By: Marilyn Manibusan (This article was published in the “Umatuna Si Yu’os” Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Agaña, November 6, 2011.
The Guam Sisters of Mercy are members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy founded in Dublin, Ireland by Catherine McAuley. After inheriting a large sum of money from her foster parents, Catherine McAuley used this fortune to start her ministry to poor women and children. Never intending to be “nuns”, Catherine and her band of “walking companions” eventually agreed to be trained as “religious” at a nearby Presentation Convent. Catherine McAuley and her two novices made their profession as the first Sisters of Mercy on December 12, 1831.
During her ten-year tenure as a Sister of Mercy, Catherine founded twelve communities in Ireland and England. After her death in 1841, “Mercy” spread to Australia, the United States and other continents. Currently, Guam belongs to the “Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, under the umbrella of the “South Central Community,” along with the former regional communities of Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Jamaica.
On November 5, 2011, the Sisters of Mercy will be celebrating their 65th anniversary on Guam. On that day in 1946, three Sisters “and a barrel of starch” arrived by ship from their Motherhouse in Belmont, North Carolina, at the invitation of newly-consecrated Bishop Apollinaris W. Baumgartner, OFM, Cap. Sisters Mary Inez (Mary Underwood), Mary Annette McBennett, and Mary Louise Wiesenforth took on the challenge of starting the first local religious community of Sisters on Guam. With Bishop Baumgartner, they also started Catholic education on Guam with the opening of Cathedral Grade School and the Academy of Our Lady of Guam in 1949. Sister Mary Louise, the only surviving “pioneer”, became the Novice Mistress for about twenty (20) years before returning in 1965 to Belmont, N.Carolina, where she currently resides.
Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron has in many interviews described the Sisters of Mercy as “wonderful women of faith who have displayed the necessary conviction, patience and endurance to carry out their mission of service to the people. . . they stand out not only in my own life but the lives of many others. Their lives are a testament to their power of perseverance in their chosen vocation…Furthermore, the Sisters of Mercy should be lauded for continuing to maintain high educational standards in their schools.
The Sisters of Mercy of the South Central Community on Guam currently administer four Catholic schools: The Academy of Our Lady of Guam in Hagatna; St. Anthony Catholic School in Tamuning; Santa Barbara Catholic School in Dededo; and Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School (which initially began as St. Jude School) in Sinajana. They also have these sponsored ministries: Infant of Prague Nursery & Kindergarten in Tai, Mangilao, the first childcare center on Guam; and Mercy Hts. Nursery & Kindergarten in Oka, Tamuning.
Besides the two nurseries, the Sisters of Mercy have a third “sponsored ministry”, called Mercy Action Marianas, Ltd. or ‘MAML”, which was incorporated on March 7, 2002. MAML exists to support the “Works of Mercy” that will foster human dignity for persons who are needy, help finance the education of students seeking a Catholic education, and provide for the a quality of life for the aging and infirmed Sisters of Mercy.
One of the major accomplishments of the Sisters of Mercy is the establishment of ministries in the neighboring islands of Rota and Saipan. For a period of over ten years, the Sisters administered Mt. Carmel School in Saipan and San Francisco de Borja School in Rota. They also ministered in the Chancery offices in Guam and Northern Marianas, as well as parish work. Also important is our ministry to abused women and children, ALEE Shelter, led by Sr. Brigid Perez.
Mercy Care Center which was erected in 2000, is another milestone for the community. Built before they had actually had infirmed elderly Sisters, Mercy Care Center now serves seven fulltime elder Sisters and several temporary residents needing medical convalescence.
Likewise, for over twenty years, we have been privileged to have “Mercy Associates” as partners in ministry. They are found in our schools and other ministries.
Sister Cecilia Camacho, the Guam Mercy Administrator, said that she had always wanted to join the Sisters of Mercy. “I had always admired the Sisters of Mercy’s life of prayer and service and their dedication to their work…I get my real strength from my prayer life. When there are challenges, I turn to prayer and always receive encouragement from the Lord not to give up and not be afraid. We, the Sisters of Mercy, always try to develop the total person – not only the mind, but the body, heart and the spirit as well.”
The Sisters of Mercy thank Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, the Clergy and Religious, all their families, friends, benefactors, co-workers, the Mercy Associates, the many students who they have educated over the years, their parents, and everyone who has been a part of the Mercy family and ministries, for their generosity, love and support; and a special thank you to the Umatuna, Catholic Educational Radio, and Catholics on the Move. Sister Cecilia emphasized that “above all, we thank God for all the wonderful things God has done in our lives and we pray that God will continue to bless all of us.”
1 John 5:4 tells us that “everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Sisters of Mercy of Mercy are overcomers and we say, “forge on daughters of a majestic King, soldiers of Christ and ambassadors of Catherine McAuley. “ Biba Sisters of Mercy!