PORTLAND—“The mission of Mercy we celebrate today is still needed.”
The words of Bishop Robert P. Deeley were met with warm smiles and agreeing nods from the current members of the Mercy Hospital community, Sisters of Mercy, and the former patients and staff that filled St. Pius X Church in Portland on Monday evening, Sept. 24, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mercy Hospital. Mercy employees, board members, and volunteers were the readers and gift bearers, and also served as the choir for the Mass.
Bishop Deeley told those assembled that he had found a newspaper clipping from 1918 in the diary of Bishop Louis S. Walsh regarding the dedication of Mercy Hospital.
“Bishop Walsh said, ‘It is but the beginning of a great work that will expand inconceivably and will prove a boon to afflicted humanity.’ And here we are, 100 years later, grateful for the boon that Mercy has been to this community,” said Bishop Deeley during his homily. “The values that have formed and guided Mercy have been a blessing to this community. We pray that the success of this ‘great work’ will continue to ‘expand inconceivably’ for the good of all those who will be served in the future.”
The story of Mercy Hospital began as a deadly influenza epidemic swept the world in 1918. Nearly 50,000 cases of influenza were reported in Maine and Bishop Walsh appealed for help. Marion Weeks, the daughter of a surgeon, donated her mansion on Congress Street to the Diocese of Portland for use as a hospital. It was renovated to care for 25 women and named Queen’s Hospital.
“The name and the dedication to Mary’s patronage would give direction to the mission of the hospital,” said Bishop Deeley. “Mary, Mother of God, is the Consolation of the Afflicted, Help of Christians, and Mother of Mercy and Kindness. Those titles would be a reminder to those serving in the hospital of the care that they would give.”
The Sisters of Mercy, an order with 60 active nuns in Portland at the time, mobilized to staff the new hospital. Additional buildings were added to serve those in need, particularly during the Great Depression. With the introduction of Blue Cross pre-paid health insurance in 1933, the need for additional space grew. Hospital staff, trustees, and a new ladies’ auxiliary began formulating plans for a new hospital. Sister Mary Annunciata Quigley was named administrator of the new Mercy Hospital, which opened on 144 State Street in 1943.
“The name of the hospital would be changed when it became a mission of the Sisters of Mercy. It became Mercy Hospital,” said Bishop Deeley. “The new title contains everything of the old, Mary is the Mother of Mercy, but its name now fully grounds the mission that is carried out there.”
A major addition was built in 1952 and the entire facility was renovated in the 1980s. In September of 2008, Mercy opened its 42-acre Fore River campus which provides state-of-the-art medical care, private patient rooms, outpatient services, and specialty practices. In 2013, it became a part of the Eastern Maine Health Systems (EMHS) statewide healthcare system. Mercy is now one of greater Portland’s largest employers.
The bishop noted that despite the expansion and growth through the decades, the Mercy Hospital mission has remained the same: to carry out the healing work of Christ by providing compassionate, accessible, and excellent health care, especially to the disadvantaged. Mercy gives out millions of dollars in benefits annually, ranging from un-reimbursed and pro-bono medical services to community education and prevention outreach.
“We believe Mercy’s healthcare mission is vital to the greater Portland community,” said Sister Maureen Mitchell, RSM, president of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “We are confident in the direction of the hospital and our conviction that the ministry of compassionate healthcare for all established in 1918 will continue to flourish through the many people who continue to make Mercy ‘Mercy.’”
“The Sisters of Mercy ultimately transformed how healthcare would be served in the Greater Portland area for years to come,” said Charlie Therrien, president of Mercy Hospital, when delivering the call to worship and welcome at the Mass. “The foundation of clinical excellence, spirituality, service, community, social justice, and a focus on serving the most vulnerable among us has guided us for the last 100 years and will guide us for the next 100 years.”
“This centennial milestone is an opportunity to celebrate Mercy’s past and our commitment for the next century,” said M. Michelle Hood, president and CEO of EMHS. “We continue to assure a strong community hospital that is focused on primary and secondary care for the people of southern Maine.”
Fittingly, the centennial Mass on Monday fell on “Mercy Day,” marking the day in 1827 when Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, opened the first House of Mercy in Dublin to serve the sick, the poor, and the uneducated.
“Catherine McAuley is said to have told one of her sisters as she was dying, ‘Be sure you have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.’ Since then a tea cup has become the symbol of Mercy hospitality. To me, it is a most appropriate symbol of mercy,” said Bishop Deeley. “In Ireland, Catherine’s home, having a cup of tea is not a matter of putting a bag in some hot water and going about your business. It is a very special task. The kettle needs to be prepared, the tea added to the hot water and steeped sufficiently, the cups prepared, and the tea poured. Milk and sugar is to be added. It is an act of hospitality. It is an act of love. Yes, it is an act of mercy. It gives dignity and worth to the person receiving the warm cup.”
One hundred years later, Mercy Hospital strives to always have a “comfortable cup of tea” ready.
“The individual attention to the worth of the person before me, recognizing the presence of God in that person, is the heart of the mission of this hospital. It was at its beginning. It is what makes it the essential community hospital it is today. We pray, then, in gratitude, and in hope, for the mission of Mercy,” the bishop said. “May God bless each of you as you carry on the mission.”
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the parish hall. “Mercy Day” is just one in a series of events being held throughout the year to commemorate Mercy’s centennial and to launch the hospital’s next century of care. The centennial coincides with the “One Mercy” capital campaign, which will allow the hospital to go forward with its plans to move from State Street and eventually consolidate its services and operations on its Fore River campus. To learn more about the campaign, visit www.emhsfoundation.org/mercy-donation.