By Austin Vining
VICKSBURG – When Father P. J. Curley asked the members of St. Michael Parish who had been touched by the Sisters of Mercy, more than half of the congregation stood. The Religious Sisters of Mercy have been teaching, nursing and providing religious guidance for the people of Vicksburg, Warren County and Central Mississippi for 155 years.
A reception was held at St. Michael Sunday, March 8, to honor the Sisters of Mercy, and Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. declared the day as Sisters of Mercy Day. In the official proclamation he resolved the honor be given “for the dedicated, loving and caring women of faith who have committed their lives to God, and have become beacons of light who serve, advocate and pray for those suffering througho
ut the world.” During Flaggs’ proclamation, he told of a time he was blessed by the Sisters of Mercy at the Mercy Hospital. “In 1958 I experienced something life threatening,” he said. “A space heater blew up on me, and I was burned — I thought to death.”
Flaggs said during his stay in the hospital it was the Sisters of Mercy who were the greatest inspiration to him as they came every day and prayed over him. In 1999 the majority of the Sisters of Mercy left the city; however, three remain: Sister Fatima Starks, Sister Patricia Parker and Sister Robyn Huser. Parker and Huser served at Mercy Hospital. One or both of the sisters were there from 1958 until 1986 when the two set out to work on a new ministry serving homeless and chronically ill people in Jackson. The two sisters were also instrumental in establishing three group homes — including one in Vicksburg — for mentally ill homeless.
Starks spent nearly 30 years working with school children in Vicksburg, including four years as principal of St. Francis Xavier Elementary School. As a retiree she now visits schools and nursing homes in Vicksburg. Starks said the ceremony was beautiful. “It was so touching,” she said. “It was a wonderful tribute to our founder, Catherine McAuley.”
Though the local Sisters of Mercy are waning, their work is not forgotten. Laney Seabergh, the local leader of Mercy Associates, said the purpose of Mercy Associates is to carry on the spirit of mercy. The organization is made up of non-vowed laypeople working in education, medicine and other ministries to carry on the work of the Sisters of Mercy.
“We meet once a month to pray, to build our community and to encourage each other in our individual ministries,” she said. Father Curley said there are probably very few people in the community who haven’t been touched by the Sisters of Mercy, whether it be in the schools, in medicine or in their service to the needy. “They do it quietly and inconspicuously,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to honor them here today.” (Reprinted with permission from the Vicksburg Post)