Celebrating Mercy Day: 135 years of the Mercy Mission at Emory Saint Joseph's

Sept. 24, 2015

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Mary Beth Spence
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Today Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital celebrates Mercy Day, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. Mercy Day is an opportunity for Mercy Sisters across the world, their associates, and partners in ministry to celebrate and rejoice with Mary, the Mother of Mercy. It is the date when Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, opened the first House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland in 1827 as a residence for homeless girls and women and a school for the poor.

Although Catherine’s original intention was to assemble a corps of lay Catholic social workers, the Archbishop of Dublin urged her to establish a religious congregation.

In 1831, Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, Sister Mary Ann Doyle and Sister Mary Elizabeth Harley took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service of the poor, sick and ignorant, marking the formal foundation of the Sisters of Mercy. The Baggot Street house then became the first Convent of Mercy, and Mother McAuley placed her community under the patronage of Our Lady of Mercy because Mary is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God's mercy. Through her work, Mother McAuley sought to bring the mercy of God to all those in need.

In addition to their work at the Convent of Mercy, the Sisters became known as the “walking nuns” because they traveled the streets of Dublin to help the poor, and also staffed a hospital during the city’s cholera epidemic of 1832. For the next decade, Mother McAuley continued her work by establishing 12 foundations in Ireland and two in England before her death in 1841.

Mother McAuley’s impact soon extended around the world, as Sisters of Mercy left Ireland to establish branches of the order in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. At the invitation of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Sisters of Mercy traveled to the United States, and soon founded branches of the religious community, or Convents of Mercy, in Baltimore, New York, Providence, Chicago and Savannah.

The vision and spirit of Mother McAuley’s healing ministry continued in 1880 when four courageous Sisters of Mercy traveled from Savannah to Atlanta with only 50 cents among them to establish the city’s first hospital. From these historical beginnings, the Sisters of Mercy have furthered the Mercy Mission at Emory Saint Joseph’s through their work in various roles such as administrators, CEOs, nurses, educators, patient advocates and chaplains.

Throughout its 135 year history, the Mercy Mission has been the foundation of Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, inspiring nurses, physicians, board members, volunteers and staff. Every day, patients and families are touched by the dignity, respect and compassion of the Mercy Mission, the healing ministry extended to all who walk through the doors of Emory Saint Joseph’s.