From Midhurst, West Sussex, England to Guyana
It was from the Convent of Mercy in Midhurst, West Sussex, England, that Sister Ursula Green and Sister Antonia Chambers journeyed to Barbados in 1892 and opened a school there. They were joined by a young Guyanese woman, Gloria De Freitas, later Sister Pauline.
In 1894, Bishop Anthony Butler of British Guiana invited these sisters to come to Guiana. They settled in the poor area of Charlestown and immediately began teaching in the government school. Soon after, Sister Pauline opened a private school for girls which became the much acclaimed Sacred Heart School. By 1897 they were conducting secondary school classes in the convent community room, and that was the beginning of St. Joseph High School.
With the arrival of more sisters from the British Isles and the entrance of Guyanese women, the Mercy ministry of education extended to other government - aided schools on the East Coast and Santa Rosa and Morawhanna in the interior. In 1902 St. John Bosco Orphanage was opened.
In 1910, at the request of the bishop, three sisters left Charlestown to establish a mission among the Amerindians at Takutu in the Rupununi; later there emerged foundations at Santa Rosa, Hosororo and Mabaruma.
In the 1930s, as the educational work increased and the number of sisters decreased, the Charlestown community requested permission to join the Union of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States. The Scranton Province (Pennsylvania) generously accepted the Charlestown mission and between 1935 and 1946 sent a total of 29 sisters to work in the schools and at the Mahaica Hospital. This surge of new life attracted a significant number of Guyanese women who became Sisters of Mercy.
From 1935 until 1970 the sisters continued their educational ministries, opened St Joseph Mercy Hospital (1945), and gave devoted service to the patients at the Mahaica Leprosarium—in later years assisted by sisters from the Baltimore Province (Maryland).
With Guyana’s independence in 1966 the country experienced a period of intense Guyanisation. British Guiana became Guyana. Though invited to remain, many sisters teaching in government schools “retired” and/or assumed other ministries. A night shelter was opened for homeless women. The Sisters began working in the teachers’ training college, in university education and in government at the national level advocating for Amerindians. They continue to staff the orphanage and the hospital. They provide pastoral care in a variety of settings most notably in the continued visits with the patients in what was the Mahaica Leprosarium, in St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and in the Government Geriatric Home.
In 2000, Mercy Wings, an occupational training center, was established in the Sophia Squatting Area to respond to the needs of at- risk adolescents, frequently secondary school drop-outs. That same year the Mercy Boys’ Home in Prashad Nagar began accepting boys over 16 years of age from St. John Bosco Orphanage who have no family and nowhere to go.
In recent years Mercy Associates, lay colleagues, Mercy Corps volunteers and a host of others offer invaluable support for the continuance of these ministries of Mercy, including the latest response to the needs of the times — a safe house for persons who have been trafficked.
In 2009 the sisters in Guyana became part of the CCASA Community of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. In February 2013, Sister Julie Matthews (Guyana) was elected the President of this CCASA Community.
The work of the Sisters of Mercy continues into the 21st century as they strive to live the charism of their founder, Catherine McAuley.