Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

By Mary Beth Fraser Connolly | Go to book overview

6
Reinventing Community
and Service to the World

[We] bring the word of God or … bring and … receive God. [I]t’s not like we’re
up here pouring it down. It’s mutual
… we receive as much as we give.1

In the summer of 1959, Sister Patricia M. Murphy read an announcement posted on the wall of the sisters’ residence at Saint Xavier College for a new mission to Sicuani, Peru. The announcement contained few details about the mission other than the altitude and the purpose of the endeavor: to establish a school and possibly have some sisters work in health care. With a dream from her youth to be a missionary before her, Sister Pat wrote a volunteer letter, ran it across campus to the provincial offices, and slipped it into the mail slot, hoping for the best. The provincial council ultimately selected Sister Pat to join one other sister from the Chicago Province, Sister Mary Johnetta Kaney, and two other Mercys from Baltimore and Omaha, to conduct this South American mission in Peru. Sister Pat left with the three other sisters in January of 1961 full of excitement, but with little preparation for what was ahead of her.

Patricia M. Murphy entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1947 and made her first profession in 1950, taking the name Sister Mary Nivard. (Sister Patricia returned to her baptismal name by the end of the 1960s.) She was soon to take her final vows and was studying at Saint Xavier College to complete her bachelor’s degree when she learned about the Peru mission in 1959. The Peru mission was a part of a larger pre–Vatican II mission to evangelize and strengthen the Catholic Church in Latin America. When asked forty-seven years after she left for Sicuani what she expected, Sister Pat reflected that before she left, she did not know the meaning of evangelization or what to expect. She recalled: “Deep down since a little kid [I] felt strongly the call to justice and the poor; everyone had the right to stuff, so I felt these folks were poor, and I was going to see if I could help in any way.”2 Despite rough conditions and uncertain preparation (the sisters had little understanding of Spanish at the beginning of the mission), Sister Pat and the others set about their work, at the same time

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