Our Spirit, Our Story…
Creation of a new West Midwest Community brings together members of six diverse Mercy communities who have traveled many different paths. With roots in five foundations, Detroit is familiar with paths converging, diverging and coming together again.
Five small groups of women, committed to the vision of Catherine McAuley and her commitment to the poor, sick and uneducated, answered the call to bring the Mission of Mercy to Michigan, Iowa and Argentina. These generous responses to God’s call started them down the paths that led to Detroit.
The Independence, Iowa community was founded in 1869 when six sisters, with Mother Mary Francis Monholland as superior, arrived to teach the children of St. John’s parish.
In 1873, Mother Mary Joseph Lynch, three novices and two postulants traveled from Brooklyn, New York, to open a school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the years that followed, the sisters’ ministries in education, health care, social service and prayer expanded throughout Michigan.
With roots in five foundations, the Regional Community of Detroit is familiar with paths converging, diverging and coming together again.
The Dubuque, Iowa community was founded in 1879 with the opening of a hospital, orphanage and a House of Mercy for young women. Mother Mary Agatha Murphy was the first superior.
Mother Mary Assissium Hynes and three sisters from the Grand Rapids Community founded the Jackson, Michigan community in 1915 when they were invited to open a hospital in that city.
With the Amalgamation of 1929 that created the Sisters of Mercy of the Union, Detroit’s four U.S. founding communities eventually became part of the Province of Cincinnati.
The Province of Cincinnati grew quickly and was soon deemed too large for effective governance. In 1940, Mother Mary Carmelita Manning became the founding Provincial of the newly formed Province of Detroit with responsibility for all the branch houses in Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. Within one year, the sisters moved to a new campus in Detroit complete with Mercy College, the Motherhouse of the Province of Detroit and four years later, Our Lady of Mercy High School. In 1965, the Motherhouse and the High School moved to Farmington Hills.
Detroit’s fifth founding community – Buenos Aires, Argentina – was chronologically the first. Mother Mary Evangelista Fitzpatrick brought Sisters from Ireland to Argentina in 1856, where they took charge of an infirmary. In 1962, the Argentine Sisters asked to join the Union and were welcomed into the Province of Detroit. The connection between the Detroit and Argentine communities was a special blessing. Even though the Detroit and Argentine communities became part of different Communities in the Institute, we continue to claim warmly the bonds and stories that our belonging to the same Province/Regional Community forged.
With the founding of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in 1991, the Province of Detroit became the Regional Community of Detroit with Sister Mary Gretchen Elliott as its first President.
In the re-configuring of the governance structure of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the Regional Community of Detroit became part of the West Midwest Community in 2008. The Argentine Sisters joined with the Mercy communities in the Caribbean, Central America and South America to become part of the CCASA Community.
Ministries Then and Now
Our sisters taught generations of students in parochial schools (89) and established an array of hospitals (36) and health services in Michigan, Iowa and Indiana. Like Catherine McAuley, we go where we’re needed, responding to the unmet needs of our times. In earlier days, those needs were met through work in hospitals and parochial schools. Today you might find us in ministries such as the Mercy Education Project, which assists girls and women from at-risk families in Southwest Detroit through educational and life skill support services.
The establishment of hospitals and nursing schools was a significant part of the early histories of the Detroit Community. In 1976, the establishment of the Sisters of Mercy Corporation consolidated the governance structures of our 20 sponsored hospitals and facilitated a single vision of Mercy health care. The Sisters of Mercy Health Corporation quickly expanded its ministry beyond the usual hospital health care services. To aid in these expanded services and to continue to support hospital health care service, Mercy Health Services, a mother corporation, was formed. In 2000, Mercy Health Services consolidated with Holy Cross Health System to form Trinity Health. That same year, Catholic Health Ministry, a Catholic public Juridic Person, was formed to be the sponsoring Catholic Institution for Trinity Health. The Mission and Philosophy of Catholic Health Ministry, as well as the presence of Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of the Holy Cross on the Board of Trustees ensure that the values of both these communities continue in its institutions.
In 1990, Mercy College merged with the University of Detroit. With the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) the Detroit Community and now the West Midwest Community co-sponsors the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM).
We are convinced that more can be done and done more wisely through collaboration. It is with this conviction that many of our sisters have chosen ministry as members of the boards of trustees, not only of Mercy institutions but other institutions who strive to serve the poor, sick and ignorant.
Our Commitment to Systemic Change
The Detroit community has a strong tradition of direct service and commitment to systemic change. Responding to the call for renewal during Vatican II and the needs of the times, sisters in the 1960s and ‘70s began working for social justice by taking part in civil rights and peace demonstrations, providing health care to migrant workers, ministering in prisons, and seeking to address root causes of societal problems. The Detroit Community has had a Justice Office since the 1970s to keep our sisters aware of the social issues in our states, country and world. For over 30 years, how the monies in our retirement and ministry funds are invested and used has been closely monitored for a just, compassionate and merciful stewardship of our resources.
The Regional Community of Detroit is inclusive of all who join in responding to God’s call to bring mercy to our world – Sisters of Mercy, Associates, Mercy Volunteers, Companions in Mercy, our tens of thousands of partners who work in Mercy-affiliated health care organizations, educational institutions and other ministries and those who support our mission through financial contributions.
Our Patterns of Living Today
In addition to the local community at McAuley Center (home to many of our retired sisters), most of our sisters live singly or in small communities in southeastern Michigan. We value coming together. The two consultation network groups meet at the same time and in the same building as McAuley Center. Inclusion of the sisters at McAuley Center is important to us. Almost every sister belongs to a small group of 8-15 people, called gathering groups. Here important issues of the West Midwest Community and the Institute are discussed. Here, too, we socialize to keep our community ties strong. Because out Community spreads literally from coast to coast, technology has enabled committees and other planning groups to meet via conference call, closed circuit networking. The conference calls, e-mails and websites that are increasingly being used to connect Mercy within the West Midwest and across the Institute are familiar tools for many in Detroit.
The Detroit Community relishes its campus in Farmington Hills. We have enjoyed the beauty of its spaciousness, its greenery, the pond, the wildlife (even the Canadian geese) since 1965. We love to share our beauty with the sisters from across the West Midwest who come to use our Mercy Court for meetings and other gatherings. The Heritage Room in Mercy Court includes brief glimpses of all the founding stories of the WMW as well as the current activities of the Institute, West Midwest Community and the sisters of the Detroit Community.
As we continue to travel the path of becoming the West Midwest Community within the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, we continue to move forward committed to Christ’s message, committed to each other in community, and committed to responding to the needs of the times.