Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sisters of Mercy - a brief history by Kaye Spencer


In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Sacramento, California to attend a college graduation. In the few days I was there, I worked in a bit of wandering about town to take in the historical sites and sights. One of the places I visited was the capitol building.

Not far from the front door and just off to the side in the shade is a commemorative area for the a group of Catholic women called the "Sisters of Mercy".

Two bronze plaques accompany the statue.

The first plaque reads:

 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 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.

Dedicated by Mercy Foundation on December 12, 1986
The second 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

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about the Sisters of Mercy (not to be confused with the 1980s English rock band).  ;-)

This link tells about the sculpture's dedication ceremony.

Here is a quote about these amazing women:

"...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.”


The following link offers rich historical information about the Sisters of Mercy and their impact on the early settlers of the Sacramento, California.

Sisters of Mercy website:

The Sisters of Mercy began in Ireland in 1831 as a lay order of Catholic women and in 1857, five Sisters arrived in Sacramento by steamboat from San Francisco to begin their work. Now, let’s put this into historical perspective.
  • 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 American Civil War was looming in the not-so-distant future.
These were trailblazing times, and to say I am in awe of these women is an understatement.

As a western romance writer, I often think about these brave and dedicated women and wonder just how I could turn one of their stories into a good old romance. Hmm…that they were Catholic Sisters might be somewhat of a challenge to overcome. I’ll keep you posted with my progress. ;-)

Until next time,


Fall in love…faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances
Twitter - @kayespencer


  1. Most interesting.I so appreciate the writers and researchers who take the time to remember and write about these amazing women.

    I recently portrayed Mother Seton, the first American born saint. Her story, while not it the west, parallels the Sisters of Mercy. For a romance writer, she might add some details you could use when writing. She had been married, had five children and so much more.

    I think we sometimes forget the women in the Westward movement, especially the Sisters. There was also a Sister Blanda ( I think I have the spelling correct) who was on the Santa Fe Trail. I'm still researching that.

  2. Thanks for the information. I am familiar with Mother Seton in only a general way, so I'll delve farther into her story. I agree that the women who made the westward trek in the pioneering/trailblazing days have stories that need telling.

  3. Thanks for posting this. Mostly new history to me. Though I'm familiar with the 80's band. :)

  4. I've worked with nuns in Mexico and Nicaragua and I have always been impressed with their commitment, devotion, and hard work in some pretty horrible conditions day after day. I'm also impressed how experienced and knowledgeable they are. They a joy to work with. Its a humbling experience.