Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick invited the Mercies to work with the French, Spanish, Irish and German immigrants who had crowded into the narrow, unpaved streets that led down to the levees along the Mississippi River. The Mercies were led by Mother Magdalene dePazzi Bentley, who was described by one of her former sisters as a “woman with a domineering personality and a queenly bearing.” Many bishops would have seen her as an appealing target: someone to be put promptly in her place. But Archbishop Kenrick tried to be her friend.
The sisters worked around the clock to get an income stream to support their charitable work. But they never seemed to raise enough. Sisters went hungry and Mother dePazzi sometimes found herself telling the archbishop it was just too tough. She was going to quit. At times like these, the archbishop would literally buck her up, sometimes slipping her as much as one hundred dollars from his own meager resources.
The archbishop wanted this woman with her queenly airs to become truly independent. It paid off. By 1861 the Mercies had 448 pupils, had found jobs for 2,848 people and were distributing a steady stream of coal, flour, meat and clothing to poor families. By 1871 they
had started St. John’s Hospital, which grew to become one of the dominant hospitals of the region. The archbishop’s example, showing respect and patient support for this difficult woman, paid off in many other ways.
Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America—John J. Fialka.
St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY. 2003
Those who wish to read more about these incredible women and their gift of service to the church and the world can do so in John’s book, which you can order from Amazon.com or receive directly from SOAR! for a donation of $50. This donation will support retired religious sisters and brothers through the work of SOAR! To receive the book for your donation, please contact Danielle Bell directly by email or by phone at 202.529.7627.