“Catherine’s charism has so much to give to young women and that’s exciting for me,” says Sister Mary, who has studied and lectured extensively about Catherine’s life and education ministry.
In her address to Mercy High’s “freshwomen” each year, Sister Mary tells them that they will hear the term “Women of Mercy” often over the next four years and that this is what she expects them to become. Time and again, she has been moved by how the girls take her words to heart.
Once, she summoned to her office some senior girls who had made fun of other girls. “I did my good Irish guilt trip on them,” says Sister Mary drily. “I said you will soon walk across the stage at graduation and I won’t be able to look you in the eyes as Women of Mercy.” She was surprised and touched when each girl came back to her office that day and asked what she needed to do to prove that she was a Woman of Mercy.
Mercy High has graduated some 9,000 students since its 1963 founding; Sister Mary guesses she knows about 8,000 of them. “Working with teenagers today is different than when I started,” she muses, noting that students face more peer and parental pressure, increased college competition, less stable homes and “a culture that doesn’t always respect religion and faith, that shows kids a lot of violence.”
Students feel safe at Mercy High, continues Sister Mary. And the way the school approaches academics, social justice and other diverse dimensions of student life says a lot about how it forms Women of Mercy.
While academic excellence is emphasized—Sister Mary pushed math and the sciences, including computer science and a competitive robotics club, long before STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects were popular—so is the ideal of each girl working to her potential, no matter her level of achievement.
The school’s commitment to social justice is legendary. Ever since Sister Mary visited Haiti in 2001, Mercy High has supported an orphanage there, with the school raising $15,000 to $25,000 annually. Every season and holiday finds students helping others in need, whether it’s baking apple pies for soup kitchens at Thanksgiving, buying and wrapping Christmas gifts for poor children and senior citizens, or running a “Souper Bowl” drive that recently provided Middletown’s two soup kitchens with nearly 3,000 cans of food.