By Christina D’Amico, Library Assistant, Mercy High School, Middletown, Connecticut
As the final bell rings at Mercy High School, a committee of faculty, staff and administration gather to pray. They are dubbed the Mercy Circle in collective spirit of keeping the mission of the Sisters of Mercy thriving within their community. Several months later, the Mercy Circle prepares a celebration honoring the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy to Middletown, Connecticut, from their home turf of Ennis, Ireland, 150 years ago.
Who were these remarkable women? In May of 1872, a band of 11 Sisters of Mercy arrived from their Ennis convent after being summoned to staff parochial schools in Middletown and Meriden. Their immediate response of “we are ready” was the enthusiastic motto that carried them through their lifetime of service.
In the years that followed, the original Middletown seven founded St. Elizabeth Convent/Academy and led St. John’s School, while other sisters later established Mercy High School as well as St. Vincent de Paul Place. Some did not live to witness the fruit of their labors, but the Mercy Circle is proud to acknowledge all that the “walking nuns” accomplished.
Within the first few months that I began working at my alma mater, Mercy High School, I pored through books and records to curate a timeline display of the sisters’ early beginnings from Ennis to America. We were simultaneously gifted with numerous articles, documents and photos from Sister Ann Mack, a pastoral associate at St. John’s Church. From the names of the original sisters to accounts describing the voyage, their first meal in the convent, and objects from a 1905 time capsule, I was thrilled to sift through this treasure trove. Now, I feel a personal responsibility for keeping their story alive because of how truly special they have become to me. These young women agreed to an uncertain challenge, not knowing that they would never return home.
A memorial service was held in April at the sisters’ gravesite; members of the Mercy community, led by a bagpiper, processed with bouquets to place on each of the headstones. On May 6, the schoolwide body, along with local Sisters of Mercy, viewed a touching reenactment play of the sisters’ journey. Mercy High School’s registrar Sister Peggy O’Neill recalls, “From the opening song ‘Women of Mercy’ to ‘Circle of Mercy’, student singers, readers and actors beautifully told the story of the first Sisters of Mercy. It was a wonderful day to celebrate, to honor and to thank the seven Sisters of Mercy who answered the call to leave Ennis, Ireland, in 1872 and come to Middletown, Connecticut. This was a special day to remember and to celebrate all the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, especially those who have served the Middletown community during the past 150 years.”
Many thanks to everyone who allowed me to reverently exhibit these rare artifacts and pay homage to the ones who came before us. One year ago, I could not imagine I would be here, shedding light on the sisterhood that has influenced my own path thus far. I can only hope that they are proud.