Sisters of Mercy mark 150 years of service

Sisters of Mercy, from left, Diana Newton, Justina Heneghan, Mary Corinne Burt, Paulanne Diebold and Mary Johnette Wiedmar gathered for Mass Sept. 9 at St. Raphael Church, 2141 Lancashire Ave. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Throughout the century and a half that the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas have ministered in the Archdiocese of Louisville, they have gone where the need took them.

They arrived in the Portland neighborhood in 1869 from St. Louis to minister to the sick and wounded at the U.S. Marine Hospital, said Sister Paulanne Diebold in an interview last week.

The sisters who worked in the hospital quickly recognized the need for catechesis among the patients and their children, she said. Soon, they were providing religious education, too.

“That was typical of (women) religious in those days, to just get in there and do what was necessary. If there was a need, the sisters just did it,” Sister Diebold said.

To recognize their 150 years of service in the archdiocese, the Sisters of Mercy will celebrate with a Mass and reception Sept. 29 in the Portland neighborhood at Good Shepherd Church, 3511 Rudd Avenue.

Sister Diebold, who entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1963, said it was important to hold the celebration in the first community in Louisville to be served by the sisters.

“Portland is where we began.

It’s only fitting that we return there to honor those who went before us,” she said.

Following the sisters’ early work at the hospital, they served in parish elementary schools as teachers. They opened Mercy Academy in 1885 and established Assumption High School in 1955.

In total, the Sisters of Mercy staffed 25 schools during their service here.

The Sisters of Mercy also opened Sacred Heart Home in 1892 in response to a need to care for the elderly. The community sponsored the facility until 2016 when it was sold to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and renamed Nazareth Home Clifton.

The Sisters of Mercy also ministered in dozens of ministries in the archdiocese, Sister Diebold said, including: Catholic Charities of Louisville, jail ministries, Mercy Montessori School, Lake St. Joseph Retreat Center, parish ministries, archdiocesan agencies and numerous others.

Sister Justina Heneghan, who served in parish ministry and worked for the archdiocese, said the sisters have always responded to the needs of the time and ministered where they were called.

“It’s important that we honor the impact and the lives of the women who served throughout all the years in various ministries. It’s important to honor the sisters whose shoulders we are standing on,” said Sister Heneghan, who entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1955.

In 2018, the Sisters of Mercy closed the St. Catherine Convent on Tyler Lane. Sisters who had lived in the assisted living section of the convent went to live at other skilled-care facilities owned by the Sisters of Mercy in Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Five Sisters of Mercy live and serve here now.

Sisters Diebold and Heneghan began their religious life as teachers. Sister Diebold taught at St. Paul, St. Polycarp, Immaculate Conception  (where she also served as principal) and St. Ignatius schools.

Sister Heneghan taught at St. Paul, Our Lady of Consolation, St. Polycarp and also schools in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Later Sister Diebold spent many years ministering to the elderly and their families. She worked at Catholic Charities and helped to develop the agency’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and also served in pastoral care and administration of Sacred Heart Home.

She currently serves as a member of the Sisters of Mercy Transition Coordinating Team, where she assesses retired sisters to determine if they should live on their own in the community’s South Central retirement convents.

Sister Heneghan spent many years in parish ministry as a pastoral associate and in diocesan agency work providing support in family ministries. She was also influential in developing the office of parish planning. She currently assists with local activities of the Sisters of Mercy and volunteers with Restorative Justice Louisville.

In addition to Sisters Diebold and Heneghan, there are three other Sisters of Mercy who live and minister in Louisville and the surrounding area.

Sisters Mary Corinne Burt and Mary Johnette Wiedmar are retired and volunteer at Mercy Academy. Sister Diana Newton lives in Indiana where she works at Diversicare Transitional Care Community in New Albany.

Sister Diebold said the future of the Sisters of Mercy in Louisville is “definitely in God’s hands.”

But one thing is certain — Mercy Academy and Assumption High School will continue to be sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy through the community’s Mercy Education System of the Americas.

Sister Heneghan said through the long history of service by the Sisters of Mercy, there has been one constant — the “spirit of mercy.”

“This spirit of mercy, the spirit of hospitality, the spirit of openness is a thread through so many of our different areas. Our steadiness, faithfulness and willingness to stand out will continue,” she said.

Those who wish to attend the liturgy and reception are asked to make a reservation by calling 493-3750 by Sept. 20. The liturgy will begin at 11 a.m. and a reception will follow in Lehman Hall.

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Jessica Able
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