To staff two of the new schools, Bishop Buddy invited the Sisters of Mercy from the Sligo Convent in the Diocese of Elphin, Ireland. Eight Mercy Sisters arrived in San Diego in June, 1956. Four sisters went to Holy Spirit school in San Diego and four sisters went to Blessed Sacrament School in 29 Palms. During the 1950’s, 80 Mercy Sisters would leave Sligo to serve in California.
In the northern two counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, the Sisters of Mercy also began new schools at Our Lady of the Assumption, San Bernardino (1958) and St. James, Perris (1965). At St. Anthony School, San Bernardino, the Sisters of Mercy replaced another religious community in 1968.
One of the values of the Sisters of Mercy is their dedication to service. This value is most evident in their long term commitment to Catholic education. The Sisters of Mercy served 51 years at St. Anthony School, 45 years at Our Lady of Assumption School, and 40 years at St. James School. They staffed Blessed Sacrament School from the beginning in 1956 until the school closed in 1969.
The Sisters of Mercy have always maintained a large presence in the Diocese of San Bernardino. In 2003, when the Diocese celebrated its 25th Anniversary, the Sisters of Mercy were the largest community of women religious.
The Sisters serving in 2003 were Rosaline O’Connor, Kathleen Curtin, Noreen O’Connor, Susan DeGuide, Maura Feeley, Margaret Mullany, Carmel Crimmins, Elizabeth McGovern, Therese Fallon, Eileen Raferty, Sylvia Parkes, Monica Loughran, Eithne Lowther, Mary Teresa McDermott, Maura Reddinton, Camillus Gavigan, Maura Bane, Mary Frances Coleman, Fintan Corcoran and Agnes O’Reilly.
Other examples of their value of service was the Mercy Sisters’ response to new ministry opportunities in the relatively new Diocese of San Bernardino. Sisters have held the positions of, Director of Religious Education, Pastoral Associate, Pastoral Coordinator, Vicar for Religious, Missions Office, Victim Assistance Ministry, Director of Community Services and Chancellor.
Diocesan Bishops have recognized the valuable contribution of the Sisters of Mercy by honoring four Sisters with the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Award. The awardees are: Sr. Maura Feely (1992), Sr. Noreen O’Connor (2002), Sr. Mary Frances Coleman (2006), and Sr. Rosaline O’Connor (2007).
As we look back in time to the 1950’s the decision to leave their home in Ireland to come to a school in the small desert town of 29 Palms was dramatic for the Sisters of Mercy. Perhaps Bishop Hanley of the Diocese of Elphin understood the challenge before the Sisters when he spoke these words at the Sligo Convent during their departure ceremony in 1956.
“To you Sisters who are about to leave this holy place, I say to you a word of farewell and may God speed you on your journey. May He ever remain at your side to give you strength to direct you so that as the years roll by you will enhance the prestige of the Sisters of Mercy who are so well known in Ireland and throughout the world.”