The Catholic bishop John England founded the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston in 1829, using the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as a model for the new religious community. By the 1840s the congregation operated an orphanage, an academy, and a free school for girls and a school for free children of color, and it attended the sick during cholera and yellow fever epidemics.
During the Civil War members staffed a Confederate hospital in Virginia and visited men of both armies in Charleston’s hospitals and prisons. In 1863 they moved the orphans to Sumter, where they established St. Joseph’s Academy. Grateful for the care given to Union soldiers, Congress appropriated $12,000 in 1871 to rebuild the motherhouse and orphanage in Charleston.
The community expanded its ministries in the twentieth century. St. Francis Xavier Hospital, Charleston, established in 1882, added a nursing school in 1900 and a social service agency, known as the Neighborhood House, in 1915. In York the Sisters opened Divine Savior Hospital in 1938 and erected a nursing home in 1963. Although the academies in Sumter and Charleston closed in 1929 and 1930, respectively, the congregation operated St. Angela in Aiken until 1988. Sisters have also taught in parochial schools and religious education programs throughout South Carolina and in New Jersey.
In 1989 the congregation transferred ownership of its hospitals to the Bon Secours Health System and opened a community center to provide education, housing, and outreach services to the residents of James, Johns, and Wadmalaw Islands. Sisters also worked in a variety of parish programs in the Diocese of Charleston. The motherhouse is located on James Island.
Campbell, Sister M. Anne Francis, OLM. “Bishop England’s Sisterhood, 1829–1929.” Ph.D. diss., St. Louis University, 1968.
Guilday, Peter. The Life and Times of John England. 2 vols. 1927. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1969.
Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. Archives. Charleston, South Carolina.