Sister Mary Harper was a Sister of Mercy for 62 years. She was educated in Savannah by Mercy sisters for 12 years, attending Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, then St. Vincent’s Academy High School, graduating in 1959. She found that the sisters were kind and “human,” and she enjoyed being with them. Years later, looking back at her decision to enter the community, Mary would say that she’d been certain that God was calling her to religious life, but she “couldn’t quite remember exactly how it happened, but it just worked out.” She made her novitiate at Mount Washington, one of a history-making band of 31 young women. She soon began her post-secondary education at Mount Saint Agnes College, again under the tutelage of Mercy sisters, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1965. After a decade, Sister Mary went on to study at The Johns Hopkins University, earning a master’s degree in Elementary Education. Her first ministries were teaching in elementary and high schools in Baltimore and in Savannah, where she had the unique experience of teaching at her alma mater.
But teaching was not to be her life’s work. In 1978 she went to Loyola College (now University), Maryland, where her love of literature led towards a second master’s degree, this one in Liberal Arts. At the same time she became Loyola’s Campus Minister, a position she held for four years, a time when she said she “found her true calling, counseling.” After more studies at Loyola, Sister Mary joined the staff at Marian House (another Mercy ministry in Baltimore) as a personal counselor to women who were homeless due to drug and alcohol addiction and, often, traumatic abuse. Her studies and experiences there led her next to COIL, a program that offered education and other assistance to underserved people in an impoverished neighborhood in West Baltimore.
In 1990 Sister Mary began her ministry at Mercy Medical Center as a counselor and chaplain, work that brought her great joy. She was a beloved presence at the hospital for almost 30 years. Her greatest gift was her ability to intently listen to voices and hearts.
Another of her talents came to the surface when poems she had written during her many years as a sister were collected and published in 2019 as a book, The Sky in Me, which received rave reviews from sisters and friends, as well as from former students. Mary’s life in Mercy came full circle when she moved to The Villa, the former home for retired sisters, and then to Mercy Springwell, the community’s new retirement home in Mount Washington.