ON NOV. 4, 1843, seven missionaries left a tearful crowd gathered at Mercy Convent in Carlow, Ireland. They set their sights on Pittsburgh, Pa., to stake the first foothold of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States and the future site of Carlow University.

Like the work of their founder, Catherine McAuley, the gutsy sisters would help expand the global reach of the Sisters of Mercy and build upon their mission. This fall, Carlow University’s Sheila Carney, RSM, went to Mercy Convent with something different. She carried copies of diplomas for the seven sisters’ living relatives and the convent.

At Carlow's Academic Convocation in August, Suzanne K. Mellon, PhD, president of Carlow University, bestowed the women with posthumous honorary doctoral degrees. The names of Josephine Cullen, Veronica McDarby, Agatha O’Brien, Philomena Reid, Aloysia Strange, Elizabeth Strange and Frances Warde were read in recognition of their impact and in honor of the 175th anniversary of their travels.

“The seven Sisters of Mercy are the true exemplars of the university,” Mellon said. “Having left home and country and traveled to Pittsburgh, they turned their attention and compassion to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, transforming lives through education, healthcare, social services and countless other ministries across the country. Carlow University’s values of mercy, hospitality, service, discovery and the sacredness of creation are rooted in their lives and witness.”

Mercy heritage is still alive on campus today. Sister Sheila, who is the special assistant to the president, channels opportunities for students, faculty and staff through the Center for Mercy Heritage and Service, where events such as Founder’s Day and Mercy Service Day are coordinated. Carlow Mercy Leaders is a student organization involving community service and discussion on the historical, spiritual and critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy. For faculty and staff, the McDarby Institute offers a year of deep learning about Carlow's heritage, history and core values. The Center for Mercy Heritage and Service plans pilgrimages every other summer for members and alumni of these two organizations.

Regular exchanges between the convent and the university have formed a kinship. As a result, Carlow, Ireland, also planned festivities to recognize the 175th anniversary of the sisters' journey.

Sister Sheila joined Carlow County Council, St. Leo’s College and the Mercy Convent for a ceremony on Nov. 4, where Denis Nulty, the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, unveiled a commemorative plaque placed near the convent’s gate.

The plaque lists the sisters’ names and reads, “... set out from this convent on November 4th 1843 and from their first foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania established convents, schools and hospitals across the USA. Their liberal arts college founded in 1929 became Carlow University in 2004.”

“We hope to remember them here in Carlow as fondly as they are remembered [at] Carlow University [in] Pittsburgh every year on Founder’s Day,” said Dermot Mulligan of Carlow County Museum.

A local musician performed a historical ballad. Local students exhibited projects about history, international cultures and the lives of the seven sisters, including a play performed by students about the journey.

“The people in Carlow have developed close ties with our university. It's that relationship that they are honoring," Sister Sheila said.

Carlow University will continue to recognize the anniversary throughout the year, including The University Hour’s film screening about the journey Dec. 4 in the Gailliot Center.


By Ann Lyon Ritchie