Mercy Association continues legacy of the Sisters of Mercy

Published 8:00 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

A group of lay Catholics are continuing the legacy established by the Sisters of Mercy, who have served Vicksburg and Warren County since 1860.

The Mercy Association is an organization of Catholics who continue the efforts of the sisters, whose numbers in the area have dwindled over time. There are presently two sisters still living here. The association’s members represent all three Catholic parishes in the county — St. Paul, St. Mary and St. Michael.

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And many of the members have a special connection with Sisters of Mercy. Growing up, they were taught by the sisters, who were later instrumental with influencing some of the women to join the Mercy Association. Anita Hossley, one of the members, is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier.

“The Sisters of Mercy at one time staffed a hospital and staffed an entire school here,” said Janey Seabergh. “They began to realize fewer and fewer women were answering the call to become Sisters of Mercy, but they wanted to continue their work. After the Second Vatican Council, they noticed more and more non-vowed, or lay people, were taking up various ministries in the church, and they wanted to be there to support them.

“One of the things they needed was a community, and so they began to draw people to work with them into a community; an association.”

And while the membership of the Mercy Association here is all female, Seabergh said membership is open to men. “We have some priests who are associates,” she said.

The organization’s mission statement calls on members “To live Christ’s gospel message in the spirit of Catherine McAuley.”

Catherine McAuley, Seabergh said, was the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.

“When she started this community, it was just a group of women who came together to serve the poor and the marginalized of Dublin,” she said, adding the group later became a religious order.

“We try to carry on the charisma, or spirit, of Mercy as Mother Catherine McAuley wanted, working to bring God’s mercy into the world by doing works of mercy; administering to his people,” Kathy Pikul said.

“We all have our special ministries that are important to us through which we try to bring God’s mercy to the world,” she said.

“We have teachers, work in United Way, work with the soup kitchen and feed the poor, all these different ministries,” she said.

Hossley works with the Keystone Ministries’ soup kitchen on Washington Street. Pikul visits shut-ins, and Seabergh works with veterans. Seabergh and Hossley are also involved in adult religious education.

And, Hossley said, “We have one common ministry,” to support each other and work in the community. 

“One of the ways we support each other is with prayer. Most of our meetings are taken up praying for each other; supporting each other with prayer,” Pikul said. “Our meetings also bring us together to share what’s going on in our ministries and to share how we can further bring God’s mercy into the world. “

The members also receive prayer requests from others. Pikul said the group has received more than 380 prayer requests since September from people in the community, and also get prayer requests from the Sisters of Mercy headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

There are also ministries handled by the association.

“Our main ministry is the Mound Bayou St. Gabriel Mission,” said Anita Hossley.

The mission, she said, was begun by the Sisters of Mercy and taken over by the Franciscans. The mission teaches GED classes, sewing classes, and parenting classes, and has a “basic boutique” resale shop in the area.

The Mercy Association helps with the mission, buys toys for the children at Christmas and other services.

“We like to help with all the ministries,” Seabergh said. “We have a ministry to each other. That’s the aspect of community that is so important. That’s the very special gift the Sisters of Mercy have given us, a spirit of community. Somewhere where we come together and share how we’re going to carry on God’s ministry.

“We also try to make other people aware of needs. We have critical concerns, five areas that are important to all — non violence, racism, the earth, women and immigrants.”

The group also prays for victims of human trafficking.

“We have a special prayer for the victims,” Pikul said. “I pray it every day.

“We try to reach out to other women in our parishes,” she said.

“ People we think would enjoy and would like to have that association in their ministries; people who are involved in other ministries,” Seabergh said.

“Jesus was so merciful, so it just helps,” Pikul said. “We all talk about what we’re doing and encourage one another, but when (you) hear of other people and other things (they) are doing, you realize how many people want to show the mercy. Jesus was so merciful to everybody, and we just want to be like him.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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