Jennie Hagerty knew of the Mercy Center for Women in east Erie, Pennsylvania, when she applied for the job of executive director earlier this year. But her eyes opened anew once she took the post.

“I have to admit, I was naïve,” she said. The center welcomes women suffering from domestic abuse, homelessness, addiction and other issues. They receive a second chance through transitional housing, mentoring, programs and support. Some have children living with them.

“I never knew the realness of what these women here go through. Their needs are so great,” said Jennie. Read More »

From Victim to Video Producer: Meet Ra’Joune, Age 14

February 21, 2017

By Gary Loncki, communications director for the New York Pennsylvania West Community

Ra’Joune standing with fellow student Margaret Singirankabo and Sister Michele Schroeck, director of Erie’s House of Mercy.

Ra’Joune (right) with fellow student Margaret Singirankabo (left) and Sister Michele Schroeck, director of Erie’s House of Mercy (center).

Ra’Joune Spearman, age 14, was severely beaten by angry youths a year ago outside a convenience store in his inner-city neighborhood in Erie, Pennsylvania. During his painful recovery, he could have given in to anger and sought revenge on his as­sailants. But with the help of his parents and pastor, he instead chose to break the cycle of anger and violence.

After he recovered from his injuries, he spoke out against violence at Neighborhood Watch and Erie City Council meet­ings. Now, thanks to encouragement from the Sisters of Mercy, Ra’Joune is also a video producer! He and several young people who participate in programming at the Erie House of Mercy produced a 25-minute video, “Stop the Violence – Have Courage.” (Watch it here!) The intent: to invite teens to choose peaceful ways of resolving con­flicts.

Empowering Their Peers to Resist Violence

Sponsored by the House of Mercy, Sisters of St. Joseph Neighbor­hood Network and the Erie Benedictine’s Neigh­borhood Art House, the video features student-led interviews with Sonya Arrington, who founded Mothers Against Teen Violence after her 19-year-old son was shot five times and killed, and Gary Horton, who heads the Urban Erie Community Development Corporation. Also contributing were young people presenting facts about anger, naming feelings and using roleplay situations to show healthy methods of dealing with negativity.   Read More »

Standing Together at Standing Rock Reservation

October 28, 2016

By Virginia Fifield, Mercy Associate

Protestors block the highway into Standing Rock.

Protestors block the highway into Standing Rock.

In September I went to Standing Rock Reservation with a contingency from my home reservation of Akwesausne. The intent was to stand in solidarity with those Natives from the
Standing Rock Reservation who are protesting the pipeline Energy Transfer Partners are attempting to build on their land.

Energy Transfer Partners is made up of five different companies: Sunoco, Southern Union Company, Regency Energy Partners, Sussex Holding Corporation and Sussex Petroleum. The company was established in 1995 in Texas with 200 miles of pipeline. It now has 71,000 miles of pipeline all across the country. They use their pipelines for natural gas liquids, refined petroleum products and crude oil. Since the beginning of 2016 their pipelines have had 21 spills.   Read More »

Mercy: Much More than Forgiveness

September 28, 2016

By Sister Catherine Kanick

Sister Catherine Kanick

Sister Catherine Kanick

Does Mercy only mean forgiveness? When Pope Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I noticed throughout our diocese a greater emphasis on confession, penance and reconciliation, and more opportunities to do so.

It reminded me of my early years when weekly confession was a must, even as my friends and I “made up” sins to have something to say to the priest! We were reminded regularly of our need to always be aware that we are sinners, with rarely the same emphasis on our goodness.

My thought on our Pope’s proclamation was “are we reverting back to that old mind set?”

This year has been an opportunity for me to look back on my own life’s history from those early years to how my spiritual life today has taken different shape through experiencing God beyond limiting words and understanding.   Read More »

Q&A: Sister Helen Bongolto’s Earth-Friendly Ministry in the Philippines

June 14, 2016

Sister Helen Bongolto entered the Sisters of Mer­cy 28 years ago in the Philippines and has performed vocation work and parish ministry; minis­tered at Mercy Community Hospital; and directed the catechetical program for the Diocese of Pagadian City. From 2010-12, she was ecology program as­sistant at Mercy Convent in Pagadian City. Since 2014, Sister Helen has directed the Mercy Center for Alterna­tive Re-creation of Earth (MCARE) program from the Sibaroc Ecology Center in Jimenez, Misamis Occi­dental. Here, she answered questions about that min­istry.

Sister Helen tends to her vegetable garden.

Sister Helen tends to her vegetable garden.

Why was the MCARE program started?

Sister Virgencita “Jenjen” Alegado (who at the time was a local leader for the sisters in the Philippines) challenged me to study ecology. So, I took courses offered by HEAL (Haven for Ecological and Alterna­tive Living), run by the Medical Mission Sisters. It was hands-on study for almost three months. … When I returned to Mindanao, I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to use what I learned, and I asked my local leader for land on which to begin the Mercy Center for Alterna­tive Re-creation of Earth, or MCARE. We planted native and fruit-bearing trees and herbs, created an animal farm and planted a variety of vegetables in a garden.   Read More »

Operation Safety Net: Dr. Jim Withers Serves in the Streets of Pittsburgh

November 9, 2015

By Gary Loncki

Withers carries his backpack of medicines as he heads out to the Pittsburgh streets. Photo by Martha Rial, courtesy of Catholic Health World.

Withers carries his backpack of medicines as he heads out to the Pittsburgh streets. Photo by Martha Rial, courtesy of Catholic Health World.

Jim Withers, M.D., likens his work on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to what the Sisters of Mercy were doing in Ireland in the mid-19th century.

Since 1992, Withers has traversed areas under bridges, abandoned buildings, streets and alleyways, seeking people in Pittsburgh who are homeless, to show them compassion by offering a listening ear, support, medical care and hope.

“It’s kind of like what Catherine McAuley [founder of the Sisters of Mercy] and the Sisters of Mercy were doing on the streets of Dublin, Ireland, in 1831 when they first came to the United States in 1843, serving the needs of the poor,” said Withers, the founder and medical director of Operation Safety Net, a ministry of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System (PMHS) and Trinity Health in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy.   Read More »

Amazing Grace in the Northern Alleghenies

May 29, 2015

“You are the first sister I have ever met.”

Learning technology is never easy! Sister Trish is helping out a gentleman named Joseph.

This was a comment, remembered Sister Trish Tyler, which was spoken by a parishioner in his 40s shortly after the Sisters of Mercy began the Rural House of Mercy. “I believe the Spirit inspired me to begin ministering to the people in the rural area for this very reason. For years prior, on my occasional visits to the area, similar comments had been made. I realized that these are the people who are under-served. They do not have the same opportunities as parishioners who live in the larger cities where the majority of sisters live and minister and also where the diocesan offices are located,” Sister Trish reflected.   Read More »

Wake up the World! 2015 is the Year of Consecrated Life.

Hospitality of Spirit

April 20, 2015

By Sister Jody Kearney, program director for Mercy Spirituality Center in Rochester, New York

ambulanceAfter what I would describe as an ordinary week filled with spiritual direction appointments and programming here at Mercy Spirituality Center, I went home on Friday evening, ready for a bit of relaxation.

That evening, I noticed flashing lights in front of our house. It was an ambulance tending to someone next door. I went outside to see if my neighbor wanted me to follow her to the hospital. Her adult children were there and things were under control, or so I thought.   Read More »