Sister M. de Sales Browne, first principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy, established the Sisters of Mercy in Vicksburg in 1860.
THE SISTERS OF MERCY
TEACHERS AND HEALERS
Sister Mary Callista Reddoch, R. S. M.
Perhaps one of Ireland's greatest gifts to humanity has been the worldwide ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. This religious order, founded in 1831, originated with the work of a wealthy Irishwoman, Catherine McAuley, who used her inheritance to build and support a school and home in Dublin for impoverished young women. Education and healing have always been the main concerns of the order, which came to the united States in 1843, two years after Catherine McAuley's death. The first Mercy Foundation in Mississippi was established at Vicksburg, and its presence here has had a profound influence upon the community.
It was October 12, 1860. Parishioners from St. Paul's Catholic Church gathered at the waterfront to welcome home their pastor, Father Francis Xavier Leray, from Baltimore, Maryland.
With him were six women: four sisters and two postulants (candidates for religious life). Extending his arms towards the crown he said, " I give you my blessing and God's gift to you, - - the Sisters of Mercy." He introduced them one by one: Mother de Sales Browne, Sister Ignatius Sumner, Sister Mary Vincent Browne (sister of Mother de Sales), Sister Mary Stephana Ward, and postulants Mary Madigan and Kate Reynolds.
They had come to Vicksburg to establish and staff a school, and lost no time in doing so. For the first three days they stayed with the family of Antonio Genella, a Swiss immigrant and prominent local merchant. On October 15 they took possession of the Cobb House on Crawford Street, which served as both convent and school. On October 19 seventy boys and girls were enrolled at the first registration, and St. Francis Xavier Academy had become a reality. The sisters had been in Vicksburg just one week. (To be continued)