Around the globe and across the diocese, Sisters of Mercy held their annual Mercy Day festivities on Sept. 24, the feast of Our Lady of Mercy.
This year’s observance at MercyFirst in Bensonhurst on the eve of the feast was especially meaningful as it was probably the last Mercy Day celebration at the agency’s 117-year-old Angel Guardian Campus.
Negotiations are currently underway to sell the city block-sized property, which dates back to 1899 and has become increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain due to its age. Founded as an orphanage and operated as such until the 1970s, the site is now the Brooklyn base of MercyFirst’s executive offices and family foster care program.
With the sale of the property expected in 2017, plans are also underway to find another office space that can house the Angel Guardian staff and is accessible by bus or subway.
But those concerns didn’t overshadow the joy of religious sisters and staff as they exchanged “Happy Mercy Day” greetings in the board room of the main building just after 9 a.m.
Several dozen staffers from service sites in Coney Island, Downtown Brooklyn, and Far Rockaway mingled over a home-cooked breakfast, followed by a viewing of the short film, “Thank you Miss McAuley.”
The video outlined the life of Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, who opened a House of Mercy to serve poor and uneducated women and children in Dublin, Ireland, on the feast of Our Lady of Mercy in 1827. She founded her religious order four years later.
Educational and social service efforts begun by Mother McAuley in mid-19th century Ireland continue today through the works of her religious sisters and thousands of laywomen and men around the world.
“We could not do anything we do here at MercyFirst without each one of you,” Sister Margaret Dempsey, R.S.M., MercyFirst’s director of personal giving and legacy relations, told staff members sitting before her. “So today is really our ‘Thank you’ to you. You are the hands, the heart, the feet of mercy today.”
A sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community, MercyFirst is one of New York’s leading nonprofit human service agencies, serving over 3,200 children and their families, from birth to young adulthood, in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
MercyFirst operates out of two main offices: St. Mary’s Campus, founded in 1894 in Syosset, L.I., and the Angel Guardian Campus, formerly Angel Guardian Home, which opened five years later. Originally separate agencies, the two Mercy Sister-sponsored ministries merged in 2003.
In the past year, MercyFirst has helped 894 families through preventive services programs, provided loving homes to 766 foster children and created 41 families through foster child adoptions.
Over 260 youths received care in residential programs, and 24 teenage mothers were supported in mother-baby residences.
Sisters and staff work together to assist all children in need, especially those who have been neglected, suffer emotional problems and are coping with the pressures of poverty, domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse.
“Catherine (McAuley) had a vision, and what I find so awesome is that after so many years, her vision and mission is alive, vibrant and flourishing in so many different places,” said Mercy Sister Frances Piccone, who offered a reflection after the video presentation.
One of those places is MercyFirst, and Sister Fran well understands its mission and ministry, having served as a novice at Angel Guardian Home, and later sitting on its board.
Looking into the faces of the staff members, she said, “People, like yourselves, who are dedicated, caring, loving and compassionate, you keep this dream alive. You keep this mission going and moving.”
Two women were honored for keeping the mission “going and moving” with Catherine McAuley Leadership Awards at the breakfast. They were: Sedell Bobcomb, a youth support counselor at a short-term residential facility, and Karen Prisinzano, a compliance specialist.
Sister Margaret was also recognized for her 50 years as a Sister of Mercy.
As the final Mercy Day concluded on the Bensonhurst campus, Sister Fran reminded those present to always keep mercy first in their lives and ministries with those in need.
“No matter where you go and what you do, may mercy always be in your hearts. May you always give that mercy and be mercy to others,” she said.