The Sisters of Mercy work in many different apostolates, each in her own way trying to make Christ’s love for humanity real, meeting the changing needs and challenges of today’s world, caring for the elderly in Homes, visiting the lonely, sick and house-bound, offering counselling services. Some liaise with the laity in groups such as the Parish Council, St Vincent de Paul, Simon Community, Mercy Mission Group and Cuan Mhuire. Orana House, now closed as a Children’s Home, has become a vibrant Family Support Centre, catering for all sections of society and providing a wide range of services, in conjunction with the government-funded Sure Start Project, to support families. Those victimised and marginalised by society as well as the poor are a matter of concern to the Sisters of Mercy, who strive to strengthen and deepen their own relationship with and commitment to Christ and to joyfully and compassionately share that relationship with others in this modern, ever-changing technological world.
The story of the Sisters of Mercy in Newry began on the 26 June 1855 when, at the invitation of Most Rev. Dr. Michael Blake, five Sisters arrived from the Convent of Mercy, Kinsale, to make a foundation here. They took up residence in Ogle’s Big House in Canal Street, which had been purchased as a temporary Convent from funds collected in Newry.
The first work of the Sisters was the establishment of the House of Mercy. This was quickly followed by the opening of a public laundry in 1855 to train young girls and to provide them with a means of support. The Sewing School was then established where a great number of girls were taught to earn their living by needlework, plain sewing, embroidery, fancy work and Limerick lace. This School achieved world-wide renown, winning many prizes and receiving orders from wealthy clients from as far away as Australia.
In 1858, the Sisters opened an orphanage in Canal Street, housing twelve children. When the Sisters moved to the Catherine Street Convent on 8 October 1862, Ogle’s Big House was developed as a House of Mercy and Orphanage.
On 9 June 1865, four Sisters from Newry founded a Convent in Rostrevor, which was followed on 20 August 1866 by a foundation in Lurgan. In May 1867, the Sisters got permission to make regular visitation in the Newry Workhouse and between 1902 and 1904, three Sisters worked there.
The National School was opened in Canal Street on the 24 May 1869. Then in 1872, Dr. Leahy “wishing that the respectable Catholics of the town should have no pretext for sending their children to the Model School” (Annals) asked Mother Emmanuel Russell to open a school for the better-off, charging the same fees as the Model School. This request was granted on the 21 November 1887 and thus began the new Intermediate School, later to become known as Our Lady’s Grammar School, with a tuition fee of fifteen shillings per quarter. The new building which adjoined the National School in Canal Street was blessed and opened by Most Rev Dr Thomas McGivern. In 1876 an Infant School for boys was opened in Canal Street.
Then in March 1879, Mr Thomas Fegan purchased a fine house and garden in Kilmorey Street to provide a home for needy respectable people and this was entrusted to the Sisters on 27 August 1879. Thus, many old ladies were spared the indignity of having to go to the Workhouse.
On 27 November 1888, six Sisters from Newry formed a community in Warrenpoint and established a National School there.
Due to the munificence of the Russell Family, the Emmanuel Chapel in the Catherine Street Convent was built. The foundation stone was laid on the 9 July 1902 by Most Rev Dr Henry O’Neill and blessed and opened by him on 20 July 1904. At the request of Most Rev. Dr. Edward Mulhern, a boarding school was opened in Newry on 6 September 1918. This project flourished and on 16 February 1923, the community in Newry got permission from Rome to take possession of the Great Northern Hotel in Warrenpoint as a boarding school. The boarders moved there on 28 June 1923. However, in June 1930, the boarding school was closed at the request of Dr Mulhern and the boarders were transferred back to Newry.
On 10 October 1932, the Dining Hall was opened to supply the poor men and women of the town who were starving with at least one good meal in the day, which, owing to the lack of employment, they could not procure otherwise. The numbers ran into hundreds.
Most Rev Dr. Edward Mulhern blessed and opened the new Elementary School in Edward Street on the 27 October 1927.
On 15 August 1961, five Sisters from Newry founded a Convent in Mobile, Alabama and on the 5 September 1961, opened St. Dominic’s School with an enrolment of 262 pupils which grew to 622 by 1971. The Sisters also instructed converts and visited the prison. One Sister also served as Curriculum Coordinator of the Diocesan Office of Education from 1976-1978 and, later, as Superintendent of Schools. In 1987, a Sister went to Minna, Nigeria, where she worked as a co-coordinator of women’s development projects such as rural development, literacy and primary health care. When she returned to Newry in 1996, she was replaced by a Sister who has been training native Africans in primary education in order to improve their chances of combating poverty. She built a school – one room each year and is confident that her `trained staff’ will be able to continue the work when she returns home.