Whether teaching in schools, nursing the sick, or mentoring the troubled, the Sisters of Mercy have helped shape the Catholic church in Tennessee in the 150 years since the first six sisters arrived in Nashville from Providence, Rhode Island.
"Dear Sisters of Mercy, never forget what the Christian witness of your congregation has meant — and still means," Msgr. Owen Campion said in his homily at a Mass to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Tennessee Oct. 31, 1866.
"Thanks be to the most merciful Redeemer that you, and Sisters of Mercy who went before you, have cast yourselves personally and deliberately into the arms of God's loving providence, and that for 150 years you have taken from so many hearts their painful anxiety, always delighting them, and us, with the hope of possessing the Lord, our God and our all," Campion, a retired Nashville diocesan priest, said during the Oct. 30 Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.
The Mercy sisters were invited to Nashville by then-Bishop Patrick Feehan to operate the diocese's first parochial school at its cathedral. In the years that followed, the sisters' ministry expanded across the state of Tennessee and beyond schools to reach hospitals, parishes, and homes for those with AIDS and for single mothers.
"Oct. 31 marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of six brave young sisters to start a school in post-Civil War Nashville," said Sr. Judith Coode, a native of Nashville and a Sister of Mercy since 1955. "Each of them was driven by mercy and the example of our foundress, Catherine McAuley. ... My fellow Sisters of Mercy and I remember their legacy and our responsibility to nurture that legacy."
The Mercy sisters "committed to meeting those needs as we have for 150 years as we plan to do for 150 years more, Coode said at a reception following the Mass.
"We are on a journey to live out the message of Christ, championed by Catherine McAuley, embraced by all of us, shared by all of you," she continued. "Thank you for allowing us to serve this community and the opportunity to be messengers of Christ's mercy. We are truly blessed by every one of you."
According to Mercy Sr. Mary Rose Bumpus, 33 Sisters of Mercy continue to serve Tennessee's three dioceses — Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville — in health care, education and parish ministries, as well as retreat, spirituality and justice ministries.
"And several of our sisters offer their service through prayer and other spiritual and corporal works of mercy," she said. Bumpus, a native of Nashville, is vice president of the South Central Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, of which Tennessee is a part.
"We have great gratitude for the contribution the Sisters of Mercy have made to the life of faith of the Catholic community in Tennessee over the past 150 years. But we know we did not do any of this alone," Bumpus said. "Sisters, our lay counterparts, parents, priests, bishops and all the people we have served — we, together, received the grace that allowed us as Sisters of Mercy to be present in these ministries."
She described several reasons to celebrate during the anniversary of the sisters' arrival in Tennessee, including "the fact that God gave us Jesus to show us what it means to be merciful ... the fact that God invites us to be like Jesus in both receiving and offering mercy to others ... [and] that together we have a history of bringing the compassionate mercy of God to the people of Tennessee."
Nashville Bishop David Choby said Tennessee's Catholics were grateful "for the many ways you touched the lives of so many people. Let us pray we will all be inspired by the generous example of the Sisters of Mercy to serve those in need."
[Andy Telli is managing editor of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville diocese.]
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