THE IRISH IN IOWA
SISTERS OF MERCY
Edgar Rubey. A Narrative History of the People of Iowa.
Vol III. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1931 pps. 361-362
For sixty-four years the
Sisters of Mercy in Iowa have given practical humanitarian and altruistic
service to their fellow men in the school, in the hospital, in the sanitarium,
in the home for the aged, in the home for the working girl,- the expansion of
their work during these years being proof beyond question of its value.
Origin of the Sisters of Mercy: In the early part of the nineteenth century there lived in Dublin, Ireland, Catherine McAuley, a cultured young woman of an old and distinguished family who, possessed of a large fortune and impelled by the distress and need of the poor of her native country, decided to devote this entire fortune to the relief and care of orphans, destitute women and poor schools. The first building erected for this cause was dedicated September 24, 1827. Soon many young women joined Miss McAuley to assist in her noble work, that in a few short years her house was changed from a secular to a religious institution. On December 12, 1831, the new institute was confirmed as the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. Following this mark of stability, members rapidly increased, similar institutions multiplied, not only in Ireland, but expanded in less than fifteen years to England and the United States.
Sisters of Mercy in the United States: The first foundation of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States was made at Pittsburgh, in 1843, through the appeal made by the Rt. Rev. M. O'Connor to the Sisters while visiting at their convent in Carlow, Ireland. He explained the great need for carrying out the works of mercy in his diocese of Pittsburgh, and in response to this appeal seven Sisters volunteered to return with him.
It is recorded in the annals of the Order that when they arrived in New York, the first person to meet them was the Rt. Rev. William Quarter, bishop-elect of Chicago. He, too, needed Sisters to work in the far West, but the most he could obtain at that time was a promise that the Sisters would come as soon as possible, which promise was fulfilled when five Sisters arrived in Chicago, in 1846. This was the beginning of St. Xavier's, Chicago.
Civil War Volunteers: Although the Chicago community was only in its early development at the outbreak of the Civil war, yet the patriotic zeal of its constituents enabled it to spare eight members to serve their country's cause by ministering to the sick and wounded. It is of interest to note that two of this band of nurses were Mother Mary Borromeo Johnson and Mother Mary Francis Monholland, who later came as charity workers to Iowa.
The annals record that in September, 1861, these eight Sisters left Chicago in company with the military officer who had been sent to conduct them. They set out by way of St. Louis for Lexington, Missouri, a place they failed to reach. After many delays and thrilling incidents they arrived at Jefferson City. Immediately on their arrival they were requested to take charge of the City Hospital, which was crowded with sick and wounded soldiers. They remained there until April, 1862, when, the division being ordered elsewhere, their services were no longer needed. At Saint Louis, on their way home, they were met by a sanitary commissioner who asked them to take charge of the hospital department on the steamboat Empress, which was carrying wounded soldiers from the battlefield of Shiloh. One one of its trips up the Mississippi the Empress reached Keokuk, Iowa, April 16, 1862. It required two days to remove the sick and wounded soldiers to the hospital. The Sisters did everything possible to relieve the suffering of their patients during the five weeks they spent on their floating hospital.
Sisters of Mercy come
to Iowa: Following the close of the Civil war, in 1867 Mother Mary Borromeo
Johnson and four Sister companions from Saint Xavier Academy, Chicago, opened a
school in the little town of DeWitt. Shortly afterwards doctors from Davenport
asked for Sisters to open a hospital. In response to this invitation Mercy
Hospital was opened in 1868. In 1869 a school and academy were opened in
Independence by Mother Mary Francis Monholland and her cultured and experienced
Sisters. Davenport having the most desirable location, Mercy Hospital was made
the first Motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy in Iwoa, and Mother Mary Borromeo
Johnson was chosen Mother Superior. From this house as a center, all the other
houses in Iowa, with one exception, (Council Bluffs), have been either directly
or indirectly founded.
Summary of Institutions
Developed and Conducted by the Sisters of Mercy in Iowa from 1867-1931: The
period from 1867 to 1931 has been an era of rapid and unprecedented growth in
schools, hospitals, sanitariums, homes for the aged, homes for working girls,
and training schools for nurses. The first school record of the Sisters of Mercy
in Iowa in 1867 shows an attendance of forty pupils. In 1930 the grand total of
all pupils in thirty parochial schools, two academies, two seminaries for boys
and a junior college exceeded 5,000. The first hospital record shows that during
the first year of hospital service in 1868, seventy-six patients received care
and treatment. The 1930 records show that 30,580 patients were cared for. The
total number of patients treated in their sanitariums for 1930 reached 3290;
total number of homes for aged, 225; total number of Young Women's Boarding
Homes, 200; and total number in training schools for nurses, 750. The original
band of Sisters who came to Iowa in 1867 numbered only five; today there are 550
Sisters of Mercy in Iowa. Their great mission of mercy has extended beyond the
borders of the state to Michigan and Montana.
MERCY HOSPITAL WHERE SCIENCE
founded in 1869, is the pioneer institution of its kind in this section of the
country. At the time of its opening, 55 years ago, it was the only institution
outside of a hospital at St. Louis, west of the Mississippi river.
First Year's Work.
Growth of the Hospital.
Training School for Nurses.
1880 Census Sisters of Mercy - Dubuque, Iowa
|Census Place: Mercy Hospital,
Sisters Of Mercy, Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa
Source: FHL Film 1254338 National Archives Film T9-0338 Page 108D
Sisters of Mercy Convent
804 West 3rd Street Apartment 2
Dubuque, IA 52001
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© 2001 Cathy Joynt Labath