Weekly Feature



2018-02-21 / Lifestyles

Sisters of Mercy celebrate 160 years

A history of women in leadership:
by AMY ROBB Lancaster/Depew Editor


Doris Hadley, a friend of the Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters Mary Ellen Twist, Jennifer Wilson, Joan Chachula and Mary Rose Curry perform in the bell choir for the 160th anniversary celebration Mass at Sisters of Mercy on Feb. 10. Mercy Center is located at 625 Abbott Road in Buffalo. 
Photos courtesy of Patrick McPartland, WNY Catholic Doris Hadley, a friend of the Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters Mary Ellen Twist, Jennifer Wilson, Joan Chachula and Mary Rose Curry perform in the bell choir for the 160th anniversary celebration Mass at Sisters of Mercy on Feb. 10. Mercy Center is located at 625 Abbott Road in Buffalo. Photos courtesy of Patrick McPartland, WNY Catholic If you grew up in South Buffalo, it’s hard to imagine the area without its heavy

Catholic influence. Everything from the fish fries to

Father Baker is now such a part of those proud to call South Buffalo, or Western New York for that matter, home.

The Sisters of Mercy, a pillar of Catholic faith in the community, is one such institution that has been interwoven into the fabric of life here. The sisters celebrated their 160th anniversary earlier this month, with a special Mass in the Mercy Center Chapel and reception for those in attendance.

The sisters are known for being leaders in education and health care, establishing familiar institutions including Mount Mercy Academy, Trocaire College, Mercy Hospital and Kenmore Mercy Hospital.


Sisters stand together to sing “Amen, We Affirm,” a Sisters of Mercy song of blessing, for Mercy associates and others at the 160th anniversary Mass on Feb. 10. Sisters stand together to sing “Amen, We Affirm,” a Sisters of Mercy song of blessing, for Mercy associates and others at the 160th anniversary Mass on Feb. 10. The group even founded a Sisters of Mercy community in the Philippines in 1957. On Feb. 11, 1858, Bishop John Timon, as well as four of the sisters, first set up shop in Buffalo, leaving Rochester for St. Bridget’s Parish on Fulton Street.

“[Bishop Timon] asked four sisters if they would come down to Buffalo to minister to the Irish immigrants who were coming here from Ireland, during the potato famine. They were working on the docks at the end of Perry Street, that whole area of Louisiana, Perry and Fulton streets,” said Sister Diane Swanson, who has been with Sisters of

Mercy for 54 years.

“They began immediately taking care of the people who were living there, providing food, health care and education; that was how we began.”

The Buffalo chapter grew steadily, and with more women wishing to become sisters, the group was looking to expand to another building.

“Back in 1902, there was not enough room at the convent there where the sisters were,” said Sister Diane. “They were so crowded there at the convent on Fulton Street that they needed to find a new home. As they were looking around, they found one opposite Cazenovia Park. They located the Choate Estate on Abbott Road, and that had been the home of the Rufus Choate family.”

The sisters, with the help of Monsignor Nelson Baker, helped raise funds to purchase the home, which would eventually become Mount Mercy Academy. As a way to raise money, the sisters started what may be the first public laundry service in the area, according to Sister Diane.

“One of the signs said, ‘Send away your washing and forget it’s wash day,’” she joked.

“It was 5 cents for a batch of laundry that was washed and ironed. Just after they purchased the Choate Estate, they started taking in laundry.”

Mercy Hospital was also founded during this time period, being established in 1904. The 30-bed hospital in a home on Tifft Street was sorely needed by the growing number of residents, for an area rapidly becoming a suburb.

The hospital and school became forerunners in the areas of health care and education, providing opportunities for local young women that hadn’t been offered before.

For Sister Diane, being part of this legacy means everything.

“It’s a great privilege I feel, for me, to be a member of such an amazing group of women. I’m very proud to be a member of the community, the Sisters of Mercy, and to know that we had a very humble start, and with God’s grace, there has been tremendous growth,” she said.

“Many years of being able to assist people, to be whomever it is that God has directed them to be, in different professions, to be successful, and to also be people who are willing to reach out and to share God’s mercy in their own ways as they continue on as adults.”

Mercy Center, the sisters’ current residence, was built in 1912 and stretches from Red Jacket Parkway to Choate Street.

The original Sisters of Mercy was founded in Dublin, Ireland, by Catherine McAuley in 1831. To read more about the many schools and hospitals founded by the Sisters of Mercy in Buffalo, visit www.sistersofmercy.org/new-york-pennsylvania-pacific-west.

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