Several summers ago, I traveled to Sacramento, California to attend a college graduation. During the few days I was there, I worked in a bit of historical wandering about town. One of the places I visited was the capitol building.
Eight Sisters of Mercy left Kinsale, Ireland, sailed to San Francisco, and arrived on December 8, 1854. The leader of this group was 25-year-old Mary Baptist Russell. Then in 1857, five sisters traveled by steamboat to Sacramento to begin their work there.
This plaque summarizes who the sisters were and what their mission was (transcription below the image):
|Sisters of Mercy plaque*|
"During the Gold Rush Days of 1857 the Sisters of Mercy came to Sacramento to care for the children of the miners and to serve the sick and homeless.
In those early days, the Sisters of mercy purchased land in the heart of the city to build a school. Passage of the 'Capitol Bill' in 1860 resulted in the sale of that property to the State for its original price of $4,850. This is now the site of the State Capitol Building.
The Sisters of Mercy have made significant contributions to the history and progress of the State of California. Their mission to care for the sick, the poor, the elderly and the uneducated continues today throughout the world."
These quotes about the Sisters of Mercy are from the Roman Catholic Diosese of Sacramento website. Click HERE to read more about them.
The sisters’ sacrifice “is scarcely to be underestimated...
They were largely middle-class women embarking on something that had been unimaginable to them even when they entered the convent, where they expected to be serving Ireland’s poor — not the poor of the world....
Once they arrived in San Francisco after that arduous journey, they were instantly plunged into ministering to the sick, to the homeless, to prostitutes and to children. No lofty missionaries from enlightened Europe, these women were immigrants serving immigrants, aliens in a strange land...
Now, let’s put these women into the historical perspective of their arrival in California.
- Driving the spike at Promontory Point, Utah, which joined the railroads from the east and west coasts, was twelve years in the future.
- Colorado's gold rush was still two years away.
- Travel on the Oregon Trail was in its height.
- The first pony express rider wouldn't leave Missouri for another three years.
- Dred Scott decision was made the year the sisters arrived.
- Uncle Tom's Cabin was published five years before they arrived.
- James Buchanan was president.
This is the Sisters of Mercy statue that was dedicated by the Mercy Foundation.
|Sisters of Mercy sculpture*|
The dedication on the nearby plaque reads:
"This sculpture commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy caring for those in need in the greater Sacramento region. Mary Baptist Russell, California Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, is depicted here as a woman of vision, courage and compassion, blazing the trail for her companions and followers as they bring hope and healing to those in need.
The works of the Sisters of Mercy are based on the vision of their foundress, Catherine McAuley, who sought to connect the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, and the educated to the uninstructed.
Dedicated by Mercy Foundation on September 29, 2007 - Created by artist Ruth Coelho"
Sisters of Mercy foundress
To read more about the history of the Sisters of Mercy and their origins in Ireland, here are websites I used as references for this article.
- California Catholic Conference website: http://www.cacatholic.org/teachings/works-mercy/sisters-mercy
- Sisters of Mercy website: http://www.sistersofmercy.org/about-us/our-history/
- Dignity Health website: http://www.dignityhealth.org/sacramento/about-us/our-history
Until next time,
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*Images from Kaye's personal collection