An Indelible Legacy: Sisters of Mercy left their mark on Vicksburg

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

In 1860, six members of the Sisters of Mercy began what became a legacy of service and commitment to the community. Much of what they started is evidenced through what is now known as the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

Arriving from Baltimore, the Sisters’ mission was to start a school for Black and white students because there was not one in the area. They purchased the John D. Cobb house, located at 1101 Crawford St., to serve as their school and a convent.

They paid $8,000 for the home, which is equivalent to close to $300,000 today, and began teaching.

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When the Civil War began and the fighting grew closer to Vicksburg in 1862, the Sisters relinquished their mission of educating children, closed the school and began traveling throughout Mississippi and surrounding states caring for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

In a Vicksburg Post article written by Karen Gamble, she quoted the late Gordon Cotton, longtime curator of the Old Courthouse Museum, historian and author as saying, “The presidents of both sides praised the sisters. ‘I can never forget your kindness to the sick and wounded during our darkest days,’ Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, said after the war. On the opposite side, President Abraham Lincoln referred to the sisters as ‘… the most efficient … veritable angels of mercy.’”

While taking care of the wounded, the Sisters of Mercy’s school and convent served as barracks first for the army of Confederate General John C. Pemberton before the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and later by Federal General Henry Slocum.

It was on Aug. 15, 1864, when the Sisters were able to reclaim their school and convent, reopening the following month.

In 1868, the Sisters added a convent building for $30,000. The Saint Francis Xavier Convent was located east of the Cobb House. The L-shaped, three-and-a-half-story Gothic Revival structure was designed by Father Jean Baptiste Mouton.

According to, the plan of the convent was derived from “period domestic architecture, rather than from any specialized functional arrangement.”

Today the structure is one of the most prominent and best-preserved examples of 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture in Mississippi.

The Sisters continued their teaching ministry while also taking care of the sick, which following the Civil War, included caring for those affected by the 1870 yellow fever epidemic.

In 1885, the Sisters of Mercy added a building to their property, this time a two-story Italianate auditorium for $24,000. In deciding on the design for the facility, the SCHF website said, the Sisters “examined similar structures in Chicago.”

The school continued to grow and in 1937 an annex to the convent building was added as well as a “modern academy building” behind the auditorium. The final addition to the school was in 1953 when the O’Beirne Gymnasium was completed.

The Sisters of Mercy taught in these buildings from 1860 until 1991 when the few remaining nuns moved to a new convent and the school relocated to more modern facilities.

In 1994, the city of Vicksburg bought the block in which the five buildings are located and in 2001, signed over the deed to what is now the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation.

From teaching to taking care of the sick, the Sisters of Mercy’s loving arms reached far and wide in the Vicksburg community.

According to Gamble’s article, the Sisters helped with the polio outbreak in the 1940s and in 1943, they took over Vicksburg’s Street Hospital and nursing school.

“Through the next 20 years,” Gamble wrote, “the sisters began operations of Mercy Hospital, later Mercy Regional Medical Center, and Mercy School of Nursing. The school educated and trained nurses for the entire state of Mississippi and much of the Southeast until establishing a three-year degree program with the University of Southern Mississippi and later a two-year program with Hinds Community College.”

The last of the Sisters of Mercy moved from Vicksburg in 2019, leaving behind a more than 150-year-old indelible legacy.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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