|August 10, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 14 • Oakland, CA|
| Year of Consecrated Life
Over time, Mercy Sisters focus shifted
from education to care
For many people living in the Diocese of Oakland, the name — Sisters of Mercy — is synonymous to their ministry to older adults. But when the first group of Sisters came to Oakland in 1877, their focus was on education.
From 1914 to 1931 Lourdes Academy was a high school for girls; and from 1914 on, the Sisters also taught at St. Anthony Elementary School which was for boys and girls.
In 1986 the Mercy Sisters decided to officially end staffing the elementary schools. But the Sisters could sign individual contracts with pastors "if they wished to remain in the school," said Marilyn Gouailhardou, RSM, the Sisters' regional community archivist.
The Sisters of Mercy trace their beginnings to a woman in Ireland named Catherine McAuley. Although she came from a well-to-do family, McAuley had a deep compassion for the poor, especially those who were women and children.
When she received a large inheritance, McAuley bought a building in Dublin she called the House of Mercy. It became a center where poor women and children could receive social services and educational opportunities. The house attracted other women who, like McAuley, also wished to serve others.
After several years of discussion and prayer, McAuley and her companions developed a religious group called the Sisters of Mercy. Women joining the group took vows of poverty, obedience and chastity like other groups of women religious, and they dedicated their lives in service of others. The new community of women religious was founded on Dec. 2, 1831.
Ten years later, Catherine McAuley died of consumption, but the seed of service she planted thrived. Small units of the Sisters of Mercy moved to adjacent towns and villages around Ireland and later into the world.
In San Francisco, the Sister's ministry to aging adults began with the construction in the 1870s of Our Lady of LaSalette Home for Aged and Infirm Women. Our Lady's Home, as it was called, started at St. Mary's Hospital — when Mother Mary Baptist Russell became an advocate for older women who had no place to go after being discharged from the hospital.
At first, Mother Russell was able to set aside a few rooms within the hospital for the older women. Later, a portion of a floor was set aside, until finally, in 1872, she managed to acquire a separate facility for older women, which later included frail, older men.
When that structure ran out of space, the search for another property began. Generous donors gave enough money to buy property in the Fruitvale area of Oakland in 1893.
A chain of events stalled the Fruitvale project — Mother Russell died, the 1906 earthquake damaged the building and what was left went up in flames. Our Ladies Home had no other choice but to move across the bay to Oakland. The older women and men were housed in separate locations in Oakland and Alameda until temporary buildings on the Fruitvale property could be built.
With help from a relief committee under the direction of Rev. Peter C. Yorke, pastor at St. Anthony Parish, the re-building of Our Lady's Home began. A three-story wood frame building, facing 34th Avenue, went up.
A new challenge came in the 1960s when fire regulations forced the closure of the wooden building. Again the Mercy Sisters received help from their generous supporters to rebuild the center. As the years passed, new buildings, like one for the senior center, were built at Our Lady's Home.
The addition of a skilled nursing facility in 1985, heralded a new era. The senior care facility adopted a new name, Mercy Retirement and Care Center, which continues to operate to this day.
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