by Marie Elena Giossi
When five boys orphaned by fire arrived on the Brooklyn doorstep of the Sisters of Mercy in 1862, the young nuns opened their door and began a 150-year tradition of service in Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County.
The oldest continuously sponsored work of the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Home has evolved and expanded its services to address the lifelong needs of children and adults with autism and developmental challenges.
Sisters, residents, board members, staff and friends marked Mercy Home’s sesquicentennial anniversary with a special Mass at the Convent of Mercy Chapel, Clinton Hill, last Saturday, March 10.
Invited guests streamed through the front doors of the red brick building, located on the corner of Classon and Willoughby Aves. The original site of the orphanage and former Sisters’ residence, the building now houses Mercy Home’s administrative offices and support programs.
“When the Saints Go Marching In,” was the entrance hymn for the 2 p.m. Mass, celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Concelebrants included Father Michael Perry, pastor, Our Lady of Refuge, Flatbush, and Mercy Home board member; Msgr. David Cassato, pastor, St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst; and Father Joseph Gibino, pastor, Holy Trinity, Whitestone.
Music was provided, in part, by Mercy Home’s performance band, Melodic Soul.
Carrying handmade banners, representatives from Mercy Home’s 13 community-based residences led the procession of board members, parents and several Sisters, including Sisters Kay Crumlish, R.S.M., Mercy Home’s executive director, Mary dePorres, former executive director, and Caroline Tweedy, R.S.M., chief development officer.
Welcoming all to the special celebration, the bishop noted that behind the good people and good works of Mercy Home are its founders, the Mercy Sisters, who “remind us that we must love one another and care for one another.”
Today, several Sisters and about 300 lay staff members carry on that legacy of loving and caring for others by continually adapting to meet the changing needs of the children and families they serve.
Founded as St. Francis Children’s Orphan Asylum, a haven for children orphaned by illness and the Civil War, Mercy Home has been an academy and industrial school; a temporary shelter for abused and abandoned children; and a residential treatment facility for special needs children.
Today, the agency offers residential, residential support and community support programs that ensure dignity and a life of learning and love for individuals with autism and developmental challenges. Support programs include in-home and weekend respite assistance, Medicaid service coordination, day habilitation, sports enrichment, rhythmic arts, as well as art, music and dance therapy.
Mercy Home’s residential services are the reason Laverne Taylor-Brooks says she can sleep at night.
Having worked at Mercy Home as a teenager, she knew it was the best place for her son, Dematrius, when he needed residential placement 35 years ago.
Loving, Caring, Giving
Taylor-Brooks, who serves on the agency’s board, said, “The nuns opened their arms to him and to me. They were so loving, caring and giving of themselves.”
Now 41 years old, he lives in a Mercy Home residence in Queens. “They’re doing many things that I couldn’t do with him. They go to plays and go on trips. He even went to Disney World.
“Mercy Home has given him a beautiful and normal way of life and I thank God for that,” she said.
Taylor-Brooks’ nephew who works for Mercy Home, Damien Harrington, took part in the offertory at Mass along with Beatrice Caballero, group home resident, and Sister Dolores Spinner, R.S.M., who ministered at Mercy Home for 45 years.
Sister Dolores served in the orphanage and then the Santulli Residence in Greenpoint until she retired five years ago. “I loved every minute of it,” she said.
On a daily basis, she and other Sisters responded to the needs of the children. Parents, she said, knew “their children were safe, loved and cared for by the Sisters.”
That the Sisters have been loved in return was evident at the sign of peace. A young lady from one of Mercy Home’s residences made a beeline across the chapel to Sister Dolores and threw her arms around the nun.
Nearly two dozen Mercy Sisters attended the Mass and rose to recite the Suscipe of Mother Catherine McAuley, their order’s foundress, before staff and residents made a presentation of six symbols of Mercy Home’s history.
Father Perry and Sister Kay accepted photos of Mother McAuley and Sister Mary Vincent Haire, foundress of the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Home for Children; a brick from the children’s wing; city and state letters of incorporation as an agency; a ledger dated 1898-1903; remembrance books with the names of living and deceased members of the Mercy Home family; and the agency’s mission statement.
“This is an anniversary of love,” Bishop DiMarzio told the congregation. The charism, the mark of the Sisters of Mercy, he noted, “is that they care for other people with great love.”
Rejoicing in the Mercy Home’s legacy of “making love real, making mercy evident and making God known,” he prayed that the agency would flourish well into the future.