Sister Mary Vernon attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Birmingham, Alabama, and entered the Sisters of Mercy in Mt. Washington, Maryland, in September 1960. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Mount St. Agnes College in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1964. She taught at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Baltimore and at Our Lady of Sorrows in Birmingham before she made her perpetual vows as a Sister of Mercy in 1968. While she was at Our Lady of Sorrows, she began her ministry to developmentally disabled children.
She earned a master’s degree in special education from Cardinal Stritch College in 1974. She dedicated her ministerial life to children and youth with developmental disabilities in the diocese of Birmingham for 55 years. She served as associate director of Nazareth House, a ministry of the diocese of Birmingham, with Father Patrick Cullen, who directed the ministry. They moved its location to whichever parish Father Cullen pastored, making sure that those with disabilities had a place where they were strongly welcomed in the church. Over the years, Sister Mary Vernon educated high school students to be volunteer catechists with their young peers in the Nazareth House Program.
Without giving up her ministry to the developmentally disabled, Sister Mary Vernon became an incorporation minister from 2000 to 2009. She spent hours on the phone accompanying younger members of the Sisters of Mercy, helping them to discern the vocation she lived so vibrantly. At one point, she brought several women to her Birmingham home to provide them with a few months needed to complete their novitiate experience. In the last week of her life, she spoke of how much the women for whom she had served as an incorporation minister had enriched her life. She invited women to be Associates with the Sisters of Mercy and developed strong relationships with those called to live Mercy through Association.
Sister Mary Vernon was known as gentle, persistent, generous, dedicated to the needs of those she served and very kind. She was a great storyteller. She died at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham on November 16, four days short of her 80th birthday.