Sunday, July 29, 2012

Remembering a Teacher

Whoever Sister Mary Mercy was, she emerged from relative obscurity yet left her final post beloved by many. Of course, eulogies tend to see the positive side of people—a habit which might serve the living well, too, if we could see fit to universally adopt it. This eulogy, reprinted in a Parochial Monthly newsletter kept among Agnes Tully Stevens' personal papers, seemed quite earnest in its expressions of grief.

Sister Mary Mercy’s gift was in the field of education. She served in many locations in the Chicago area, and yet she, herself, was not from Chicago. She was born in Freeport, an Illinois town far to the west of Chicago. Freeport’s claim to historical fame was that it was the site of the second Lincoln-Douglas debate, which cost Abraham Lincoln his bid for the U.S. Senate but eventually influenced the nation to elect him as President in 1860, the year of Sister Mary Mercy’s birth.

Though rural, Freeport was linked to Chicago by a stagecoach line. Far separated from the difficulties of urban life in those times, Freeport residents must not have been ignorant of the risks of city life posed by such a place as Chicago—the press of immigrants, the crowded conditions, the crime, the many serious illnesses. It must have been with great reluctance, indeed, that her parents released her as a teenager to follow her calling in such a place.

She came a stranger into our midst; she left friends numbered by the hundreds to mourn her loss almost as one of their own immediate family. At her life’s close we look in vain for fault or blemish unless it be a too great devotion to duty or what she believed was her duty. For the last few years Sister Mary Mercy suffered in a manner few of even her most intimate friends realized. In her last illness they thought it would not be so serious. They expected before very long to again find her at her post of duty. But God had ordained otherwise.
            During these nineteen years Sister Mary Mercy has been as the kindest of mothers to the Sisters placed in her charge. To the children of the parish she has been not only a mother but also their counselor and directress to whom they could go in their joys, sorrows and trials. Only the day of judgment will reveal all the good accomplished by this humble servant of God. Everyone who came in contact with her felt the influence of her noble character.
            Sister Mary Mercy was born in Freeport, Ill., fifty three years ago. With great reluctance on the part of her family she came to Chicago at the age of nineteen years and entered the Mercy Order at St. Xavier’s Convent, then situated at Twenty-ninth and Wabash Avenue. After her novitiate she began her life’s work in All Saints’ School, where she spent six years. From there she went to St. John’s school, where she labored for six years more. St. Xavier’s Academy then received the fruits of her endeavor for two years.


  1. In a way, it is sad that these remarkable women are "stripped" of their identity.

    I suspect that her "real" name wasn't Mary Mercy any more than Mary Patricia's was...but then, I find this death record:

    I think they bungled the "birth year" and age at death on the record.

    Mary Mercy Flanagan
    Death Date: 18 Oct 1912
    Death Place: 5522 LaSalla Pl., Chicago, Cook, Illinois
    Gender: Female
    Race (Standardized): White
    Birth Date: 04 Mar 1860
    Birthplace: Ill.
    Father: James Flanagan
    Father's Birthplace: Ireland
    Mother: Hanova Hays
    Mother's Birthplace: Ireland
    Occupation: Teacher in Convent
    Cemetery: Calvary Cemetery
    Burial Date: 21 Oct 1912

    1. And her mother's first name wasn't Hanova, either. I suspect it was Honora. And "Mary Mercy" may have been born "Ellen."

    2. Yes, I think you are right - such would fit the 1870 US census record.

      ...has several paragraphs about Mary Mercy Flanagan (some about her last hours) about half way down the page.

  2. Her 1900 US Census record...

  3. I hit the return key before I finished my previous comment. Notice the US census listing - Rev. Patrick Flannagan is listed a few lines above Mary Mercy Flanagan (but both are spelled Flanigan).


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