Windham Life and Times – October 25, 2019

Novitiate of the Sisters of  Mercy

Searles Castle, Windham, NH.

I had the occasion to pull out some photographs for Cathy Walsh, with the Sisters of Mercy.  The postcard views of the Novitiate of  the Sisters of Mercy, at Searles Castle, reminded me of a very nice childhood memory of growing up in Windham in the early 1960’s.  At five o’clock, the chimes at the Sisters of Mercy rang out and could be heard in a large part of Windham. When they rang, I knew that if I was out and about it was time for me to get home. I wonder how many people still remember them today?

The Sisters of Mercy have a very interesting and inspiring history. The order’s website states that, “…the Sisters of Mercy was an order founded in Ireland, by a laywoman Catherine McAuley. She spent her inheritance to open the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland on September 24, 1827. It was a place to shelter and educate women and girls. On December 12, 1831, Catherine and two companions became the first Sisters of Mercy.”

“The Sisters of Mercy arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1843 at the invitation of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Frances Ward founded the first Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh…” “Sister Mary Frances (Ward) went to Manchester New Hampshire in July, 1858, and founded a convent where day and night schools were established. In 1859 the sisters began teaching in public schools and received a salary from the city government. The sisters again wore secular dress when teaching and attending staff meetings. In 1863, they were allowed to wear their religious habit in school. Fourteen convents were established from Manchester between 1861 and 1883. Two of these were outstanding in forming new convents Philadelphia and Princeton. Mother Frances travelled with the sisters to each new convent and stayed with them for a month. She held the position of Superior from 1837 – 1884 except for 3 years in Manchester 1880 – 1883. Mary Frances Ward died on the 17th September 1884 in Manchester New Hampshire and was buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery there. A marble cross is erected over her grave…”

So now when you pass McAuley Commons or the Frances Ward Center in town, you will know the reason for the names and the story of the founders of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and America. Cathy Walsh is working on a multimedia project about the “Sisters of Mercy and their long relationship with Searles Castle.” She is seeking copies of photos of the sisters at the castle and if anybody in town might have any, I would be glad to forward them to her or provide you with her contact information.