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Mercy sisters follow path of forebears

Posted By October 23, 2014 | 4:12 pm | Featured Article #2
Photos by Tanya Connor
Sister of Mercy Ellen Marie Robarge of Worcester lays roses at the graves of sisters buried at St. Anne Cemetery in Shrewsbury. She is archivist in the New York Mercy community.
Photos by Tanya Connor Sister of Mercy Ellen Marie Robarge of Worcester lays roses at the graves of sisters buried at St. Anne Cemetery in Shrewsbury. She is archivist in the New York Mercy community.

By Tanya Connor

A couple dozen women gathered at 111 Shrewsbury St. in Worcester Friday.
They were there to remember five women who preceded them there – by 150 years.
The five were Sisters of Mercy who arrived at this spot, then called Pine Street, on Oct. 24, 1864.
The two dozen were Sisters of Mercy from different states, and their associates, who continue their forebears’ ministry.
The sisters were celebrating their 150th anniversary of serving in Worcester – with a pilgrimage of remembrance Friday and a Mass celebrated by Bishops McManus, Reilly and Rueger and several priests Saturday.
“This afternoon’s tour is not about visiting buildings,” began the history/reflection on Shrewsbury Street, “It is about remembering and honoring the building blocks of the Sisters of Mercy in Worcester. We have chosen to begin our weekend of celebration of 150 years of Mercy Ministry, here at this spot where it all began.”

Photo by Tanya Connor Sisters of Mercy participate in their 150th anniversary Mass Saturday at Christ the King Parish in Worcester.

Photo by Tanya Connor
Sisters of Mercy participate in their 150th anniversary Mass Saturday at Christ the King Parish in Worcester.

The story continued with an account of how the five Sisters came here after Father John Power, pastor of St. Anne Church in Worcester, made a request to Mother Mary Austin, superior of St. Catherine Convent in New York.
Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Mid-Atlantic community and “present day link with the New York Mercies,” laid five roses beneath a plaque on the side of One Eleven Chophouse.
“On this site the Sisters of Mercy established a convent in 1864 upon their arrival in Worcester from New York,” says the plaque. “It was from here that they opened the first hospital in the city – St. Elizabeth’s – and began what was possibly the first ‘health insurance plan.’”
From Shewsbury Street the group went to St. Anne Cemetery in Shrewsbury. There Father John J. Foley, the pastor of St. Anne Parish, with help from Father Paul T. O’Connell, senior priest, blessed a new plaque beside the gravestones of five Sisters of Mercy and Father Power. The plaque recounted some of the history and named the seven sisters buried there in the late-1800s. (Two sisters’ gravestones had been destroyed.)
At St. Anne’s, at Nazareth Cemetery at McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys (another of their ministries) and at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, both in Leicester, roses were placed at the sisters’ graves. Five roses were placed before the Mercy Cross at St. Joseph’s Cemetery for the five sisters buried in other cemeteries in Worcester or Montreal.
The pilgrimage also included Scripture, song and memories of individual sisters.
“For Sister Mary Anselm, whose memory for all eternity seems to be linked to the exploits of her pet pig,” went one memory.
“For Sister Mary Teresa, who, despite her chronically painful feet, always had a smile and an encouraging word for everyone,” went another.

Sisters of Mercy gather by their plaque at One Eleven Chophouse in Worcester Friday. From left are Sister Carol Kell, a volunteer at McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys in Leicester; Sister Anna Jarkowsky, who serves the community in New York, and Sister Mary Daniel Malloy, staff psychologist in the Worcester Diocesan Judicial Vicar’s Office

Sisters of Mercy gather by their plaque at One Eleven Chophouse in Worcester Friday. From left are Sister Carol Kell, a volunteer at McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys in Leicester; Sister Anna Jarkowsky, who serves the community in New York, and Sister Mary Daniel Malloy, staff psychologist in the Worcester Diocesan Judicial Vicar’s Office

Bishop McManus had a memory of his own to share in his homily at Saturday’s Mass at Christ the King Parish in Worcester. He “confessed” that he was never taught by the Sisters of Mercy. So when Sister Mary Leonardo asked him to celebrate a special Mass for them at his first assignment in Cranston, R.I., he explained that he didn’t know much about them. She slapped a book into his hands and said, “Well, Father, it’s about time you learned.”
“Guess what my response was,” the bishop asked his listeners, drawing laughter as he recounted it: “Yes, Sister.”
By now, he knows a bit more, and he shared some of it Saturday.
He praised the sisters who “served so faithfully and with exemplary dedication not only in Worcester County but in California, Florida and even in foreign lands.”
He said it was providential they were celebrating on the feast of St. Luke, the Gospel writer said to be most concerned with Jesus’ mercy, his concern for women and children and with the Holy Spirit’s work in individuals and the Church. These themes reflect the vision of Mother Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin to serve the poor, sick and uneducated, he said.
He was struck by how varied the sisters’ ministries here were. He said the education the sisters provided enabled their students to go on to serve in hospitals, board rooms, seminaries and monasteries.
One thing that has not changed in 150 years and cannot change is the need for Mother McAuley’s charism, he said, because of the need for the “personally transformative experience” of falling in love with Christ, “the mercy and tenderness of God made flesh.”
Bishop McManus returned to his memory of Sister Mary Leonardo and the celebration at which he joined the sisters as a young priest. He recalled them singing the Suscipe of Venerable Catherine McAuley, which includes the words: “My God, I am yours for time and eternity. Lord, I am yours forever.” (Sister of Mercy Cathleen Toomey later sang a solo of it.)
The bishop expressed hope that the deceased sisters now behold God’s face and that “we who remain … rededicate ourselves to serving the poor, the sick and the uneducated.”