Catholic Free Press

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Mercy Sisters touched many

Posted By May 3, 2012 | 1:02 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Religious Sisters of Mercy arguably touched thousands of people since their arrival here in 1864, the first Catholic religious order to work in Worcester.
Sunday several dozen of those people – including Bishop Rueger, priests, laity and sisters from different congregations – paid them homage at Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden Parish, where they once staffed Sacred Heart School.
The occasion was a presentation put together by Mary Conway, one of their lay associates. She read her account of the sisters’ history in Worcester while accompanying photographs and drawings were projected on a large screen.
Miss Conway, who said she’s always had a special interest in history, said she became interested in doing something like this after spending a week at the Mercy International Center in Dublin, Ireland, in 2009. The place was originally the founding house of their foundress, Catherine McAuley.
“I thought it was a story that needed to be told,” Miss Conway said. “Many of the ministries they started are still going on;” they’re just not staffed by sisters now.
Offered refreshments afterwards, listeners seemed more interested in sharing their own stories of the sisters.
“Sister Mary Loreto was my gem,” said Walda Boyda, who was taught by the sisters at Sacred Heart School. She said when her brother John drowned in a pool at age 8, “who came to our rescue but Sister Mary Loreto?”
“He was meant to go by water,” the sister consoled the grieving mother. “It didn’t get him the first time.” At age 3, John had fallen in a sewer.
Only one or two of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who staffed Ascension School which he attended, were allowed to attend the wake and funeral, as she recalled it. But all the Sisters of Mercy, who knew the family which lived across from Sacred Heart, came.
Father Paul J. Tougas, pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Boylston, said he is Sister Mary Loreto’s nephew, and pointed out other family members there.
He later showed The Catholic Free Press a photo of her with Perry Como from LIFE magazine. At a diocesan fundraiser at the College of the Holy Cross, she had sought his autograph for a sick sister. He got out of his car, sat on her lap and sang to her, and the whole stadium erupted in applause, Father Tougas said.
“Sister Mary Loreto – I think anybody who knew her would know what a hot ticket she was,” said Gerald Power, another relative, who was taught by the sisters at Blessed Sacrament School and is on the board of their McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys. When she was in the novitiate the other novices dared her to get in the dumb waiter. When she arrived at the next floor, outside the door stood Mother Superior. Now she was in trouble, she figured. But Mother Superior smiled and turned away.
His sister, Susan Hughes, said Sister Mary Loreto came over when she was in eighth grade and asked her, “Why don’t you drive up and down in front of the house?” She protested that she couldn’t drive, but that didn’t seem to faze the nun.
Mark Lorusso, of Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden, recalled overhearing the eighth-grade teacher at Sacred Heart School, Sister Mary Robertine, telling his third-grade teacher, Sister Frances Twomey, how she had asked her students to write a report about a president. He decided to write one, and gave it to his teacher, who gave it to the eighth-grade teacher.
The next day he met trouble on the playground. Sister Mary Robertine had read the eighth-graders his paper and told them it was written by a third-grader and was much better than theirs.
“We lived with them six wonderful years,” Sister Catherine Connolly, a Sister of Notre Dame, said of her community being housed at the Sisters of Mercy convent on Barry Road while their Notre Dame du Lac was being renovated. “We were part of everything; we were not just visitors.”
“It was a wonderful experience – a lot of nice memories,” Sister Mary Barry, a Sister of Mercy who grew up at Sacred Heart and was taught by the sisters, said of the presentation.
“What impressed me was the wide varieties of ministries they were open to,” Sister Rena Mae Gagnon, a Little Franciscan of Mary, said of the Sisters of Mercy. “I’m glad their story is being told. To me it’s a wonderful way of learning and then appreciating.”